- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

Oakland’s surprise hiring of Southern Cal assistant Lane Kiffin and Pittsburgh’s choice of Minnesota defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin over holdover assistant head coach Russ Grimm furthered the hot trend in NFL coaching hires: Forget the lack of experience and go young.

Kiffin, the son of longtime Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, is just 31 — younger than several of his players. At 34, Tomlin is 13 years younger than Grimm, who had been favored to succeed the retired Bill Cowher.

The spurned Grimm rejoined colleague Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. Whisenhunt, another ex-Cowher assistant, took command of the Cardinals at the ripe old age of 43. That’s two years younger than the new coaches in Atlanta (Bobby Petrino) and Miami (Cam Cameron). Petrino is the only one of the five who has been a head coach on any level.

Since Washington owner Dan Snyder lured then 63-year-old Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs out of retirement three years ago this month, most teams have gone for youth. Eric Mangini was 35 when he became the New York Jets’ coach last year. Houston’s Gary Kubiak was 44. Atlanta’s Jim Mora (since fired), Buffalo’s Mike Mularkey (since fired), Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and St. Louis’ Scott Linehan were all 42. Chicago’s Lovie Smith and San Francisco’s Mike Nolan were 45. Minnesota’s Brad Childress was 49. Mora and Mangini made the playoffs as neophyte coaches while Payton reached the NFC Championship game. Smith is in the Super Bowl in his third season.

While nine coaches in their 50s were hired the past three offseasons, Arizona’s Dennis Green (since fired), Buffalo’s Dick Jauron, Kansas City’s Herman Edwards, New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin and Oakland’s Norv Turner and Art Shell (both since fired) had all been NFL head coaches. Miami’s Nick Saban, who since left for Alabama, had been a college head coach. Only Detroit’s Rod Marinelli, 56, and Cleveland’s Romeo Crennel, 57, fit the classic mode of NFL assistants who had finally gotten their breaks.

It will be interesting to see what flamboyant Cowboys owner Jerry Jones does about replacing the legendary Bill Parcells, who retired, perhaps for good, on Monday. Jones usually has gone for big names (Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer) or promoted from within (Dave Campo). Chan Gailey, Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator before coming to Dallas in 1998, is the exception to that rule. Jones yesterday hired former Cowboys backup quarterback Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator, and Garrett — previously the Miami Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach — remains in the running for the head coaching position, according to reports.

The most obvious in-house candidate, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, left for Atlanta last week unsure whether Parcells would return. Quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer failed as coach of the expansion Cleveland Browns. Linebackers coach Paul Pasqualoni was Syracuse’s coach for 14 years. Assistant head coach/offense Tony Sparano was the coach for five years at the since-eliminated program at New Haven.

Barring Jones sweet-talking USC’s Pete Carroll, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas’ Mack Brown or Florida’s Urban Meyer away from their campus sinecures, or Cowher out of his sabbatical (which would require giving the Steelers draft picks), what will he do? Will he go for a warhorse like Dan Reeves (a former Dallas assistant), a coach with a damaged reputation like Turner (another ex-Cowboys aide) or go young like everyone else?

My money is on one of the Bears’ coordinators. Defensive boss Ron Rivera, 45, has interviewed for several jobs and is Hispanic, not an unimportant factor in Texas. Offensive boss Ron Turner, 53, is Norv’s younger brother, worked for ex-Dallas coordinator Dave Wannstedt in Chicago and was the head coach at San Jose State and Illinois.

Making history — According to Cold, Hard Sports Facts, Indianapolis’ 32 points in the second half of its AFC Championship game victory over New England were a record against a Bill Belichick defense in a half of any of his 381 games as a coach or defensive coordinator.

Down to fourth — The Patriots’ loss dropped Belichick and Tom Brady to fourth (12-2) among coach-quarterback tandems with at least eight playoff games together. Packers Hall of Famers Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr are back on top at 9-1, two games better than Denver’s Mike Shanahan and John Elway and Dallas’ Jimmy Johnson and Troy Aikman.

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