There is old joke about coaches, "they hire em, to fire em,"
Never was an adage more accurate than in today’s NFL where increasingly impatient owners and general managers want to win, and win now. Last year there were 11 coaching changes because of dismissal or retirement.
Two firings were of particular note: Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay who led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in 2002 and Mike Shanahan in Denver who won two Super Bowls in the late 1990s. Many thought Shanahan had lifetime tenure. But the cold reality is that if a team has three straight losing seasons, its coach is likely to get fired.
Not surprisingly, everyone is chasing that elusive definition of success in the NFL. One senior NFL executive joked with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis at an owners meeting that you only call yourself a "team of champions" when you win. Lose and you are just an ordinary team. Everyone likes to yap about their organizational philosophy when they win. Funny how that philosophy looks far better when a team has many talented players.
After winning three Super Bowls in the past eight years, the Pats are vying with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the team of the decade label and everyone wants a piece of their success. Numerous Patriots assistants have been hired to run other teams. Let’s review. Former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was hired as the coach of the Cleveland Browns, only to be fired four years later after just one winning season.
His replacement, ironically, was fired New York Jets coach Eric Mangini, another Belichick protege. Dubbed as man-genius in his first year because he led the Jets to the playoffs after they finished 4-12 the previous year, New York went 13-19 in his last two years.
Notre Dame hired Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis in 2004 and the Fighting Irish have seen mixed results. This past year the Denver Broncos hired offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, 33, to be their coach. Raheem Morris, who the Buccaneers chose as Gruden’s replacement, is also in his early 30s.
Teams will take chances on younger coaches, partly because they are cheaper. The Broncos were paying Shanahan $7 million a year and only have to pay McDaniels $2.5 million a year. At the executive level, the Kansas City Chiefs hired Scott Pioli in the offseason to be their GM (his salary is estimated to be around $5 million a year).
The biggest success story to descend from the Patriots brain trust is Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff who led the Falcons to the playoffs, one year after the Michael Vick controversy. Dimitroff directed college scouting for the Patriots.
As long as Belichick is at the helm and the talent matches his coaching prowess, the Patriots can survive these defections. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, though, must adjust to a new offensive coordinator or lack thereof.
Brady had a strong relationship with Weis and McDaniels, trusting McDaniels with his play calls and in-game adjustments. When Weis left after the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2004, the Patriots did not make McDaniels the offensive coordinator right away. Even though he called the plays in 2005, they did not give him the official title until 2006.
Former wide receivers coach and now quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien is essentially the offensive coordinator in training—taking on the required responsibilities, yet receiving a more watchful eye from his boss. Belichick knows a lot about offense, by virtue of having coached defense for a quarter century. He can run the offense if he has to.
Overall, the Patriots coaching staff is younger than in 2008, as Belichick rewards loyalty, even though veteran coaches like Mike Martz were available. Shane Waldron, 29, will coach the tight ends and Josh Boyers will coach the defensive backs. Both worked their way up from graduate assistant to coaching assistant to position coach.
Dante Scarnecchia, the staff sage, is in his 25th year with the team. His work with offensive linemen, particularly on technique, has been regarded as maybe the best in the league. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, 59, will be calling the shots once again. Pees has coached for 36 years, everywhere from the University of Findlay to Kent State.
Pepper Johnson, who played for Belichick with the Giants’ will coach the defensive linemen again and Matt Patricia will coach the linebackers. Scott O’Brien also replaces long time special teams coach Brady Seely.
The Patriots best chance of success in 2009, however, may center on the health of Brady’s knee where 96 credentialed media members watched him at practice on Thursday, all wondering the same thing as the Patriots coaches.
Will he make a full recovery in 2009?