Things are just starting to gear up around the league as the regular season winds down. Teams are jockeying for postseason position or fighting for their playoff lives, players are being considered for individual honors and awards, and some of the less fortunate teams are already knee-deep into their plans for 2008.
Bill Parcells just can't stay away from football. The game is in his blood. At various times during his coaching career, he continued to think he could satisfy his football needs in the media and still be around the game, but it's never worked. He has, however, come to a point in his life where he knows he no longer wants the 18-hour days and 24/7 demands of coaching in the NFL. The front office, however, is attractive to him.
Parcells has been sniffing around, looking for an opportunity like this, and fortunately for him, the public opportunity in Atlanta forced the private situation in Miami to come to the surface. Parcells entertained both. The two-time Super Bowl champ has etched his name in NFL history with his ability to turn around seemingly floundering franchises and bring instant credibility to any team he is associated with. That's why he is so attractive to owners like Arthur Blank and Wayne Huizenga, who are currently at the helm of rudderless ships. When the team isn't playing well on the field, and then the blunders extend into personnel and off-the-field issues, an owner naturally begins to wonder if he needs another "football voice" in the building.
The distress sends the owner on a quest for a "football guy," and Parcells will always be at or near the top of that list. I was with the Jets when our owner, Leon Hess, reached the same conclusion that Blank and Huizinga reached this past week. Parcells can turn a franchise around and point it in the right direction. Lou Holtz was capable of doing the same thing at the college level.
Those desperate situations are what make the opportunity even more attractive for Parcells. Huizenga needed to stabilize his franchise now; he believes Parcells can do it quickly, and as a result will accept his way of doing things. In other words, he will sign off on his needs and demands, leaving him to run the show. Parcells' stock has also risen this year because he left the Cowboys in such good shape, with some good young players who can carry that franchise for years to come.
Parcells will act quickly in Miami. He will initiate a detailed evaluation of the players on the team and send the losers packing. Then he will go out and get the players he needs. Parcells is a very good deal-maker with the ability to shop for the right players, and the savvy to move the right players to get what he needs. Then he will look for one of his guys to coach the team. This part of the puzzle will take a little more time, even a year or more. Remember, while Parcells will make a difference right away, he will be patient in terms of putting things together the right way. In Dallas, he didn't implement his signature 3-4 defense for more than two years because he wasn't satisfied that he had the proper personnel to run it well.
But who will coach the team? His old guard, Bill Belichick, Al Groh, and Romeo Crennel, among others, have set their own career paths. But more recent followers like Maurice Carthon or Todd Haley could be on that list. Will he go after a Jason Garrett? Garrett is a New Jersey guy, he's young, and he's smart. Parcells could also look for a veteran coach like a Marty Schottenheimer, who understands the league and could work together with Parcells to right the ship. His next step will be to find a young G.M. whom he can mold and teach his philosophy on team building. Current Dolphins CEO Bryan Wiedmeier is a good business man and will stay, but Parcells likes talking to agents and will want to direct contract negotiations. Like we said, he's a deal-maker. He'll bait the hook and then hand things off to his young protégé to handle the nuts and bolts of the deals.
Some will ask, "Why Miami?" Most coaches and football people around the league recognize Huizenga as a great owner to work for. He has a history of being hands-off and giving full authority to the football guy. Then, despite rumored promises from Huizenga to Parcells that he would not sell the team, it's hard to ignore that story, which dominated the headlines the previous week in South Florida. Could Parcells be in for a piece of the pie? Parcells likes the idea of putting the pieces in place and building the franchise. He can also see himself being removed from the day-to-day operations at some point, handing the reins to his young charges and watching from the owner's box. Can you see him and Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones voting together at the owners meetings next spring?
Twin Cities turnaround
The Vikings have gone from NFC North afterthought to NFC playoff contender in just five short weeks. What happened? The quarterback happened, for one.
Head coach Brad Childress knew that Tarvaris Jackson would be a bit of a project when he drafted him in the second round in 2006, and he has brought him along slowly. But Jackson's ability to take advantage of what the defense gives him has grown considerably in the last five weeks. He's certainly not perfect, and he will make mistakes like he did last week, but he has progressed by leaps and bounds.
The Vikings opened up the game plan a little bit about a month ago and let Jackson throw a couple deep balls. He threw them well and actually completed some to rookie receiver Sidney Rice. That was the kick-start the coaches needed to justify expanding his role. He started throwing more slants a week later, and he has thrown them with such good velocity and accuracy that now the defense has issues with how to defend what he can do. Two weeks ago, Jackson made some veteran decisions by throwing balls away when nothing was there. He stumbled last week, trying to make something happen, which is a common mistake in young quarterbacks. But Childress is encouraged by Jackson's reaction to his mistakes.
He's not coming to the sideline lost and not knowing what happened. He's coming off the field already knowing what he did and deciding how he can correct it. Jackson will stumble and fall, but he's a lot quicker to get up and fix the problem.
The coaching staff is excited about the prospect of Jackson being able to handle 25-30 passes a game in the near future, and combined with their explosive running game, that could spell trouble for some other teams in the playoffs.
On defense, the Vikings' middle triangle is among the best in the business. Defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, and middle linebacker E.J. Henderson control the game. They can obviously stop the run, and the inside push they get off the line allows them to collapse the pocket, but the size and strength of the Williamses leaves Henderson free to run to the ball without traffic and contain the outside run and the screen game. We are waiting on a report on the health of cornerback Antoine Winfield, but this defense is much better than their overall season ranking would have anyone believe.
Everybody has a list of players who should have been on the Pro Bowl roster. But the question has to be, who would you take off? Willis McGahee, Fred Taylor, Derek Anderson, David Garrard, Wes Welker, Chad Johnson and others are all worthy candidates, but I find it difficult to move anyone off the list to get those guys in.
Actually, the players I would make a case for are in the NFC: Saints receiver Marques Colston and Cowboys outside linebacker Greg Ellis. My hat is off to the 11 Cowboys who made the roster, but it seems very odd to me that not one player on the Jaguars was worthy of the honor. Even more glaring is the fact that the entire NFC South division will not be represented in Hawaii. We still have to find ways to make the system better. The way we pick these players has to be looked at a little more closely. The way it is done is not bad, but it just may not be the best way to ensure that the best players are represented.