The Coaching Carousel
(Photo credit: nydailynews.com)
Written by, Brian Kayser
The NFL’s Black Monday came and left with no real surprises this year. Four head coaches received their walking papers and the only real surprise was Mike Smith in Atlanta. Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers was done as soon as their game ended on Sunday, although based on reports leaked to the media during the summer, he was done before the season ever started. Rex Ryan of the Jets cleaned out his office prior to the Jets’ finale with the Dolphins, but was left waiting until Monday for the official announcement that he, along with GM John Idzik, would not return. The fourth and not surprising at all coach to receive the ax was the Bears’ Marc Trestman.
Marc Trestman had to go. In his two seasons with the Bears, he went 13-19, with this year’s Bears struggling to five wins. They were embarrassed multiple times this year and their quarterback, Jay Cutler, the highest-paid player in the league, was benched for Jimmy Clausen. Yes, Jimmy Clausen. There were reports that players had turned on Cutler, reports of locker room fights, and an overall sense of chaos emanating from the Chi. There are some great weapons on the Bears for whoever steps in, but they’re going to need to find a real quarterback in free agency this year.
Rex Ryan was set up to fail this year, although he hasn’t helped himself much either. While the Jets were struggling under former quarterback Mark Sanchez, his front office went out and signed sideshow Tim Tebow, despite having no plans to actually use him. The media circus that created never helped, as the move reeked of desperation and attention-seeking. Couple that with Sanchez getting hurt in a meaningless preseason game on a meaningless but incredibly dangerous play, and the team had no choice but to call on rookie Geno Smith, who despite a great game against the Dolphins on Sunday, is not an NFL starting quarterback. Add to that mess that Darrelle Revis, the heart and soul of the team, left two years ago to the Buccaneers, of all teams, before landing with the Patriots, because the Jets refused to pay him market value, and the team was falling apart. With an inconsistent offense, a terrible defense, and disarray throughout the front office, there was no way to salvage this season, Ryan should be commended for being able to squeeze four wins out of this team. He’s still a great football coach and won’t be without a job for too long.
Going to three NFC Championship games in four years would be amazing to any team, especially if you’re the 49ers. Their last winning season was in 2002, and Harbaugh took them to the NFC Championship game in his first year as head coach. That’s an amazing turnaround and that kind of winning is what helped the 49ers exploit their taxpayers for a new stadium. Unfortunately, winning wasn’t valued as much as personality in the Niners’ front office, and Harbaugh was being shopped before the season even started because of that. The NFL, like any business, should be about business first. Harbaugh took care of business, therefore he should be fine. He may not win any personality contests, but then neither would a lot of coaches, with Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, the two active coaches with the most combined Super Bowls, being at the top of the list. And for that reason, the 49ers will not be able to hire a serious coach, as any candidate can see how little the front office valued winning and how quick they were to drag their head coach’s name through the mud for an entire season. With the core of the team aging and quarterback Colin Kaepernick coming off a terrible season, expect a lot more mediocrity in the Bay Area in the 2015.
While these firings may not be surprising, some of the coaches who are keeping their jobs are. Leading off that list would be Jay Gruden in Washington, who’s like a dog in the park with a six inch leash. It’s just that most dogs aren’t controlled by a psychopathic, racist sadist who sincerely makes you wonder if he’s really that crazy or just the greatest troll of all-time. Gruden cycled through three quarterbacks in Washington, and while none of them looked like NFL starters this year, even Peyton would have struggled behind Washington’s terrible offensive line. It took three years for Mike Shanahan, one of the greatest offensive minds in football, to fall from grace with owner Daniel Snyder, and Gruden, who does not have the mind nor the resume of Shanahan, his time will be much shorter. He’ll be lucky to make it through half of the 2015 season.
Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants looked like another surefire fire this year, as the Giants’ struggles from last year continued, whether it was a stagnant offense or a weak defense. Everything changed, though, with the instant rise of a healthy Odell Beckham, Jr., as he scorched defenses, partly thanks to quarterback Eli Manning becoming more comfortable with the Giants’ newly-installed West Coast Offense. With the return of Victor Cruz next year, the Giants have one of, if not the, best one-two wide receiver combinations in the league, and if they focus on their defense, resign Jason Pierre-Paul, and can land a quality running back or continue developing Rashad Jennings, they could be back atop the NFC East next year. It should be noted, too, that the Giants are one of the few teams that remain loyal to their coaches instead of being quick to hit the panic button. Before the Giants won their first Super Bowl in the Coughlin Era, fans were chanting for him to be fired as Tiki was tearing apart the team and his coach. That all changed with two Super Bowl wins, and the Giants are right to keep Coughlin for another year. He’s won and is in the process of installing an offense that can turn Eli into a dangerous quarterback. Besides, before a coach is fired, a team needs to ask themselves if they can find a better replacement. With the candidates available this year, the Giants are smart to keep a quality coach with two Super Bowl wins.
Now the interviews for potential replacements are going to start. Look for Josh McDaniels of the Patriots to get another head coaching opportunity, and with Harbaugh accepting the Michigan job, look for Mike Shanahan to land somewhere after taking this year off. For the teams that let their head coaches go, the question they have to be asking themselves now is if they can find a better replacement on the open market.