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Tom Jones' Two Cents: More NFL teams taking risks with head coaches

Have you noticed who is getting head coaching jobs in the NFL these days?

There's a guy who went 25-25 at Syracuse and had his hands full finishing higher than Skip Holtz in the Big East.

There's an offensive coordinator from a team that was tied for 18th in the NFL in scoring. Oh, how about this one: a coach from the Canadian Football League.

What, the gym teacher/coach at Cincinnati Moeller High School wasn't interested?

And then there's the latest: The Eagles hired Oregon's Chip Kelly on Wednesday, the same Chip Kelly who was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire six years ago. Now he's a big deal because he concocted a gimmicky offense good enough to almost win a national championship in college.

Have you noticed who is not getting head coaching jobs in the NFL these days?

Super Bowl-winning coaches such as Mike Holmgren and Brian Billick are not. Former NFL coaches such as Eric Mangini, Dom Capers and Norv Turner are not. Lovie Smith, who has been to a Super Bowl, is on the outside looking in.

Eight NFL teams are changing coaches this offseason, and the only retread, so far, is Andy Reid. He was scooped up by the Chiefs not long after being fired by the Eagles.

The NFL used to be a good-old-boy network that loved to recycle former head coaches. But it feels like a new day in the NFL, and that might not be a bad thing, even if the resumes are not overly impressive. Here's a look at how things are changing — for the better — in the NFL.

Teams are going to college

Before last year, so many college coaches crashed and burned in the NFL that teams became skittish to hire them. Butch Davis, Dennis Erickson, Lane Kiffin, Bobby Petrino and even Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier were so awful in the pros that teams chose to sift through the NFL recycling bin to pull out a Mike Shanahan or a John Fox or a Chan Gailey.

But two coaches changed that: Pete Carroll of the Seahawks and, especially, Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers. Even though both had NFL experience (Carroll as a coach and Harbaugh as a quarterback), the two went straight from college to NFL success. Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game last season.

Harbaugh might be the key reason the Bucs felt comfortable chasing Kelly a year ago before hiring another college coach, Rutgers' Greg Schiano. The success of Carroll and Harbaugh this season might be why the Eagles, Browns and others went after Chip Kelly and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly in the past few weeks.

Even Schiano turning around the culture in Tampa Bay might have been enough to sell the Bills on Syracuse's Doug Marrone, who had a decent program in a less-than-decent conference, kind of like Schiano at Rutgers.

Teams are looking at hot-shot coordinators

Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski was hired to coach the Browns. Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was hired to coach the Chargers. Marc Trestman goes to the Bears from the CFL but was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, San Francisco, Arizona and Oakland before that. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians remain in the running for other openings.

When you break this stuff down, hiring a coordinator appears to be the best way to go. Recent Super Bowl winners Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Sean Payton (Saints) and Mike McCarthy (Packers) all went from being coordinators to Super Bowl-winning head coaches. Before that, Bill Cowher (Steelers) and Billick (Ravens) did the same. Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy and Tom Coughlin won the Super Bowl with their second NFL teams but had "NFL coordinator'' experience.

Of the 12 head coaches in this year's playoffs, seven were NFL coordinators or assistants immediately before their current job.

The times are a-changing

Here's how times have changed: Between the 2001 and 2002 NFL seasons, there were six coaching changes, and the Texans entered the league as an expansion team. Of those seven coaching openings, four were filled by coaches with previous head coaching experience in the NFL. That included Dungy, who went from the Bucs to the Colts, and Gruden, who went from the Raiders to the Bucs. Only one coach made the jump from college and that was Spurrier, who went from the Gators to the Redskins.

This offseason, the eight openings could be filled by at least six and possibly seven coaches who have never been an NFL head coach.

Really, this all is just a continuation of a hot trend in the NFL. At the start of last season, 22 of the league's 32 teams were being coached by those in their first jobs as NFL head coaches. It's quite possible that, next season, as many as 25 teams will have coaches who had never been a head coach anywhere else in the NFL.

These things tend to be cyclical. Maybe a few years from now, we'll see a run on former head coaches. And the Patriots with Bill Belichick will argue that taking another team's castoff is not always a bad idea.

But these days, it's all about fresh ideas and first-time chances. It's about taking risks and trying something new.

It's more fun, and just maybe a whole lot more effective, than the same old story.

Tom Jones' Two Cents: More NFL teams taking risks with head coaches 01/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 9:44pm]
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