Rookie coaches Todd Haley and Raheem Morris axed their offensive coordinators last week, creating a buzz as to whether they know what they're doing or realize they're potentially upsetting the chemistry of an offense that's worked together all offseason. They're rookies, making rookie mistakes, or so it was thrown against the wall.
What makes their decisions any more, or less, thought out than Andy Reid bringing Michael Vick into Philadelphia's playoff-caliber team or Brad Childress adding Brett Favre to the defending NFC North champions during training camp? Granted, Reid and Childress didn't do it on the relative eve of the season, but both coaches and both teams seem to have a lot more to lose than Haley and Morris and their rebuilding teams.
Be they the right decisions or not -- some will pan out and some will prove very wrong -- the common thread between these neophytes and experienced coaches is that the moves were decisive. Risky, but decisive. These men staked whatever measure of credibility they've mounted on controversial moves that probably will make at least one of them, even over the long term, look pretty smart.
Although established coaches like Buffalo's Dick Jauron (firing offensive coordinator Turk Schonert last week), Reid and Childress have made some of the more noteworthy decisions leading up to this week's regular-season baptism, several of the most emphatic moves have been made by the seven first-year coaches (not including Mike Singletary with the 49ers or Tom Cable with the Raiders).
Josh McDaniels, Broncos
Has a rookie coach ever created so much havoc upon his arrival? It started with the Jay-Cutler saga, which led to the Brandon-Marshall saga. The yielding to Cutler's trade demands made Marshall figure he could do the same thing, although in a much more unprofessional manner. This time, McDaniels stood his ground, not bowing to trade requests, and suspended Marshall for extreme petulance.
Believe it or not, a lot of the players are with McDaniels. Whether quarterbacks Kyle Orton or Chris Simms could produce many more wins than Cutler could have is a hypothetical because this is a team in flux. The bigger issue for McDaniels is proving his way is the way for Denver to win and win early. The Broncos competed hard in the preseason, which is a good sign that there are a lot of high-character players on the team. Whether they have enough talent and midseason resiliency to move things a step forward is the question.
Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay
Morris wasted no time letting his team, and the league know what he was about. He parted with sentimental favorites Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn and was in on the decision to trade for tight end Kellen Winslow. However, last week's surprise firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski -- a man he helped interview for the job -- is the move that prompted head scratching.
It was clear Morris and other members of the organization felt they made a mistake and needed to rectify it before things got worse, but waiting until 10 days before the season-opener to do so could have as much of a negative impact as it might have a positive impact. What is good for Morris, unlike Jauron's firing of Schonert and the training-camp additions of Vick for Philly and Favre for Minnesota, is there aren't high expectations with the Bucs. So, the impact of this late change could be little more than a hiccup in the Bucs' rebuilding process.
The decision also was made to help develop rookie quarterback Josh Freeman and former quarterback coach Greg Olson, who is taking over as offensive coordinator. Olson will call plays that he knows Freeman can handle once the quarterback enters the starting lineup at some point.
Todd Haley, Kansas City
Haley's dismissal of Gailey was hardly a surprise. It was simply a matter of when. Haley is an excellent play caller who eventually was going to put a stamp on the offense. Even though he's now calling the shots, that impression still might not happen this season because of limited talent. The thing to watch is how Haley handles game management. It is not easy calling plays, knowing when to throw the challenge flag, handling irate players, etc…
Coaches who've called plays -- Sean Peyton, Mike Holmgren, Jon Gruden -- had smart, experienced players who could take care of themselves and an organized coaching staff that could monitor everything while the head coach was calling plays. In terms of experienced leaders, there aren't many with the Chiefs. Haley's staff is going to have to be precise at all times to make this work.
Rex Ryan, NY Jets; Jim Schwartz, Detroit
Both former defensive coordinators chose to open the season with rookie quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford, respectively. The decisions to do so aren't that surprising because both signal callers were drafted so high and both have shown enough -- in relation to their in-house competition -- to earn the jobs.
For Ryan and Schwartz, their jobs won't hinge on how Sanchez and Stafford perform this season. Both coaches have some latitude, in that unless something completely unforeseen happens, they'll be with their teams in 2010. That's the beauty of deciding to start a rookie in your first year as a coach. If management torches you, then it's admitting it made a mistake and it would rather not do that.
Wait, didn't that just happen in Tampa, sort of?
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis; Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis
Neither of these newcomers made any radical changes. Spagnuolo is in the process of overhauling a shoddy roster. Caldwell is simply trying to keep the Colts' window of success open by not tweaking much of anything. Neither of these guys felt bad that McDaniels, Morris and Haley took the spotlight.