Commentary

Linehan, Kiffin firings likely only the beginning

In his weekly mailbag, John Clayton tackles questions on the Lions, Roy Williams' future in Dallas, the Redskins' offense and more.

Originally Published: October 1, 2008
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Al DavisJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesAccording to Raiders boss Al Davis, the ideal shelf life of an NFL coach is "four or five years."
Back in the days when the Raiders were among the NFL elite, Al Davis used say the life cycle of an NFL head coach with a team was 10 years. Blessed with loyal coaches such as John Madden and Tom Flores, Davis, a former head coach himself, believed after 10 years the best coaches needed new challenges and players needed fresh voices.

Buried in Tuesday's Lane Kiffin mudslinging was an interesting comment by Davis about the life cycle of a modern-day NFL coach. Tom Cable is Davis' sixth head coach since parting ways with Jon Gruden after the 2001 season. Davis admitted making a mistake in hiring Kiffin, but the cycle, in Davis' mind, has shortened to "four or five years."

The firings of Scott Linehan in St. Louis and Kiffin in Oakland triggered what could be a wild season of coaching turnover. Don't be surprised if the list of changes jumps to double digits. John Fox of the Panthers knows he's on the hot seat, but the healthy return of QB Jake Delhomme should save his job. With Delhomme healthy, the Panthers are competing for the NFC South title.

Rod Marinelli (Detroit), Mike Nolan (San Francisco), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Eric Mangini (N.Y. Jets) and Brad Childress (Minnesota) head the hot list. Bad seasons could also cause job anxiety for Romeo Crennel (Cleveland), Gary Kubiak (Houston) and Herm Edwards (Kansas City).

Plus, we already know Jim Mora Jr. is replacing Mike Holmgren in Seattle and Jim Caldwell is set to replace Tony Dungy whenever Dungy wishes to retire.

Kiffin was fired after 20 games, and Linehan was gone after 36 games. A head coach in today's game has to be moving in a positive direction by the end of his second season or he's on the hot seat in his third year and gone by his fourth.

Here's where the numbers don't work: Rosters turn over every four years because of free agency. The good teams are the ones with coaching stability because scouts know the type of players to find. The more a team changes coaches, the more it has to adjust its scouting philosophy.

All of a sudden, NFL coaches must feel like politicians. They have to campaign for their jobs every four years -- if they can make it that long.

Let's dive into the mailbag:

From the inbox

Q: What is truly the difference between a pass and a run? Consider: A QB throws a screen to a RB who's still behind the line of scrimmage and it qualifies as a pass. Or, the same QB flips the ball to same RB on an end-around, and the play is deemed a run in the stat book. In both cases the ball is not handed off; it is exchanged through the air, behind the line of scrimmage, to the RB behind a wall of pulling blockers. So why is one a pass play and the other a run play?

Alan in Lubbock, Texas

A: Alan, you must be related to the Eagles' Andy Reid or to a lot of the West Coast offensive minds. You make a good point, but changing the stats wouldn't work. It would be too complicated. If the "in-the-air'' toss is ahead of the quarterback, then it should be a pass -- that is pretty clear. Still, what you suggest should be a category that Stats Inc. and Elias should try to incorporate into their expanding stat evaluations. I would find it interesting to see how screens and flat passes are incorporated into the offensive numbers.

Short takes

To Brandon in Cleveland, if the Browns end up having a Butch Davis-like season, I could see a coaching change, and, yes, Bill Cowher would be a logical consideration. … To Dyllon in Lima, Ohio, I was impressed with what I saw of Trent Edwards in minicamp, so I'm not surprised he's led the Bills to 4-0 start. I'm not ready to move him into the top 10, but he's definitely on the rise. I had the Bills as one of my surprise teams before the season. … Gary in Kinnelon, N.J., wonders why the Bucs don't put much more effort into developing their offense. Jon Gruden works as hard as anyone, but it's harder when you are constantly doing it with quarterbacks at the end of their careers. At some point, the Bucs need a young stud to develop and let their offense grow. … To Jeff in Big Rapids, Mich., you have to be happy with the Bears' goal-line stand to beat the Eagles because you are right, the Bears have given up too many fourth-quarter leads over the past couple of seasons. The defense is better than that. Still, it needs more consistency. … JDA in Houston wonders if the rookie of the year award would ever go to a lineman like Ryan Clady. It's doubtful. Running backs, quarterbacks and receivers usually win offensive rookie honors. Linebackers and pass-rushers usually get the defensive nods. I've watched a lot of Broncos football and haven't even thought about Clady. That tells me he's having an exceptional rookie season, because left tackles shouldn't be noticed. Clady is doing a great job.

Q: Do you think Floyd Reese or maybe even Ron Wolf would be a good fit for the Detroit Lions' front office? I would love to see either of them in charge of my team.

Charles in Donna, Texas

A: I like Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, who are going to run the Lions in the interim, but if I were them, I would bring in a fresh set of eyes as a consultant. With that in mind, I would hire Wolf, Reese, Randy Mueller or Tom Donahoe as a consultant to get new perspective. The Lions' roster needs a major overhaul because of years of Matt Millen mistakes, but the Lions can't repeat what Millen did. Millen felt the Bobby Ross Lions weren't good enough to go to championships, so he made too many changes. An experienced consultant can give perspective as to what is available around the league and might present a smart plan. I'm for it.

Q: Do you think the next handful of weeks could go a long way in determining Roy Williams' future in Dallas? Considering how much criticism there was of Williams' coverage skills over the past couple of years, what do you think will or could happen once he returns if the Cowboys' defense is successful in his absence?

Ryan in Boston

A: Williams (broken forearm) is safe for now. Pat Watkins made too many mistakes against the Redskins in Week 4 to take playing time away from Williams, and the team isn't ready to commit Anthony Henry to safety yet. Adam Jones is still a little rusty in his coverage skills after missing the 2007 season and Mike Jenkins is still a rookie. In the Redskins game, Williams' absence was noticeable, so he has through the end of the season to prove himself. After the season, though, I do think Dallas will move Henry to safety.

Q: If the Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants all finish 13-3, how can the NFL possibly deny one team a playoff spot?

Devin in Maryland

A: Four 13-win teams won't happen. In fact, I still think the top end of the division will be 11 or 12 wins at best, but I do think you could see four 10-game winners and that could start another campaign to expand the playoffs beyond 12 teams. You need a good team to get 10 to 13 wins, but scheduling opportunities change year to year. The NFC East plays the NFC West and AFC North this season, which creates opportunities for NFC East teams to go 6-2 or better in those games. The AFC North plays the NFC East and AFC South, reducing the AFC North's chances of having a wild-card team. For now, 12 playoff teams are enough. The system works.

Q: If I remember correctly, wasn't there a lot of talk going into this past offseason that a main rule change in 2008 would involve icing the kicker? I heard about that non-stop in 2007 and now I haven't heard it mentioned once.

Jason in Arlington

A: Good refresher point, Jason. The NFL didn't change the rule because Mike Shanahan, the coach who started the last-second icing strategy, was burned by the tactic. In Week 11 last season, Shanahan called a timeout just before the Titans' Rob Bironas missed a 56-yard field goal attempt. Given another chance, Bironas made the kick. That scared off enough coaches from using the strategy and the issue lost momentum.

Q: John, why can't the NFL increase roster sizes to help better deal with injuries?

James

A: Here's why the NFL stays at 45 active players: If rosters increased to 53, a great coach like Bill Belichick would have a competitive edge over a team such as New Orleans, which has had as many as seven players inactive because of injuries. The Patriots would have 53 players to use, while the Saints would have only 46. The only way I see an increase in roster sizes is if the league goes to 18 regular-season and two preseason games.

Chris Cooley

Cooley

Tight End
Washington Redskins

Profile

2008 Season Stats
Rec Yds TD Avg Long YAC
17 179 0 10.5 27 82

Q: Watching the Redskins over the last few seasons, it really jumps out to me that Chris Cooley is the guy who makes that offense go. Obviously, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Jason Campbell are key cogs, but the more Cooley is involved, the better the Redskins play. Thoughts?

John in Pasadena, Md.

A: Face it, Campbell is just starting to come into his own, and his 23-yard completion to Cooley in the fourth quarter of the New Orleans game (Week 2) turned his season around. A tight end is a quarterback's best friend in times of trouble. Ask Tony Romo, who has such a great relationship with Jason Witten. The Redskins have a lot of weapons, and Campbell is just starting to get comfortable using them. The Redskins look like a playoff team to me, and I love what coach Jim Zorn is doing with the offense.

Q: I read your last mailbag and you brought up the fact that a lot of young quarterbacks require a longer adjustment to the pros because of the spread-option offense used by a lot of top college programs. How come coaches aren't changing their philosophy to tailor the playbook to the QBs they draft? Couldn't a guy like Tim Tebow thrive in a spread offense similar to the one he's running now in Florida?

James

A: The spread-option offense is changing the quarterback position. Many NFL teams are failing to recognize that it is going to take more time to develop QBs. If you give a spread-option quarterback a chance to start as a rookie and then decide he's not good enough after 18 starts, you're not giving him a fair chance. The best approach is to stash the quarterback on the bench as a rookie and start him in his second or third season. It's not the quarterback who's at fault here; it's the impatience of teams that is hurting the NFL.

Q: Why can't the NFL make pass interference a challengeable call? If you lose the challenge you lose a timeout.

Dennis

A: If you add too many challenges, it disrupts the game. The NFL and fans don't want a game of red and yellow flags, they want to see football with limited interruptions. Ideally, the NFL loves a three-hour game because there are doubleheaders every Sunday afternoon. Pass interference is like holding: It could be called on every play. If you make pass interference a challengeable call, you might as well review holding. Fans want to see plays, not replays.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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