Commentary

Whom coaching changes really affect

Assistants, role players, young QBs and support staffers often left out in the cold

Originally Published: January 4, 2011
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

Don't shed a tear for Eric Mangini. Or any of the other head coaches who might end up losing their jobs this week. They will all be just fine. Especially Mangini. He signed a four-year guaranteed contract with the Browns worth millions of dollars a year that he will continue to receive for the next two years whether or not he steps onto a football field or watches any game film in that time.

Although it might seem as if it's all about him and the other men who sit at the head of the table this time of year, it really isn't. There's a host of other people who are more affected by coaching changes, yet, for whatever reason, the impact these moves have on them is often minimized, if it's mentioned at all. Here are the main principals whose lives quite possibly will be forever altered:

Assistant coaches: Head coaches and, to a lesser extent, offensive and defensive coordinators get all of the attention, but the position coaches are really the heart and soul of any coaching staff. It is their responsibility during the week to make sure their players are mentally and physically prepared every Sunday. When a head coach gets let go, these are also the guys who don't have long-term guaranteed contracts for millions of dollars and instead need to hustle to find a chair somewhere else before the music stops. They often have families they are trying to support and kids who are in school, and all of their lives can change in the blink of an eye.

Now they chose this crazy, nomadic profession, to be sure, but that doesn't make these times any easier. Making matters worse is that a lot of times they are let go when the head man gets fired even though they might have done an outstanding job. They could be the best linebacker or tight ends coach in the business, but that simply doesn't matter sometimes. Doesn't seem right.

Role players. The stars of the team are likely to stay, and the new coach probably will build a system and acquire personnel to supplement what they do well. It is the other guys on the roster who need to be worried. Unlike the assistant coaches, however, at least these players are supposed to be judged objectively on their own performances. But it is amazing how much roster turnover there tends to be in these spots, mainly because a new coach is eager to put his own stamp on a team by bringing in some guys with whom he is already familiar.

I should know. My head coach was fired at the end of the season my first three years in the league, and I was eventually released by the new coach every single time, though not always right away. I wasn't their guy.

Young quarterbacks: Tim Tebow. Colt McCoy. Jimmy Clausen. These are the types of players whose careers can be forever altered by a coaching change. No matter who ends up being hired in Denver, Cleveland and Carolina, respectively, the young, incumbent signal-caller is not the new coach's guy.

So although he might try to make it work for a year, the new coach isn't exactly signed up for the young passer's loyalty program, so to speak. He will not hesitate to move on or bring in his own guy and, at least in Clausen's case, there's a chance the new coach might do that right away and Clausen might never even get a genuine opportunity with the new regime.

Support staff: The team went 5-11. Must have been the equipment guy's fault. Or maybe the public relations manager. Certainly the trainers had to be involved, even if the losing team might have been one of the healthier ones in the league that year.

When a new coach comes in, all bets are off. Even people whose roles have no direct impact on or control over wins and losses might be out of work. Right or wrong, that's how it works.

So don't worry about Mangini or the others. Worry about the assistant public relations director who has no idea what he'll do if he is let go, which very well might happen even though he did a great job helping to steady the ship in a horrible season.

From the inbox

Q: How does a very solid quarterback like Aaron Rodgers get snubbed by the Pro Bowl and a more average quarterback like Matt Ryan get in? I personally haven't heard any story lines in the NFL this year about Ryan lighting a defense up, while Rodgers on the other hand is capable of that any week.

David

A: What exactly is "average" about leading a team to a 13-3 record and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? Or throwing 28 TDs and only 9 INTs? I think Ryan is extremely deserving of a Pro Bowl bid, and I for one am not going to hold it against him that his yardage numbers are not as eye-popping as some others because the Falcons boast a successful running attack.

Q: When does Andy Reid hit the hot seat? He has coached how long now and only one appearance in the Super Bowl. Come on. If Lovie Smith and even Tom Coughlin were considered on shaky ground with more recent Super Bowl appearances, how does Reid continue to escape this designation?

Gregg in Marlboro, Md.

A: I am going to guess or perhaps hope that you are joking and that you realize Reid is by far the best coach in Eagles history and one of the top three coaches in the NFL. He took over a 3-13 franchise that was in shambles and has turned it into a veritable NFC East dynasty, making the playoffs in nine of his 12 NFL seasons, including six division titles and five conference championship games, not to mention a Super Bowl appearance. And he has done all that while managing to make the necessary personnel moves that have enabled the franchise to sustain success, even though previous stalwarts such as Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas are all long gone. If your e-mail is sincere and you really think Reid should be on the hot seat despite all that he has accomplished and how bright the future appears to be in Philly, I think that is a very sad social commentary. I'll leave it at that.

Q: First, I agree with your idea of how players should vote for Pro Bowl selections. With that in mind, who were the most deserving and/or some of the best guys you played against? I always find it interesting when someone such as yourself talks about some of the best players and they aren't perennial Pro Bowlers.

Eddie in Charlotte, N.C.

A: The first and most notable name that comes to mind is my former teammate, London Fletcher. Having played both with him and against him over the years, I never understood why he had never made the Pro Bowl until last year, when he played in the game because the Saints' Jonathan Vilma was playing in the Super Bowl. No player has close to as many tackles as Fletcher in the previous decade, and he has done it for multiple teams and in multiple schemes in that time. And, oh yeah, he has never missed a game, either. In fact, I think a strong case could be made that he is not just a Pro Bowler but a Hall of Famer.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.