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How the coaching carousel is shaping up
After relative quiet immediately following the regular season, the NFL head coaching picture for 2012 is starting to take shape.
Two clubs — Kansas City (Romeo Crennel) and Jacksonville (Mike Mularkey) — have found their men.
Three others — Tampa Bay, Miami and St. Louis — are closing in on making hires.
And there’s the Oakland Raiders, where new general manager Reggie McKenzie made his first bold move Tuesday by firing Hue Jackson.
The landscape could change again as soon as Wednesday afternoon if Jeff Fisher announces whether he will join the Dolphins, Rams or neither. Until he makes a move — a decision is expected this week — here is where things stand with the head-coaching situations for the four franchises with vacancies, as well as a look at the choices made by the Chiefs and Jaguars.
Team: St. Louis
Top candidates: Jeff Fisher, Dennis Allen, Rob Chudzinski, Ray Horton
Why the vacancy?: Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney ran out of time in trying to resurrect one of the NFL’s most moribund franchises. A 2-14 record in 2011 marked the fourth time in the past five seasons that St. Louis finished with fewer than four victories. Spagnuolo and Devaney presided over three of those squads and failed to turn the corner after a 7-9 mark in 2010.
What’s next: Like with Miami, the Rams are awaiting word from Fisher on whether he will accept their head-coaching position. The fact that St. Louis doesn’t have a general manager in place could make the job more appealing to Fisher if he is given pull in who lands the position. The Rams also have a quarterback (Sam Bradford) whose upside is far greater than any passers on Miami’s current roster. Allen and Chudzinski are scheduled to meet with Rams brass later this week, although that could change depending on Fisher. Allen and Horton led defensive resurgences in Denver and Arizona respectively in their first seasons as defensive coordinators. Chudzinski has earned high praise for the work he did with rookie quarterback Cam Newton in Carolina.
Top candidates: Jeff Fisher, Dave Toub, Joe Philbin, Mike Zimmer, Todd Bowles
Why the vacancy?: Tony Sparano was fired after Miami lost its chance to finish with a .500 record following a Week 14 loss to Philadelphia. Sparano was never able to fully mend the rift with general manager Jeff Ireland that developed after last January’s botched courtship of Jim Harbaugh for the head-coaching spot. An 0-7 start sealed Sparano’s fate long before he was canned. Bowles served as Miami’s interim head coach but isn’t considered a serious contender for the permanent gig.
What’s next: The fact that Miami is jostling with a decrepit franchise like St. Louis for Fisher’s services shows how far the Dolphins have fallen since their glory days. The dysfunctional method in which the coaching search is being conducted — Ireland and ex-Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson are both part of the process — and lack of star power among the candidates furthers the perception that team owner Stephen Ross has no clue what he’s doing. Landing Fisher would provide a big boost in a market where sports fans are blinded by big-name hires. Fisher, though, doesn’t advocate the downfield Dan Marino-style of offense that Ross said he wanted last January when making the ill-fated decision to retain Sparano after undermining his head coach with the Harbaugh snafu. Based on the swatch of candidates being interviewed with divergent football philosophies, it seems Ross doesn’t know what he wants in a head coach either.
Team: Tampa Bay
Top candidates: Marty Schottenheimer, Jerry Gray, Mike Sherman, Brad Childress, Mike Zimmer, Wade Phillips
Why the vacancy?: The Bucs quit on Raheem Morris during the 10-game losing streak that ended the season. Morris, who also served as defensive coordinator, oversaw a unit that surrendered 27-plus points in eight of the final nine contests.
What’s next: The Bucs need a disciplinarian who will command more respect from players than the 35-year-old Morris received in 2011. That’s one of the reasons Tampa Bay has four candidates with previous NFL head-coaching experience (Schottenheimer, Sherman, Childress and Phillips) on the radar. If Sherman gets the job, it will be based largely upon the belief that he can help the development of Josh Freeman after the third-year quarterback regressed in 2011. The 68-year-old Schottenheimer is the most intriguing name even though his history of playoff failures has overshadowed his 200-126-1 regular-season record.
Top candidates: Winston Moss, Darren Perry, Joe Philbin
Why the vacancy?: It was more than an 8-8 record and inability to reach the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season that got Hue Jackson fired. Jackson publicly tried to wield power inside the organization that he didn’t have, which sealed his fate once Reggie McKenzie was hired away from Green Bay as Oakland’s general manager.
What’s next?: After almost two decades in Green Bay’s front office, McKenzie will try to transform Oakland into Packers West. That means hiring a head coach on Green Bay’s staff who is familiar with McKenzie’s modus operandi. Moss has long drawn raves from Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy as being an outstanding head-coaching candidate. Moss also is known by some of the remaining old guard in Oakland from his days as a Raiders linebacker from 1991-1994. Perry, who is Green Bay’s safeties coach, is more likely to follow Moss to Oakland as defensive coordinator rather than become head coach. Philbin could be in the mix because of his Packers ties with McKenzie, but the bigger problems in Oakland are on defense. Whoever gets the job must find a way to install stricter on-field discipline, as the 2011 Raiders set the NFL single-season record for penalties.
Head coach: Mike Mularkey
Who else interviewed: Brian Schottenheimer, Rob Chudzinski, Mel Tucker
Why Mularkey?: Although Tucker gained consideration after being promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach following November’s firing of Jack Del Rio, the Jags targeted an offensive specialist who could improve one of the NFL’s worst passing attacks. Mularkey helped groom Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan the past three seasons while also fielding a strong ground game spearheaded by Michael Turner. The Jags are gambling Mularkey won’t make the same mistakes that led to a 14-18 record in his prior NFL head-coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills (2004-2005).
What’s next?: The fact Atlanta’s offense was blanked in last Sunday’s first-round playoff loss to the New York Giants adds to the perception that this is an uninspired hire. With a new owner (Shahid Khan) taking control of the franchise, this may be general manager Gene Smith’s only chance to hire a head coach if the Jags don’t soon end a four-season drought without a playoff appearance. The Jags are banking on Mularkey doing a better job developing quarterback Blaine Gabbert after Gabbert’s brutal rookie campaign than he did in Buffalo working with J.P. Losman.
Team: Kansas City
Head coach: Romeo Crennel
Who else interviewed: Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Joe Philbin
Why Crennel?: Scott Pioli and Crennel have a much better working relationship than the one between Kansas City’s general manager and ex-head coach Todd Haley. Crennel and Pioli are on the same page from their days together with the New England Patriots. Crennel didn’t have that fit with ex-Cleveland general manager Phil Savage when both were with the Browns. Crennel also won’t be as eccentric as Haley was in dealing with his players. The Chiefs responded after Crennel was promoted on an interim basis by upsetting Green Bay and defeating Denver in the regular-season finale.
What’s next?: At 64 years old, this is Crennel’s final opportunity to prove he can become a successful head coach after building a sound reputation as a defensive guru. Crennel must decide who he wants at offensive coordinator — fellow graybeard Bill Muir handled those responsibilities last season — and whether Matt Cassel is the answer at quarterback after three uneven seasons with the Chiefs.
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