As we do every week, let's take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of stories that caught my attention. It’s no surprise that the coaching carousel takes center stage.
So, what's been up?
Chiefs act fast to get Reid
When I ranked the head-coaching openings from one through seven before the process began, I viewed the Kansas City Chiefs as No. 7. In a strange twist, Chiefs fans were not pleased. Nor should they have been. There were three main reasons for my ranking. One, instability at the general manager position with Scott Pioli still hanging on. Two, no quarterback. Three, lack of talent on the roster, aside from the big-name Pro Bowlers. And yet, with the hire of Andy Reid, at least two of those questions got answered. Pioli is out, having negotiated a buyout with the Chiefs after a delay of several days of the general manager declining to resign. And as far as on-the-field, Reid brings his quarterback skillz (with a "z") to Kansas City.
In Philadelphia, anyone who traded with the Eagles for quarterbacks were sorry. Kevin Kolb's debacle-filled career in Arizona speaks to that, and it's not the only example. Reid propped up mediocre quarterbacks, made them desirable, then dealt them. What Reid does is make whoever is under center better. Simple as that. It's what he did for years in Philly, with Nick Foles being the most recent one. The Chiefs could draft a quarterback in the second round or so, have Reid work with him and then suddenly have stability at a low cost. That's what history tells us will happen.
As far as talent on the roster, Reid will have significant say, and it'll be interesting to see if he's learned from his personnel mistakes with the Eagles over the past two years. If he starts signing a bunch of big-name free agents from different systems, we can assume he hasn't. If he makes wacky assistant choices, we'll assume he hasn't. The Chiefs will have the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, which gives them plenty of fuel to rebuild. Either way, I like this marriage between Reid and the Chiefs. Kansas City got a proven winner who makes them immediately better to play in front of a fan base that will appreciate him. Reid got a head coaching job, which is big since there were only seven, and a chance to start new.
Titans make wise move keeping Munchak
Sometimes, it's the decisions that aren't made that stand out. The Tennessee Titans entered the 2012 season on the heels of a surprisingly impressive 2011. They had a winning record, a second-year quarterback they thought highly of, and plenty of weapons. Instead, Jake Locker was injured for much of the year, the defense was abysmally abysmal, and Tennessee slumped. And yet, owner Bud Adams decided to retain coach Mike Munchak for the coming season. And as I look at the landscape of the coaching carousel, with teams wandering hopefully into the unknown, I like this decision.
Tennessee has always believed in Munchak, and there are reasons to do so even after a down year. Locker will now have offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains for the whole year, albeit with a new quarterback coach. Running back Chris Johnson will have a new position coach. And defensive coordinator Jerry Gray will almost certainly be on the unemployment line, with someone new assuming the responsibility of coordinating their guys. It's clear Munchak didn't have a favorable staff last year, which is his responsibility. But the team believes in him as a leader and it's on him now to choose more wisely when it comes to his assistants. But in my eyes, this is a team that needs tinkering, not an overall makeover. Had Munchak been replaced, it would've triggered a rebuilding. Again. Sometimes, it's the moves that you don't make. This weekend, teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans felt the rewards of that in the playoffs. My hunch is the Titans will, too.
Arians will draw serious interest
When Monday comes around, don't be shocked when Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is the name that dominates the week. The Colts' offensive coordinator will interview with the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Diego Chargers have also expressed serious interest. When San Diego hires a GM, Arians might be the first call they make. The love for Arians is two-fold. His knowledge of the quarterback position stands out. From making life simple for Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, and essentially teaching him the position from scratch when he was a younger player, to Arians' work with Andrew Luck in Indy this year.
Arians would be a perfect fit to fix Philip Rivers. When I ask scouts about Rivers' apparent lack of arm strength, this is the response I get: "He's never had a strong arm." That makes me think he's more fixable than if he'd suddenly lost arm strength. The other, and more important, thing about Arians is how he handled the Colts in the absence of Chuck Pagano. He showed poise, leadership and humility. That's desirous for teams.
Want some other Arians facts? He developed six drafted rookies who contributed on offense this year. His 2009 Steelers became the first unit in team history to have a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers, and a 1,000-yard running back. While he was in Cleveland as an OC, the 2002 Browns scored more points than they had since 1987 and went to the playoffs(!). In other words, he's a guy who fixes things. Listen to this one: In his last four NFL stops as an assistant, every team has reached the playoffs by the second year.
Younger Shanahan in no hurry to leave D.C.
One hot name all season has been Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is just 33 years old and already has a creative new offense being run by Robert Griffin III. When teams talk about vacancies, Shanahan's name will come up. Publicly, the younger Shanahan hasn't sounded too interested in other jobs, and I'm told privately he hasn't, either. Based on talking to people around the league, the view from many is that he's just a bit too young and not quite ready to be a head coach.
Though, few doubt the impressive job he's done with RG3. And talking to people close with Shanahan, it doesn't sound like he's in a hurry to go anywhere. It would be hard to turn down a firm offer for a head coaching job if one came. But Shanahan -- who has excelled with the Texans and with the Redskins -- might want to continue learning from his father. And, of course, he might be considering the possibility that he is part of the succession plan in Washington. That is not the craziest of thoughts. Anyway, my point is that for a few reasons, I'd be surprised if Kyle Shanahan pops up in the middle of this coaching carousel in a serious way, though it's no way a reflection of the job he's done.
Cardinals' rebuilding about to begin
Whoever takes over the Arizona Cardinals job will have a really stout defense, some major quarterback questions, and a team to rebuild from the middle out. They'll need plenty of help from the new GM, who may in fact be Steve Keim. Yet, as always final say comes from the team's top dog, Michael Bidwill. It's a dynamic that did not always serve coach Ken Whisenhunt well. Like when the team signed Derek Anderson a couple years back and then Marc Bulger became available in June, and Bidwill was not amenable to paying for both QBs. That stings for a coach who saw a player who could help, then didn't get to use him.
The Cards, in fact, would like to keep Kevin Kolb for how much they've invested in him. It's why had Reid interviewed with the Cardinals, he would have told them, "I can fix Kevin Kolb." For the new coach, there will be times when the personnel side wants a guy and is told, it won't work financially. It's one reason why final say wasn't written into Whisenhunt's contract, though many assumed he had it. He did not. The Cardinals will likely benefit from this year's draft. No, there is no top five quarterback (or maybe top 10 quarterback). But I hear there might be three top 10 left tackles, which would surely help the Cardinals, as well as the Chargers. The building can begin there.
Bills in good hands
The Buffalo Bills were looking at a few different kinds of head coaches, having talked with offensive-minded Ken Whisenhunt, defensive-minded Lovie Smith, and college-minded Chip Kelly. They decided to go the college-minded route with Syracuse's Doug Marrone, who will certainly take over a spot that has talent. Look at the skill guys on offense, with electric C.J. Spiller and dynamic receiver Stevie Johnson. And check out the defensive products left, including Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams. On offense, the worries begin at QB, where it doesn't seem like Ryan Fitzpatrick is the answer (duh).
Depending on who comes in, one possibility I hear is to sign Alex Smith as a one-year stop-gap and then go from there. If it was Kelly, however, Michael Vick might have been a possibility. But if it's Smith, that's not perfect. I heard from one coach this week who played the 49ers, and he was hoping to face Smith, rather than Colin Kaepernick. But it's something that might work for a year, while the team grooms his successor.
The Bills' QB situation is certainly a question mark. The other thing is, I hear nothing but good things around the league when it comes to eventual GM Doug Whaley and CEO Russ Brandon. It's rare you hear such positive reviews about, well, anything, but these two are respected. Brandon for his ability to be an administrator, Whaley for his personnel prowess. People love old Steelers alums, and Whaley would like to build in the model of what we see in Pittsburgh. The phrase I heard most often with regard to Buffalo's situation? "They are in good hands." Something you don't often hear.
Assistants on the rise
A couple assistants dominated this week, with guys like Broncos OC Mike McCoy, Cardinals DC Ray Horton and Falcons OC Dirk Koetter being the names we heard the most. McCoy interviewed at about 30 places (give or take a few), Horton talked with the Cardinals and Browns, and Koetter interviewed with the Chiefs and eventually signed a contract extension to stay in Atlanta.
So, who are the assistant coach names we'll hear this week? I already mentioned Arians. A few others are: Cincinnati Bengals OC Jay Gruden and DC Mike Zimmer and Seattle Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell. Why those guys? First of all, good reputations. Secondly, good products on the field. Gruden has always been a hot name, and he had opportunities last year. What's intriguing about him is that he has personnel experience from his time in the AFL and UFL. For Zimmer, he's a defensive guru who pieced together one of the NFL's nastiest units this year, leading the league in sacks. It's all about getting to the QB, and his scheme is attractive. So is he as a person. As for Bevell, yes he's all the way out in Seattle. But people paid attention this year when he chose a rookie QB over the prized free-agent signing in Matt Flynn. And more people noticed when Russell Wilson improved throughout the season, becoming dynamic by December. Who wouldn't want a guy who can mold their QB into a winner? It's the same model we keep coming back to. Teams either need to have a quarterbackor a guy who can develop them. By the same token on that Bengals staff, don't be shocked if Hue Jackson gets some looks as an offensive coordinator.
Haley holds Big Ben accountable
I mentioned the Steelers earlier while talking about Arians and the job he did with Roethlisberger. Considered Roethlisberger had barely taken a snap from center in college, Arians' tutelage was valuable. So why in the world did Arians find himself searching for another job last offseason before landing in Indianapolis? Why did the Steelers hire Todd Haley as offensive coordinator in a move that did not go swimmingly?
I heard an interesting theory this week. While Roethlisberger's talents were always evident on the field, he didn't always play like a veteran. He put himself in harm's way, for instance, and sometimes exhibited immaturity (on and off the field). Some in the Steelers' front office and ownership believed Arians was too easy on Big Ben.
So in 2011, they saw New England Patriots OC Bill O'Brien just go after Tom Brady in a shouting match on the sidelines in a game against the Washington Redskins, and they had an epiphany. It was, "we want an OC who can get in Roethlisberger's face." That led them to Haley, whose offensive prowess isn't questioned but whose personality rubs many the wrong way. Even Larry Fitzgerald didn't really appreciate Haley until he left. It's also why Big Ben's feelings about Haley weren't exactly an unwelcome thought for those in charge in Pittsburgh.
Jets' circus continues even after season ends
Finally, the New York Jets; always the Jets. Just when you think Gang Green can't out-do itself, we learn of Rex Ryan's tattoo. Or whatever. What a mess. And the fact that Ryan and owner Woody Johnson violated NFL media rules by not meeting with local reporters within a week of the season isn't a crime. It's just stupid. Why put yourself through that PR mess? Isn't there anybody in charge who can say, "Wait a minute? This isn't right."
Even coaches who could possibly be fired met with reporters, such as Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey. And Rex and Johnson couldn't? Mindless. With that quibble over with, the Jets' open general manager job is an intriguing one. Yes, you inherit the absurd Mark Sanchez contract guarantee. And yes, there is an aging roster on defense. But it's New York; it's a place free agents would want to play and it's a big-market team that will spend (sometimes foolishly).
The big question is how does Ryan staying on as coach affect the new GM? And I'd argue it's not a detriment. Full disclosure: While I think Rex is ridiculous and hilarious with what he says publicly, I think he's a fantastic football coach. Xs-and-Os-wise, he's ideal. That being said, with Rex on the hot seat for 2013, the GM is in a good spot. He has a full year to evaluate Rex, and if it all fails, the general manager also has a scapegoat and a reason. Simply fire Rex if next year is a disaster, and then you can also blame Mike Tannenbaum for the cap situation. If the team crumbles in 2013, you can clean house with a better cap situation and your own coach, and for whoever the general manager is, that begins his clock of judgment a year later than it should have begun. Oh, and if Ryan wins in 2013, then the GM can just tinker and will come out looking fine regardless. It's why Gang Green's open GM spot is a good one.
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