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Putting wacky coach carousel in perspective


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Putting wacky coach carousel in perspective

by Adam Schein

Adam Schein hosts the Afternoon Blitz on Sirius NFL Radio from 3-7 ET. He is also the NFL insider for Sports Net New York. Schein's columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on FOXSports.com. His weekly video picks and video reports appear every Friday. Email Adam here.

Updated: February 11, 2008, 3:10 PM EST 1 comment RSS digg blog email print So finally, the wheel has stopped on the new head coaching hires for 2008. And the coaching carousel was simply zany and filled with surprises.

Think about what happened.

Not one newly appointed coach has been an NFL head man before.

The four guys hired were a special teams coach, a quarterback guru, an offensive line coach and a little-known defensive coordinator.

No team dipped into the college ranks.

Pete Carroll stayed at USC. Marty Schottenheimer stayed retired. Bill Cowher will stay on television.

None of the vacancies were filled by minority candidates.

Mike Singletary didn't even get an interview.

Two clubs actually named their head coach for seasons following 2008.

And red-hot assistants Jason Garrett, Steve Spagnuolo and Josh McDaniels remained with the Cowboys, Giants and Patriots, respectively.

Let's examine the good, bad and the Washington Redskins.

Washington hires Jim Zorn???

I can hear the Redskins fans in unison now Jim Freakin Zorn?

And they are right.

It ranks as the single worst hire we've seen in the NFL in years. Zorn has no NFL head coaching experience. He has no NFL coordinator experience. He was plucked by meddlesome owner Daniel Snyder to be the offensive coordinator a few weeks ago. I thought Zorn was a terrible hire as offensive coordinator as he didn't even call the plays in Seattle and his coaching roots under Mike Holmgren are with the West Coast offense, giving young quarterback Jason Campbell his third pro offense to learn and execute.

And obviously he wasn't even on the radar for Washington to be the head coach until Jim Mora pulled out and Steve Spagnuolo smartly avoided Snyder's chaotic situation where you cannot choose your own assistants (and credit the Giants for putting up the cash making Spags the highest paid defensive coordinator in the NFL). And Jim Fassel, Steve Mariucci (who would've been a good hire) and Ron Meeks somehow fell short to Zorn.

Washington should have promoted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to head coach while keeping continuity on offense by retaining Al Saunders to continue to call the plays. With the death of Sean Taylor and the way Williams helped rally the team, it was a situation that begged for promoting from within.

Instead, Snyder interviewed Williams four times before letting him go. And then he makes the job much less attractive to the likes of a Spagnuolo by hiring assistants before a head coach.

Let's remember what the Skins were like under Snyder before Joe Gibbs was rehired. Washington is simply headed in the absolute wrong direction.

Special hire for Ravens

When Jason Garrett turned down the Baltimore Ravens (and that would've been a perfect fit), it opened the door for Eagles assistant John Harbaugh. While Harbaugh was a defensive assistant the last few years, he made his mark in Philadelphia as a special teams wizard. It would be fair to call Harbaugh a 'special teams coordinator'.

There are some who question Harbaugh's readiness for the gig since he was never a defensive coordinator. I totally disagree. It's an out-of-the-box hire and I applaud the Ravens for making it after Garrett said no.

What I like about the move is Harbaugh's energy, accountability and personality. He's a tireless worker who understands players. And he's very different from former Coach Brian Billick. After the consistent penalties and the players tuning out Billick's message, this hire will work.

And Harbaugh has put together an excellent staff. For a first-time head coach, that's incredibly important, and in Harbaugh's case, a coup.

Keeping defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was imperative. The Ravens defense is always top flight. And this isn't a case of the head coach having no say over his coaches. Harbaugh and Ryan worked together on the University of Cincinnati's staff in the mid-90s and had a prior relationship.

Just as important, Harbaugh plucked Cam Cameron to run his offense. Say what you want about Cameron as a head coach (and we have) but they guy can call plays and jump start careers on offense (see Drew Brees, Antonio Gates and Ronnie Brown).

Harbaugh is certainly a wild card in this process but I think fans will be surprised with the success long-term.

Falcons go old-school

When the Falcons hired Mike Smith, there was one question on fans' minds.

Who the heck is Mike Smith?

If you asked most people to name 25 coaching candidates in 2008, you wouldn't find his name anywhere on the list.

Yet, the Jaguars defensive coordinator turned out to be the guy for Arthur Blank and the Falcons to restore credibility in Atlanta.

On the heels of Mike Vick's horrendous, disgusting and illegal activity, Bob Petrino's quitting like a coward and Rich McKay's poor personnel decisions, the last 365 days have been brutal for the Falcons.

Originally, I thought this situation begged for a highly successful, high-profile name that would add instant credibility and command respect from the players. And Blank tried to get Bill Parcells to run the football operations, and flirted with Bill Cowher and Pete Carroll.

When that failed, Blank smartly adjusted the script and went old-school, finding a highly successful director of college scouting in the Patriots' Thomas Dimitroff, who, strangely enough, was interviewed by Blank via web-cam.

So in comes Dimitroff, who told the gathered news media in Atlanta at a presser that he didn't even have Smith on his original list (so don't feel bad if you are an Atlanta fan unfamiliar with his work). But Dimitroff instantly became smitten with Smith when Blank suggested they chat. Dimitroff found the 48 year-old rookie head coach to be the perfect fit as they shared the same beliefs in how to build a team.

Smith told me the day he was hired that he puts a great emphasis on character, something the organization desperately needs. And players in Jacksonville loved playing for him. While you think of head coach Jack Del Rio running the Jags' defense, Smith and Del Rio put in the game plan's together while Smith called the plays on game day.

To those in the know, Smith is a great choice. The Jags' players would have ran through a wall for him. He called the plays for one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. His practices are intense and physical and thus, that's how his players perform in the games. Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer couldn't stress enough to us how Smith puts you in positions to succeed, relates very well to players of all ages and maximizes talent.

It's going to be a major rebuilding process in Atlanta and I think Smith has the temperament for it.

Literally a 'Parcells Guy'

Calling this one was relatively easy the minute Bill Parcells walked into the Dolphins team offices to oversee the football operations and it became clear that Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel were staying at their current places of employment. It became crystallized when Parcells tabbed Jeff Ireland to be his general manager.

Parcells and Ireland worked together in Dallas. They would stay in the family and hire Cowboys offensive line coach Tony Sparano to be the next head coach of the Dolphins. And Sparano is truly a fabled 'Bill Parcells guy.' Actually, he's right out of central casting; talking, walking and, most especially, working like Parcells.

Miami, a 1-15 team in desperate need of an attitude adjustment, needed someone with Sparano's fire. Like his mentor Parcells, Sparano's practices are going to be long and strenuous. Anyone who doesn't fully buy in will get kicked to the curb. There will be no in-fighting in Miami or calling out fellow players and coaches.

Now, the variable on Sparano, like Zorn, Harbaugh and Smith, is the fact that he's never been a head coach before in the NFL. In fact, the University of New Haven is the only program he's run. But when you talk to his players from the Cowboys, ranging from Jason Witten to Marc Columbo, they tell you how everyone in Big D' knew that Sparano was a head coach in the making.

The concern over Sparano being a first timer is minimized with Parcells as a sounding board. Hiring Dan Henning to run the offense was a solid move. Paul Pasqualoni is a detailed-oriented football coach who will run Sparano's 3-4 defense and shares the same principles.

After the Cam Cameron disaster, the Miami players will have no choice but to listen to whatever Sparano says in his thick Northeast accent. I like the hire and the re-building of the Dolphins football program from top to bottom.

Tony's back, Caldwell's next

Colts coach Tony Dungy surprised a lot of people by returning to the Indianapolis Colts for the 2008 campaign. In fact, Indy wideout Reggie Wayne told us last week that he was pleasantly surprised that Dungy came back with the great emphasis he places on family. It's not shocking as the word has always been that Dungy would be on the sidelines for the debut of the Colts new Lucas Oil Stadium.

But Indy seized the moment to promote Jim Caldwell to associate head coach while writing in his contract that he would be the next head coach of the Colts whenever Dungy calls it a career. Caldwell had emerged as a candidate in Baltimore. The players, ranging to Wayne to Peyton Manning, love Caldwell, who did a great job in an ultra-tough spot running the club when Dungy had to take a leave of absence following the death of his son a few years ago.

Mora's the man, but were rules violated?

Mike Holmgren announced that he's coming back to Seattle for 2008 but it would be his final season in the great Northwest. Instead of having a farewell tour and lame duck situation surrounding the team, Tim Ruskell and Paul Allen appointed Jim Mora as Holmgren's replacement.

For the record, I love Mora. He's energetic, experienced, and did a great job with the Seattle defensive backs this past season. And if you blamed him for anything that happened during his run in Atlanta, he was certainly exonerated over the last 365 days.

But I am wondering aloud how this appointment affects the Rooney Rule, or at least the spirit of the Rooney Rule. Isn't the Rooney Rule about opportunity for minority candidates? Technically, you don't violate the rule by promoting within from your own staff. But it still doesn't seem right. The Steelers didn't name a successor for Bill Cowher, and that led them down a surprising path to Mike Tomlin, who has turned out to be perfect.

This appointment costs a minority candidate a chance to interview and impress and that is highly unfortunate.

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nobkowski (2/11/2008)
Great read. Thanks for posting. The author, I believe, is right on. With Coach Smitty for us I believe he is right on, but he didn't have one word for the assistants, etc. I wonder if he is thinking what I am......... they aren't so hot.

I agree, the assistants have some questions marks. Still it will be good to watch some fundamentally sound football for a change.

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