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Coaching class of 2006 still trying to find its way

The Oakland Raiders-Lane Kiffin fiasco has attracted most of our attention lately because of Kiffin's shaky employment status, the constant wave of rumors circling around it and other abnormal sidebars that have been nothing short of a circus of the absurd.

But as bizarre as that saga has been, there has been equal, if not worse failure and more simmering problems in other corners of the league. They've just played out with less theater.

The focus here will be on the coaching class of 2006, which, entering this weekend, has a record of 8-18 in 2008.

Detroit's Rod Marinelli, St. Louis' Scott Linehan, Kansas City's Herm Edwards and Houston's Gary Kubiak are winless in a combined 11 games. Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis) and Cleveland (Romeo Crennel) are the only winless teams not coached by a member of those hired in 2006.

Of the nine coaches still employed from that class (Art Shell was let go and replaced by Kiffin in 2007), only Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and Buffalo's Dick Jauron have winning records this season.

Let's not just look at this season, though. In football terms, let's view the full body of work.

Saints coach Sean Payton (18-17) and McCarthy (23-12) are the only coaches in the lot above .500 since 2006.

Marinelli, Linehan and Edwards have combined to win 34 games since 2006. They've lost 72.

The reality is that Year 3 is when most NFL owners, management and particularly fans want to see signs of progress from players, coaches and the franchise as a whole. In some markets, just being competitive will do. In others, the bar is set at postseason play.

A look at the first-time head coaches who were hired in 2006:

» Minnesota's Brad Childress, after getting the Vikings to 8-8 in 2007, changed quarterbacks after an 0-2 start. He got an immediate bounce with a victory over Carolina in Week 3. There was no overt pressure to go to Gus Frerotte from Tarvaris Jackson, but there didn't need to be. The Vikings are loaded with talent and a deep run in the playoffs is expected.

» Conversely, in St. Louis, owner Chip Rosenbloom publicly stated last week that things better improve in a hurry or changes would be made. The Rams got housed by Seattle, 37-13 (they have been outscored 116-29 this season). Linehan, 11-24 since being hired, replaced quarterback Marc Bulger with Trent Green and cornerback Fakhir Brown was cut. Besides the edict from Rosenbloom, Linehan also is being evaluated by first-year executive vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney, who came in after Linehan was in place.

» Marinelli is caught in a really tough spot. After showing signs of progress early last season, the team lost seven of eight games to finish the season 7-9. The Lions looked solid this preseason only to falter when the games started to count, which led to GM Matt Millen, who hired Marinelli, to be let go Wednesday. That means there will be new management and probably the expectation of bringing in its own set of coaches. The Lions have been awful in every phase on the field, yet they have potential to turn things around. The idea that Millen's removal could spark a turnaround is a reach, since he's the one who brought these players and coaches to Detroit.

» Though Kubiak and the Texans have yet to win a game, it would be hard to say anything is overly problematic in Houston, football-wise. Hurricane Ike completely disrupted the entire region, displaced residents and led to the postponement of the Texans' Week 2 game vs. Baltimore. There are a lot more important things to worry about besides football. Compounding matters, no team may have had to open the season with a more brutal schedule. Houston started with a loss at Pittsburgh then lost at Tennessee last week. It faces Jacksonville on the road Sunday. The Texans may have gotten a break of sorts by not having to face Baltimore so soon.

There is a potential dilemma brewing, though. Quarterback Matt Schaub, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last year and awarded a $48 million contract, has not played well, throwing five interceptions and just one touchdown. If things don't improve, Kubiak might have to replace Schaub with Sage Rosenfels, who won four of five games in 2007 after Schaub got hurt.

» Things have cooled for Payton and Jets third-year coach Eric Mangini after taking their teams to the playoffs in their first seasons. Payton's Saints have been ravaged by injuries the past two seasons and New Orleans lost some of its luster as a potential Super Bowl contender as a result.

Mangini might be facing more pressure than any coach in the league. The Jets went 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2006. But after struggling to a 4-12 record last season, they spent more than $100 million building their current roster, which included trading for future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. The result so far is a 1-2 record and an offense that has yet to find itself.

» McCarthy, along with one of the best personnel departments in the NFL, has continued Green Bay's winning ways. He got a great season from Favre in 2007 and the Packers (13-3) made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game, where it lost to the Super Bowl champion Giants. The streamlined focus of the organization through a turbulent summer that saw Favre traded has spawned positive results so far. The steady nurturing of quarterback Aaron Rodgers the past few years and his strong play as a starter has been a relief for the Packers, who have seen several other young quarterbacks around the league rushed into action, only to be benched for experienced vets.

Second time around

As for Edwards and Jauron, it's a tale of two fortunes for coaches getting second chances at full-time jobs.

Jauron, a former head coach in Chicago, has steadily (and quietly) built a team in Buffalo that currently leads the AFC East and looks to be the real deal. By establishing a solid foundation (he went 7-9 in each of the past two season) and slowly adding the proper personnel to a strong coaching staff, Buffalo's ascension doesn't appear to be a one-year flash.

In Kansas City, Edwards, who coached the Jets before taking over the Chiefs, is saddled with injuries, youth and not much to work with at quarterback. The Chiefs took a major dip (4-12) in Edwards' second season after a 9-7 mark in 2006. In the offseason, the organization decided to re-tool the roster. Now, it is realizing that this is a rebuilding project of massive proportion.

"Our plan is to get these young players better, to win with them, to win right now and we're not going to change what we do with them because you can't," Edwards said at his mid-week news conference. "It's unfair to everybody. It's unfair to the organization; it's unfair to what we decided to do in the spring. Now, all of a sudden it becomes more difficult and we're playing games and not winning ... well, we're going to get better. That's all you can do."

There are 13 games remaining, so it is too soon for any coach to realistically be placed on the hot seat. However, an NFL assistant coach said this week that some of his colleagues are already eyeballing potential vacancies at the end of the season. He then pointed out that most coaches know their lifespan at one stop is roughly three years.

For the coaching class of 2006, time is ticking.

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