The Eagles were set to meet with the top 3 Falcons assistants, Dirk Koetter the OC, Mike Nolan the DC, and Keith Armstrong the STs coach. Koetter signed an extension to stay with the Falcons and removed himself from consideration for HC jobs.
Good, I say. The more research I did on Koetter, the less I liked him. Why?
- 2-19 vs ranked teams while the head coach at Arizona State.
- Never beat a conference team from California (USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal) in an away game.
- Went 21-28 in Pac-10 play.
- Bragged of his dominance over state rival Arizona (4-2 record). Of course, failed to mention that Arizona was awful at that time. Best record was 6-6 and in 3 years they won 3 or fewer games.
Koetter did put Boise State on the map as a I-A team. Prior to 1996, they were I-AA. The team was 6-15 in the 2 years prior to Koetter. He was 26-10 in his 3 seasons and really jump started the program to what it is today.
“I’m an X and O guy,” Koetter said. “When I went there, I attacked everything from the X’s and O’s. We didn’t have a lot of stuff you need. We need enough VCRs and TVs to watch videotape. We didn’t have meeting rooms.”
Hawkins was the visionary, the one with the audacity to ask a school and a city for better facilities.
“Hawk is a big thinker and said, ‘Hey, we got to get an indoor facility and a bigger weight room,’ ” Koetter said. “I’m thinking, ‘Hawk, you are not going to get that stuff.’ But he did it. He got it all.
“He asked the people of Boise to step up and commit to make it big time and they did.”
Koetter is a very smart coach and gifted offensive mind, but this sure doesn’t sound like the guy I want to turn my franchise over to.
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So what about Mike Nolan? Much more complex subject. Mike was the coach in SF for 3 1/2 years. He went 18-37 and posted one of the lowest winning percentages (.327) in the history of the NFL for a guy who coached in 4 seasons. Immediately that should rule him out as a failure, right?
Not to me.
Look at the 2005-2008 period. Nolan drafted/developed a lot of talent:
QB Alex Smith
OG David Baas (now the C for the Giants)
RB Frank Gore
OG Adam Snyder (now w/ Cards…has 65 career starts)
TE Vernon Davis
LB Manny Lawson (now w/the Bengals)
RB Michael Robinson (now FB for Seahawks)
LB Parys Haralson
TE Delanie Walker
LB Patrick Willis
LT Joe Staley
DE Ray McDonald
SS Dashon Goldson
CB Tarell Brown
WR Josh Morgan (now w/ the Skins)
OG Harvey Dahl (was on practice squad, got signed away, now starter for Rams)
Nolan also had the team sign DE Alex Smith.
If you look at that list, you’ll see many of the key players for the SF team that has been so dominant the last 2 years.
If Nolan is such a genius, why didn’t he win more? Offense. He hired Mike McCarthy to be his OC in 2005. Mike then got hired by the Packers to be their head coach. Nolan replaced him with Norv Turner. Alex Smith showed promise in 2006. Frank Gore ran for 1,695 yards and the team went 7-9. Things were headed in the right direction. Then, bam. Turner gets the HC gig with the Chargers.
Nolan promoted QB coach Jim Hostler to be the OC. Disaster. The team finished dead last in points and yards. Nolan fired him after 2007 and turned to Mike Martz. Alex Smith was hurt, but the offense was improved. It didn’t result in wins so Nolan was fired.
There were also issues with how Nolan dealt with players. He questioned the severity of Smith’s shoulder injury and that led to some hard feelings. Nolan was tough on other players and they didn’t care for his screaming.
The good news is that Nolan learned from that. He’s a changed man now and gets along with his players much better. Gone is the fiery screamer. He’s able to control his emotions much better and the Falcon players love playing for him. Nolan also got along very well with his players in Miami last year.
The reason to have interest in Nolan is to see if you can find another Belichick type. Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Belichick is the son of a coach and an NFL-lifer. He was a DC prior to getting the HC gig in Cleveland. Belichick had a losing record 4 of his 5 years with the Browns. Then he spent time with the Pats and Jets before becoming the Pats HC in 2000.
Belichick had enough time as an assistant to reflect on why he failed in Cleveland. He figured out the mistakes he made and learned from them. Belichick was much better prepared for the Pats job because of that.
Nolan is the son of a coach (father Dick was the Niners coach in the early 70’s). Nolan grew up idolizing his dad and Tom Landry, who his dad worked for. Nolan went right into coaching after graduation from Oregon. He’s a football lifer. Like Belichick, Nolan was a successful DC and that’s how he got his first HC job.
There have been plenty of coaches win the SB with their second team in the last 12 years. Belichick won 3 of them. Tom Coughlin won a pair. Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden were each with their second team.
Clearly, this doesn’t mean you hire Nolan and are guaranteed to get the next Belichick or Coughlin or Dungy. The point is that coming up short in one place doesn’t mean you’ll fail in the next place. Nolan’s record was terrible so he’ll have to explain the heck out of that. There was bad luck. He inherited a terrible team and also lost his first 2 OCs to HC jobs. His #1 pick had injury issues and that made things all the worse.
Can Nolan coach? Yes. Absolutely. Can he run a winning organization? I have no idea. He’d have to sell me on that in the interview.
I do love his background. Nolan worked for a variety of teams and coaches. He’s been exposed to different systems and style of doing business. He coached in college and the pros. I think that is important. Nolan has had Top 5 defenses in yards, points, and takeaways in multiple stops. He’s not riding one superstar player. He knows how to coach defense. Nolan is adaptable, having run both the 4-3 and 3-4.
If you could hire a strong offensive staff and get Nolan to fix the defense, the Eagles could be a really good team. His Niners teams didn’t have the kind of firepower that the Eagles do.
I think Nolan is a longshot to get the job, but he’s definitely worth talking to. He has a great background. He’s had success in multiple stops.
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Keith Armstrong is a guy that I vaguely knew of before just a few days ago. I’ve done some research on him and he’s got my attention. Is he ready to make the jump to HC? That’s the big question.
Some have asked whether Armstrong is getting looked at simply as a way to comply with the Rooney Rule (that you must interview at least one minority candidate). That is absolutely possible. The league has pushed minority candidates in the past. They don’t expect teams to hire the guy, but ask that you give him an interview.
This can be a good thing. The more a guy interviews, the better he should get at it. One day when the coach is truly ready to get a HC gig, he’ll be able to sell himself in the interview. It also forces owners and GMs to meet with some coaches they otherwise might not know.
One of the ways that you get a head coaching job is that you have a strong reputation around the league. Doing interviews can help you build up a reputation, good or bad. Most guys are going to interview pretty well. Armstrong may not be a realistic candidate right now (or maybe he is), but teams will be very aware of him moving forward. That should only help his chances of getting a HC job.
As for his background, Armstrong was in college football from 1987-1993. He coached DBs, WRs, LBs, and STs. In 1994 he got a job with the Falcons and then HC June Jones. Armstrong coached DBs for 3 years, before going to Chicago to be the STs coach for Dave Wannstedt and the Bears.
Armstrong left for the Dolphins in 2000 and stayed there until 2008, when he returned to the Falcons, but this time as the STs coach.
The big thing that jumps out at me here is that Armstrong survived coaching changes. When Wannstedt was fired and Dick Jauron took over in Chicago, Armstrong kept his job. When Wannstedt was fired in Miami and Nick Saban took over, Armstrong kept his job. Then Cam Cameron got the job and Armstrong stayed through that as well.
When that many head coaches are willing to keep you on, despite the fact you were hired by the predecessor, that speaks volumes. You just don’t see that much in the coaching world.
Armstrong has put together outstanding STs units over the years. He was under a lot of pressure in Miami because Wannstedt fired longtime STs guru Mike Westhoff so that he could bring his friend down there. The fans and media didn’t like the move at all. That went away after a year when they saw that Armstrong was a top-notch coach.
Armstrong has done well in Atlanta. He is fundamentally sound, but also keeps his guys fired up. Starting DE Kroy Biermann spends time covering KOs. Here’s what he had to say on that.
“Yeah, I’ve still got to run down there on kicks and knock some heads off,” Biermann said with a laugh. “That’s fun, I’ve always loved that. (Special teams coordinator) Keith (Armstrong) gets us right. Every weekend, he’s ready to roll and his energy is crazy. I love covering kicks for him. That’ll be a thing all year, I think.”
When the STs coach can motivate starting players to play hard on KO coverage, that again speaks volumes.
Here is an interesting video interview I found with Armstrong. I really like the way he carries himself and speaks. He has a good presence. Some assistant coaches sound like assistants, especially STs guys. Armstrong comes across well. He said good things, but also gets style points for delivery. Part of being the coach is passing the eye test and looking/sounding like a HC.
I think Armstrong is a real longshot to get the Eagles job, but he’s another interesting guy for Lurie to talk to. There is one semi-connection between him and the Eagles. While in Miami, the GM was Randy Mueller. Randy’s brother Rick is a personnel consultant with the Eagles so I’m sure Lurie and Roseman will get in touch with Randy to see what he’s got to say. Who knows, maybe Randy mentioned Armstrong to Rick at some point in the past.
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I really wanted to find a way to mix “The Falcon and the Snowman” into the title, but couldn’t come up with anything that fit neatly. That’s a very underrated 80’s movie, with Sean Penn giving a really good performance as a completely annoying low-life that sells US secrets to the Russians.
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Tonight’s bowl game is Florida and Louisville. David Syvertsen has a list of prospects to watch.