The Oakland Raiders fired their coach Tuesday — a brave move, to say the least. After all, when you get rid of your coach, it means you have to find another, and the supermarket shelves aren’t exactly overflowing with quality candidates.
In fact, you could make the case that at the very top of the NFL’s list of concerns, right up there with concussions and the length of Rob Ryan’s hair, is the head coach shortage. It’s almost gotten to the point where owners are telling their general managers: “Get me a Harbaugh. Any Harbaugh. I don’t care if he’s still in high school.”
It’s a desert out there, folks. For every oasis, every proven winner like Jeff Fisher, there are a dozen prospects who do virtually nothing to excite the fan base. Consider: The same day the Raiders told Hue Jackson to hand in his playbook, the Jacksonville Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey to lead them into the future. And who is Mularkey? Answer: The guy who drew up that wonderful offensive game plan for the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs, the one that produced zero points. (Only a safety kept the Falcons from being shut out by the New York Giants.)
That’s not to say Mularkey, who coached Buffalo to a 14-18 record a few years ago before getting caught up in a regime change, won’t do a better job the second time around. There are certainly examples of that — New England’s Bill Belichick, first and foremost. But it just shows you how bearish the coaching market is when the Jaguars roll the dice with somebody like him.
These poor teams. I mean, it’s not like they can ask eHarmony to find them a partner. Instead, they have to sift through the resumes (some of them dotted with previous head coaching failure), go through the mating dance, throw a bunch of money at somebody and, in the end, hope they get lucky. What a nightmare.
People — especially people in Washington — wonder how Norv Turner can stay employed in San Diego after another playoff-less season. It’s not that complicated, really. Turner is able to keep his job because in 2011, only 12 of the 32 teams finished with winning records. In that context, an 8-8 mark isn’t all that terrible. (Indeed, only a tiebreaker kept the Chargers from winning their division.)
Turner is also able to keep his job because his owner realizes that, while Norv may not be the second coming of Vince Lombardi, San Diego can do worse for a coach — and plenty of clubs do. It’s just the way things are these days. You don’t want to dump a coach unless you’re reasonably certain you can bring in somebody better; and how many of these potential replacements can you be reasonably certain about? Denny Green, who went to the playoff eight times in 10 years in Minnesota, was a disaster in Arizona, I’ll just remind you, and Mike Shanahan, for all his Super Bowl rings, has yet to gain much traction here.
Beyond that, most of the coaches who would be the surest bets — Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden — don’t seem all that interested in returning to the NFL fray. They’ve moved on to television and have found, if not happiness there, at least contentment, perhaps even a semblance of sanity. That’s the strangest part of this whole situation. Have there ever, in all of league history, been three title-winning coaches, still in their primes, willingly staying off the sideline?
You get the sense these head coaching positions aren’t quite as desirable as they used to be — that they’re invitations to burnout, as much as anything, and aren’t necessarily worth the bother, despite the attractive compensation and general ego boost.
Look at how Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino tested the pro waters and skedaddled right back to college ball. Why deal with the uncertainty of the NFL when you can be lord of the castle in the Southeastern Conference?
In recent years, such coaches as Jackson, Todd Haley, Josh McDaniel, Eric Mangini, Jim Mora Jr., Jim Zorn, Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli have all washed out in fewer than three seasons. It’s scary how little rope coaches are given nowadays. The league is almost becoming like hockey that way.
Want to hear something that’s truly mind-blowing? All 12 of the coaches who made the playoffs this season are connected — either closely or remotely — to Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells. (That is, they’re located somewhere in Walsh’s or Parcells’ coaching trees, even if they’re just a twig.)
Nobody should be too surprised, then, that Romeo Crennel, a former Parcells assistant, was named to follow Haley in Kansas City, or that Fisher, San Francisco’s secondary coach under George Seifert (Walsh’s successor), has been in such demand. So it goes in the NFL, where coaching searches have become a risky — and expensive — version of blind man’s bluff.