Dismissals could open door for Williams, Gray
More vacancies are expected, but get a glimpse of what's next for the half-dozen franchises that are suddenly looking for new coaches.
Everyone surmised it would be a busy firing-and-hiring season in the NFL, but not even the most dire assessments predicted such an immediately dizzying pace. The season had not been over for even an hour before pink slips were being disseminated.
Between Saturday night and Monday afternoon, a half-dozen coaches either retired or were fired, and there figures to be more bloodletting in coming days. Norv Turner's days in Oakland are numbered, and rumor is he has packed up his office, although owner Al Davis is infamous for allowing people to dangle for a while. It's unlikely that interim coach Dick Jauron will be back in Detroit in 2006. There are even rumblings that the job status of Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego is under review.
Here, though, is a look at the coaching carnage to date and the ramifications of the six changes so far:
Overview: In four seasons, the expansion Texans averaged only 4½ victories under Capers, and actually regressed in 2005, with a league-worst 2-14 record. Owner Bob McNair has opened the coffers in an attempt to create a winning environment, and the Texans' facilities are second to none, but the talent level isn't nearly what it should be. Houston likely will exercise an option that allows the team to retain quarterback David Carr, but the team must provide him more help, some of which might come with the first pick in the NFL draft. The Texans entered 2005 thinking it could be at least a break-even season. It was a broken one instead and there might not be a quick fix.
Next for Texans: Popular opinion is that with Dan Reeves making recommendations in his role as consultant, some of his former assistants, like Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and San Diego defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, will get interviews. And they probably will. But general manager Charley Casserly will have input as well, and McNair wants to be very thorough and inclusive, so look for a long list. A few more names to file away: defensive coordinators Gregg Williams (Washington) Jerry Gray (Buffalo) and Ron Rivera (Chicago). ESPN.com's Tip Sheet column reported last Friday that the Texans have made quiet inquiries about Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino. Another college coach, Pat Hill of Fresno State, is also a possible candidate. A real dark horse would be Pete Carroll of Southern Cal, who did a lot of investigating of the Texans before signing his five-year contract extension last week.
Overview: At least on the offensive side of the ball, the Saints have underachieved for years, and part of Haslett's downfall may have been that he remained loyal way too long to inconsistent quarterback Aaron Brooks, a player who did not command respect in his own locker room. The defense, especially in the secondary, has long been suspect. Add to all of that the disaster that occurred this season when Hurricane Katrina forced the club to relocate to San Antonio and essentially rendered the Saints a vagabond franchise. Notable is that players annually pledged their allegiance to Haslett, then somehow failed to win games for the guy.
Next for Saints: Given the uncertainty of the franchise, the eccentricities of owner Tom Benson and the difficulty any coach has trying to lead a team in a city with so many diversions (and few of them good), there is a perception the Saints' job will scare off good candidates. A lot of observers feel the Saints will have a problem filling this job. Baloney. Despite all the negatives, there are still only 32 of these jobs and candidates will line up at the door. Names? Bet on some of the names being mentioned elsewhere -- like Rivera, Gray and Williams -- with Benson trying to land someone with a reputation for being a hard-ass and disciplinarian. On the offensive side, keep an eye on San Diego coordinator Cam Cameron, another guy who will generate interest from multiple teams. And on a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers aides: offensive line coach Russ Grimm and offensive coordinator Kent Whisenhunt.
Overview: Behind all the glitz of the high-octane offense that marked Martz's tenure with the Rams, this has been a dysfunctional franchise, one fraught with infighting and influence-peddling and internecine bickering, and with considerable palace intrigue. There is a sense that everyone has his own agenda, that the various departments rarely work in concert, and that things are frayed at the seams. Someone has to restore order and functionality to the operation. The Rams went to two Super Bowls in three seasons from 1999-2001, but have just one playoff victory in the four seasons since being upset by New England in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Next for Rams: Interim coach Joe Vitt, who pinch hit for the ailing Martz, has zero shot of retaining the job. Williams is almost certain to emerge, and quickly, as a guy in whom the Rams have interest. The problem is, any team seeking the Redskins' coordinator, who was the Buffalo head coach for three seasons (2001-03), will have plenty of competition. Gray is likely to be on the short list (and perhaps Rivera, too), as it is generally believed St. Louis management prefers the next coach have a defensive orientation. Don't rule out Lewis or Tennessee defensive boss Jim Schwartz, an impressive young coach who finished as the runner-up to Mike Nolan at San Francisco last year. It's doubtful the Rams would look at an offensive-minded coach. If they do, Cameron could be in the mix, as could Kubiak. Here's one name out of left field who should not be ignored: Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Overview: It's easy to point to injuries as the primary factor why a team that had won three straight division titles entering 2005 collapsed so abysmally this season. And there is plenty of evidence, notably on the offensive side, to justify that rationalization. But this is a team, with the departure of Sherman and the possible retirement of quarterback Brett Favre, that clearly is in flux. That's not to say there aren't some plusses: The fact the division isn't terribly strong, coffers deep enough to pay off the $6.4 million remaining on Sherman's contract, and the unparalleled fervor of Packers fans.
Next for Packers: It's been rumored since about midseason that Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress could be a candidate if Sherman was dismissed. Childress has some background in the state, having served as coordinator at Wisconsin, and he clearly is a deserving coach whose time has come. Lewis is a former Packers cornerback whose career was prematurely ended by a neck injury but who retains some profile among longtime Green Bay fans. One would think that, bitter rivalries aside, the Packers would check out Rivera, as will many teams. Two long shots: current defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who at least deserves an interview, and Steve Mariucci, who was once the Green Bay quarterbacks coach. Speculation is that the new coach will have to have a background in the West Coast offense to help ease the eventual transition of first-round quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the starting job.
Overview: Not only do the Vikings have to rebuild some segments of the roster, but new owner Zygi Wilf must regain the trust and support of fans stung by off-field excesses and a somewhat toxic environment. Wilf made a terrific move by retaining vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski over the weekend, but must follow that up by hiring a top-shelf personnel chief, and by continuing to restructure the front office. On the field, the offseason will certainly include considerable scrutiny of the rehabilitation of Daunte Culpepper, who is trying to come back from a catastrophic knee injury.
Next for Vikings: Whoever lands the job will be someone willing to work within the committee structure that Wilf is implementing for the franchise. That probably augurs a first-time head coach, since the league office is doing a little hand-holding with Wilf through this process, and generally pushes its agenda for fresh faces. We have no clues yet about a short list, but Rivera will be on it, and could interview with Wilf as early as sometime this week.
Overview: Despite having one of the NFL's most powerful offenses in Vermeil's stint, the Chiefs advanced to the playoffs just once in his five years with the club. And now, this is a team at the crossroads, with one of the oldest rosters in the league and perhaps too few emerging youngsters. With president/general manager Carl Peterson at the helm, Kansas City is one of the NFL's best-run operations. But the Chiefs haven't developed a young quarterback, the supposed upgrades on defense seemed to diminish as the season wore on, and the rest of the division remains formidable.
Next for Chiefs: Vermeil has been lobbying the last two years for Al Saunders, his offensive coordinator, to succeed him. Then last week, he mentioned Herm Edwards of the New York Jets in a totally unsolicited comment. But it's Peterson, not Vermeil, who will determine the new coach, and so the process might be more inclusive than anyone has realized. Don't rule out Ferentz, who has previous NFL experience. And we would all be naïve, given all the smoke surrounding Edwards, to think there isn't some fire that accompanies it. Edwards, as ESPN.com has noted in recent weeks, is going to make an issue of his compensation level. How big an issue? Big enough. In the end, he's likely to remain with the Jets, but his situation bears watching.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here .
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