Talented coaches ready to fill vacancies in offseason
Posted: Tuesday January 1, 2008 3:50PM; Updated: Wednesday January 2, 2008 12:52PM
I should know better, but I was surprised by the Brian Billick firing. I'm told that early in December, Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti and Billick sat down and figured out how they'd change the staff for 2008, and how they'd handle the postseason announcement that Billick would return in 2008. When I started hearing rumors to the contrary, I called a Baltimore coach on Saturday. The staff had the same impression I did. In the assistant's words: "Brian's definitely back.''
Here's what a shock it was to Billick: On Sunday morning, before the final game of the season, he'd asked defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to sit in on some of his interviews with potential offensive coordinators, since current coordinator Rick Neuheisel was moving on to coach UCLA. Billick had a lengthy conversation with a friend early Monday morning, a friend he would tell if he was being whacked. The conversation was all about 2008 and what needed to be done. He was scheduled to fly out of Baltimore on Monday afternoon to interview at least one offensive coordinator candidate as he began a search to replace Neuheisel. Then boom -- at 11 a.m., he was fired.
Bisciotti's a smart guy and a good owner. I don't begrudge him for making the change. I like Billick, but I have no problem with the move, because he coached nine years and never came close to creating the kind of offense that a man with his resume should have built. But I will say one thing about the firing: It's always dangerous when you start polling players and people in the building about the job the head coach is doing. If you've got a conviction about the coach, act on your conviction, and the beliefs of your closest associates, like president Dick Cass and GM Ozzie Newsome. Wide-net polling ... not a good idea. Too many agendas can influence the only one that's important, which is winning.
One more thing about the firing: We've all thought Billick had three years and $15 million left on his contract. Technically, I'm told by a Ravens source, that's true. But the source said only $5 million of that is guaranteed, with the other $10 million in a club option to be exercised. I called Billick this morning to ask him about it, but didn't get him. I'll attempt to update that in the coming days.
Anyway, on to the business of the day -- the top candidates ... or those who should be the top candidates ... in the pool to fill head-coaching vacancies.
When in doubt, I say go young, because of the recent success of Mike Tomlin (35), Mike McCarthy (44), Jack Del Rio (44), and because new ideas from Eric Mangini (35), Sean Payton (44) and Lane Kiffin (32) re-energized some stale teams over the last year or two.
Not to say that veteran guys can't win. I've got a mix of them on my list, which I give in alphabetical order. No particular reason, other than I don't think there's one can't-miss guy out there right now. As a disclaimer, I don't list some very good coaches who I don't think will come out of college football (Pete Carroll, Mike Belotti) or TV (Bill Cowher) right now, but who would be here if they showed any signs of wanting to move.
Here's my list:
Jim Caldwell (52), assistant head coach/quarterbacks, Indianapolis. Any coach Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning swear by, and not just because they like a guy, should be on NFL short lists. An eight-year college head coach at Wake Forest, Caldwell has been Dungy's close adviser in his six Indianapolis years, and players view him as a smart confidant who has everything organizationally and mentally to be a head coach. He's got Dungy's understated personality, but commands a room well.
Jim Fassel (54), not coaching. I'm a bit mystified why he never got a second head-coaching chance after taking over a bad team in New York and leading the Giants, unexpectedly, to the Super Bowl in 2000. He was five games over .500 in his seven New York seasons. The one thing so many teams are looking for is a coach who can work with young quarterbacks and fix slumping ones, and that's Fassel's forte. "Jim was the key to me coming back and playing well,'' said Kerry Collins, the battered QB who quarterbacked the Giants to the NFC title in 2000.