Central Issues

A couple of NFC Central Division coaches are on the hot seat. Not surprisingly, one of those is Dick Jauron of the bottom-of-the-barrel Chicago Bears. Surprisingly, the other coach who could be in trouble is Tampa Bay's Tony Dungy. This week's Central Issues focuses on the division's coaching staffs.

Jauron has three things working against him in his quest to remain the Bears' coach.

First, the Bears have a new general manager, Jerry Angelo. As a rule, most general managers want their own guy coaching the team. Jauron likely got a season's reprieve simply because the Bears hired Angelo in June, too late in the off-season for a coaching change to be made.

Angelo alluded to the problem in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "The only real tough thing from my perspective is the timing of the whole thing — not when I was hired, but when Dick was hired and I was hired. Even if I didn't choose Dick or Dick didn't choose me, if we had at least come in together, then we would have been able to grow together."

Angelo says he will give Jauron a fair shot. Some personnel moves, however, point to Angelo molding the team in his style, not the head coach's. For example, the Bears cut defensive tackle Mike Wells last week. Wells, like free-agent pickups Ted Washington and Keith Traylor, is the kind of bulky defensive tackle Jauron prefers. Angelo, as shown by the defense he helped put together in Tampa Bay, prefers quicker players such as Warren Sapp.

Secondly, Jauron is 11-21 in two seasons with the Bears. Third, the Bears have too little talent, especially at quarterback, to turn around the team's fortunes.

Making matters worse, the Bears have a new offensive coordinator, John Shoop, meaning a new offense is being taught. Shoop took over at the end of last season when Gary Crowton announced he was leaving to become the head coach at Brigham Young University. Under Shoop, the Bears went 2-1, with wins against New England and a major upset against Detroit.

Shoop joined Jauron's staff as quarterbacks coach in 1999, when Jim Miller, Cade McNown and Shane Matthews threw for more than 1,000 yards apiece.

Meanwhile, Angelo was the Buccaneers' director of player personnel since the mid-1980s. While the Buccaneers have been Super Bowl contenders the last few seasons, Tampa Bay was 52-107 in Angelo's first 10 seasons, leading him to say "I'm a specialist in losing."

"We had patience," Angelo added. "We stayed the course and developed young players." One of Angelo's top tasks will be bringing a quality quarterback to Chicago.

Interestingly, Angelo's inability to fill that position in Tampa Bay was glaring. He traded Steve Young, drafted Vinny Testaverde, gave up a first-round pick for Chris Chandler but didn't play him, and drafted Trent Dilfer and Shaun King before buying Brad Johnson. Angelo is the Bears' first general manager since 1987. Unlike the departed Mark Hatley, Angelo not only will make the personnel moves, but pick the next head coach.

Unlike Angelo and Jauron in Chicago, the Detroit Lions hired Matt Millen to run the organization, and Millen hired ex-Packers assistant Marty Mornhinweg to coach the team. Millen, 43, never has run an NFL team, and Mornhinweg, 39, never has been a head coach, so there is no track record to draw upon.

Millen and Mornhinweg were selected to turn around the Lions' consistent mediocrity. Detroit hasn't won a championship in 43 years. They have finished between 7-9 and 9-7 10 times since the 16-game schedule was adopted in 1978.

Millen is known for his hard-hitting style as an NFL linebacker and color commentator. He made his first hard hit shortly after being hired in January by canning interim coach Gary Moeller (who succeeded Bobby Ross, who resigned at the midpoint of the 2000 season) and making Mornhinweg his head coach. Later, Bill Tobin was put in charge of the personnel department.

The addition of Mornhinweg, for obvious reasons, is critical to the future of the Lions. That's especially true in Detroit, though, with quarterback Charlie Batch possessing the physical tools to be a successful quarterback but producing more frustration than positive results.

That has been the quarterbacking story in Detroit for too long, with the Lions wasting the running exploits of Billy Sims and Barry Sanders. Mornhinweg, though, brings a history of working with star quarterbacks, including Green Bay's Brett Favre (During Mornhinweg's two years in Green Bay, Favre recorded the two highest passer rating numbers in his career) and San Francisco's Steve Young, and earned a great deal of credit for turning CFL transplant Jeff Garcia into a standout. Like in Green Bay and San Francisco, Mornhinweg's Lions will run the West Coast offense.

Along with being head coach, Mornhinweg will serve as offense coordinator. Vince Tobin, a 36-year coaching veteran who spent the last five seasons leading Arizona's defense, will be the defensive coordinator.

Little has changed in Minnesota. Every year there are rumblings that this could be Dennis Green's last year with the Vikings. And every year Green cobbles together another outstanding record.

The odds are against him this season, though, with one of the league's worst defenses from a year ago weaker (on paper, anyway) than a year ago, and the offense minus NFC rushing champion Robert Smith. Green, however, got a contract extension at the start of last season, and likely is not headed anywhere.

His top coordinators are Green Bay castoffs Sherm Lewis on offense and Emmitt Thomas on defense. Under Lewis, first-year starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper blossomed, Smith set a team rushing single-season rushing record, and Randy Moss set a team single-season receiving record.

Dungy owns the best record (47-38, compared to John McKay's 45-91-1) in Buccaneers history, which is a lot like owning the state's best smelling dump. That statement is not meant to shortchange Dungy's accomplishments, but rather show the incredible turnaround he has helped lead in Tampa.

Still, Dungy's Buccaneers have been among the NFC favorites for the last few seasons, and they have no conference championships to show for it. Even star defensive tackle Warren Sapp said it's Super Bowl or bust this season for the Bucs, and if the team busts, Dungy could be the fall guy.

Dungy has put the pressure on himself and the team for this season. The Bucs have a legitimate star at quarterback in Brad Johnson to fix the team's one major weakness. The team traded away its second-round pick to move up in the first round to select Kenyatta Walker to fill a hole at left tackle. And Simeon Rice was signed to increase an already fearsome pass rush.

Dungy further added pressure by changing his offensive coordinator for the second consecutive off-season. This time, quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen was promoted to replace Les Steckel. Christensen, however, never has been an offensive coordinator, and supervised the lackluster development of Trent Dilfer and Shaun King.

With Johnson at quarterback, and Keyshawn Johnson at receiver and the budding-star Warrick Dunn at running back, the Bucs have the weapons to open up the offense. If they stay conservative, and the Bucs suffer another 13-10 playoff setback, Dungy could be looking for a job.

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