This week’s $.10 got split into two parts. The first section covered the Wild Card weekend games. This one focuses on the ongoing NFL coaching and GM carousel, which expanded by one as I wrote it…
$.01--In the midst of starting to write this on Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles added another seat to the musical chairs of coaching vacancies. The Eagles fired Doug Pederson less than three years after he guided Philadelphia to a Super Bowl victory.
It’s not necessarily a surprise that Pederson is out, though the timing of the move is a little odd. Waiting a week after the traditional Black Monday smacks of organizational indecision, a stink that won’t help the Eagles with the albatross droppings they already have with the QB situation. There is a perception, and it’s not necessarily incorrect, that the Eagles management chose Carson Wentz over Pederson. The same management that drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round to either push or reinforce Wentz, a move that the oft-injured, ridiculously compensated (over $31M/yr through 2024) vet responded to by posting one of the worst seasons by any QB in the 21st century.
Whoever takes the Eagles job has to sort out the thorny quarterback situation and a defense that is in need of a transition. The best players on the defense are all either at the end of or beyond their prime years: Brandon Graham is 32, Darius Slay--a high-priced disappointment in his first year in Philly--is 30, as is Fletcher Cox. Rodney McLeod will be 31, Vinny Curry 33. There are some young pieces but not nearly enough, and many are tailored to fit Jim Schwartz’s specific defense. Schwartz won’t be back; he’s taking a year off and considering retirement.
Pederson leaves with some promise to jump right into another role. There are already rumors out there that he’s high on the New York Jets list for that team’s head coaching vacancy. That seems awfully speculative given the timeline, but Pederson is an unusually available candidate. He’s 52, won a Super Bowl with a franchise that had never tasted that sweetness before, and he’s well-regarded for his work with young QBs--this past year with Wentz excepted. It’s easy to see why the Jets would be interested in having him try to resuscitate Sam Darnold. Works for me.
First guess--and it’s just that--at the new Eagles coach: 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
$.02--The team I root for, the Detroit Lions, have had an opening since late November when the team pulled the plug on the failed Bob Quinn/Matt Patricia pairing. Many Lions fans are antsy at the seeming delay in hiring a new GM and head coach. Given the franchise’s rather inglorious history at both positions, it’s a valid worry.
There are a lot of possibilities still out there, but as of Tuesday morning, there is a new clear front-runner. The combination of Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds and Saints assistant head coach/TE coach Dan Campbell has a lot of traction inside the team HQ in Allen Park.
I’m intrigued by the potential. My stated preference, as anyone who has watched or listened to the Detroit Lions Podcast knows well, is for at least one of the combination to have actual experience at the job they’re being hired to do. The Lions haven’t hired a GM who had ever been one before in their history, dating back to the Portsmouth Spartans days. It might be sheer coincidence that the team has one postseason win since 1957, but that pathetically futile track record is enough to convince me to maybe try something different.
Dodds doesn’t have that experience, but he’s at least been around the block. Prior to joining the Colts, he helped assemble the Legion of Boom in Seattle and was an early Russell Wilson advocate. Of the guys who lack real experience, he’s my preferred candidate.
Campbell has a little experience as the interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2015 after the team revolted on Joe Philbin. “Danimal”--the most apropos nickname possible for the former NFL tight end--guided a fractured and underachieving team to a promising 5-7 record. He brings the intensity in the manner Mike Vrabel does for the Titans, only turned up a notch. It’s an interesting potential fit for a team that purposely removed any players with a voice or demonstrable personality under Patricia.
Saleh is also linked here, in no small part because he’s a Detroit native. His presumed front-runner status was declared a bit prematurely, but Saleh could still land the gig. One popular choice strongly advocated by someone involved in the selection process was Iowa State head man Matt Campbell (no relation to Dan), but he chose to remain with the Cyclones despite Detroit’s rather strong overtures.
$.03--The longest-running head coach opening is in Houston. The Texans fired Bill O’Brien after four weeks last fall, freeing up both the GM and head coach gigs. They’ve now filled the GM spot, but the manner in which the organization went about doing so should be a red--or even black--flag to anyone who might be a candidate.
The Texans are controlled by Jack Easterby, who temporarily took over the GM role after O’Brien’s disastrous reign in that position ended. I’ve compared Easterby in the past to Rasputin, and unfortunately the feedback I got from folks very in-tune with the Texans validated my take that he’s The Mad Monk with a strange but very real hold over naif owner Cal McNair. A former evangelical motivational speaker, Easterby’s weird rise to running the team has resulted in all sorts of discord.
Houston hired search firm Korn Ferry to help evaluate candidates and find a new GM. Korn Ferry provided them a list of five names and charged a pretty penny to do the legwork, but McNair--at Easterby’s behest--ignored them all. He hired Nick Caserio from the Patriots instead. Caserio was a leading candidate a year earlier when the job went to O’Brien instead.
Caserio is a qualified hire, someone who could have fielded other offers if he chose. And perhaps he should have. His background with the Patriots should not be seen as an asset in Houston, which just dumped an ex-Patriot in O’Brien and largely floundered under interim coach Romeo Crennel, the man with the deepest Bill Belichick ties of anyone.
The most important person in the franchise is Deshaun Watson. The 25-year-old QB led the NFL in passing and is a perennial MVP candidate on a good team. But the Texans are not that team and Watson apparently knows it. He’s given indications he wants out. So has J.J. Watt, the face of the successful franchise for a decade. Caserio has his work cut out for him. It will be fascinating to see how much Easterby lets him cut…
Back to O’Brien for a quick second--by the time you read this, BOB will almost certainly be the new offensive coordinator at Alabama. Talk about falling up!
$.04--The Denver Broncos have an unexpected GM opening thanks to John Elway’s epiphany that he’s simply not very good at the job. It’s a realization that came a few years too late for most Broncos fans, but better late than never.
Elway created an awkward opening. He’s staying with the team and casts a considerable shadow as the best player in franchise history, even if he insists his hands are off the decisions. It appears that George Paton is the man who will take over, though that’s not a done deal as of this writing. If it is indeed Paton, it’s a very interesting move.
Paton has been GM Rick Spielman’s right-hand man in Minnesota for years now. He’s effectively served as a co-GM in many capacities, and that arrangement has allowed Paton to reject numerous advances from other teams over recent years. And perhaps that would be why Paton would be comfortable working in the shadow--unintentional or not--of Elway lording over him. He’s clearly not a guy who seeks limelight or spotlight. Paton has been in Minnesota for years and there are people who cover the team on a daily basis who don’t know more about him than cursory surface knowledge. Paton (pronounced like Walter Payton) is almost a recluse, by most accounts.
That personality doesn’t mean Paton can’t do the job and do it well. He’s proven to be smart, compatible with a variety of different coaches and players, and willing to be part of a process instead of the process. If he does take the gig, figuring out what to do with enigmatic Drew Lock at QB is job No. 1. The Broncos finished 5-11 in Lock’s second season, and he showed minimal improvement from his uneven rookie campaign. While capable of big plays, Lock struggles with the more routine ones, things like anticipatory passes and reading zones. He led the NFL in interceptions.
Denver has the No. 9 pick and enough salary cap room to make a move at a QB from the outside if they choose. It’s too early to just give up on Lock, though that might make him appealing in a trade for a team like Indianapolis or Chicago. It makes the Broncos an appealing job for the right candidate but a dangerous one for Mr. Wrong.
$.05--As fans get ready for the imminent wave of hirings, it’s time to provide a little perspective. Let’s dial back the clock five years to 2016…
I spent this very week, the one between Wild Card weekend and the Divisional Round, in St. Pete for Shrine Game (now Shrine Bowl but canceled this year) practices. There was so much activity on the coaching carousel that week that one of the practices actually had a coach leave from the field to take a phone call about interest in joining a staff being assembled. It was a crazy offseason with seven coaches being hired, four of them during that very week.
Here’s who got hired by teams that year, five short years ago:
Eagles - Doug Pederson
Browns - Hue Jackson
Giants - Ben McAdoo
Titans - Mike Mularkey
Dolphins - Adam Gase
Buccaneers - Dirk Koetter
49ers - Chip Kelly
Pederson was the only person hired as a head coach that offseason to make it to the end of 2018 employed by the team that trumpeted these men proudly as new faces of the franchise less than three years earlier. Kelly, who preceded Pederson in Philadelphia, lasted just one miserable 2-14 year. He was the most celebrated hiring of that cycle, too. Jackson won only three of his 40 games as the Browns coach, including the winless 2017 season; he was my personal favorite hiring of the offseason (hey, nobody’s perfect!). Gase has already been fired by two teams as their head coach.
The point here? Reserve your judgment. The needle should move with a new head coaching hire, but the levels need to remain balanced. Let them show what they can--or cannot--do before getting either too elated or down in the gutter on what your team might choose. One year ago today, the Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as their head coach. The move was largely unpopular amongst the very same Browns fans who now loudly trumpet Stefanski as the coach of the year.