2009 NFL Predictions: Abundance of Rookie NFL Coaches – Who’s in Best Position to Win?
By David A Lane Predictem.com
Its been said that the job of an NFL head coach has about as much job security as does a cashier with a penchant for stealing from the cash register, a bus driver who just loves to drink alcohol at all times, or a cat burglar who prefers daylight to work in; and this 2009 NFL season reflects exactly that.
In all, 11 of the 32 teams- more than one third of them- made head coaching changes going into this year, signaling to all that mediocrity (or worse) just will not be acceptable by management- possibly out of fear that their hides might be next?
The corporate world really pushes hard for its entity to be the best, at all cost, always, so just which of these guys putting their teams through his inaugural training camp stands the best chance of success when all is said and done in 2009 and in the near future?
It always seemed to me that when there are 31 others vowing to do the same thing year in and year out such as winning the Superbowl, continually being the best is an unrealistic expectation of management because there are too many factors outside of the coaches control that can happen such a season ending injury or a player’s brush with the law.
Too many times a game comes down to a play’s review, field position, or a timely turnover that most coaches end up being on the hook for- rightfully so or not- that the position of head coach seems to be for the birds in my book. Incidentally, two of the 11 coaches did actually coach at the end of last season and with mixed results- Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers and Tom Cable of the Oakland Raiders.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs went with a total housecleaning- which included windows and gutters- and why wouldn’t they when the last title they won was some 40 years ago?
When General Manager Carl Peterson and Head Coach Herm ‘You play to win the game’ Edwards were let go after a dismal 2-14 season, the team decided to go with Scott Pioli, who’d been in the front office of the New England Patriots from ’02-’08 and helped them win three Super Bowls as GM who in turn chose his friend- 42 year old Todd Haley head coach.
Haley had gained notoriety with the Dallas Cowboys as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator from 2004-06 by getting Tony Romo, Terrell Owens and company, to buy in as a unit on offense; then he hammered home his value with his next promotion, to Offensive Coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals, by taking a team that annually was among the worst at virtually every offensive category and then rode that very same offensive unit all the way to the Super Bowl in only his second year on the job.
With the addition of a QB he knows well in Matt Cassel and the advantage of having a front office that should be on the same page as he- the Chiefs should be in good hands with Haley with a turnaround happening sooner than later.
Prediction- In a weak division the Chiefs prosper improving to 7-9.
Had you thought that Haley was too young to be an NFL coach at the age of 42; Tampa Bay Buccaneers new head coach Raheem Morris shattered any perceived age barriers that exist in the NFL when he was hired at the tender age of 32.
After graduating from college at Hofstra University, he immediately began his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach for the school. Focusing mostly on the defensive side of the ball, he got his first NFL experience with the New York Jets in 2001 then took a job as a defensive quality control coordinator for the Bucs the following year where his efforts helped the team to lead the league in defense and win Super Bowl XXXVII that year.
Leaving to take the defensive coordinator position at Kansas State University in 2006 turned out to be a very pivotal choice for Morris as the Bucs realized that year, just what they had lost when their defense tumbled from the top ranks of league to mediocrity.
Though Morris seems green on the surface, the path he’s taken very much parallels the career of Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith- who made quite an impression as a rookie coach with mostly defensive roots himself- however, in his case, the team he’s taking over is already very familiar with him and vice versa yet they are also harboring an intense dislike of the previous coach Jon Gruden. If this energy can be properly channeled to their play on the field, that can totally be turned into a successful situation.
Prediction- Bucs improve to 10-6 this season.
Steve Spagnuolo, like the others, also got his start in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball, learning under the tutelage of Jim Johnson while spending eight years coaching in the Philadelphia Eagles organization as linebacker and defensive backs coach before becoming defensive coordinator under Coach Tom Coughlin for the New York Giants in 2007- where his aggressive attacking defense was largely credited for stymieing the New England Patriots scoring machine in the ’08 Super Bowl.
This year, he’s accepted the challenge of taking over the helm of the St Louis Rams for fired coach Jim Haslett- ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ may be done.
Ironically, the Rams might be the worst defensive team out of those who needed coaches.
A more ball control based offense might just be what’s best for Stephen Jackson and Marc Bulger who can still produce points while the Rams defense develops into something special.
Prediction- I see improvement, Rams go 6-10.
Mike Holmgren found that there was life after the Green Bay Packers by setting up shop with the Seattle Seahawks, at least until his retirement at the end of last season.
Head Coach Jim Mora- not the one who said, “We’re talking playoffs, playoffs!”- But his son Jim who has been raised around football and groomed his whole life for this, has been a head coach once before with the Atlanta Falcons with a 26-22 record.
He takes over what is a decent team and was at times the resident powerhouse in the NFC West.
In his first year with the Falcons he took them all the way to the 2004 NFC Championship game before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road- yet, his team never again came close to matching that success for him again and he was let go at the end of 2006 season by owner Arthur Blank after a flack developed over Mora expressing publicly that he had an interest in taking the Washington Huskies head coaching position on a sports talk show, a job that wasn’t even available at the time.
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With a healthy QB Matt Hasslebeck throwing to newcomer receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the future looks bright for the Seahawks and Mora- though the quality of the NFC West has certainly tightened things up of late.
Prediction- 8-8 record and they miss the playoffs.
The San Francisco 49ers Mike Singletary has been known for his intensity for a long while now- whether that can translate to head coaching success remains to be seen.
Finding a quarterback was a super important thing for them in the off-season yet they didn’t address the issue for some reason unless rookie Ball State Quarterback Nate Davis is the answer. Regardless, Samurai Mike guided his new squad to a 5-2 record over the last seven games with Shaun Hill at QB, giving us a glimpse into what his coaching career just might be like- possibly Hall of Fame just like his on-field play.
Prediction- 49ers will make the playoffs at 10-6.
What was once a ‘Commitment to Excellence’, this organization seems to have lost their marbles completely and should just be committed to Belleview for a sanity check. After the Lane Kiffin debacle, you’d think they’d keep things on the straight and narrow but now new Coach Tom Cable allegedly assaults one of the assistants on his staff- letting us know that nothing has changed.
As long as nothing changes with the ownership of this once proud organization, don’t look for anything fresh on the field either.
Prediction- 5-11 was pretty bad last year but they’ll find a way to get worse, 3-13 (how are they going to win three?).
Another defensive minded coach- Rex Ryan- was hired by the New York Jets to replace Eric Mangini. This move definitely highlights a serious trend towards defense minded coaches that is going on in the league. Ryan had been a defensive coach with the Baltimore Ravens since ’99 and has been their defensive coordinator since 2005- winning a Super Bowl with them in 2000.
His style of fierce attacking defense will play well in New York however, if the offense isn’t able to control the ball through the run, leaning on rookie Quarterback Mark Sanchez too early and too often will ruin him (ala Matt Leinart).
Prediction- Defense isn’t enough as they slip to 7-9.
It isn’t very often that a rookie coach has the opportunity to take over a winning team- much less one that was 12-4 last year- but when former Head Coach Tony Dungy retired that’s exactly what happened.
Indianapolis Colts rookie coach Jim Caldwell has been a head coach before in the college ranks at Wake Forest University where he compiled a 26-63 record- his best season there his team won seven games and made a trip to the Aloha Bowl.
Unfortunately, there’s no Aloha Bowl in the NFL and the Pro Bowl isn’t even being played there anymore. Having spent seven of the last eight years as a quarterback coach- last year he was named associate head coach. Though the coaching staff has been mostly left intact, losing defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will hurt because the squad was vastly improved.
Prediction- Colts will slip a bit to 10-6 without Dungy.
The Detroit Lions decided that if they can’t mirror the success other NFL teams have on the playing field; the least they can do is copy them by hiring an ex-defensive coordinator as well themselves. They have done so by hiring Jim Schwartz the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator from 2001-2008- who always brought a defensive squad that was tough, attacking, and impacted the game always- with hopes he could bring some stability and consistency to a team that has had neither. This position is going to be the challenge of his life but it would be hard not to improve a 0-16 record after all!
Prediction- the Lions will be three games better going to 3-13 this season.
Like Raheem Morris (5th youngest NFL coach ever), new Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels is a youngster in terms of the average age of NFL head coaches- 33 years old which qualifies for 6th youngest coach ever in the league- yet he’s achieved a lot of success already.
Unlike most of the others, McDaniels achieved most of his acclaim on the offensive side of the ball, coaching with the Patriots for all three of their Super Bowl victories, being quarterbacks coach in 2004 and 2005 (after Charlie Weis left in ’04 the Pats didn’t name an Offensive Coordinator officially but most believed him to be) and offensive coordinator from 2006-’08.
Though he tried to bring QB Matt Cassel with him from the Patriots in a trade, incumbent starter Jay Cutler’s feelings were hurt so badly by the incident he ended up being traded to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton- a move that might make things a bit harder for the Bronco’s initially.
Prediction- the Broncos are loaded at running back and if they can stop anyone with their defense (I think they will), they will surprise some, going 10-6 and making the playoffs.
Finally, the Cleveland Browns continual rebuilding year continues as it has now for, well….years! Head Coach Romeo Crennel was replaced by Eric Mangini, (who had just been fired as head coach of the Jets at the time), a coach some fans had called ‘Mangenius’ after his initial success he enjoyed during a rookie coaching stint with the Jets.
His next two years were nowhere close to being successful as his teams went 4-12 in ’07 and squandered an 8-3 start in ’08 to miss the playoffs completely. Although he won three super bowl championships as a coach with the Patriots under Bill Belichick, finding that sort of success with an organization such as the Browns will be extremely difficult.
Prediction- Although it won’t be hard to improve on last year’s 4-12 record this season, this team will once again struggle to be consistent in subsequent years.
There’s no doubt that being an NFL coach is a grind where sleep is rare and coffee is a must. Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil used to sleep in his office, basically saying goodbye to his family for six months out of the year when the season started. No doubt, this sort of commitment is what’s required these days to win in this league- a fact that still doesn’t even insure one iota of success- making this profession the type that’s just not for everybody.
The reality of the situation is that if your profession is NFL head coaching there is never a light at the end of the tunnel for most, only an axe waiting to be used at anytime by unsatisfied football fans and super egotistical owners.