||08-26-2005 12:22 PM
PFW:Coaches on the hot seat
Tice, Haslett facing 'win or else' mandatesPro Football Weekly
Dallas Defeats Seattle 18-10
Job security is hardly a staple in the NFL's head coaching ranks, with at least 11 jobs under close scrutiny entering the 2005 season.
Forget that only three new head coaches will be entering the NFL regular-season fray in a few short weeks. Despite this year's relatively low turnover, it would be a big mistake to suggest an air of tranquility has settled over the always volatile head-coaching scene.
According to PFW's latest calculations, more than one-third of the league's coaches -- 11, to be specific -- are treading on shaky ground, to varying degrees, with the 2005 campaign fast approaching.
What follows is a closer look at the challenges facing each of those coaches, presented in alphabetical order:
Dom Capers, Texans
Capers has some characteristics of a coach who could be on the hot seat. The Texans have yet to finish at .500 or better in his three seasons as coach. And though Capers made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator, Houston's defense has been far from dominant during his tenure. However, it's believed the Texans would have to flop miserably in 2005 for Capers not to return for another season with the club. The Texans, after all, are in only their fourth year of existence, and they have tried to build around a young core of talent -- a stark contrast to the blueprint the expansion Carolina Panthers used in the mid-1990s. Capers guided the Panthers to the NFC title game in 1996, the franchise's second season, but when the team went 7-9 and 4-12 the next two years, he was out of a job.
Capers seems to be at the helm of a team on the rise, not in decline, as the Texans have won four, five and seven games, respectively, in their first three seasons. The Texans can also be encouraged by how they fared in AFC South play a season ago, sweeping the Titans and Jaguars. That said, the Texans enter this season with pressing concerns on both sides of the ball. The biggest worry remains the offensive line, which has failed to adequately protect QB David Carr. The defense will be expected to take a step forward, especially the pass rush. While Capers leads a young squad that still may not be ready for the playoffs, the situation is preferable to coaching a veteran squad without upside. Look for him to get at least the next two seasons to try to lead the Texans to the playoffs.
Jack Del Rio, Jaguars
Owner Wayne Weaver maintains, publicly at least, that he's pleased with the improvement made by the Jaguars since Del Rio was hired. Weaver has said Del Rio is secure as Jacksonville head coach through 2006 -- playoffs or not. But Del Rio, who didn't ignore a vacancy at LSU in January, might not see himself in Jacksonville long term. He's one of the lowest-paid head coaches in the NFL. He's also one of the youngest, and was relatively inexperienced when he was hired in 2003. Since the franchise has been treading water financially, Del Rio won't be seeing the salary increase he reportedly was once denied already.
What's more, Weaver might not be in a position to fire his coach, considering the exorbitant cost a team assumes when firing a coach and/or coaching staff and finding replacements. It seems far-fetched that any potential candidate to replace Del Rio wouldn't want at least $1.5 million annually and demand to hire his own coaching staff. In that scenario, Weaver would incur a cost of at least $6 million, and that's assuming he can find a staff of 16 at a cut rate. The bottom line here is that Del Rio appears to be safe. If he wins with a very young team this season after going 9-7 (an improvement from 5-11 in 2003), he might be rewarded on merit. If not, most team sources doubt Weaver is willing to pay the price necessary to cut bait.
Joe Gibbs, Redskins
There's no question that Gibbs was caught off guard in his first season back with the Redskins after being lured out of retirement to coach the team after an 11-year layoff. That's not to suggest that Gibbs was overconfident coming back to the league after a Hall of Fame career during which he won three Super Bowl titles, but it was clear in watching the team's offense that Gibbs and his impressive stable of coaches thought the system he ran in the 1980s and early '90s could still succeed in today's NFL. And that's why surprise might have been the most prevalent element felt by Gibbs in his mostly unsuccessful return in a 6-10 season. Sure, the defense was, at times, stellar, but most credit former Bills head coach Gregg Williams for the team's success there. It was almost unthinkable before last season to suggest that Gibbs' shortcoming on any team from now until the next Halley's comet comes around would be his offense. Hence the rumors that another losing season could signal a premature end to the Gibbs Era II. He signed a five-year, $28.5 million deal before last season and has said he plans to honor the length of the deal.
Though Gibbs might plan to be with the team that long, owner Daniel Snyder has had a notoriously quick hook with previous big-name coaches. And though none has had anywhere near the draw in Washington as Gibbs has, you can't completely eliminate the possibility of the meddlesome owner's stepping in if the team's failures continue. There's also the matter of Gibbs' health. Gibbs, 64, who continued his storied work ethic last season by spending countless hours on the job, also underwent a common procedure to open a clogged artery to his heart this April. He's also a diabetic who suffered an insulin imbalance reaction in February 2004 while visiting free-agent QB Mark Brunell.
Jon Gruden, Buccaneers
It took Gruden less than 11 months on the job to lead the Buccaneers to the franchise's first Super Bowl title. Gruden's Bucs finished 12-4 in his first season at the helm in 2002, but like Jim Haslett in New Orleans, Gruden hasn't come near that level of first-year success since. The Bucs have followed up their Super Bowl campaign with 7-9 and 5-11 marks in 2003 and '04. The difference between Gruden and Haslett is a big one -- Gruden won a Super Bowl in his first season while Haslett won a playoff game -- and it's that factor that will keep Gruden employed. Gruden's Super Bowl win entitles him to receive a couple of years of patience from the Glazers, especially because he inherited an aging team that he's been trying to make younger. If the Bucs have a repeat of last year's 5-11 campaign -- which is not out of the question with their inconsistent and unproven offense -- Gruden would likely face a playoffs-or-bust season in '06. But as long as his Bucs can show some improvement from last season, Gruden's job will be safe in Tampa for this season and the foreseeable future.
Gruden has reason for optimism this season. The Bucs' defense is not quite at its dominant 2002 level, but it's still a unit that can beat opponents, if not on reputation alone. Offensive success again won't come as easily, but the future looks much brighter this year with young talents such as RB Cadillac Williams and WR Michael Clayton.
Jim Haslett, Saints
Haslett has been a coach at a crossroads ever since his second season in New Orleans, but every year his team does just enough to prevent his getting the ax. It seems Haslett has finally run out of continuances. The feeling around New Orleans is Haslett must guide the Saints to their first playoff berth since 2000, or Haslett must find another job.
Haslett's start in New Orleans couldn't have been any more saintly. He led a downtrodden team that finished 3-13 the year before his arrival to the brink of its first NFC championship game. The Saints won the NFC West with a 10-6 mark in 2000 and then knocked off the Rams in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Vikings the next week. Since then, Saints fans have waited for New Orleans to take the next step. But Haslett followed up his strong debut with a 7-9 finish in 2001 and a 9-7 record the next year, missing the playoffs both times. The last two seasons have seen the Saints accumulate back-to-back 8-8 marks and finish just shy of making the playoffs.
Haslett can't complain that he hasn't had any talent to work with the past two seasons. He has a franchise running back in Deuce McAllister, a franchise receiver in Joe Horn and a quarterback in Aaron Brooks who has franchise QB talent but has been inconsistent. On defense, Haslett has a pair of dominant ends in Charles Grant and Darren Howard and an up-and-coming secondary. The Saints won their final four games last season and will need to play at that level again this season for Haslett to keep his job.
Mike Holmgren, Seahawks
The numbers tell the story. Before becoming the Seahawks' head coach, Holmgren's record as the head coach of the Packers was an eye-popping 84-42 (including the postseason). Entering his seventh season in Seattle, however, the Seahawks are a very ordinary 50-49, coming off what must be considered a frustrating 2004 campaign despite winning their first-ever NFC West title. The team's penchant for crashing and burning in crunch time offset its third playoff berth under Holmgren. And after losing in the first round for the third time under Holmgren -- to the division rival Rams, no less, for the third time in one season -- it looked like Holmgren's future in Seattle just might be in serious jeopardy. Holmgren admitted to being burned out at season's end, but when Seahawks owner Paul Allen surprisingly pulled the plug on team president Bob Whitsitt instead of Holmgren and replaced Whitsitt with Tim Ruskell, the head coach's funk gradually gave way to a renewed sense of optimism for the 2005 season.
Holmgren hasn't been given any ultimatums by Ruskell, who has gotten along well with the head coach since coming on board from Tampa Bay. But if the Seahawks fail to emerge from the weak NFC West with a playoff berth, it would surprise nobody if Holmgren didn't make it to the final year of his eight-year contract. Even if the Seahawks do make it to the postseason, Holmgren could be in trouble if the team continues on the uneven path it weaved so precariously last season. Another year full of dropped passes on offense and ill-timed breakdowns on defense just won't cut it.
Mike Martz, Rams
It doesn't matter that the Rams have been to the postseason in four of five seasons with Martz as the head coach, or that Martz's .638 winning percentage with the Rams is the fourth-best among active head coaches. Those stats haven't been convincing enough to earn Martz a contract extension with two years left on his existing deal. Tension in the team's front office, with Martz not always seeing eye to eye with president of football operations Jay Zygmunt and general manager Charley Armey, could be one reason, although it would appear the Rams have had a productive offseason, locking up Pro Bowl OLT Orlando Pace long term and adding free agents such as LBs Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley. Another reason is the continued perception of Martz as an arrogant, unorthodox feather ruffler whose often bizarre game management and play calling leave him wide open to criticism on a semi-regular basis.
There has been a talent drain in the Martz regime that hasn't been talked about a lot, as players such as London Fletcher, Kevin Carter, Ernie Conwell, Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl, among others, have moved on to new surroundings. Yet the expectations for the Rams have remained high nonetheless -- a carryover from the team's "Greatest Show on Turf" glory days. Martz appears on solid ground for the time being, especially if his team gets off to a good start. But if the team once again appears overmatched in a number of games, as was the case last year, and Larry Marmie's defense and the special teams continue to struggle mightily, Martz might finally wear out his welcome in St. Louis.
Bill Parcells, Cowboys
In the team's preseason opener, the Cowboys were penalized 12 times for 91 yards, made defensive breakdowns and turned the ball over at critical junctures in a bad-looking loss to Arizona. Time for Parcells to unload a healthy dose of fire, right? Well, nothing the media could see, anyway. Parcells even appeared calm -- yes, calm -- as he addressed the ills his team needs to cure. Has the man lost his touch? Is this a sign he no longer has the passion for the game? That might be overstating things a bit.
Yet the question as to how long he will continue to coach the Cowboys lingers. Most people feel Parcells, 64, is in his final coaching job and that he might not fulfill the length of his deal -- a four-year, $17.1 million contract signed in 2003 that would end after next season. His tenure with the Cowboys has been an odd one; in each of Parcells' other three head-coaching stints -- with the Giants, Patriots and Jets -- his teams had struggled in their first seasons but improved dramatically in year two under Parcells. In Dallas, his first team overachieved with a 10-6 record and then fell back to earth with a 6-10 mark last season.
There has been speculation that another losing season could drive Parcells away. Reports suggest that this offseason was one of the toughest the future Hall of Fame coach has had to endure, and anything short of a major improvement could be the final straw for a man who has left each of his previous three jobs on his own. The counterargument is that a majority of the team's moves, including a youth movement and the implementation of a new defensive scheme, suggest he'll see the job through. But this is Bill Parcells we're talking about; it's hard to know what he might do next, win or lose.
Mike Shanahan, Broncos
Shanahan is about as safe as they come in the NFL coaching ranks. His employer, Pat Bowlen, says as much. Bowlen has mentioned many times in the past that Shanahan will coach his team as long as he wants to. Shanahan, known as one of the league's top offensive strategists, boasts a 101-59 regular-season record since taking over the reins in 1995. He has more wins than any coach over the last 10 years. He won back-to-back Super Bowl titles after the 1997 and '98 seasons. His Broncos offenses are regularly among the most productive in the entire league.
So why is he considered a coach at a crossroads? Simple, really. Shanahan hasn't won a playoff game since the Super Bowl in January 1999, which, not so coincidentally, was the last time John Elway wore shoulder pads. That fact does not always sit well with the Broncos' faithful, who have watched their team, most recently, suffer through consecutive blowout losses in the playoffs at the hands of the Colts. Bowlen, however, won't hear any of it. "When I see criticism of Mike, it's almost like a joke to me because of his stature around the league when people think of Mike as a head coach and what he has done," Bowlen said. "That stuff, in my mind, is created a lot by the press. We're lucky to have him."
Mike Tice, Vikings
New ownership did nothing to change the standing of Tice. Shortly after he restructured the team's front office, owner Zygi Wilf granted Tice a stay for 2005 while saying a decision on Tice's long-term future wouldn't be made until later this year. If you read between the lines, Wilf said, "Win or you're out." With some of the most talented offensive players in the NFL, Tice has generated just one playoff win. The Vikings' young, undisciplined locker room received a face-lift in the offseason, though. Tice approved a trade of locker room pariah Randy Moss, who operated under a different set of guidelines than his peers, which created a divide and led to players questioning Tice's leadership.
Tice, with strong endorsements from team leaders Daunte Culpepper, Matt Birk and Kevin Williams, still has to win this year. With as many as six new starters on defense and no Moss, Tice needs a fast start, but more importantly, has to avoid another late-season meltdown. The Vikings were 5-1 on Oct. 24, 2004, and held a considerable lead over the 3-4 Packers. But the Vikings went 1-4 in the final five weeks of the season -- they also closed with a 3-7 record after a 6-0 start the year before -- and need to prove they can finish, or Tice can expect to be canned.
Dick Vermeil, Chiefs
Vermeil and Carl Peterson have been close since forging a friendship and successful working relationship at UCLA in 1974. The duo moved on to Philadelphia when Vermeil coached the Eagles during 1976-82. Though striking out the first time in trying to lure Vermeil out of retirement to coach the Chiefs in 1989, Peterson, entering his 17th year as the general manager in Kansas City, was successful when he tried again in January 2001. Peterson has told Vermeil that he can coach as long as Peterson is making the decisions for the organization. Vermeil, however, isn't expected to last that long. The ever-passionate Vermeil admitted that he was burned out after coaching the Rams to a Super Bowl title in the 1999 season, and he has hinted that, at 68 years of age, he will be ready to move on when his contract runs out at the end of this season.
The Chiefs invested plenty of money and draft picks this offseason in an effort to improve a woeful defense. The window of opportunity for the Chiefs' aging but still productive offense is closing fast, so rapid improvement defensively is a must to send Vermeil out on a high note. "If the team plays real well and it looks like the way we do things is capable of producing a good football team, then I might stay," Vermeil recently said, hesitating to make a decision during the summer months. "I'm just going to play it out and see what happens."