Fisher likely lone retread in 2012

The coaching carousel is a rocky ride for NFL retreads. Unless, of course, that coach is Jeff Fisher. He's likely to be the frontrunner for multiple openings.

The bad news for Jeff Fisher is that, since 2007, only nine men with previous NFL head coaching experience have been tabbed to fill vacancies.

The good news for the former Houston/Tennessee coach, who resigned last year after 16 full seasons and part of another, and who appears poised to return from his 2011 hiatus: He appears to be one person with prior head coach credentials in the league who looks like a slam-dunk to fill one of the openings.

Bill Cowher? He insists he's content to remain in the CBS pregame studio.

Jon Gruden has repeated the same thing about his "Monday Night Football" gig.

Brian Billick would likely jump at the chance to coach your local high school team, but it remains to be seen if anyone takes a leap of faith with the former Baltimore coach, who is bright and articulate and media-friendly at times, even if he is regarded as smug and insufferable by many in the game.

Tony Dungy is pretty convincing in his stance that he is retired to stay.

That leaves Fisher, whose record isn't quite as good as his reputation or perception that he is a proven winner, but who probably will have several options from which to choose in his comeback.

After Fisher -- who had six winning campaigns in his 16 full seasons with the Oilers/Titans, three division titles, and a (losing) Super Bowl XXXIV berth -- well, the pickings might be slim. Provided, of course, that none of the aforementioned Super Bowl-winning coaches changes his mind about returning to the sideline.

It's not as if owners are putting out the word, "experienced need not apply," but that is the upshot of the past few years of the firing-and-hiring cycle.

There is not, unlike many years, the so-called "hot" assistant coach that everyone has to have. Then again, if you're a coordinator with a winning team, you might want to update the resume. Jacksonville has already requested permission to speak with Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. It's expected that Mularkey's counterpart in Carolina, Rob Chudzinski, will also interview. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Willliams' name has been mentioned. Then again, Williams (2001-2003) and Mularkey (2004-2005) have a shared experience that is counter to the current trend: Each coached the Buffalo Bills and they compiled an aggregate record of 31-49.

Suffice it to say, this columnist spent much of Monday morning fielding phone calls from agents either seeking information about various openings or angling to get their clients' names into the mix.

The agents representing coaches with no previous experience, those whose clientele includes some solid but perhaps lesser-known would-be candidates, might actually have a good shot. Notable is that, of the dozen teams in the playoffs, just three have coaches in their second top jobs: New England (Bill Belichick), Denver (John Fox), and the New York Giants (Tom Coughlin). Mike Carthy of Green Bay, Atlanta's Mike Smith, and Baltimore's John Harbaugh weren't exactly viewed as hot commodities when each was hired.

Beyond the fresher-is-better approach, the other discernable trend is that owners now seem to be making up their minds about coaches after roughly three seasons or so. Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis, Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris, and Todd Haley of Kansas City all lost their jobs during or just after their third campaigns. Miami's Tony Sparano didn't last four full seasons with the Dolphins.

Of course, it didn't help Spagnuolo that he registered a record of just 10-38 in his three seasons with the Rams. As pointed out by The Sports Xchange in the Tip Sheet last Friday, that ties former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli for the worst winning mark (.208) since the 1970 merger by any coach who logged a continuous 40 games or more with a franchise. Morris was 17-31 with the Bucs, but 10 of those victories were in the expectation-raising 2010 season, and Tampa Bay could not replicate that renaissance this season. In fact, the Bucs lost their last 10 games by an average of 17.5 points.

Both Morris and Spagnuolo -- should they desire to stay in the game rather than just sit back and collect paychecks -- figure to be back in the NFL as assistants in 2012. But with the recent trend, it could be a while before either gets a second shot at being a head coach again. Morris noted after Sunday's loss at Atlanta that he would begin offseason planning on Monday morning and then attend the Outback Bowl in the afternoon.

Here's hoping the game was better than his doodling.

Doubtless, there are still more moves to come. The news on Monday afternoon that Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay has jettisoned Bill and Chris Polian wasn't a good omen for Jim Caldwell. Norv Turner figures to be gone in San Diego once owner Dean Spanos concludes his review of the season. And there is always a surprise or two, a dismissal that no one saw coming or predicted, every year. Just a hunch, but keep an eye on Oakland and Hue Jackson.

New owner Mark Davis hasn't sent signals that Jackson is in any trouble, and people close to the scene insist the Raiders' coach appears safe, but the new owner may have inherited the pink-slip gene from his late father. The collapse of the Raiders, and Jackson's hardly-veiled criticism of defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan won't sit well. Nor Will Jackson's suggestions that he will seek more clout in an organization that is reshaping the front office and will soon begin interviewing general manager candidates.

The coaching/general manager carousel is in full swing already.

Jeff Fisher, the lead horse on the merry-go-round, can probably enjoy himself. But it could be -- and, heck, already has been -- a rocky ride for a lot of people.


Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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