Giants' Spagnuolo may be odd man out; more coaching carousel notes
Steve Spagnuolo's season is over, but there may not be any takers
Hiring head coaches still in their 30s has proven successful before
Chargers' Ron Rivera deserves credit for turning around the defense
With Eric Mangini in place in Cleveland and Josh McDaniels on the job in Denver, the pace and tempo of the NFL's head coach hiring season has begun to noticeably quicken. And with the Jets apparently waiting for Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to finish the playoffs, and the Lions perhaps viewing Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as their leader in the clubhouse, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Steve Spagnuolo might be the leading candidate left without a seat once the game of musical chairs stops.
The Giants defensive coordinator, who suddenly doesn't have any more coaching to do this month, is far from completely out of head coaching possibilities. He reportedly will be asked back to Detroit for a second interview this week, and the Rams will give him one of their five "finalist'' interviews Thursday in Los Angeles.
In addition, Spagnuolo remains in the mix for the Jets job, although if New York were eager to make him an offer they could do so any point now that the Giants have been eliminated from the playoffs. The longer the Jets' search continues this week, the more it would seem to point toward Ryan, who can't be hired until Baltimore's season is done.
In Spagnuolo's case, the Giants losing three of their last four games in the regular season and their playoff opener can't possibly have strengthened his candidacy in any way, shape or form. That's just the way the NFL -- and the world -- works. To the winners go the spoils. But I think there's more at work here than just the Giants' disappointing finish to their Super Bowl title defense, and it's got to do with the field of competition in this year's hiring pool.
Baltimore's superb defensive performance this season, and particularly in the playoffs, is making Ryan's candidacy look better by the minute. The Ravens have forced eight turnovers in two games, and they happen to have come against the two best turnover-margin teams in the league this season in Miami and Tennessee. When you add in that Ryan is a smart and fairly charismatic leader who interviews well and has great NFL bloodlines, that's a tough combination for Spagnuolo to go up against.
It also might be difficult to beat out Schwartz in Detroit, even though the top-seeded Titans also struggled a bit down the season's backstretch and then went one-and-done in the playoffs, just as the top-seeded Giants did. Schwartz is articulate, funny and known for his intelligent approach to the game. He has honed his interview style during the course of vying for the 49ers job in 2005, and being a candidate in Atlanta, Washington and Miami last year at this time.
From a public relations standpoint, the polished and well-presented Schwartz might be just the ticket for the Lions, given that no NFL franchise could use some positive vibes more than 0-16 Detroit. After the all-business approach of Rod Marinelli, Schwartz would represent a breath of fresh air as the face of the Lions, and he got off to a great start in his Monday news conference at the Detroit team complex, quipping how it might be time for the Lions to use their 2009 first overall pick to find a replacement for Bobby Layne at quarterback.
Spagnuolo also interviewed with Cleveland and Denver, but in each case, the owners of the Browns and Broncos fell rather quickly in love with a different candidate -- Mangini and McDaniels, respectively. My sense is the self-effacing and spotlight-avoiding Spagnuolo never really got his candidacy off the ground in Cleveland or Denver.
It's still possible Spagnuolo might yet surface as a head coach in 2009, and the Jets, Lions or Rams could turn to him if things don't unfold as we expect them. But it's also possible that a head coaching job won't come his way this time around, and that's a major surprise for a guy who spent most of this season atop everyone's list of the league's hot coordinator prospects.
As I wrote last week, the writing was on the wall regarding Tony Dungy's choice of retirement this year, given that he repeatedly mentioned his desire to start working to help young men in inner-city Indianapolis, where the homicide rate jumped dramatically this summer. You don't mention the desire to invest yourself in urgent work of that sort and then decide it can wait another year. At least not without looking somewhat crass or self-serving, two descriptions that have never fit Dungy.
For me, the memory of Dungy's NFL head coaching career that will always come to mind first was the night it began. I was camped outside a Tampa-area steakhouse (Bern's, for those who know it) in January 1996 as Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his sons dined with Dungy and his wife, Lauren, and offered him Tampa Bay's head coaching job.
The party all eventually emerged from the dinner, with Dungy laughing and telling us in the media that they had been watching live TV coverage of the "steakhouse stakeout'' from inside the restaurant. To this day, every time I've come into contact with him since, he has been the same, gracious, generous and genuine person he was that first night in Tampa.
That's Dungy's greatest career accomplishment in my eyes. He stayed the same man throughout his rise, his setbacks, and his ultimate football triumph. And if you think that happens a lot among NFL coaches or players, you're sadly mistaken.