Coaching Carousel

With coaches like Joe Gibbs walking away, Tony Dungy preparing to exit in the future years and Mike Holmgren perhaps announcing today that he's leaving Seattle, a lot of teams are heading into a crucial step in the offseason scouting process without a firm hand on the wheel of the organization.

At this time of the year, football organizations start getting ready for the winter work season. It starts with the college all-star games, continues through the NFL Scouting Combine and then moves to free agency and finally the draft. For an "offseason," it sure looks like a lot of work. Because there is so much to do shortly after the NFL season officially ends, the biggest news in January typically involves the changing of head coaches from various teams.

It used to be that coaches that were new hires typically took over teams that were horrible. That isn't necessarily the case. In 2006, Brad Childress was hired by a team that finished 9-7. Marty Schottenheimer was fired after a 14-2 record for the Chargers in 2006. One of his assistant coaches – Wade Phillips – took over a Cowboys team that went to the playoffs the previous year under Bill Parcells. Mike Tomlin took over a very good Steelers team the same year.

This year doesn't appear to be changing that trend. Joe Gibbs walked away from a playoff team, Tony Dungy had to be talked into coming back to the Colts and Mike Holmgren may announce today that he is leaving the Seahawks. With so much turnover, it is critical for franchises to assess their direction as quickly as possible.

Last year, the Raiders had a difficult time finding anyone to take their head coaching job, going with an assistant college coach in Lane Kiffin after several top candidates refused to even interview. The Falcons find themselves in the same boat. They have interviewed no less than six candidates and are waiting until after the Super Bowl to continue interviewing.

With the evaluation needed at the Combine for the direction of all 32 franchises, it is going to be critical for the teams with job openings to fill them as quickly as possible. The evaluation process of the college crop is already well underway and some franchises are formulating the genesis of their draft boards already. To get a coach into place that can hit the ground running is essential.

Fortunately for the Vikings, that shouldn't be an issue. They are entering the third year of the Childress regime and the second with draft overlord Rick Spielman in place. For those other teams, waiting until after the Super Bowl could end up being a mistake. For assistants that haven't had much if any down time since late July, they may find their new head man a little too burned out to give 100 percent to his new challenge.

* It wouldn't seem that most teams would want to play in the annual overseas game that was played in London last year, in which the Giants and Dolphins made the trip. As creatures of habit, teams get into a routine, which is why more home teams win than lose. Fortunately for the Vikings, the league is looking at four teams to make the trip in 2008 – the Saints, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Seahawks – which should be viewed as good news for the Vikings.
* Leslie Frazier interviewed for the Falcons job last weekend, but it appears as though the team is going to wait until after the Super Bowl before making a move. The Falcons are looking to interview Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The Falcons have interviewed Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan twice and Jaguars DC Mike Smith twice, giving the clear impression that the new coach is going to be well-versed on the defensive side of the ball. That said, the team offered the job to Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but he opted to remain with the Cowboys.
* The NFL announced its finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes community involvement and service as well as on-field contributions. The finalists are Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor, Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and Chiefs offensive lineman Brian Waters. The winner will be announced at the Super Bowl Feb. 3.
* While the Patriots haven't been beaten by anyone this year, their Super Bowl opponent Giants can't say the same. Of their six losses in the regular season, two came to the Cowboys (they avenged that in the divisional playoffs), one to the Packers (they avenged that in the conference championship game) and the Vikings – who never got a second crack at them.

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