Big-buck coaches are pricing selves out of NFL

BY foxsports • May 19, 2009

The NFL, still America's best game and economic business model, has been doing a little downsizing in the last year. Remember when experience counted, and with it great coaches like Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan could demand whatever salary they wanted?

The NFL remains a big-money league, but only for the players (for now at least, until the next CBA tug-of-war), not the game's newest head coaches.

Jon Gruden was whacked in Tampa and was replaced by a bargain-basement young coach in Raheem Morris. The same thing happened in Denver where Pat Bowlen, who really doesn't have a lot of money, fired Shanahan for Josh McDaniels, who's young enough to be Mike's son.

Basically, the once-exclusive $5 million coaching club has been replaced by the $2 million to $3 million club. By my count, 21 head coaches' salaries fall into that ballpark area. Heck, Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett earns more than that at $3.5 million a season.

Yes, the owners went cheap and young this past two offseasons, but there is an awful lot of coaching talent on the unemployment line. And four of them have won Super Bowls, the best possible entry on the old résumé.

Besides, Gruden, there is Shanahan, who will be 57 this season, Mike Holmgren, 61, and Bill Cowher, who will be 52. All four of these men are used to a lot of zeroes on their paycheck. Cowher reportedly has already rejected Snyder, Blank and the Cleveland Browns. And he's smart enough to know that only a handful of ownership groups will toss around big money again.

Consider what Redskins owner Danny Snyder did. When he hired Jim Zorn to replace Gibbs before the 2008 season, he saved more than $4 million in annual salary for his top coaching position. The Bucs and Broncos didn't do as well because they still owe Gruden and Shanahan $20 million respectively — or a lot more money than they are paying their current head coaches.

The Atlanta Falcons are a perfect example. Prior to last season and the arrival of Matt Ryan, owner Arthur Blank was dealing with a PR nightmare between Mike Vick's prison sentence and one of the league's worst teams. Blank was willing to shoot the moon for a Bill Parcells or a Pete Carroll, but ended up saving himself a few million dollars annually by hiring Mike Smith — who in his rookie campaign earned AP Coach of the Year honors. Blank is pretty pleased with his final decision.

share story