I’ve written a lot about Chip Kelly, here & here. I wrote about the Falcons coaches the other day. Let’s now take a look at some other candidates. I won’t cover these guys as extensively since these guys are better known. There is less mystery with them.
First, let’s talk about Bill O’Brien for a minute. On Thursday night he agreed to a new deal with Penn State. The Eagles did meet with O’Brien on Thursday. We don’t know how badly they wanted him. We don’t know how serious O’Brien was about leaving. Apparently he got a raise for himself and his staff. He also got more control regarding the athletic department. We’ll have to wait and see what all this means. With O’Brien out, that removes a candidate that several teams were interested in.
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* OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS *
MIKE MCCOY - There is a lot to like about McCoy, the OC for the Denver Broncos. Most people point to the fact that he’s done good work with a variety of QBs. McCoy has gotten good production from Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow (to a lesser extent), and Eli’s brother. It says a lot when you can coach that collection of guys and make it work. Going from Tebow to Peyton is like jumping from a Model-T to the friggin’ space shuttle.
McCoy is young (40). He played QB at Utah and tried to make a go of it in the NFL, but wasn’t good enough. He was with the Eagles in the 1998 Training Camp. I attended that TC for a couple of days, but don’t recall him so much as Bobby Hoying’s incomplete swing passes to Duce Staley’s feet. He played in NFL Europe and the CFL.
McCoy gave that up after 1999 and in 2000 joined George Siefert’s staff with the Panthers. McCoy worked his way up the coaching ladder, working with WRs, then QBs, and then becoming the passing game coordinator. McCoy started with Siefert, but remained in place when John Fox took over the team in 2002. McCoy left for Denver to work under Josh McDaniels in 2009. He was there for 2 years when Fox became the HC of the Broncos. Fox kept McCoy as the OC.
I would prefer that McCoy have some experience in college, but the time in NFL Eurorpe and the CFL helps. You want coaches to have some background in a place with “lesser” players. There is more teaching in those environments. Talent doesn’t rule the day.
I do like the fact that McCoy spent most of his time learning under John Fox. Offensive coaches that spend time under a defensive head coach seem to have a more well-rounded approach to the game. Sean Payton spent time under Bill Parcells. Mike McCarthy spent time under Marty Schottenheimer, Tom Coughlin was under Parcells, and Jim Harbaugh was heavily influenced by his college coach, Bo Schembechler, who had a defensive background.
One thing I love about McCoy is that he was part of the Panthers staff that did a great job with 2 RBs (Jonathan Stewart, Deangelo Williams). The Eagles have a pair of very talented runners in McCoy, Brown. You need to find a way to use them both. McCoy has also played and coached in a variety of systems. He is open-minded and has been able to adjust the offense to the personnel he has to work with. Getting Tebow into the playoffs and actually winning a game was a miracle, even if most of that was on the defense and STs.
While I like McCoy’s adaptability, I am concerned by the question of exactly what does he believe in. McCoy can’t really point to one thing and say “That’s me”. You would need to find out this kind of stuff from him in an interview. What are his specific beliefs? What is his offensive philosophy? McCoy hasn’t had full control of an offense until the last 2 years and running an offense with Tebow and Manning doesn’t tell us much. You can’t go right with Tebow, nor wrong with Manning.
It is interesting to note that Denver led the league in rushing in 2011. McCoy knew that Tebow couldn’t be a normal passing QB and adjusted the offense. The team only finished 23rd in yards and 25th in points, but compare that to the 2012 Eagles. They finished 15th in yards and 29th in points. McCoy got the most out of what he had to work with and did help the team win a playoff game. This year the Broncos are 4th in yards and 2nd in scoring. Even with the great Peyton Manning at the helm, Denver is just 10th in pass attempts. They are 9th in rushing attempts. McCoy might have a Hall of Fame QB, but he knows Manning’s injury situation and isn’t over-using him. Simple, but smart. One of Andy’s big faults was over-thinking things and not going with the simple/smart approach more often.
McCoy is a terrific assistant coach. I do have concerns on whether he is ready to be the HC. He seems to be very much a consensus guy. He likes to talk to other coaches on the staff and put ideas together. This is great at times, but the HC must be someone with a singular vision and style of doing business. He listens to others when they have ideas, but the coach must lead from a position of authority. I’m curious if McCoy can do that. I’m making judgments from watching interviews and reading articles. Clearly you’re much better off meeting him in person and discussing these matters. Could be that McCoy will be very different if/when he’s the head honcho.
I won’t object if the Eagles hire McCoy, but the interview would be crucial in determining that he was in fact ready to lead an organization. Andy Reid had never been a head coach or coordinator for a major college or NFL team, but he showed in his interview that he got the big picture and was the man to lead the Eagles. McCoy could do the same thing.
JAY GRUDEN - The son of longtime scout Jim Gruden and younger brother of Jon. Coming from a football thing is a very good thing. Jay understands the commitment that football requires and what it takes to be successful.
Jay had a strange path to becoming a successful OC for the Bengals. He was a QB at Louisville and still ranks highly in some career categories. The team finished 8-3 in his Senior season. While he was a good college player, Jay didn’t have NFL talent. The Arena League was his home for more than a decade. Jay won the league title 4 times as a player and was league MVP once.
Jay moved to the coaching side of things in 1997 and stuck with that through 2001. In 2002 Jon became the coach of the Bucs and Jay joined his staff. Jay also went back to being a QB in the AFL (seasons don’t overlap). That lasted for a couple of years before he moved back to being an AFL head coach and NFL assistant. Jon was fired after 2008. Jay got a job in the UFL and was there for 2009-2010.
In 2011 the Bengals hired Jay to be their OC. The offense had been very good in the glory days of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Rudi Johnson, but slumped badly as that group aged and or left. From 2008-2010 the offense was 20th or worse in yards and in points. Marvin Lewis hoped that Gruden could bring a more attacking style of play and some fresh ideas to the team.
Cincy’s offense finished 20th in yards and 18th in points, but did so with a rookie QB and rookie WR as the key players. This season the Bengals finished 22nd in yards, but all the way up at 12th in points. Stats aside, the Bengals had 2 winning seasons in the 20 years prior to 2011. With Gruden as the OC, the team has won both years and made the playoffs both times.
The strongest selling point for Gruden is Andy Dalton. The young QB was taken in the 2nd round and has developed into a solid starter. His rating is in the 80s for both years. He is 19-13 as a starter. He has 47 TDs and 29 INTs. Dalton doesn’t look like an elite player, but looks like he can be a good NFL starter for years to come. Developing rookie QBs is hugely important in today’s NFL.
Gruden was somewhat conservative in 2011 since Dalton was a rookie, but Jay was more able to open up the playbook this year. WR Mohamed Sanu threw a 73-yd TD pass vs the Skins. WRs accounted for 14 carries this year, not counting Sanu. He played QB in some sets and finished the season with 5 carries of his own. Stud WR AJ Green has blossomed into arguably the best receiver in the AFC. Former CFL’er Andrew Hawkins emerged as a threat in the slot. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a career high 1,094 rushing yards. For an offense with so many new/young players, the Bengals had a good year.
I love the fact that Jay was a head coach in the AFL and UFL. Those are leagues where the coach must be very hands on and do a ton of stuff. You can learn a lot. You’re also working with less than great players and that means that you must be creative and do a good job of coaching, communicating, and motivating.
Jay was able to be on a good Bucs staff. I’m sure he learned a lot from Jon, but also Monte Kiffin, OL coach Bill Muir, QB coach Stan Parrish (Tom Brady’s QB coach at Michigan), Gus Bradley, Rod Marinelli, Mike Tomlin, and Raheem Morris. That’s a lot of guys who are either experts at what they do or went on to become head coaches in the NFL.
I think it is fair to question Gruden’s background in the sense that he’s not been part of a great team/organization. Andy Reid came to Philly from the Packers, who never had a losing season while he was there. They won a SB and lost a SB. Reid saw greatness. Jay Gruden was a small part of the 2002 Bucs, but Tampa only had consecutive winning seasons once in the Gruden era.
Is Jay ready to lead an organization? He might be, but the interview would be crucial here. His track record is impressive in an unconventional way. You need to meet with him and come away feeling that he’s got the leadership skills to run an NFL team on his own.
BRUCE ARIANS - Arians is a hot name right now. Should the Eagles have interest? Maybe.
I’m hesitant to fully buy in. Arians has done a great job, but there are several reasons to be very cautious with him. The Colts are 11-5, but aren’t really a good team. They basically throw the ball well and that’s about it. You’d love to give Arians a ton of credit, but he’s working with a special player in Andrew Luck. This isn’t Christian Ponder or Jake Locker we’re talking about.
The team has played a soft schedule and beaten a bunch of crappy teams (BUF, JAX, KC, CLE, TEN-2, etc.). I give the Colts credit for winning, but let’s not mistake that for them being a good football team.
Arians has been a gameday coach, but didn’t have to do the offseason stuff that can often make a team so successful. Chuck Pagano is the one who hired the staff. He worked with Ryan Grigson to figure out who to sign and draft. The coaching that takes place from August to December in some ways is the easy part. That’s just football.
The Colts do have a special vibe this year that seems to help them. Arians would not have that in a future job. Win one for Chuck would not be an effective rallying cry for the 2013 Eagles. Over the years we’ve seen interim coaches have success. Jason Garrett took over Dallas in 2010 when the team was 1-7. They were 5-3 for him. Since then, the Boys are 16-15. In college, I’ve seen a coach leave for a job and one of his assistants has coached the team through the bowl. That assistant does well and gets the full time job, only to be a disastrous hire.
As for Bruce’s track record…he was the Steelers WR coach when they won the SB in 2005. Bruce was the OC when they won in 2008 and lost in 2010. He was the OC for Butch Davis in Cleveland from 2001-03. He was the OC at Alabama in 1997 and the head coach at Temple from 1983-88. You can’t exactly call Arians an offensive guru, but he is a good football coach with a good offensive mind.
Bruce Arians is 60 years old. Coaches age like dogs when running an NFL team. What kind of a toll would that take on him? I hope Bruce does get a job and proves me wrong, but I would not hire him. Too many things about him make me nervous.
GREG ROMAN - I like Greg Roman quite a bit, but for some odd reason he is getting almost no interest. The Niners have a bye week, but no one is meeting with him. I don’t understand what’s going on here. My best guess is that teams perceive Roman to be riding the coattails of Jim Harbaugh.
Roman and Harbaugh worked together at Stanford and SF. They are running Harbaugh’s system, but Roman is responsible for the creative blocking on many of the run plays. His background is with the OL and he’s helped Harbaugh to put the system together.
The system worked at Stanford when the offense was built around RB Toby Gerhart and then QB Andrew Luck. It works at Stanford now, despite the lack of great skill players. The system has worked for the Niners. Willie Taggart was the RB coach at Stanford and took the system to Western Kentucky and led them to consecutive winning seasons. This is more than Jim Harbaugh.
Roman has a very interesting background. I won’t get into too much detail since he seems like a major longshot as of now. In some ways he feels a lot like Andy Reid, except that Roman is the guy from the alternate universe who is the running game version of Reid.
The big question for me with Roman goes back to the “is he ready to run an organization?” theme. Based solely on track record you would say “no”. But again…Reid was never in a position of power prior to getting the Eagles job. Roman might not get a job this year, but I think he’ll be a HC in the next year or two. He’s someone to watch.
Here’s an interesting video if you want to learn more about him. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMweQYjC7Rs
PETE CARMICHAEL - Another “guy in the shadows”. Pete is the OC for the Saints. How much of what they do is credited to him vs Sean Payton?
Pete grew up in football. His dad was a longtime assistant at BC. Pete got into coaching and worked at New Hampshire and worked on the staff with him in 1994. Pete then got a job as QB coach for Louisiana Tech and headed there for 5 years. In 2000 his dad was able to bring him to the NFL. Pete obviously showed he belonged. He’s stayed in the league since then. He worked for Marty Schottenheimer a couple of times.
Sean Payton hired Pete to be the QB coach when he got the Saints job in 2006. Pete took over as OC when Doug Marrone headed off to Syracuse. The offense has been great under Pete, but again the question is how much of that is him vs Payton vs Brees. Sean Payton gave up playcalling duties in 2011 and Carmichael did a great job with the offense. Pete obviously had free reign on the offense this year with Payton suspended. While the Saints have had a disappointing season, the offense is 3rd in scoring and 2nd in points.
The negative on Pete is that he’s never developed a young QB. He’s never installed and run his own offense. He has seen Payton do it up close and personal. He’s been part of a Super Bowl winning team and has had a hand in a record setting offense. I do like the fact that Pete spent time with Schottenheimer, a defensive coach. I think Pete is more likely to see things from a balanced perspective.
Pete is 41 and looks to be one of the up and coming coaches in the NFL. He’ll have to convince teams in his interview that he’s ready now.
* COLLEGE GUYS *
DOUG MARRONE - Who? Currently the HC at Syracuse. Marrone has had that job for 4 years and is 25-25. That may not sound like much, but you need to understand just how bad Syracuse was when he got there. Syracuse was 3-9 in 2008 with the #114 offense (almost dead last) and the #100 defense. The year before they were 2-10 with the #114 offense and #111 defense. Prior to that the team was 4-8 (no rankings available). Syracuse had become one of the worst programs in the nation. Marrone rebuilt the program one day at a time, one player at a time. He didn’t put in a gimmicky offense. He didn’t load up on junior college players. He didn’t get hold of some elite recruit. Marrone did things in a patient, sustainable way.
Marrone was an OL for Syracuse back in the 80s, when the program was good. He tried to carve out an NFL career, but after 3 years gave that up and turned to coaching. He got in on the ground floor. His first 3 stops were Cortland, the Coast Guard Academy, and Northeastern. Marrone then got a job at Georgia Tech on George O’Leary’s staff. He worked with a young graduate assistant named Bill O’Brien and they became best friends over time. Marrone hit the NFL in 2002 as the OL coach for Herm Edwards and the Jets.
In 2006 Sean Payton got the HC job in New Orleans and hired Marrone to be his OC. That’s a huge move. Hiring an OL coach that you’ve never worked with to come help run your offense…that tells you that Marrone had built a strong reputation around the NFL. Marrone helped run the Saints offense for 3 years and the team had a lot of success on that side of the ball. He then left for Syracuse after the 2008 season.
Marrone is a real interesting candidate. He was part of a dynamic offensive coaching staff in New Orleans. They turned Drew Brees from good QB to record-setter. I can’t stress enough how Marrone’s ability to rebuild Syracuse is incredibly impressive. Former coach Greg Robinson was a complete disaster. Marrone developed talented players on offense and defense. He also brought discipline to the program. Marrone lost a few star players to off-field issues. He put the program above the players. And Marrone took QB Ryan Nassib and developed him from marginal college player to NFL prospect. Nassib threw for 3,753 yards and 26 TDs this year.
I love the fact that Marrone has time in college and the pros. He knows how to teach football to low level players and stars. He understands the grind of the NFL. Marrone has been part of a successful staff and has shown that he can win on his own. If you watched the Syracuse bowl game this year, you could see them running plays that the Saints used to run with Reggie Bush. Syracuse won their bowl game. They finished the year 8-5 and were 19th in offense and 44th in defense. Compare those numbers to when Marrone got there.
I think Marrone qualifies as a leader and a builder. He has the NFL background that you want. He can develop QBs. Ideally you’d love someone who won more games at the college level, but I think that is nullified by the fact the program was at rock bottom and that he didn’t go for the quick fix. Marrone did things the right way. The big question with him is if you think he can be a great NFL coach and also fit. Does he have the right personality for your organization?
BRIAN KELLY - Kelly will lead Notre Dame into the National Title game on Monday night against Alabama. After that, he might get some calls from NFL teams.
Kelly worked his way up the coaching ladder. He was at Grand Valley State for 13 years and went 118-35-2. In his final 2 years, they won the national title. Kelly then moved onto Central Michigan, which was a perennial loser. In his third season, CMU won a bowl game and finished 9-4. Kelly used the spread offense and developed some star players.
After the 2006 season, Kelly left for Cincinnati. That program didn’t need to be rebuilt, but the hope was that Kelly could take it to the next level. And that he did. Cincy went 10-3, 11-3, and 12-1 in his 3 seasons there. The Bearcats were relevant on a national level. That’s when ND came calling.
It is hard to know what to make of Kelly’s time in South Bend. He went 8-5 for his first couple of years. This season the team is 12-0. Supporters will tell you he’s done a great job and the team is going to be good for years to come. Critics will point to some serious luck in putting together the 12-0 record. I don’t want to turn this into a dispute on ND. I just want to focus on Kelly and his part in this.
Kelly got Cincy to 12-0. He then left for ND before their appearance in the Sugar Bowl, which they lost. Kelly now has ND at 12-0. Any coach who can get 2 BCS schools to 12-0 records knows what he is doing. I have a few issues with Kelly, though. What is Brian Kelly football? The 2009 Cincy team was very good on offense. ND is very good on defense. We can say he’s adaptable, but we don’t really know what his vision is at ND. He hasn’t had a chance to get one recruiting class all the way through. He won with different players at CMU, Cincy, and ND. That sounds great, but also works against him in a way. Is it him or the players? I’m scared Kelly might be one of those guys who can outcoach other teams at the college level.
That is great for him and ND, but doesn’t necessarily help in the NFL. You aren’t going to outcoach the other guy in the NFL, just ask Steve Spurrier. You must acquire and develop talent. Kelly is extremely demanding. He can be very dictatorial. I don’t mean this in an insulting way. It works for him in college. The NFL is different. No coach can control everything. Even Belichick needs the right people around him. Kelly is famous for his sideline screaming, at both coaches and players. He’s improved in that area a lot, but I still wonder how he’d do at motivating millionaires. It takes the right personality to motivate them through fear (see Jimmy Johnson).
I’ve got no problem with the Eagles talking to Brian Kelly, but I’d really like to see one more year from him at Notre Dame before I became totally comfortable with him. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
* DEFENSIVE GUYS *
MIKE ZIMMER - I think Zimmer is pretty well known since he’s been running an NFL defense for more than a decade now. I won’t go as much into background with him.
Zimmer first came on my radar when running the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2000. Zimmer had been part of the staff since 1994. I thought he was a no-good, idiotic, Satan-loving fool. That all changed when he left for the Falcons in 2007. Suddenly, he was just smarter and seemed much less evil.
Joking aside, Zimmer got my attention in 2003 when Dallas finished #1 overall in yards allowed (2nd in points). Dallas blitzed and blitzed and blitzed. That is when Brian Baldinger made the statement that Dallas didn’t respect or fear McNabb/the Eagles since they were willing to go Cover Zero and keep no one deep, something he’d never seen before. Brian has been Captain Hyperbole ever since, but I digress.
Zimmer was the DC under Dave Campo and Bill Parcells. That’s pretty impressive. When Tuna keeps you around, he must think you can coach. Zimmer went to Cincy in 2008 and has finished in the Top 7 in yards allowed 3 of the 5 years. He hasn’t been worse than 15th.
The biggest selling point for Zimmer isn’t X’s and O’s. He’s solid, but won’t do anything that other NFL coaches haven’t seen. Zimmer is a great communicator and motivator. The Bengals have handed him a group of players that were highly troubled coming out of the draft or in the NFL. Zimmer has been able to get the most out of these guys. He does a great job of talking to them in plain terms. The conversation goes something like this “Do you want to hang out with your idiot friends and get arrested or do you want to get paid a million dollars to play football?” Zimmer doesn’t focus on morals. He’s pragmatic and it seems to work.
I’m a big Mike Zimmer fan, but deciding if he’s ready to be the man running your organization is tricky. He spent time under smart coaches like Parcells, Marvin Lewis, and Chan Gailey. I just wonder if Zimmer is ready for all the non-football stuff. NFL coaching is about so much more than football these days. Zimmer would have to really sell me that he’s ready to be the head man. Love him as a DC, but I wonder if that’s his ceiling. He’s been part of a couple of highly dysfunctional organizations in Dallas and Cincy.
GUS BRADLEY - Gus Bradley is the DC of the Seattle Seahawks. He worked a season under Jim Mora (the young one) and then stayed on when Pete Carroll took over. Pete’s key mentor is Monte Kiffin. Pete called Monte to ask about Bradley. Monte was the DC in Tampa when Bradley came in to coach the LBs. Kiffin was blown away by the young coach and told Pete to keep him. That’s what he did and Seattle is a rising force partially because of that.
Seattle was 9th in yards and 7th in points allowed last year. They are 4th in yards and #1 in scoring defense this season. That’s impressive for a guy who coached at North Dakota State and Fort Lewis College before coming to the NFL. Bradley spent 15 years honing his craft before hitting the big time. He was ready when Tampa gave him the chance and has done terrific work ever since.
Carroll will tell you that the keys for Bradley are his positive attitude and his teaching skills. He’s able to relate to players because he seems to find the positives to focus on. He also doesn’t just sit there and lecture guys in footballese. He is able to tell stories and come up with dumb sayings. That stuff keeps the players motivated and interested.
There are a couple of concerns. The happy guy approach sounds a lot like Carroll in his first trip through the NFL. That delivered mixed results. Players now see Carroll differently because of his time at USC. Bradley would be an unknown and you wonder if some veterans would think of his attitude as an act. The other key concern is that Seattle is playing great defense, but doing some unconventional things. Could those ideas work elsewhere? Seattle has taken some very odd players and made them into a great unit. Trying to copy that could be impossible and maybe disastrous.
I would love to hire Bradley as DC, but don’t think he’s ready to be a HC quite yet. Definitely someone to keep an eye on.
LOVIE SMITH - I am a big Lovie Smith fan. His teams play hard. He also knows how to come up with turnovers. 6 times in the last 12 years Smith’s defense was in the Top 5 in takeaways. They led the league 3 different times. That’s impressive.
The case against Lovie is that he was never able to solve the offense in Chicago. He had 4 offensive coordinators in 9 years. The offense never finished above 15th in yards gained. That’s not good. Lovie didn’t have the kind of pieces to work with that the Eagles do and that’s the reason you wonder if he could work out in Philly.
I would absolutely have interest in him as a DC, but it sounds like he’s set on staying a HC. He should. He built a winning team in Chicago. That wasn’t good enough for the Bears, but other organizations would love to get to that point. Buffalo would be an ideal landing spot for him.
If Lovie could convince you that he learned his lessons in Chicago and would be different, that could change your thinking. The problem is that he just got let go. He hasn’t really had the time to reflect on where he erred on the offensive side of things. If I had a strong QB and OC in place, I’d definitely look at him. The Eagles aren’t exactly in that position so I would pass.
* MISC NAMES *
Darrell Bevell – Seattle’s OC. Interesting background and some stuff to like, but track record with young QBs makes me nervous. Russell Wilson has played great, but in a system tailored exactly to him. Bevell did a lot of the same stuff in MIN when they ran a conservative attack and Tarvaris Jackson was the QB. Wilson is light years ahead of Jackson, but my question is whether Bevell can develop a QB to thrive in a more conventional offense. Wilson might do that, but we’re only guessing right now.
Ray Horton – Arizona’s DC. Seems there is a solid chance he gets the HC job in Arizona.
Vic Fangio – SF’s DC. Dom Capers disciple. Has had a few good years, but also plenty of bad ones. Found a home working under Jim Harbaugh. Guided Stanford to 11th ranked scoring defense in 2010. Has posted great numbers in SF, in points, yards, and takeaways. Not sure I see him as HC material, but has been really good for last 3 years.
Kyle Shanahan – Skins OC. Has posted good numbers while the OC in Houston and Washington, but was working under Gary Kubiak and his dad. I don’t trust that. Would like to see him on his own before considering him. Could turn out to be a great coach, but makes me nervous due to his lack of a background outside his comfort zone.
Steve Sarkisian – Univ of Washington HC. Reportedly not interviewing with teams and will stay put for now.
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I’ll be putting out the final pecking order probably on Saturday. This post is super-long already.