- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

NFL head coaches are getting younger and less experienced.

Seven of the league’s 10 coaching vacancies have been filled this month — either concretely or with a gentleman’s agreement. What’s striking is that only one of those coaches, Kansas City’s Herman Edwards, has previously run his own NFL team. And at 51, Edwards is the second-oldest of the group.

Eric Mangini, who’s leaving New England after one season as defensive coordinator to replace Edwards with the New York Jets, is 35.

Former Dallas offensive coordinator Sean Payton is New Orleans’ new coach at 42, the same age as Mike McCarthy, who left the same post with San Francisco to take over in Green Bay. Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, 44, will assume command in Houston once the Broncos’ season ends. Yet another ex-offensive coordinator, 49-year-old Brad Childress, left Philadelphia for Minnesota.

Detroit’s Rod Marinelli is an age exception at 56, but the former Tampa Bay defensive coordinator joins all the others — except Edwards — in starting his first coaching job.

And all three new coaches in 2005 — Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel, Miami’s Nick Saban and San Francisco’s Mike Nolan (who was just 45) — also had never run NFL teams.

Contrast these moves to such 2001 to 2004 hires as Kansas City’s Dick Vermeil (64 when hired), Washington’s Joe Gibbs (63), Dallas’ Bill Parcells (61), San Diego’s Marty Schottenheimer (58), the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin (56) and Arizona’s Dennis Green (54). All had been NFL head coaches for at least a decade and had reached at least two conference championship games.

Don’t buy the Jags — While Carolina and Pittsburgh are in conference championship games with 11 regular-season victories each, Jacksonville showed how weak its 12-4 record was getting drilled 28-3 by the Patriots (10-6) in a wild-card game.

The Jaguars were 3-4 against winning teams and their last such victory was way back in Week 6 at Pittsburgh. Their only games against such teams in the final 12 weeks were a 26-18 loss to Indianapolis, in which they trailed 26-3, and the rout at New England.

The Jaguars have a very good defense, but three years into the Jack Del Rio era, their offense remains AWOL. Except for those garbage time touchdowns against the Colts, Jacksonville reached the end zone once in four games with the Colts, Patriots and Broncos. The Jaguars’ big games were an opening conquest of Seattle 26-14 in the sweltering Florida heat and a 23-17 overtime triumph against the Steelers, who were minus quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and top receiver Hines Ward.

With quarterback Byron Leftwich playing for the first time since Nov. 27 when he broke an ankle at Arizona, the Jaguars had a 22-7 pass-run ratio when they trailed the Patriots 7-3.

Running back Fred Taylor carried only eight times for 24 yards, two fewer than Leftwich produced on the ground.

There’s also the matter of the young Jaguars’ poise. The Florida Times-Union reported that eight of the players, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, were in a strip club the night before the New England game. Two days later, Reggie Williams, the ninth pick in the 2004 draft, was pulled over purportedly with marijuana in his car.

He’s got the beat — Trying to catch up after missing most of the season with a broken ankle, Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman bought a digital tape recorder in December to tape meetings with offensive coordinator Ron Turner and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson.

“Most people listen to music,” Turner said. “Rex is listening to me. I feel sorry for him.”

Smoot messes up again — Cornerback Fred Smoot, the purported leader of the Vikings’ ill-fated “Love Boat” cruise, was held out of the season finale after missing curfew. Smoot apparently tried the oldest trick in the book, stuffing pillows under the blanket to make it look like he was in bed.

Smoot plans to hire a personal trainer and vowed to return in 2006 in the best shape of his life after a nightmarish 2005 on and off the field.

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