Last week, it was all about the head coaches, with the usual churn atop NFL coaching staffs. This week, it's all about the coordinators. And I'll let you in on a little secret: In many ways, it's easier to land the head coach you covet than it is to put together the staff of coordinators you desire.
It's common practice for teams to block lateral moves, accentuating the importance of developing future coordinators on your own staff. (Look no further than Bill Belichick for proof of how important this dynamic is; nobody does it better.) If you've been slacking on the developmental front, you're typically stuck looking at a recently fired head coach, or taking a chance on a position coach from someone else's staff, who often won't have experience calling plays at this level.
Consequently, this week you'll read and hear plenty about guys like Steve Spagnuolo, Todd Haley, Tony Sparano, Raheem Morris, Brad Childress and Jack Del Rio. That's the way it works. The incoming group of head coaches will get hired in the next 7-10 days. Then comes the hard part: filling out their staffs. Much more so than any individual head coach himself, the overall strength of the staff -- its experience, chemistry and passion -- will dictate organizational direction, player development and, ultimately, wins.
So while the prospect of Mike Sherman as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may not make the fan base swoon, a potential staff of Sherman, Childress (as offensive coordinator) and, say, Mike Nolan (defensive coordinator) is a package you can sell. That's three guys with head-coaching experience at the highest level. Childress spent Monday talking to Bucs officials, and if the Dolphins are able to retain interim head coach Todd Bowles as a defensive coordinator, then Nolan becomes expendable there once they get their staff together. (Childress is a strong candidate to join Pat Shurmur's offensive staff in Cleveland as well, if he doesn't land in Tampa).
Here's the latest buzz on some of the other notable names:
» Spagnuolo, let go by the St. Louis Rams last week, is expected to be back in Philadelphia by the end of the week. The Eaglesreleased a secondary coach over the weekend, so they have flexibility to move around the staff and bring Spagnuolo back as an assistant head coach, if not defensive coordinator. If Andy Reid wants to retain embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo in some other capacity, that's a possibility as well, according to league sources. Spagnuolo is a disciple of former Eagles defensive guru Jim Johnson, and was much-liked during his eight-year stint on Andy Reid's staff. Spagnuolo wanted to take time off last week, according to a league source, but expect his phone to start ringing quickly.
» Sparano, fired in mid-December, is a candidate to replace the New York Jets' Brian Schottenheimer, should he get another job or just lose his position on Rex Ryan's staff. Sparano also has ties to the Dallas organization, and the Cowboys are exploring options to beef up the offensive coaching staff around head coach Jason Garrett.
» Morris, fired by Tampa after 10 straight losses to end the season, has already met with the Redskins and Vikings about positions on their defensive staffs, and he is very close to Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. Tomlin is a mentor to Morris, and the Steelers could lose defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who contemplates retirement at the end of every season. If LeBeau does retire, league sources say Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler would be promoted to defensive coordinator, but any move on that side of the ball could provide an opportunity for Tomlin to lure in Morris.
This will also be a big week for the league's trio of interim head coaches, all of whom improved their stock with strong finishes. The Jacksonville Jaguars badly want to keep Mel Tucker as their defensive coordinator, according to league sources, but his contract is up and other teams value him as a potential coordinator as well. (Jacksonville head-coaching candidate Mike Mularkey would be very comfortable with Tucker continuing to run the defense, according to league sources.)
Teams requested permission to interview Bowles as well, but the Dolphins have made it known they would like to keep him. Bowles could be a defensive coordinator option for Romeo Crennel, who received a three-year deal on Monday to remain the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach. Crennel and the Chiefs are trying to find an offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting, but Josh McDaniels went to New England, Miami could end up keeping offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and while the Chiefs like Green Bay coordinator Joe Philbin, he interviewed for Miami's head-coaching job and could have other options as well.
Wherever Jeff Fisher lands, as we have been reporting, he would love to bring New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams along. Williams' contract is expiring, and while he loves the Saints, he also has a very close relationship with Fisher. So he will have much to mull. If Williams departs, league sources say Del Rio, who was fired by Jacksonville in November, would be a candidate to replace him with the Saints.
It's not uncommon for teams to make a surprise change later in the offseason. We've seen Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen out in Tampa late in the game, Mike Shanahan out in Denver, even Fisher out in Tennessee a year ago. Where could we see that kind of late activity this year? Oakland.
As we reported Saturday on GameDay Morning, Hue Jackson has not received positive feedback from the team's players and coaches in their discussions with Raiders officials. Consultants like former Raiders coach John Madden and former Raider exec Ken Herock have been taking the temperature of people there and gathering info for new GM Reggie McKenzie, who they helped hire. Oakland has gone deep into the offseason contemplating the fate of coaches before -- Tom Cable comes to mind -- and Jackson is certainly under review, according to team and league sources.
Players and coaches complained that the power went to Jackson's head following the passing of owner Al Davis. Jackson allegedly became difficult to deal with, threatening the jobs of players and coaches and pointing the finger at others when things turned for the worse. His postseason press conferences were bizarre and not well-received inside the team headquarters. If the Raiders decide to shake things up, sources say former Raider Winston Moss, who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay and has been considered for head-coaching jobs in the past, could be the man to replace Jackson.
A few thoughts on the four teams whose season ended over the weekend:
» Pittsburgh is currently $23 million over the 2012 projected cap (which will remain very close to the 2011 total of $120 million). This isn't unchartered territory for the Steelers, but it isn't ideal, either. Hines Ward and Aaron Smith are among the players very likely to be let go, according to league sources, and Pittsburgh will restructure several contracts as well. And 2012 could also end up as James Harrison's last season in Pittsburgh, based on his contract, his age and all the money the Steelers are now paying fellow linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons.
» Atlanta is preparing for some major brain drain. The Falcons already lost defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who returned to the college ranks to take the same job at Auburn. Team officials believe Mularkey has a very good chance to end up as Jacksonville's head coach, and they know that he would be bringing at least a few members of their offensive staff with him. And Les Snead, righthand man to GM Thomas Dimitroff, is a strong candidate for the general manager openings in Chicago and Indianapolis. Transition is looming. With one year left on Matt Ryan's contract, figuring out a comparable player for him in contract talks is going to be tricky. He's a fabulous player in the comfy confines of his home dome during the regular season, but he hasn't been the same quarterback on the road and in the playoffs.
» The Bengals are in a similar position. The Jaguars want to talk to offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer interviewed for the Dolphins job Monday, according to league sources. Losing either would be a big blow, though secondary coach Kevin Coyle has impressed in his time there and could be next man up if Zimmer leaves. The young talent there is special, however, and the Bengals played much of this season without two of their young studs on defense (Carlos Dunlap and Leon Hall). Throw in the massive haul they received for Carson Palmer, and Cincinnati should be a factor in 2012 and beyond.
» The future is bright for the Lions. They feel very good about getting back running back Mikel Leshoure, who missed all of 2011, and hope that concussion problems don't dog Jahvid Best again in 2012. They will continue to address the offensive line and secondary in the draft and free agency, but are in great shape to be a contender for years to come. Of course, having the Packers in their division won't do them any favors.