When the 2009 NFL season gets underway, 10 teams will have different coaches than they started 2008 with.
This season’s group of new hires has a lot to live up to. There were only four new hires in the previous offseason, but that quartet of rookie coaches went a combined 41-23, with three making the postseason. Mike Smith and Tony Sparano led two amazing turnarounds in Atlanta and Miami, and John Harbaugh led Baltimore to the AFC Championship Game, while Jim Zorn put together a respectable 8-8 mark in his first season with Washington.
What do I think of each team’s new hire? I didn’t include Seattle, since Jim Mora
, Jr. was already named Mike Holmgren’s successor quite a while back, but I will say that while it’s cute and all that mushy stuff that it’s a dream job for Mora, I’m not sold on him being the right guy.
Out: Romeo Crennel - Cleveland’s surprising 10-win season in 2007 only prolonged the inevitable, it seems. The Browns never had it going in 2008, even before their quarterbacks started getting injured.
In: Eric Mangini - A franchise looking to rebuild hiring a coach looking to do the same. You always have to do a double-take when a team hires a coach who has just been fired.
Out: Mike Shanahan - It was time for a change in Denver, but the end was about as painful as it can get, with the Broncos losing their final three to throw the AFC West away.
In: Josh McDaniels - Great news for Jay Cutler and Denver‘s offense, but more important than hiring him was the hire of Mike Nolan as the new defensive coordinator, which he is much better suited as than a head coach.
Out: Rod Marinelli - Not a moment too soon. You can’t undo your transgressions, but you can learn from them, and firing Matt Millen and then disposing of Marinelli were two very necessary steps for the Lions.
In: Jim Schwartz - Have one of the worst defenses in NFL history? The Lions finally used some sense by hiring a top defensive coordinator in Schwartz, who got his start in the NFL with Bill Belichick and spent the past decade with the Titans. Don’t expect an overnight miracle, Lions fans, but know that things can’t get any worse, at least.
Out: Herm Edwards - The Chiefs were very competitive in 2008, despite their 2-14 record, and I figured Edwards might return in 2009. But, the hiring of Scott Pioli pretty much assured that he wasn’t going to.
In: Todd Haley - No head coaching experience and only two seasons as a coordinator, but he’s had a lot of success as an offensive coach, so that bodes well for the Chiefs, with or without Larry Johnson or Tony Gonzalez. Some players might not like his ‘in your face’ style, but you know he’s not going to settle for anything less than the best, and that’s not a bad thing.
Out: Eric Mangini - The ultimate last laugh for Chad Pennington. The Jets were rolling along at 8-3, then they ran out of WD-40 for Brett Favre, and it was all over from there. Three seasons too quick to can him? Not really. Their late-season implosion after spending big in the offseason is one thing, but he just didn’t build off of a great first year in ‘06 like he needed to.
In: Rex Ryan - The Jets defense will make some definite strides under Ryan, who was passed over in the carousel last year, but remained in Baltimore to oversee one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses.
Out: Lane Kiffin - He’s better off in the college game, though we’ll see soon enough whether the SEC is the right fit for him. Good to see he’s already making friends!
In: Tom Cable - Cable’s previous head coaching job was at the University of Idaho, where he went 11-35, which made his 4-8 ledger with the Raiders in 2008 about par for the course. But he has to succeed, because if not, who‘s going to want the job after that?
Out: Mike Nolan - Nolan threw his players under the bus, his teams underachieved, and he just wasn’t a good fit in San Fran, period.
In: Mike Singletary - Turns out a Mike was the right man for the job, but they had the wrong one. Singletary lit a fire under the ‘Niners after taking over, and I like the chances of them winning the NFC West within a few seasons.
Out: Scott Linehan/Jim Haslett - Linehan never clicked in the Gateway City, and thankfully the NFL stopped St. Louis from the knee-jerk hiring of Haslett after he’d won his first two games as interim head coach, because he didn’t win the final 10.
In: Steve Spagnuolo - Did waiting a year for a head job pay off more for him or for the Rams? He’ll bring some much-needed defensive intensity to the Rams. If their offense can be at least a shade of what it was before, they can see quick improvement in the win column.
Out: Jon Gruden - Mildly surprising at first at first glance, but it had to happen. Since the 12-4 championship season in 2002, Gruden went 45-51 in the following six seasons, and the three playoff appearances in his tenure were followed by misses. The icing on the cake was the Bucs’ four-game losing streak to end the 2008 season after a 9-3 start, which saw them go from having a chance at a first-round bye to sitting at home after losing at home to Oakland in their season finale.
In: Raheem Morris - Some question whether he got the job because Tampa didn’t want to lose one of the league’s top assistant coaches to someone else. The 32-year-old Morris did interview for the Denver job, so that’s an indication of how highly he’s thought of outside of Tampa. It’s a little worrying that he’s light on the experience side, and that their defense was atrocious down the stretch after he took over as defensive coordinator, but the players are familiar with him, and hopefully familiarity will breed success.
Ranking the NFL Coaching Hires
1. Mike Singletary: Didn’t take him long to get out of the team what Nolan wasn’t able to, which is saying a lot about his abilities.
2. Steve Spagnuolo: Miracles don’t happen overnight, but a little defensive improvement can carry the Rams a long way in the NFC West, and that should happen with Spagnuolo at the helm.
3. Jim Schwartz: About the best hire that Detroit could make. Good things happen when you use common sense!
4. Rex Ryan: It didn’t work out so well the last time the Jets hired a highly-rated defensive coach, but Ryan
5. Todd Haley: The Chiefs have a lot of rebuilding to do still, but Haley is the right man to build off of the discernible improvement that did happen in Herm Edwards’ last season. Will he piss a few people off? Probably, but you won’t see any lazy or uncommitted players on his team.
6. Josh McDaniels: If things get the least bit better on defense, and they should, it shouldn’t be long before Denver is having the success they’re capable of having.
7. Raheem Morris: He’d have gotten a top job before long, but is this the right one? With age and injury an issue throughout this team, a couple of rebuilding years may be ahead, but he won’t have too long of a leash to fall far behind the rest of the NFC South.
8. Eric Mangini: Like I said, you always have to do a double-take when you hire a coach who’s just been fired elsewhere.
9. Tom Cable: Maybe he’ll actually do well, because Oakland does have some talent to build around. But if Al Davis is looking for a new coach this time next year, don’t be surprised.