The Vikings quickly settled on their general manager, Rick Spielman, who was in the building all along. But other teams around the league are getting their search started and there is at least one-of-the-box but familiar name being considered.
Generally speaking I:
Following the shocking dismissal this week of vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian by Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, there are plenty of questions about who will run the Colts' football operation moving forward. The one person to whom it is believed Irsay has not reached out to yet is the man he considers his "dream candidate," in the words of one trusted Indianapolis staffer: former coach Tony Dungy.
Let's be straight about this: Irsay does not consider Dungy a viable candidate, and when Dungy says he will not coach again, the Indianapolis owner believes that means he will also not consider front office jobs, either. But Irsay, the source said, has "bounced (Dungy's) name off the walls" of the club's facility, and "thought (a)loud" about the possibilities." Is anything going to come of the unofficial infatuation? Almost certainly not. Is it worthwhile to even mention Dungy? Well, it does offer some insight into the wide-ranging, and occasionally out-of-the-box thinking of Irsay right now.
Dungy, still beloved in Indianapolis, would provide some instant credibility and respect to a team that crumbled without Peyton Manning
in 2011, and which faces some difficult decisions about the quarterback position and the futures of several long-time veterans at other spots as well. He would probably also retain coach Jim Caldwell, whose continued tenure is tied to the man whom Irsay selects to replace the Polian tandem. Just as Dungy can be all but written off, one can also dismiss the notion that Irsay, who served as the team's general manager for 13 seasons (1984-96), will pull a Jerry Jones, and assume the GM spot himself. That's as unlikely to occur as Dungy coming back to run the show.
Generally speaking II:
Green Bay director of football operations Reggie McKenzie will become the Oakland general manager in the reorganization of the Raiders' front office since the death of owner Al Davis
, and it's both fair and correct to note that former longtime league executive Ron Wolf played a key role in the recommendation and the hire.
But McKenzie had a lot of people in his corner, and as was noted in the past, one of them was retired league executive Ken Herock who, like Wolf, has ties to both the Raiders and the Packers. Over the past two months, we've hinted in this space that an unnamed former front office person was closely advising Davis' son and heir, Mark Davis, about the football operation in Oakland. And now, with the McKenzie hiring about to become official, and the cat out of the bag, so to speak, we can report that Herock was that person. In the interest of full disclosure, we'll acknowledge that Herock is a close friend, and that we were taken into his confidence over the past few months.
But The Sports Xchange is now free to report that, not only did Herock counsel the younger Davis from afar, he actually made two trips, for three weeks total, to observe the club's operation on-site. In fact, Herock was to have made a third visit this week, possibly to participate in the general manager interviews, but some business conflicts made that impossible. Wolf and Herock, longtime friends, comprised a pretty formidable scouting tandem when they worked together. Now they have essentially teamed up to help shape the Raiders' future.
McKay pointed out that the move toward having all of the Week 17 games in the league be matchups between franchises in the same division, actually came out of a discussion of re-seeding. "It wasn't quite a compromise," he said. "But the idea was put forward by the commissioner's office a couple years ago in the talks about re-seeding." The all-division games initiative was lauded in this space a week ago as a masterstroke by Roger Goodell.
Rookie quarterbacks combined for 23 regular-season victories in 2011, the most since the merger.
The candidacy of Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, who interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Tampa Bay on Thursday, is being championed in part by John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, a man who staunchly supports the inclusion of minority candidates in the head coach "pipeline." Gray may not land the Bucs' job -- the team also interviewed former Green Bay and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and has a fairly extensive menu of candidates -- but people close to Gray feel he will be a head coach someday and urged him to interview. Said Gray: "It's like everything else. The more times you do it, the better you get at it. It's definitely a skill, and one you want to keep practicing."
While Landry Jones has eschewed the 2012 draft and opted to stay at Oklahoma for another year, there figure to be many underclass players declare for the lottery before the Jan. 15 deadline. One of the more curious draft entries was that of Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill this week. Hill averaged a lofty 29.3 yards per reception this season, an admirable number. But in Georgia Tech's option offense, which is lopsided toward the run, he had only 28 catches. Hill has nice size (6-feet-3, 206 pounds), but isn't considered as physical or fast as another former Yellow Jackets' star receiver, Denver 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas. And according to the report he received from the NFL's underclass advisory committee, Hill currently doesn't rate as a prospect who will be drafted in the first three rounds. Hill said he is "very confident" he will perform well at the combine, that "(his) stock will really rise," and that he will not reverse his decision.
There are some executives in Pittsburgh who aren't exactly sad that deposed Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris likely is headed to either Minnesota or Washington as an assistant. The conventional wisdom when Morris was cut loose by the Bucs was that he would surface on Tomlin's staff with the Steelers.
No doubt that Rex Ryan, who recently was voted the coach for whom players would most like to play, has legions of supporters in the New York Jets' locker room. But the recent criticisms of Ryan won't help him with ownership (despite the words of endorsement by Woody Johnson) and around the league, and there could be more to come, some veteran players suggest. A lot of players were upset this season that Ryan awarded petulant wide receiver Santonio Holmes the "C" for captain, and Holmes' attitude in the season finale loss at Miami could bubble up some emotions that have been simmering for a while.
It will be interesting to see if Buffalo, which last week promoted linebackers coach Dave Wannstedt to coordinator, will return to a 4-3 front under its new defensive boss. Wannstedt has long been regarded as a strong defensive coach, but has always favored the 4-3 front.
*The last word: "If you watched Mark Sanchez the last month of the season, he was like a Chihuahua standing on Madison Avenue and 36th Street, entering the Midtown Tunnel, eyes bigger than you-know-what, and just so shaky." -- Boomer Esiason, per Boston radio station WEEI, on the New York Jets quarterback's final month