But it is worth noting that three of the teams that have made hires so far have filled their vacancies with "repeat" (we cringe at the "retread" term) head coaches: Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville), Romeo Crennel (Kansas City), and Jeff Fisher (St. Louis).
Only once in the previous five firing-and-hiring cycles, in 2010, were there three "repeat" men hired for head coach gigs.
The three this year, with three more openings still to fill is half as many as the league totaled in the past four years. The trend in the NFL has been toward newer and fresher faces, and that may well be the case for the franchises still seeking new coaches, but the re-emergence and resurfacing of some second-timers has been somewhat surprising.
"We tried the other way," a St. Louis executive told The Sports Xchange, referring to the fact that the Rams have had first-time head coaches (full-time) since Dick Vermeil exited after the 1999 season, "and it hasn't worked out. We wanted some stability and a track record, and that what we got (with Fisher)."
But the Saints' organization was prepared to offer Williams, whose contract expired at the end of the New Orleans season, more money to stay. A big swallow, given that Williams was already one of the highest-paid assistants, and perhaps the highest paid, in the league. Now league sources tell The Sports Xchange that New Orleans never really had a chance to make an offer to Williams, who was set on reuniting with Fisher, and that the team might not have thrown more money at him anyway after the divisional-round defeat at San Francisco.
The rumblings are that several Saints' officials, and a few players, as well, had become less than enamored with Williams the past few weeks, and with the inability to create turnovers, long a hallmark of his defenses. There was also a feeling among some players that Williams was too quick to lay blame on the personnel, not the scheme, and that he didn't always defend his charges to the critics.
The Saints' brass know what it's getting in new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the deposed Rams' head coach and former Jim Johnson protege in Philadelphia, and a guy who loves to turn up the pressure. But the feeling is that Spagnuolo's blitz packages won't be as ambitious as those of Williams, who blitzed more than 50 percent in 2011, a league high, and that they will be fundamentally sounder, especially in the back end. Spagnuolo will retain the 4-3 front the Saints have been playing as their "base," and may utilize some more zone coverages in the secondary.
It might be interesting to see what Spagnuolo has planned for strong safety Roman Harper. The three-time Pro Bowl defender was used as an "in the box" and blitz safety (7.5 sacks in 2011) by Williams, and that camouflaged some of his coverage deficiencies. Spanguolo used his safeties to blitz some during his two seasons as coordinator of the Giants, but not to the extent that Williams did.
There are whispers that the Falcons will at least dangle Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, on the trade market. But dealing Turner will be difficult.
He turns 30, the death-knell age for running backs, in about four weeks. In three of his hour seasons in Atlanta, he carried 300-plus times, and averaged 337.0 attempts in those years, with the only season logging fewer than 300 rushes in 2009, when he was injured. So there is plenty of tread rubbed off the tires. And Turner is noticeably a step slower than a few years ago.
So the market figures to be tepid. Plus, the Falcons really don't have a replacement. The coaches seem to like youngster Antone Smith, but he has one carry in two years. Jacquizz Rodgers, a rookie in ‘11, is more a situational back who probably can't handle an every-down workload.
And Turner is due to make only $5 million in base salary for 2012 (cap charge of $7.5 million) and of $5.5 million in 2013 (cap hit of $8 million), actually pretty palatable numbers.
With those salaries, and the lack of depth at the position, it might be easier to hang on to Turner for another season than it would be to replace him. Still, Atlanta needs to start planning for the future at the position.
A former defensive line coach at the University of Tennessee, his alma mater, and a man who has worked with several NFL teams, Smith for several years has tutored league players on some of the finer points of pass rushing. Over the past several years, he has worked with more than 125 players in the offseasons.
The Sports Xchange has confirmed that he has tutored one-on-one several players in both championship games, most notably Osi Umenyiora of the Giants and the Ravens' Jarret Johnson, and serves as a pass-rush consultant for several of the franchises that were in the playoffs.
Smith, who had 58.5 sacks in his career, including three seasons with double-digit sacks, has long studied rush techniques and emphasizes nuances such as get-off, vision, the use of hands and importance of hips, leverage, and countering.
"It's an art, and one that people just think they can pick up," Smith said. "Not true."
He'll have a special view of the AFC and NFC title games, and will take considerable interest in how the teams attack the pocket, and the individual and collective performances on the pass rush. One element he hopes he doesn't see much: Three-man rushes.
"All you do against the good quarterbacks, when you rush three, is guarantee them a first down," said Smith, now 42. "If coaches keep using a three-man rush, they'll keep losing games." Smith also contended that the offensive line play in the league is "the worst" he has ever witnessed in a season.