Filling NFL Coaching Vacancies…

The NFL coaching vacancies are disappearing like passenger pigeons.  Only the Cleveland Browns have an opening left and the last thing I want to do is to speculate on who will get stuck with that job.  Rather, I would like to spend some time today commenting on the 3 most recent hiring decisions made by the Cowboys, Panthers and Giants and then point out the possibility that a streak more than 50 years in the making might – I said MIGHT – be broken when the Browns do make their hiring decision.

Let me start with the Cowboys’ decision to hire Mike McCarthy.  Obviously, we will need to exercise patience to see if this works out for all parties; however, I think this was an excellent decision by Jerry Jones.  From his perspective – and that is the only perspective that really matters in this situation – Jerry Jones believes that he and his son have assembled a roster than can make the playoffs next year and then win at least a game or two once they are there.  I tend to agree with him on the offensive side of the ball; I do think the Cowboys can use some more heft on the defense if they are going to be taken seriously in next year’s playoffs.  Nevertheless, the Jones Boys should not have considered putting that team in the hands of someone who had little or no experience/credentials at the NFL level.

I think the Jones Boys had McCarthy on their short list for a while and I think they used the “meetings with Jason Garrett” over 3 or 4 days as a smokescreen for them to have preliminary discussions with McCarthy’s representatives.  I never bought into the narrative that Jerry Jones could not bring himself to fire Jason Garrett; Jerry Jones can be ruthless when he needs to be; there had to be a purpose to all that procrastinating.  While everyone was focused on his supposed angst over Jason Garrett’s “situation”, I believe that Jerry and Stephen Jones were making sure that McCarthy did not sign on with anyone else who interviewed him without giving the Cowboys a chance to meet/beat whatever the deal on the table was.

Given the circumstances and ownership’s perception of the roster quality, I think this hiring gets an “A” on the report card.  Now let’s see how it plays out…

Matt Rhule broke the bank with his deal with the Panthers.  Reports say he will get 7 years and $60M – – with incentives that could push the value of the deal as high as $70M.  When owner, Dave Tepper, fired Ron Rivera earlier this year, Tepper said that he wanted to put his stamp on the team.  Well, all I can say is that his stamp cost a whole lot of money. But that is not the issue here because Forbes pegs Tepper’s net worth at $12B.

[Aside:  As I understand NFL coaching contracts, the base amount – $60M in this case – is guaranteed at signing.  If the coach is terminated prior to the term, the coach gets paid as if he were still on the payroll for the entirety of the term.  However, there are offset clauses there; if the fired coach goes and gets another coaching job, then whatever he makes in that new job is subtracted from whatever the team that fired him owes him.  I assume Matt Rhule got that sort of a deal.]

Matt Rhule has no head coaching experience in the NFL.  The entirety of his NFL experience is a single season with the NY Giants as an assistant offensive line coach in 2012.  However, here are some of his accomplishments/credentials:

  • He was a linebacker at Penn State in the ‘90s.  Yesterday, his teammate there, LaVar Arrington, said on FS1 that Rhule was the “smartest football player” he ever met.
  • Rhule took over the head coaching job at Temple in 2013.  Temple was thrown out of the Big East because interest in its football program was so low that no one went to the games.  Temple football was less than an afterthought.  In 2015 and 2016, Rhule’s teams at Temple won 10 games and went to bowl games.
  • Rhule left Temple to take over the charred remains of the Baylor football program in 2017.  In the aftermath of the Art Briles disaster, the program almost got the “death penalty” and in fact was on life support.  In the first year, Rhule’s team at Baylor went 1-11; two years later in 2019, Baylor was 11-2.

Back when Tepper fired Ron Rivera and announced that it was time for him to put his stamp on the team, I pointed out that he might have set himself on a vector heading that was parallel to the one traveled by Danny Boy Snyder.  Matt Rhule may or may not be a “reach” for an NFL head coaching job in 2020; time will tell us about that.  Nonetheless, the length of this contract and its base value is startling.  Dave Tepper may not have endeared himself to his fellow owners by setting the price for head coaches where he did.  Because of Rhule’s success in rebuilding two moribund college programs quickly, I’ll give this hiring decision a tentative “B”.

The Giants decided to hire Joe Judge as their new coach.  Let’s get some cheap one-liners out of the way:

  • Here come da judge…
  • Is Joe Judge married to Judge Judy?
  • When cutdown day comes next summer, can we say that he was the Judge, Jury and Executioner?
  • BaDaBing!   BaDaBoom!!!

Judge was the Pats’ special teams’ coordinator and WR coach this year.  The Pats’ special teams were excellent; the Pats’ WRs were awful.  Here is why I like the hiring decision:

  • Joe Judge played football at Mississippi State and was a Dean’s List graduate there.  One report I read said that he is pursuing a Doctor of Education degree.  Those two things indicate to me that Joe Judge exists under the right end of the bell curve.
  • Judge spent three years as an assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban.  He has spent the last five years as an assistant with the Pats under Bill Belichick.
  • Since I think he is “smarter than the average bear” [Hat tip to Yogi Bear here…] I have to think he learned a lot about running a football program from those two “supervisors” in the last 8 seasons.

I admit that this hiring decision has the potential to flame out spectacularly in the event that the NY tabloids decide to make him a whipping boy and/or if he becomes collateral damage if the tabloids decide to put GM, Dave Gettleman, in the crosshairs.  There are too many moving parts here to give this one even a preliminary grade so let just call it “Incomplete”.

I promised above that a longstanding streak could be broken by the Cleveland Browns very soon.  What puts the Browns in position to do this is their request to interview Jim Schwartz – Eagles’ defensive coordinator – for their head coaching position.  Jim Schwartz was the head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009 to 2013.  The last head coach of the Detroit Lions to leave that position and then go on to be the head coach for another team for even one game in the NFL was George Wilson who left the Lions in 1964.

  • Since 1964, the Lions have had 17 head coaches.
  • All of them faded into oblivion once the Lions were done with them.
  • Jim Schwartz could break that streak.

Finally, since the hiring of a new coach for a football team is generally a time of unbridled optimism, let me provide some views of optimism itself by some noted observers of the human condition:

“Optimist, n.  A proponent of the doctrine that black is white.”  Ambrose Bierce

And …

“Optimism, n.  The doctrine or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly.”  Ambrose Bierce

And …

“Optimism: the noble temptation to see too much in everything.”  G. K. Chesterton

And …

“An optimist is a man who has never had much experience.”  Don Marquis

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



4 thoughts on “Filling NFL Coaching Vacancies…”

  1. As non-playoff NFL coaches begin the immediate work of preparing to win the 2021 Super Bowl, remember the words of Dr. Laurence Peter: “Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.”

  2. You’re telling me that Wayne Fontes, the genius coach of the 80’s and 90’s in Detroit never got picked up by another team?! How did they all let him go like that?!

    1. Matt:

      Fontes’ record with the Lions was actually one of the better ones since 1970. He was only 1 game under .500. His teams had a knack for stinking out the joint in September and October, then playing competitively in November and then rallying in December just enough to give the Lions’ braintrust the idea that things were about to “turn the corner”. Unfortunately …

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