Looking to Atlanta

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 49 Comments »

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.

However, Koetter admits that while he was an offensive guru, he didn’t have much in the way of long term vision.

“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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

Tonight’s bowl game is Florida and Louisville.  David Syvertsen has a list of prospects to watch.

_


  • Ark87

    Tommy you are a machine man. Flexing your coach research for all to admire. I work in an office with people from all over. Well half of them are in the coach hunt now. Some of these guys are pretty hardcore fans. I’m like so who are you hoping for….Chip Kelly, maybe Buy out Bill O’brien, maybe Greg Roman….? Who are they??? says the Bears fans. I want Cowher!!! Thanks to you and the Reid’s departure becoming imminent in like October, I can give them a psycho analysis on Chip Kelly and every Atlanta coach. I’ve got such and edge!

    • TommyLawlor

      Glad to keep you informed and entertained.

      • Ark87

        In all seriousness though. We Eagles fans are perhaps more prepared and educated for “Black Monday” than any other fan base in the league due to circumstance. I hope circumstance will leave Lurie and perhaps Howie more prepared than their competition.

  • austinfan

    Nolan has earned another shot.

    One thing to consider, if Howie is in charge (and you trust his judgment), at worst he rebuilds the defense over three years, the team stocks up on young talent, and you get a replacement HC who’ll be salivating to turn a talent laden franchise around or over the hump.

    You not only want to think about upside, but what a coach might leave behind him if he doesn’t work out. One problem with Rhodes was he was an intense, “win now” coach who didn’t build anything. It seems like Nolan built a solid foundation in SF even if he struggled to put an offense together.

    • TommyLawlor

      Nolan did build well out there. That’s got to be a selling point on his behalf.

      • 47_Ronin

        The 49ers recent success should not be a selling point for Nolan. Some or much of the 49ers turnaround should be attributed to their personnel people like Scot McCloughan and Trent Baalke

        http://www.csnbayarea.com/blog/matt-maiocco/through-years-how-49ers-were-built

        Nolan famously (or infamously) passed on drafting local product A. Rodgers (whom Nolan should have seen a lot of film on). I would pass on Nolan. To me he’s like the Norv Turner of defense, a good coordinator but bad HC.

        • TommyLawlor

          The coach develops talent. Just because you draft good players doesn’t mean they’ll play at that level. Coach has to know what to do. Think of the impact JJ had on Trot/Dawk.

          Go look at Tampa prior to Dungy’s arrival. Lots of talent, but they sure didn’t play to that level.

          Nolan wanting to pass on Rodgers doesn’t kill his credibility. Lots of people thought that was smart, me included. I thought Smith was the no-brainer pick. Better athlete. Better college career. Very, very smart. Great prospect, except his arm. It was good enough, but that’s it.

          Rodgers was a Tedford disciple and they had a very mixed NFL record at that point. Many people were scared off by that.

          • laeagle

            I was living in the Bay Area at that time and your summary is dead on. That was exactly what people were saying in the local press there at the time. And Nolan wasn’t the only one who made a mistake on Rodgers, if you take into account how far he fell that day. Even die-hard Cal fans weren’t raising too much of a stink, for precisely the issues with Tedford disciples that you mentioned.

  • ceedubya9

    Good read as usual. I think that I wouldn’t be upset with Nolan running things. If he has truly learned from his past mistakes, then a defensive mind like his could be just what the team needs to get back into contention again. The offense already has plenty of parts in place that we already know can compete well in this league (QB, while promising, still a question mark of course). A top OC that can have that side playing to its strengths could be enough while Nolan straightens out the D, which obviously needs the most work.

    Will be intersting to see the direction this team goes in with the coach selection. The possibilities are exciting and terrifying at the same time.

    • TommyLawlor

      “The possibilities are exciting and terrifying at the same time.”

      Amen brother. I’m excited as heck, but scared to death.

  • nopain23

    This Atlanta thing is just a smoke screen. Howie is working behind the scenes as uaual. Remember how out of the blue..BAMM we signed Nnamdi and also BAMM out of nowhere we signed Ryans.
    It’s gonna be McCoy or Kelly.Book It! While I prefer Mccoy I would be OK with Kelly too. Both need to high a helluva DC though!!!!!!!!
    Tommy what do you think of Romeo or Lovie as DC candidates if they don’t get HC gigs?
    Oh and Happy New year to You Sir!!!!

    • TommyLawlor

      Happy New Year to you.

      I doubt this is a smokescreen. More like a fact-finding mission with low expectations.

  • ACViking

    Re: Falcon & the Snowman

    T-Law:

    Three things.

    First . . . you’re so right about the “The Falcon & the Snowman” — a great movie. And based on a true story. Timothy Hutton, who co-starred as the CIA insider with access to and the desire to sell the secrets, was actually billed above Sean Penn. May have been TH’s last true lead.

    ___________

    As for your title to the post, I’d argue you could have included “Snowman” based on the fact that — as far as you know — no coaches from Canada are on Lurie’s list. Yet.

    Far fetched to look to Canada? Probably. But talk about exciting, innovative, creative offenses . . . nothing more fun than watching CFL football on that extra-long, extra-wide field with 3 guys running forward before the snap. Great stuff. So CFL coaches could fall under Lurie’s “innovative” requirement.

    Also, the great HOF head coach Bud Grant made his bones in the CFL with 4 Grey Cups (after being an Eagles No. 1 pick in ’51 from U-MN but then jumping to the CFL for more money after 2 seasons). Also, former Eagles HC — and player, too — Jerry Williams (’69-part of ’71) was a CFL coaching alum with 1 appearance in the Grey Cup game. And in 1984, the Houston Oilers plucked Hugh Campbell from the CFL — where he won 5 straight Grey Cups before jumping to the USFL’s LA Express — but the Oilers fired him w/ 2 games left in the 1985 season.
    __________________

    Last item.

    The Mike Nolan analysis is really top notch.

    A couple questions for you.

    1. If you had to speculate (and you do!), what kind of offensive philosophy do you think Nolan would have as a HC.

    2. Who do you think Nolan would want as his OC?

    3. Do you think Lurie (or Roseman) has made contact with Bill Belichick to ask about potential HCs?

    • TommyLawlor

      Jim Finks also spent time learning in the CFL and I think he did okay as a GM. He’s the guy who hired…Bud Grant.

      Nolan loves the run game. He’ll want to run the football and mix in the pass.

      Great question. Could go for old friend Norv Turner. Maybe go for Rob Chudzinski if the Panthers fire him. Mike would need a strong answer at OC to sell himself to Lurie. Brad Childress isn’t someone he’s connected to, but would be a very interesting idea.

      I would think Roseman might talk to Brian since he’s connected to Nolan and Greg Roman. Could be worth picking his brain.

      • laeagle

        Turner as the OC with a QB like Foles wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. A bit of a shift from the many years of WCO variants with Gruden and Andy, but it might work. That Coryell-esque offense has still remained productive in San Diego, despite whatever other problems the Chargers have had.

    • Ark87

      How many Bill Belichick products have gone on to be (especially) successful head coaches? Most recently it seems like anybody linked to Bill leaves all the magic in Foxborough when they move on. But them I’m sure Bill would look for different things in and assistant than he would look for a potential head coach. That has to be one of the most mercurial dynasties in my eyes.

      • ACViking

        I’m wondering only because — as T-Law noted — Lurie has great regard for the New Patriots organization.

        Also, for the reasons you noted, I’m hoping that if any inquiry were made of Belichick, the question is worded: “Who, outside of the Pats’ staff, do you like as a potential head coach?”

  • miked718

    I love the coach write-ups. They sound like the stories Peter King will re-tell when we win a superbowl. You sell me on almost every one, glad it’s not my call.

  • Miami_Adam

    Great stuff, TL.

    Armstrong is also a Philly native.

    Do we know how much influence Nolan had on personnel decisions in SF?

    I’d be surprised if he was a serious HC candidate for many teams, given his lack of offensive experience.

    • TommyLawlor

      I’m sure SF was like most places where the draft is mainly run by personnel guys, but the coach has heavy input on the key picks.

  • Miami_Adam

    Also, as far as defense goes, with Payton going back to the Saints and Vitt probably becoming the DC, is Spags looking for a job?

    • http://www.facebook.com/xbcsmith Brett Smith

      IMHO Spags can keep looking. In his years removed from the Gints his D has been less than inspiring.

  • xeynon

    Koetter sounds like a loser pick, the classic case of a guy who’s an excellent coordinator but lacks the organizational skills needed to be the top guy. Glad to hear he’s staying in Atlanta. Armstrong sounds like an up-and-coming coach but I want someone with more of a track record. Nolan is a second tier option IMO.

    I want an offensive coach, honestly. When you don’t have a franchise quarterback in place, you want a guy who knows how to pick and/or develop one. Belichick could do that, but most other defensive coaches, even the best ones (Cowher, Dungy, etc.) can’t/don’t.

  • Guest

    Armstrong is also from the Philly-area – grew up in Levittown, high school at Bishop Egan, college at Temple.

  • ACViking

    T-Law . . . great call in Jim Finks!

  • Mac

    Keeping it simple:

    The Falcon and The Roseman

    • Ark87

      The Falcon and the Showman…but Lurie isn’t THAT well know for his hand in film.

      • Mac

        Or the “Fal-con”

      • TommyLawlor

        The Faultees Falcon…that’s bad. Expect the FCC or FBI or FDA to come knocking at your door.

        • Ark87

          Worst of all, I’ll be haunted by Humphrey Bogart’s ghost….in character! So the Falcons should go ahead and win the Superbowl or something so I don’t have to deal with all that.

    • TommyLawlor

      So obvious and brilliant, but I missed it! I’ll steal that if we hire one of them.

  • Ark87

    It seems Tommy’s research has been spot-on again. Chip Kelly answering a question from Les Bowen about adapting his scheme to the NFL:

    “Anything you do has to be personnel-driven,” Kelly said, when asked a question about offensive adaptations flowing out of the college game into the NFL. “You’ve gotta be able to adapt to the personnel that you have. There’s a lot of great offenses out there, but does it fit with the personnel you have? I think the key is being sure what you’re doing is giving your players the chance to be successful.”

    • eagles2zc

      One thing I have been wondering lately, is how the next HC will resolve the discrepancy between Foles’ deep ball issue and DJax’s home run talent. Something interesting to look out for next season

    • A_T_G

      Everything he says makes me hope more at he ends up in Philly.

  • Noah_Becker

    I’m stridently anti-Nolan because his head coaching record vis a vis his talent was terrible. His overall team DVOAs by season were 32nd, 27th, 31st, and 25th (in a partial season). The defensive DVOA was 31st, 29th, 24th, 18th (again, partial season). Since Nolan’s left, San Francisco’s defense has been top half of the league, annually. This suggests to me that Nolan’s a guy who couldn’t handle the burden of leading a full roster and was incapable of even leading the unit in which he theoretically had the most competence to success. I will be really disappointed if the Eagles hire him.

    • Iskar36

      I think the point with Nolan is that you hire him because you believe he has learned from his mistakes the first time around and will be a substantially better HC. In other words, using statistics from his first time around as HC is a bit meaningless because it is recognized that those teams did not perform well. The question is did Nolan understand WHY they played poorly and did he learn how to prevent that from happening AND become a successful coach the second time around. It’s completely fair to question his ability to be a successful head coach the second time around, but I’m not sure anyone is really arguing that he wasn’t successful the first time.

      • Noah_Becker

        My overall point wasn’t that Mike Nolan wasn’t successful, with which everyone agrees. My point was that Mike Nolan was bad in a way that suggests it’s incredibly unlikely he would achieve success with a second chance.

        Here’s the list of coaches, since 1991, who have finished in the bottom 3 in overall DVOA and won the Super Bowl later in their career:

        *Tom Coughlin

        Coughlin’s bottom 3 finish was with the expansion Jags, so there were at least some mitigating circumstances. Now there are some guys who could break that this year (John Fox, Pete Carroll and Gary Kubiak), but the overall takeaway is that guys who finish in the bottom 3 of DVOA are generally bad coaches and giving bad coaches second chances is a great way to make sure a bad team continues to be bad.

        • Iskar36

          This argument to me is a lot more powerful, and if that was what you were getting at in your first post, I apologize that I missed it. I would agree with you that Nolan is not my ideal choice by any means, and he would also absolutely need to convince me that he can make a drastic turnaround before I trust him. Still, I do think he is a guy worth interviewing and learning more about.

          • Noah_Becker

            It was not your fault for missing it, I was trying to keep my first comment concise and it just resulted in the post being imprecise.

        • holeplug

          Well said. Too many people just lump “failure” into 1 pile when analyzing coaches without looking at degrees. Nolan was SO bad in S.F. that the chances of him improving from the very bottom of the coaching talent spectrum to the very top is incredibly small. Even if he does “learn from his mistakes” and improve in his second go around it will most likely be from godawful to slightly mediocre or simply average.

          • laeagle

            Having lived in SF through the Nolan years, I think a lot of the chaos lay at the feet of the ownership. Things were a mess there as DeBartolo’s sister took over. The Yorks had their heads up their asses for a while until the finally got some decent personnel people in there. Those early days were so bad from a management perspective that it wasn’t even funny. Braman-esque.

    • TommyLawlor

      @ Noah … Good counter argument. My point wasn’t to say “Nolan should get the job”, but rather to point out there is a case to be made for him.

      I do prefer Nolan as a DC, where he’s shown himself to be very good. Less risk.

  • eagles2zc

    Out of the three Falcons coaches, Nolan is the most impressive one IMO. While Koetter is working with some serious firepower on the offensive side, Nolan has had (arguably more) success with far less remarkable pieces. For me, though, it’s still Kelly or bust!

  • ACViking

    Re: Banner 1st in Line for Kelly Interview

    T-Law:

    I’m wondering if Banner’s going to show up in AZ with a contract in hand (and his laptop to make changes) to not just interview Kelly . . . but, as in free agency, “make him offer he can’t refuse” so he won’t get out the proverbial door to speak with anyone else.

    Kelly’s agent is David Dunn — not Bob “I represent almost every coach & Howie Roseman” LaMonte.

    Cleveland has a pretty decent roster on both sides of the ball.

    And no GM.

    Thoughts?

    • Ark87

      Re: Thoughts
      That scares the piss out of me, you just KNOW Banner is out to get us

    • laeagle

      No GM, but they do have Banner, so it’s kind of a wash.

  • http://twitter.com/bubqr Virgile – Bubqr

    Koetter: Won’t touch that. The Falcons have tons of talent on Off, I don’t see him as some kind of mastermind. I even think they should be better on this side of the ball.

    Armstrong: Unknown

    Nolan: I’ve always liked the guy, and wherever he goes post SF the defense becomes a good one. Your blurb on his time at SF reassured me a bit. Kelly remains the highly intriguing one, but I now like Nolan as a potential HC.

  • dislikedisqus

    Your research and analysis on coaches is amazing. Thanks very much.

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