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Thursday, January 16
Updated: January 17, 5:25 PM ET
Coaching carousel moves toward fresh faces

By Len Pasquarelli

Of the 52 sideline bosses fired between 1995 and 2001, more than two-thirds were back in the league in some capacity in 2002, several of them employed for a second or third time as head coaches.

Dumped by the Chicago Bears after the '98 season, and following six years in which he compiled a 41-57 record, Dave Wannstedt completed a climb back up the ladder when he succeeded Jimmy Johnson at Miami in 2000. Fired by Carolina in 1998, Dom Capers resurfaced this year as the head coach of the expansion Houston Texans. Marty Schottenheimer is with a fourth team after being essentially jettisoned in the past by the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.

Tom Coughlin
Tom Coughlin was the Jaguars head coach for eight seasons.
Former head coaches Wade Phillips, Chris Palmer, Ray Rhodes, Norv Turner and Bruce Coslet all held down coordinator posts in 2002. Nudged out the door only three weeks ago, former Dallas head coach Dave Campo is the new defensive coordinator in Cleveland. Dick LeBeau, former coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, is considering a spot on the Buffalo Bills staff.

The list of head coaches who have been dismissed and then subsequently recycled either as head coaches or coordinators is lengthy. It has been commonplace for a coach to be fired and then, within a couple of weeks, to turn up on another franchise's payroll.

But in light of recent events, the "good ol' boy" network that has kept a lot of coaches earning regular paychecks and has stifled the entry of new faces into the market could be in its death throes.

The consummate good ol' boy, the ever-restless Bill Parcells, is back again for a fourth time as a head coach. And it is actually demeaning to refer to "Tuna" as a retread, since his track record is Hall of Fame caliber and he's always in demand. But the new trend, in which owners seem to be reaching for fresher faces and newer ideas, has put the old networking paradigm in jeopardy.

"When you look a guy in the eye, and the chemistry is there, you know he's your guy," said Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver, who on Friday officially named Jack Del Rio as the successor to Tom Coughlin.

Some owners have reached the point where they can't look into the eyes of older coach prospects, because those guys are wearing bifocals. Weaver, for instance, interviewed only one prior NFL head coach, Dennis Green, before settling on Del Rio. Mike Brown, the Bengals' owner, met with Coughlin but then narrowed his final choices to lifetime assistants Marvin Lewis and Mike Mularkey before choosing Lewis.

Del Rio has never been a head coach at any level. Ditto the perennial bridesmaid, Lewis. In fact, Del Rio has just six years of coaching experience at any level and has as many seasons as an assistant strength coach, one, as he does as a coordinator. If the San Francisco 49ers go the low-profile approach, as anticipated, it will mean that three out of four openings during this hiring period were filled by someone outside the Former Head Coach fraternity.

It will also mean that three men with exceptional track records -- Coughlin, Green and Steve Mariucci -- will be in front of the television for 2003.

Time was when it would have been anathema for a coach such as Green, who compiled a 101-70 record with the Minnesota Vikings and led the franchise to the playoffs in all but two of his 10 years, to have been out of work for a year. Barring an upset in San Francisco, where his candidacy is hardly as strong as some pundits have made it, Green faces a second straight year of coaching inactivity.

Among them, Green, Coughlin and Mariucci fashioned a 233-177 record, had a combined 16 playoff appearances and five conference title games. The aggregate record will make pretty nice scrapbook material, but it hasn't been enough to earn any of them a job for the 2003 season.

"People can knock the 'good ol' boys' network," said one general manager, "and their points about its downside might be good ones. But it's incredible to have three guys like that out of the league. It's the way things are going, though, and the momentum is rolling downhill as far as owners wanting to get some fresh faces into the mix."

This has become, for sure, a league based on marketing. Wins and losses are still key to the equation, but many NFL owners, particularly those with very limited football backgrounds, don't realize that it is wins, and not necessarily a winning smile, that compels fans to buy tickets. The game has become, though, increasingly public-relations conscious at the coach level.

A candidate who interviewed for one of the recent vacancies noted that the owner spent nearly half the session discussing the need to get out into the community and press the flesh. The reaction of the coach: "I didn't know if I was being interviewed for the head coaching job or maybe for the position of public relations director, really."

It would be naïve, too, to not suggest the league's recent fixation on hiring more minorities hasn't played a part in the reversal. Lewis was certainly a very deserving candidate, a man whose record of excellence as a defensive coordinator is impressive and who interviewed in the past for three head coaching positions.

That doesn't make it any easier for former coaches such as Green to reconcile a second consecutive year out of work. And if the trend toward fresher faces and allegedly newer ideas continues, it won't make it any easier for him to avoid a third year of idleness, either.

Side Lines
The broken foot suffered by standout defensive tackle Hollis Thomas in the preseason, an injury that sidelined him the entire year, forced defensive tackle Darwin Walker into the Philadelphia Eagles starting lineup. The three-year veteran definitely took advantage of the opportunity. Starting in all 16 games, Walker totaled 35 tackles and posted 7½ sacks. He hopes to continue that level of play when goes against left guard Kerry Jenkins of the Bucs in Sunday's NFC championship game. Although he weighs 295 pounds, and has always been noted more for his run-stuffing skills, Walker is deceptively quick. That could pose a problem for the slower, stiffer Jenkins. The veteran, acquired by Tampa Bay as a free agent last summer, has suffered through an uneven season and played several weeks on a broken leg. For the Bucs to snap their losing streak at Veterans Stadium, they must be able to run the football, and Jenkins will be key to that effort. How well he plays against the very active Walker could play a significant role.
The List
When the Bucs and Eagles meet Sunday in the NFC championship game, it will mark the 11th time in NFL history that two franchises will have played each other three or more consecutive years in the postseason. The longest such streak belongs to the Steelers and Raiders, who met five straight years (1972-76), with Pittsburgh prevailing in three of the contests:
Years Teams Result
1972-76 Steelers-Raiders Steelers 3-2
1995-98 Packers-49ers Packers 3-1
1993-95 Packers-Cowboys Cowboys 3-0
1992-94 Cowboys-49ers Cowboys 2-1
1987-89 Vikings-49ers 49ers 2-1
1978-80 Rams-Cowboys Cowboys 2-1
1976-78 Rams-Vikings Vikings 2-1
1970-72 Cowboys-49ers Cowboys 3-0
1967-69 Browns-Cowboys Browns 2-1
1952-54 Lions-Browns Lions 2-1
Stat of the Week
The Oakland Raiders played all three other division winners from the AFC during the regular season. They were 3-0 in those contests and the aggregate score was 108-62, an average winning margin of 15.3 points. The Raiders defeated AFC North champion Pittsburgh, 30-17, on Sept. 15. Oakland blistered AFC South champ Tennesseee, 52-25, the worst defeat for the Titans franchise since 1987, on Sept. 29. And on Dec. 2, the Raiders beat the New York Jets, champions of the AFC East, by a 26-20 count.
Stat of the Weak
Tampa Bay finished the regular season with an average of just 97.3 yards per game on the ground, the sixth-worst average in the league. Since 1990, only two teams that averaged fewer than 100 yards on the ground advanced to the Super Bowl, a statistic that doesn't bode well for the Bucs.
The Last Word
Former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, courted by the Atlanta Falcons last spring for a GM post that never was filled, on whether he might consider a return to the league at age 64: "You know, there are some days when I say to myself that I wouldn't mind doing it again. And then there are days when I see what happens to those other (NFL executives). I goes down to the last play and you're just nuts. That's when I say to myself, 'Shoot, I can't do it. I don't have that many ticks left.' "

Around the league

  • Just an educated guess, but look for someone like 49ers quarterbacks coach Ted Tollner, defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr., or some candidate from the UCLA cabal of general manager Terry Donahue to succeed Steve Mariucci in San Francisco. Those who contend that Dennis Green is the front-runner don't fully understand the structure or political landscape of the San Francisco front office. Despite his public pronouncements that he could fit comfortably into the 49ers structure, Green is still viewed by people who hold sway in the organization as a square peg-round hole kind of guy. While his candidacy likely will be championed by longtime friend Bill Walsh, the 49ers "consultant" is facing an uphill battle on this one. Lots of names are being tossed around but only a few, such as New Orleans assistant head coach Mike Riley, are legitimate. University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who has a UCLA pedigree, could try to get into the mix, because he is a renowned social climber on the coaching ladder. One potential darkhorse: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, former head coach at Youngstown, the home city to the DeBartolo family power base. But the more likely scenario is that someone in-house, such as Tollner or Mora, lands the job.

  • Puh-leeze, no more stories about Mike Holmgren heading back to the Bay Area. The legion of conspiracy theorists out there, those who keep trying hard to connect the dots but rarely have a sharpened pencil, ought to realize that the 49ers aren't going to pay that kind of salary for a head coach. Had the team made an extension offer to Steve Mariucci, it probably would not have averaged $3 million annually. After way too many years of runaway spending under former owner Eddie DeBartolo, the new front office will enact a budget, a solid move by Dr. John York and one that desperately needs to be taken. San Francisco will still be competitive in acquiring and maintaining key players. But it's doubtful the franchise will have, at least in the foreseeable future, a head coach earning $4 million per year. And while no one wants to believe it, Holmgren wants to say in Seattle, even after he relinquished his general manager post. That's not just posturing rhetoric by agent Bob LaMonte, who represents Holmgren. It's the truth.

  • Paying out the final season of the Steve Mariucci contract, which called for a base salary of $2.25 million, won't exactly tax the 49ers' new budget. Sources told ESPN.com that the payout is spread over 30 months. Speaking of coaching salaries, word is that the deal Marvin Lewis signed with the Bengals is worth less than the $1.5 million average that has been advertised. You've got to hand it to Lewis when it comes to the old switcheroo: He began the year represented by Atlanta-based Ken Landphere, who used to work with former agent and current Atlanta vice president Ray Anderson. Then, while he was being courted by Michigan State and Cincinnati, he sought advice from agent Jimmy Sexton but never retained him. Finally, his deal with the Bengals was negotiated by David Dunn and Joby Branion of Athletes First. Yep, they're the guys who recently lost the $46 million court case to Leigh Steinberg. Finally on coaching salaries, the five-year contract that new Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio has signed is worth $6.5 million. The base salaries begin at $1.1 million in 2003 and then escalate to $1.5 million for 2007.

  • Those unnamed game officials, who belly-ached to the New York Times this week about being "hung out to dry" by the league, better get used to it. Sure, the league wants the games well-officiated, and it only makes sense that commissioner Paul Tagliabue demand that playoff contests be as error-free as humanly possible. But officials are naïve if they think there isn't some residual enmity from the 2001 season, when they went on strike for a better contract and came back to work with their tails between their legs. Some people in the league's Park Avenue offices have long memories. They wouldn't mind weeding out some of the officials who were hard-core during the work stoppage. So you can bet the NFL is keeping very precise notes on who made the controversial calls and who has been subpar in their performances.

  • Disappointed as they are over his first three NFL seasons, the Browns might be even more concerned about the recent knee surgery of defensive end Courtney Brown. What was supposed to be just a 45-minute procedure turned into a four-hour operation. It is suspected that Brown, who has underachieved since Cleveland made him the first overall choice in the 2000 draft, underwent the controversial "microfracture" surgery. The surgery, which is supposed to promote healing of cartilage in the knee, has had very mixed reviews. Many players who underwent the procedure, such as former Arizona first-round defensive end Andre Wadsworth, never returned to the league. Carolina Panthers officials, who acknowledge that tailback DeShaun Foster had the procedure, allow they aren't sure when their 2002 second-round pick will get back to the field. The timetable now calls for him to hopefully be recovered by sometime in training camp. In typical fashion, Cleveland officials aren't saying anything in-depth about Brown's surgery. But instead of facing a five-week recovery period, Brown now faces five months of rehabilitation, two Cleveland sources told us. New defensive coordinator Dave Campo needs Brown and tackle Gerard Warren, the third overall choice in the 2001 draft, to come through if the Cleveland defense is to take a quantum leap. As indicated here in the past, don't expect to see linebacker Jamir Miller, who missed the entire '02 season with an Achilles injury, back in Cleveland for 2003.

  • Cincinnati Bengals officials were hoping the hiring of Marvin Lewis might ameliorate the desires of standout linebacker Takeo Spikes to exit the team after five miserable years of losing. After all, Lewis is a man who has turned linebackers into Pro Bowl performers everywhere he has been. But Spikes is intent on going onto the open market, as an unrestricted free agent, and he reiterated that stance this week. "I feel like my time (in Cincinnati) is done," Spikes said. "I did all I can do. I did all that I owed not only to them, but also to myself. I just want to win. I want to compete. That's my whole objective. I don't look at the time I spent in Cincinnati as wasted time. I just want to go somewhere and compete and win." The chances are that Lewis will attempt to talk Spikes into staying, and will impress upon him his track record with players like Ray Lewis. And the Bengals probably just won't permit Spikes to escape and get nothing in return. The likelihood is that the team will designate Spikes a "transition" player, but not a "franchise" free agent, thus permitting him to negotiate with other teams. The Bengals then would have a right of first refusal and the ability to match any offer sheet from another franchise. Even that move, though, would probably escalate the enmity between the player and the team. Like several other prominent Bengals veterans, Spikes feels the addition of Lewis points the team in the right direction but that things won't change dramatically as long as owner Mike Brown still functions as general manager. Said Spikes: "You can bring Vince Lombardi back. But if Vince Lombardi doesn't have the say-so to get his troops ready, it's not going to happen."

  • The loss of Trace Armstrong (knee) for the balance of the playoffs is a blow to the Oakland Raiders on and off the field. But because coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and line assistant Mike Waufle have done a tremendous job of playing so many defensive linemen in 2002, Oakland might be able to absorb Armstrong's absence. Oakland has rotated its defensive linemen well, fostering the development of youngsters DeLawrence Grant, Chris Cooper and Rod Coleman. In fact, Coleman might be a huge key to the defense, especially in Sunday's conference championship game against the Titans. A bit undersized to play tackle, the 290-pounder nonetheless rotates inside with Sam Adams and John Parrella, and he is most effective on passing downs. Always a natural pass rusher, Coleman has great quickness and leverage, and he can squeeze through the creases on the interior. Not many people realize it, but Coleman's 11 sacks during the regular season were the most in the league among defensive tackles. He will be a major problem for the slower Tennessee guards, Benji Olson and Zach Piller, who are better known as drive-blockers in the running game. The foursome the Raiders use in their "nickel" pass rush -- left end Travian Smith (actually a linebacker who moves into the line), Coleman at left tackle and Cooper at right tackle, and Regan Upshaw at right end -- could be a tough matchup in general for the Tennessee line unit.

  • With a scheduled base salary of just $650,000, and cap value of $825,000 for 2003, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox is one of the best bargains in the league. But don't expect things to stay that way. Provided coach Bill Cowher decides that Maddox indeed is the starter going into camp -- and why wouldn't he be? -- look for the Steelers to revisit Maddox's contract and significantly upgrade it. "That was basically what they told Tommy when he signed the (four-year extension) last spring," a source close to Maddox told ESPN.com. "We know that they'll do the right thing." In addition to his '03 salary, Maddox is scheduled to make just $750,000 each in 2004 and 2005 and then $900,000 in 2006. Under the existing contract, his cap number doesn't go over the $1 million mark until 2006, when it is listed at $1.1 million on NFLPA documents. Pittsburgh has about $74.7 million already committed to its 2003 cap, with the spending limit for the league expected to be about $75 million. The Steelers will save $6.3 million when they trade or release Kordell Stewart. They can save up to $2.75 million on tailback Jerome Bettis depending upon when (or even if) they release him.

  • Houston Texans officials aren't ready yet to concede offensive tackle Tony Boselli won't play again, but sources say they are concerned that the former Pro Bowl performer won't be ready for camp. "There still really are no guarantees," said one Houston source. "But it's hard to be optimistic at this point." Boselli is due an offseason roster bonus, which the team might ask him to delay.

  • There was a notable difference of opinion in the New York Jets hierarchy this week. A day after coach Herman Edwards noted he would "absolutely" permit backup quarterback Vinny Testaverde to seek employment options, general manager Terry Bradway announced the veteran is going nowhere. Basically, he insisted that if Testaverde plays in 2003, it will be in a Jets uniform. The Jets still want Testaverde, with a modest base salary of $1 million for '03, as an insurance policy behind starter Chad Pennington. And since his signing bonuses from the past have accumulated so much potential "acceleration," it will be tough for New York to trade or release the 39-year-old. Then again, Bradway might just be posturing, to see if Dallas coach Bill Parcells is ready to part with something in exchange for Vinny.

  • Speaking of Pennington, a longtime friend who spent more than 10 years playing quarterback in the NFL passed along this observation: Pennington has perhaps the worst arm strength of any of the 12 playoff quarterbacks. Because of that, defensive backs can move much easier to the ball, make a burst on all the short and intermediate passes. That means most passes will be contested, that wide receivers will have less separation, that they will have to fight their way to the ball. But the Jets' top three wide receivers -- Lavernaues Coles, Wayne Chrebet and Santana Moss -- have an average height of just 5-feet-10¼. That's the shortest combined stature of the top three receivers from any of the 12 franchises that qualified for the Super Bowl tournament this year. The feeling is that the Jets might have to get at least one bigger, more physical wide receiver to help continue the advances Pennington made in 2002.

  • You hate to stereotype anybody, but some scouts are concerned tailback Larry Johnson might be the latest overhyped Penn State runner. Johnson looked a bit too upright, and certainly slow to the hole, during the Senior Bowl practices this week. Several scouts told ESPN.com that Johnson might have to play in a one-back scheme because he isn't comfortable with a lead blocker in front of him. And contrary to rumors, scouts also lauded Detroit Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg and his staff for how well they ran the practice sessions for the South squad.

  • It appears that Indianapolis tailback Edgerrin James won't be such a stranger at the Colts complex this offseason. Very quietly last week, the club agreed to pay James a $1.3 million incentive he failed to earn with his on-field performance this season. To have triggered that bonus, James was supposed to rush for 1,000 yards, but he fell 11 yards shy of the benchmark. He did earn a $1.5 bonus by catching more than 60 passes. But in an effort to compel the usually invisible James to spend more time in Indianapolis this offseason, and to work out at the team's facility, the Colts opted to award him the $1.3 million that was tied to his rushing total. The caveat: James must spend a predetermined number of days in town and must be present for a certain number of workouts and mini-camp sessions. After tearing up his knee in 2001, James opted to rehabilitate at his home in Miami last offseason, skipping a mandatory mini-camp. If he wants to do so this year, it will cost him, big-time. James is under contract through the 2004 season and his base salary for 2003 is $1.275 million.

  • Here's the breakdown on the six-year, $14.78 million contract extension that Kansas City wide receiver Eddie Kennison signed this week: It includes a $3.2 million signing bonus. Base salaries are $655,000 (2003), $875,000 (2004), $1.595 million (2005), $2.05 million (2006), $2.15 million (2007) and $2.5 million (2008). There are roster bonuses of $125,000 (2004), $525,000 (2007) and $800,000 (2008). The workout bonuses are $50,000 each in 2003-2006 and 2008 and $55,000 in 2007.

  • Punts: According to Cleveland coach Butch Davis, his defense allowed 108 "big plays" (runs of 10 yards or more and pass completions of 20 or more yards) in 2002. That was a dozen more "big plays" than the Browns surrendered the previous season. ... Longtime Cincinnati strength and conditioning coach Kim Wood on Friday announced his retirement after 28 seasons. Wood was often criticized for what players felt were his antiquated methods. But make no mistake, he was pushed out the door. Marvin Lewis will hire Washington Redskins strength coach Chip Morton. ... Look for the 49ers to jettison wide receiver J.J. Stokes at some point this spring or summer. ... The Jets have moved physical cornerback Jamie Henderson, whom they feel will be a real contributor in 2003, to safety. ... Denver has no intention of retaining offensive tackle Blake Brockermeyer. ... The Rams might bring back cornerback Aeneas Williams for another year, but he will have to dramatically reduce his salary.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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