Winning coaches suffer under current policy

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL's competition committee, which met during last week's combine, is trying to find better ways to open the postseason interview window for coaches working for winning teams who want to explore coaching opportunities elsewhere, USA Today reported in its Tuesday editions.

Hiring guidelines prevented coaches still active in the playoffs from interviewing after Jan. 2, which effectively created a disadvantage for assistant coaches who had helped their teams get into the postseason.

The current interview window was created in 2002 as a compromise to a previous policy that disallowed interviews for coaches still involved in making a title run.

New England Patriots coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis were at the front of the class for NFL assistant coaches last season. They helped their squad roll to a second Super Bowl title in three seasons by winning 15 games in a row.

Yet when it came to competing for the league's seven head coaching vacancies, Crennel and Weis took a back seat -- in part due to the team's success.

By the time the Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII, six of the openings were filled.

"There's no question that Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis were at a disadvantage this year," Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy told the newspaper during a break at the NFL scouting combine that concludes Tuesday. "When you do get that tight window to interview, you might have three teams that are interested, but you have no time to prepare for the interviews because you're working on your game plan. You don't have as good a chance to sell yourself as the guy who's not in the playoffs and has had a week or 10 days to do all of his research and get everything together."

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and John Fox of the Panthers can relate.

During the 2000 season they were defensive coordinators for the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, respectively, meeting in Super Bowl XXXV. But because of the all-too-brief interview window after Baltimore's win, neither landed a head-coaching job until the next year.

According to USA Today, an assistant from a Super Bowl team hasn't landed an NFL head-coaching job in the same calendar year since Norv Turner went from offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys to Washington Redskins head coach in 1994.

In 1993 Dave Wannstedt made the jump from Dallas defensive coordinator to Chicago Bears coach. And as was the case with Turner, the interviews that led to Wannstedt's hiring didn't conflict with the ultimate goal: The Cowboys won the Super Bowl.
After Turner's hire, owners prevented any coach from interviewing before his team's season was completed, citing competitive issues.

"For many years, there was no rule and it worked really well," Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, told the paper. "(Now) there's something wrong with the system. Coaches are the most competitive people you will meet. They will not be distracted from the task at hand, from trying to win, if they are allowed to do interviews."

There's no easy solution, though Dungy likes the approach former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson took in helping Turner and Wannstedt juggle two tracks.

"He encouraged them to interview," Dungy told the paper.

"It's a very complicated issue," added Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the committee that will discuss the issue again in March and perhaps make a recommendation for owners to consider later that month. "If you start opening the door too far and there are five coaches on one staff interviewing the week of a playoff game, all of us get a little concerned."

Crennel interviewed for five jobs and Weis talked to three teams after the Patriots' regular season ended. But they had less than four days for the discussions. Crennel is said to have talked to three teams in one day; Weis visited with two in one day.

According to USA Today, one suggestion was floated at the combine: Freeze all hiring until after the Super Bowl. This idea, however, might be a tremendous setback for the team that finished 2-14 and is pressed to jump-start a rebuilding program.

Another idea making the rounds is to allow Super Bowl coaches a second window to conduct interviews during the bye week following the conference title games.

"I think that would help," Dungy told the paper. "Someone could say they talked to Romeo and Charlie, and they wanted to discuss some more things with them. If they knew they could talk again after the championship game, they might have a little more desire to wait. Now they just have a tendency to move on."