Breaking down the coaching openings
Now that his vampire lieutenants have alerted Al Davis the sun has set, and nudged the Oakland Raiders owner from his coffin long enough to fire Bill Callahan (the Raiders are expected to make an announcement Wednesday), the number of pink-slipped head coaches has risen to seven.
For a season that began with the notion that 2003 might produce few dismissals, since the pool of 32 head coaches had such short aggregate tenure with their incumbent franchises, seven seems like a big number. Fact is, it essentially equals the average number of head coaching changes over the past 20 seasons.
"What it means," said Jim Fassel, late of the New York Giants but suddenly the hottest commodity of all the coaches who have lost their jobs, "is that the job description, and the degree of security, hasn't changed a whole lot."
What it also means is that, assuming the guillotine has been stored away for this year, the 32 head coaches who begin the 2004 season will do so sporting an average tenure of just 2.8 seasons with their current franchises. There are myriad reasons for the short shelf-life of NFL head coaches in this era, not the least of which is the lofty expectation level and need for immediate gratification on the part of owners.
But factor into the equation as well the reality that many owners simply hire coaches who are not a good fit for their team. The recent rules that permit franchises to interview some potential candidates during the playoff bye week, the guidelines now dictating that teams legitimately interview minority candidates, should enhance the chances for owners to enter into a real courting process, and not just a race to the altar.
The savvy owners and general managers, under the new landscape, are those who take the time to fully examine their litany of candidates. As would be the case in a corporate interview, they should ask the tough questions and the ones often overlooked. Example: How will a head coach assemble his staff?
You think, in hindsight, Washington owner Daniel Snyder wishes he had grilled Steve Spurrier a tad harder on that issue? Isn't it imperative, for instance, if Lovie Smith or Romeo Crennel land a job, that the defensive coordinators in St. Louis and New England, respectively, have some insight into who they want to hire to run their offense? Who are the names on the list of potential assistants Tom Coughlin has arduously compiled during his one-year hiatus from the league?
"Let's be honest," said one NFC owner not looking for a new head coach. "This league is now a coach's league, no matter what the players think. It's imperative you get the right guy. You better get someone in concert with what you want, the right fit, or you're going to be one of those three-and-out teams that is hiring someone new every three years. The right fit is more critical than ever."
With that in mind, and with the second half of the league's firing and hiring cycle set to commence, here's a look at the current openings and who might fit best in each case:
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.