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Jesse Pantuosco

Offseason Low Down

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NFC Coaching Carousel

Thursday, January 3, 2019


The coaching wheels are spinning as teams are moving quickly to fill their vacancies. Black Monday really did a number on us this year as four more head coaches watched their flames get extinguished, upping the number of job openings league-wide to eight. That means a quarter of the NFL will be under new leadership in 2019. Those jobs will fill up soon enough, but right now we’re still in the due diligence phase with teams gathering intel and interviewing candidates to find the right fit. It can be an arduous, pain-staking process, but as history has shown, picking the right coach, or the wrong one, can have longstanding consequences. Just ask the Patriots, who have hoisted five Lombardi trophies under Bill Belichick. I already clued you in on the AFC, so let’s shift our attention to the NFC, where coaching searches are already beginning to take shape.

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

What’s the sitch?

 

After shanking their tee shot into the woods, the Cardinals took a much-needed mulligan on Monday morning, booting Steve Wilks from the premises after one harrowing year at Arizona’s helm. Wilks knew he had big shoes to fill when he was anointed as the successor to retired coach Bruce Arians (who is already contemplating an NFL comeback). As you can probably surmise, he didn’t come close to filling them. Arizona’s embarrassing 3-13 record speaks to the Cardinals’ immense futility under Wilks, but others would argue he was set up to fail, burdened by an anemic roster chock full of draft busts, underachievers and other pieces that didn’t quite fit.

 

One-and-done coaches are a rarity in the NFL and perhaps Wilks deserved more leeway than he was given, though many of his choices—switching to a 4-3 defense, underutilizing David Johnson (at least early on) and wasting arguably the league’s top coverage man, Patrick Peterson, in a zone scheme—ran the gamut from questionable to downright irresponsible. Installing Mike McCoy, fresh off a midseason firing the previous year, as his offensive coordinator was another misstep for Wilks, a first-time head coach with only one year of coordinating experience. Wilks wasn’t the only Cardinal staffer shown the door on Black Monday as interim OC Byron Leftwich was also given the heave-ho. A new voice at the top won’t be a cure-all for the rebuilding Cardinals, but at least it will be a step in the right direction.

 

Who’s in the running?

 

Unlike some of the more appealing destinations (Cleveland, Green Bay, New York) in this year’s cycle, the Cardinals are having a little trouble drumming up interest. Turns out, prospective coaches aren’t that eager to jump ship when the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow includes a skeleton roster and an erratic GM (Steve Keim) with off-field demons. Mike McCarthy, who is scheduled to meet with the Browns and Jets, passed on a sit-down with Arizona while Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy also RSVP’d no when asked for an interview. The Cardinals do have some options, however, including Saints assistant/TEs coach Dan Campbell, former Dolphins coach Adam Gase, USC OC Kliff Kingsbury and Rams QBs coach Zac Taylor. Despite how things ended in Miami, Gase is still thought of as an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks and would be a strong get for Arizona. He was the Cardinals’ first interview, sitting down with team brass on Wednesday.

 

Green Bay Packers

 

What’s the sitch?

 

Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay tenure included, among other accomplishments, nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl victory in 2010. That makes him one of the more decorated coaches in team history (only Curly Lambeau has won more games), but as McCarthy learned late in his Packers tenure, success comes with an expiration date. Turns out, McCarthy’s best-sell-by date was December 2, the day the Packers finally relieved him of his duties. Low-key and passive, McCarthy’s personality never quite meshed with the fiery Aaron Rodgers, who frequently criticized his bland play-calling. McCarthy has often been accused of squandering Rodgers’ prime. Fair or not, the next coach Green Bay hires will have to play by Rodgers’ rules.

 

Who’s in the running?

 

Green Bay is nobody’s idea of a good time in the winter but frostbite is a small price to pay for aligning with one of the greatest quarterbacks, not only of his generation, but of all-time. The chance to coach Rodgers is obviously a major selling point and probably why Green Bay has attracted so many early suitors including former Lions and Colts coach Jim Caldwell, Dan Campbell, Saints OC Pete Carmichael, Patriots DC Brian Flores, Titans OC Matt LaFleur, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels and Steelers OL coach Mike Munchak, just to name a few. Caldwell’s interview has already taken place while McDaniels (Friday), Campbell (Saturday) and LaFleur (Sunday) will have their sit-downs this weekend. The Packers have also been closely linked to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, though to this point, the 44-year-old has shown zero interest in leaving his alma mater.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

What’s the sitch?

 

The saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, that adage doesn’t really apply here as the Buccaneers are a mess covered in train-wreck sauce, baked into a disaster cake. When a team wins 10 games in a two-year span, someone is usually held accountable and in this instance, the scapegoat was none other than head coach Dirk Koetter, who was canned after three underwhelming seasons as Tampa Bay’s skipper. Koetter’s tenure got off to a promising start with a 9-7 debut season, but it was all downhill from there as the Bucs quickly reverted to their usual brand of excruciating mediocrity. After two years of treading water, the waves finally took Koetter out to sea in 2018, as the coach found himself drowning in an ocean of bad decisions. Every move—firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith, wrangling play-calling duties away from talented offensive coordinator Todd Monken, benching Jameis Winston only to reinsert him after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s inevitable collapse—wreaked of desperation. It was only a matter of time until Koetter’s tank ran dry. The Bucs have warts—all teams do—but they aren’t beyond repair. They’re a fixer-upper, but the right coach should be able to steer this team back to relevance.  

 

Who’s in the running?

 

The Bucs are enlisting many of the usual suspects in their head coaching search—Eric Bieniemy, Brian Flores and Cowboys DBs coach/passing-game coordinator Kris Richard are all being brought in for interviews. But Tampa also has a few tricks up its sleeve. Could Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, a rumored candidate for the Bucs’ vacancy, leave South Bend for South Florida? It’s a long shot but after Notre Dame’s latest playoff embarrassment, maybe Kelly is ready for a change of scenery. Ambitious GM Jason Licht is also hatching a plan to lure Bruce Arians out of retirement. Again, it’s not the most likely scenario, but the former Cardinals coach said he’d at least hear his pitch. And if the Bucs really want to spice things up, they could hand over the reins to long-time Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, who is said to be on their radar.

 

Other Openings

 

Atlanta Falcons

 

Dan Quinn survived the Falcons’ recent coaching purge, but assistants Steve Sarkisian (offensive coordinator), Marquand Manuel (defensive coordinator) and Keith Armstrong (special teams coordinator) did not. That means it’s back to the drawing board for the Falcons, who are left to refurbish a bare-bones coaching staff. The offensive coordinator vacancy has already drawn significant buzz, enticing high-profile candidates such as former Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell, Dirk Koetter and former Bills, Jaguars and Titans coach Mike Mularkey. Bevell knows Quinn from their time together in Seattle, though Koetter, who spent three years in Atlanta prior to his stint in Tampa Bay, is considered the early favorite.

 

Detroit Lions

 

The Lions and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter “mutually” parted ways at season’s end, though it’s pretty evident Cooter was forced out by first-year coach Matt Patricia. Detroit’s offense barely showed a pulse this year, ranking near the bottom of the league in both yards (24th) and points per game (25th). That doesn’t reflect well on Cooter, though the team’s gutted receiving corps (Golden Tate was traded while knee issues limited Marvin Jones to just nine games) and Patricia’s inexplicable “run-first” mandate did nothing to stop the bleeding. Cooter, who is still three months shy of 35, shouldn’t be on the market for long.

 

Minnesota Vikings

 

Mike Zimmer’s job is reportedly safe, but the Vikes do have an offensive coordinator opening after calling it quits on John DeFilippo. QBs coach Kevin Stefanski held down the fort after DeFilippo’s midseason firing and the Vikings have considered removing his interim label and installing him as a permanent fixture at offensive coordinator. Stefanski has also drawn interest outside the organization, receiving an interview for the Browns’ head coaching job. This represents a major setback for DeFilippo, who had been a hot name in the coaching world before butting heads with Zimmer during his tumultuous stay in Minnesota.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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