Ten NFL coaches who find themselves in unenviable positions
Ten NFL coaches who find themselves in unenviable positions
By Clark Judge | Senior NFL Columnist
July 20, 2012
I don't know which jobs in the NFL I would want, but I know which jobs I wouldn't. All are demanding, but some are more demanding than others, and with training camps opening next week, I got to thinking about which coaches -- and I'm talking all kinds of coaches -- I would least like to be this season.
Here are 10 nominees:
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh -- Haley replaces Bruce Arians, and this is all you need to know about Arians: His quarterback loved the guy. That would be Ben Roethlisberger, and the two combined for a pair of Super Bowl appearances in three seasons. Now Arians is gone, and Haley replaces him, and all of Pittsburgh will be paying attention. If there's a sign of a decline in Roethlisberger's play or the performance of the team, he's the first scapegoat waiting to happen. Roethlisberger said the Steelers' new attack will be "90 percent change" from what people are used to seeing from the Steelers, and that may be hard to swallow ... especially if the club struggles early. But change is good, and even Roethlisberger -- who spent five seasons with Arians -- conceded that "some of the concepts are awesome." Let's hope the results are, too. Otherwise, look out.
Tony Sparano, offensive coordinator, N.Y. Jets -- He's the guy who must figure out how the Jets use Tim Tebow, when they use him and where they use him. People already are talking about a quarterback controversy and what happens if/when Mark Sanchez loses or throws three or four interceptions? Well, duh: Irate fans will call for Tebow, and it's up to Sparano to ignore them. He gets paid to follow his conscience, not Fireman Ed. He also gets paid to keep Santonio Holmes in the huddle, which he wasn't at the end of the 2011 season. Holmes is a talented player and a prima donna, and good luck handling him. It's one thing to juggle Tebow and Sanchez, but try doing it while keeping Holmes happy.
Joe Vitt, interim head coach, New Orleans Saints -- He coaches the team in minicamp. He coaches the team through OTAs. He coaches the team in training camp. Then the season starts and -- poof! -- he's gone. He leaves for six weeks, with no contact with the club or its players, and returns to pick up ... what? That's no way to take a spin as an interim head coach, but at least Vitt has been down this road before. He manned the controls a year ago while Sean Payton was recuperating from a broken leg. Only now he's flying solo, and this isn't a direct flight. It's a one-stop journey, with the layover lasting one-and-a-half months. Vitt coaches the Saints the last 10 games, a stretch that includes non-division opponents Philadelphia, the Giants, Denver and San Francisco, plus Atlanta twice. At least he should be rested.
Bob Bratkowski, offensive coordinator, Jacksonville -- Blaine Gabbert is his quarterback. Justin Blackmon is a concern. Maurice Jones-Drew might be a training-camp no-show. And solving Houston's defense is the objective. Tell me that's how you want to start over as an offensive coordinator.
Pat Shurmur, head coach, Cleveland -- First of all, he's coming off a 4-12 season. Second, he produced less offense than Eric Mangini did the year before. Third, he must win with a rookie quarterback who will turn 29 in October. Fourth, there's a dearth of playmakers on an offense that a year ago was as bland as a February afternoon. Fifth, he just drew the league's third toughest schedule. Last, and most important, he has the same problem that sabotaged him in 2011: He plays in a division with Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Browns couldn't beat them a year ago, and tell me how they beat them now. Because they don't. There's a shortage of patience in Cleveland, and you can understand why: The Browns haven't been to the playoffs since 2002, and they won't make them again.
Juan Castillo, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia -- He took a lot of heat last season, and here's why: The Eagles blew five fourth-quarter leads, and holding fast in only one of those games would've put them in the playoffs. Granted, the offense did next to nothing in those five fourth quarters, but it still fell on Castillo's unit to protect games it could not. So he has something to prove, and, as he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "I get it, man. It's about this year. It's about us getting off to a good start." That's part of it. But there's something else here, and it's this: Steve Spagnuolo. Castillo critics wanted Spagnuolo to return to the Eagles after he was dismissed by St. Louis. But it was never going to happen. OK, so Andy Reid called the guy, but it didn't make sense for him to return. Even if he did, he almost certainly wasn't going to return as the coordinator. The job belonged to Castillo, and it's up to him to prove that Reid's stubborn allegiance is not misplaced.
Alan Williams, defensive coordinator, Minnesota -- This is his first year on the job as a coordinator, and talk about the right place at the wrong time. He plays in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler, and he defends them with a unit that last year allowed an NFL-high 34 touchdown passes and a 107.6 passer rating. I know, the Vikings made offseason changes to their secondary, have one of the premier pass rushers in Jared Allen, and last season tied for the league lead in sacks. Terrific. They're still vulnerable on the back end of their defense, and that's not how you get ahead in a division with Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson.
John Pagano, defensive coordinator, San Diego -- There's pressure on Pagano because there's pressure on the head coach who just named him to this position. Essentially, San Diego must win now, or Norv Turner and his staff are gone. I don't worry about what Philip Rivers and the Bolts' offense does, because I know what they'll do -- namely, produce a raft of touchdowns. Nope, I worry about a unit that allowed opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of their first downs a year ago. San Diego spent its first three draft picks on defense and brought in linebacker Jarret Johnson to hold down the weak-side linebacker position. So it made significant upgrades to a unit that desperately needed playmakers. But Pagano is on the clock. Either he gets his unit to deliver immediate results, or he starts looking for a realtor.
John Morton, wide receivers coach, San Francisco -- This one's simple: The guy has to coach Randy Moss AND Michael Crabtree. Yeah, I know what Jim Harbaugh said about Moss. That tells me more about the rest of the receivers than it does Moss. OK, so that's the group that produced one catch for three yards (by Crabtree) in the conference championship game. I would want to upgrade the position, too. But inviting Moss into the locker room to pair with Crabtree is courting trouble. I don't know what Moss brings to the field at the age of 35, but I do know what he can bring to a locker room with impressionable young receivers ... and it's flammable.
Mike Shanahan, head coach, Washington -- He engineered the trade that delivered Robert Griffin III because he believes he's the ticket to success in Washington ... and he might be. But heaven help Shanahan if he's not. First of all, Washington is 11-21 on his watch, the worst two-year record of any head coach under Dan Snyder. Second, the Redskins mortgaged the future for the guy, surrendering their next two first-round choices to acquire him. The expectation is that he's a savior, and maybe he is. But he's also a rookie, and rookies have wide margins for mistakes. Except this rookie won't. He must, absolutely must, succeed immediately. Shanahan's job and the future of this franchise depend on it, and remember this: Shanahan moved up in the 2006 draft to take a quarterback he coveted, but he never won with Jay Cutler.