Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 chiefs in (p)review part quatro: the coaching staff

As anyone who’s ever met me, or read this site, is well aware … I don’t tend to hold back. If I feel strongly about something, I lay it out there, regardless of the damage it might cause. Sometimes, that's a good thing. Sometimes, it incites people to storm out of the house after hearing something they don't want to hear. What can I say, it's a "gift".

So allow me to admit up front … that I am completely and totally confused as to how to believe about the hiring of Romeo Crennel as the 12th head coach in franchise history.

On the one hand, promoting from within rarely works. As the Star’s Randy Covitz noted a few weeks ago, since the merger, RAC is now the 62nd head coach promoted from within. Only 5 of the previous 61 have led the team that hired them to a Super Bowl victory – some dude named Don McCafferty with the 1970 Baltimore Colts (I’m guessing Johnny U had much more to do with that win than whoever the hell Don McCafferty was), John Madden with the 1976 raiders, Tom Flores with the 1980 and 1983 raiders, Bill Parcells with the 1986 and 1990 Giants, and George Seifert with the 1989 and 1994 49ers. While the odds are against this move resulting in the Chiefs being the last team to win a game in any given season … if you hit on the hire, you REALLY hit on the hire.

On the other hand, since the expansion of the postseason from five to six teams in 1990, there have been 17 in-house promotions … and while none of them has won the Lombardi Trophy for their franchise, 4 of them have at least played for it (99 Titans (Fisher), 01 Rams (Martz), 02 raiders (Callahan), 09 Colts (Caldwell)). And in three of those cases, it was an in-house hire on an already relatively successful team simply maintaining the course, a move that hiring Crennel channels.

On the one hand, Romeo Crennel was a spectacular failure in Cleveland in his only prior head coaching stint, winning 6, 4, 10, and then 4 games before being shown the door after his fourth year on the job.

On the other hand, the Browns have had two winning seasons since returning to the NFL in 1999 – the 2002 wildcard team that went 9-7 … and Crennel’s 2007 team that went 10-6, missing the playoffs on tiebreakers. And Crennel won 10 games with Derek Anderson under center, William Green as the featured back, and Mohammad Massaquoi as the primary receiving threat. To coach a team that limited on offense to 10 wins and the cusp of a playoff berth, indicates someone knows what they’re doing.

On the one hand, hiring Crennel and only guaranteeing him three years (and realistically, knowing he’s in it for four at the most), means the Chiefs will be right back in this spot after 2015 at the latest, and at that point will be hiring their 6th head coach in 16 years. You want to ensure your franchise is mediocre at best? Keep changing the head coach. If you look at the 10 most successful franchises since 2000, you’ll notice that they all tend to be stable on the sidelines:

* Patriots: Belichick since 2000.
* Steelers: Cowher to 2006 (retired); Tomlin 2007 onward.
* Ravens: Billick to 2007 (fired); Harbaugh 2008 onward.
* Colts: Dungy 2002-2008 (retired); Caldwell 2009 onward (for now).
* Giants: Fassel to 2003 (fired); Coughlin 2004 onward.
* Eagles: Reid since 1999.
* Packers: Sherman to 2005 (fired); McCarthy 2006 onward.
* Seahawks: Holmgren to 2008 (retired); Mora 2009 (fired); Carroll 2010 onward.
* Panthers: Fox to 2010 (fired); Rivera 2011 onward.
* Bears: Jauron to 2004 (fired); Smith 2005 onward.

Those ten teams represent 30 of the last 42 conference championship game berths. And if you want to include a team that “got it together” in the latter half of the 2000s and put the Saints in there (who’ve only had two coaches as well, Haslett to 2005 and Payton 2006 onward), as well as include an annual playoff contender that also has only had two coaches in that stretch, the Titans (Fisher to 2010, Munchek 2011 on), its 33 of 42 ... and twice Fisher lost at home in his first playoff game as the top overall seed. The numbers don’t lie – if you constantly are changing coaches every 2-3 years, you will NEVER attain success in the NFL.

On the other hand … isn’t this kind of a continuity kind of hire? RAC is who the players wanted. It’s clearly who the GM wanted. The owner obviously is OK with it. With Romeo in charge, the defense won’t change much, and the offense might finally get designated to someone with permission to completely oversee it, since the head coach won’t be constantly interfering.

Again, on the one hand, because of the three year contract and likely four year commitment, who we hire at one (or both) of the major coordinator positions is vitally important, because that person(s) represents your favorite(s) for the gig in 2016 if things go according to plan.

But on the other hand, isn’t that OK? I’m probably the only Chiefs fan alive who loves Herm Edwards … but even I wonder if things might have been better if Al Saunders, the logical replacement for Dick Vermeil, was given a crack at the head gig. What’s wrong with hiring your next two head coaches with this move, Crennel and his logical successor? Isn’t that what smart teams do, put a solid contingency plan into place and then stick to it?

At the end of the day, I’m totally torn on this hire. From a fan perspective, I hate it. We should have done better. Competent GM, solid talent base, down division, passionate fan base, owner who stays the hell out of the way -- if Romeo Crennel is the best this job can attract, then we are in far worse shape than I believe the Chiefs to be. (And I don’t think we’re in bad shape whatsoever; if anything, provided our key contributors come back to at least 90%ish of what they were, this is your 2011 AFC West prohibitive favorite.)

On the other hand, “settling” for Romeo Crennel isn’t a bad move. The last two head coaches the Browns fired that got a second chance in this league? Worked out pretty well for their next team. I don’t think the Patriots are upset whatsoever at giving Bill Belichick (technically) a third chance. (In case you forgot, Belichick “coached” the Jets for 38 hours after Parcells stepped down in early 2000, before deciding New England was a better job.)

And are Chiefs fans upset at giving Marty Schottenheimer the head job not even three weeks after the Browns (stupidly) overreacted to a wildcard loss and fired him? I know I’m not – without Carl and Marty, this team would be playing in Charlotte or Baltimore or (cringe) St. Louis right now.

Also, coaches who have the locker room’s unwavering support, tend to do well for a year or two, sometimes into year three. And go figure, Scott Pioli only signed Romeo to a three year contract. That’s smart thinking.

My biggest nagging issue with the hire isn’t Romeo himself. It’s with the man who hired him, Scott Pioli. If this is a move for continuity, to hold together the locker room, to signal to the players that “hey, ok, I get it, I blew it last time” and give them their guy? I’m fine with it, I truly am.

If this is a hire, however, that was made out of fear of failure? It is not going to end well. As Jack Dawson put it in “Titanic”: “when you’ve got nothing? You’ve got nothing to lose”. Scott Pioli had NOTHING to lose by this hire. If it works? He keeps his job long-term. If it bombs? He’s following Romeo out the door. Which is why I question why this move was made.

If you have nothing … you have nothing to lose. Was Pioli scared to take a risk after the Haley experiment failed? Was he scared to take a shot on an up-and-coming assistant for a second time? I mean, and boy does this pain me, broncos owner patrick j. bowlen, the “classless jackass” himself, wasn’t scared to double down on the “hot” assistant of the day 16 years ago. He hired Wade Phillips in 1993. Phillips was fired after 1994. bowlen decided to pursue THE hot coaching prospect at that time, the 49ers offensive coordinator. Some dude named … mike shanahan. Ask denver fans if they’re upset about “taking a chance” on another team’s hot assistant.

Ask Packers fans if they’re upset a decade later that Ted Thompson hired another 49ers offensive coordinator, Mike McCarthy, to replace Mike Sherman. Ask Saints fans if they’re upset that Mickey Loomis took a chance on Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Payton. Or Cardinals fans about Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whizenhunt. Or hell – Steelers fans about Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin. This is what has me upset more than anything, and has me questioning the hire, is that I fully believe Scott Pioli is so scared of failing in this pick, that he opted for the safe play.

To put this into gambling terms, this is the equivalent of having a hard 11 against an ace … and choosing to just hit, rather than double down. No, it’s not a mistake. Yes, it can work. Yes, it might be the “smart” play. And yes, if you double that 11 and get anything other than a 8, 9, 10 or a face, you’re probably in deep trouble.

But you know what? 8, 9, 10, J, K, Q is nearly half the deck. You’ve got about a 44% chance of pulling a card that at worst gets you a draw. And basically a 25% shot of drawing a card that ensures you can’t lose, and that the dealer has to have an epic draw to push against. The Chiefs today hit their 11 against an ace. It might work. But it’s not the move I would have made.

So, the question now becomes, with Romeo on board, who fills the next three key coaching slots. Offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coach.

We know at least two of the three will change – Romeo has been promoted from DC, there’s no way Bill Muir returns as OC, and the jury’s out on Steve Hoffman as ST guru.

As you might expect, I have my opinions on each job. What you might not expect … is who I support for at least one of the positions. First up …

Special Teams: Steve Hoffman has done a credible, decent job in his three years on the job. The coverage units aren’t as good as they should be, but for God’s sake, you cannot question his job with the kicking specialists. Dusty C might be the third best punter in the division … and the third best punter in the league. When you’ve got Mike Scifres and shane lechler ahead of you, it’s tough to break through. (To say nothing of arguably the worst punter in the division being the 4th best punter in the league, in Dusty C’s brother britton in denver.) And good Lord, you take a kid 256th in the draft, give him the job on Opening Day … and he winds up setting the franchise record for most consecutive made field goals in his second season? That’s some tremendous coaching.

Yes, the return units need some work, but they were rock solid in 2009 and 2010 when Hoffman had training camp and a full offseason to work through the issues. I would RETAIN Steve Hoffman as special teams coach for another season, and I would probably extend his contract to last at least as long as mine if I was Romeo Crennel.

Defensive Coordinator: the Chiefs have two rock solid options in-house if they choose to promote from within, in former OU head coach and Saints DC Gary Gibbs (currently our LB’s coach), and secondary coach Emmitt Thomas (was DC for Philly 1995-1998, Packers in 1999, Vikings in 2000-2001, and Falcons from 2002-2009. Playoff berths in those 15 seasons? 6. Not too shabby). The rumor mill has been going crazy that Romeo and Pioli are hot after Jaguars interim head coach and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, a move I don’t oppose at all.

There’s also the option of Romeo remaining as DC in addition to his head coaching duties (which I strongly oppose), and my belief that the interview last week with Jack Del Rio was to see if he and Romeo could co-exist on that side of the ball (with Del Rio as a possible head-coach-in-waiting).

None of those are the answer.

The defensive staff is rock solid, and really doesn’t need any major replacements. There’s no Tim Krumrie “how the hell does THIS dude have a job?!?!” obvious need to fire’s on this staff anymore.

I believe the answer is with a coach who believes in the 3-4, who (I think this is correct) has a contract about to expire, has solid head-coaching credentials in case he’s the head-coach-in-waiting (this dude went 3-4 with the Bills in 2009 as interim head coach; they were 1-8 when they hired him) … and he’s got his team once again still alive in the divisional round of the postseason.

To get him, if I’m wrong about him being a free agent coach, we’d have to offer him an assistant head coach position, and possibly trade a late round draft pick … but if you believe in this guy like I do, it’s worth the cost.

The guy I’d pursue … is Giants DC Perry Fewell.

If you watched the last few weeks, he’s put on a CLINIC of how to coach defense in this league. He made the Jets look hapless, the Cowboys look hopeless, and the Falcons offense managed zero points in a playoff game in which they won the time of possession and yardage statistics. His background is with the secondary, which is perfect, since Emmitt Thomas is at most 2 years away from retirement. You leave Gary Gibbs alone to keep improving the linebacking corps, leave Thomas in place in the secondary (the job he did this year was nothing short of a miracle), and if you want to replace Anthony Pleasant on the DL, fine … but please, don’t call Tim Krumrie, that’s all I ask.

Plus, Fewell is a perfect HCIW (head coach in waiting, for the acronym challenged). He has experience running a team. He got a 1-8 Bills team to basically play .500 ball for him. I love this prospective hire, even if it a little surprising.

(For the record, my guess is Gary Gibbs is promoted to DC, which I’m perfectly fine with. He’s a competent quality coach who won’t screw things up. You need those throughout your staff.)

But if Fewell is out of left field … well, I’m not sure there’s a field to describe what I think we should hire as …

Offensive Coordinator: let me state up front, this will never happen. But its my post, its my site, I’m typing up who I want as our offensive coordinator. (Slash offensive line coach. What? If Bill Muir can “pull off” the double duty, I KNOW this guy can.)

And I’m not going to run through a list of potentials like I just did on the defensive side of the ball. There’s one man I want overseeing our offensive gameplan and offensive line next year. It’s the same guy I wanted us to hire in 2009 when Haley arrived, 2010 when Weis arrived, and last year when Muir ascended to the job. He’s one of the brightest offensive minds the League has seen in the last twenty years. He’s also a horrendous head coach who will NEVER get another shot at running his own team, which is ideal, believe it or not! The Chiefs will be hiring their 5th offensive coordinator in 4 years. We need stability at the position, someone who isn’t an up-and-coming coaching prospect, but someone who’ll be in the chair for 4, 5, 6 years, and not bolt for the next great thing. We need another Al Saunders, another Paul Hackett.

Or in this case, a man affectionately known on this site as “Sur” William Callahan.

Bill Callahan, currently the Jets offensive line coach, formerly the head coach of the oakland raiders and Nebraska Cornhuskers.

There are a lot of qualified assistants out there waiting for their big break. Callahan already got his – in 2002 with the raiders, when he managed to not screw things up, and got the remnants of the team Jon Gruden built to the Super Bowl. And when the floor collapsed in 2003, he packed up and went to Nebraska … where he promptly took said floor collapse, and made sure the foundation, plumbing, and wiring were all sub-code as well.

But his lack of success as a head coach, doesn’t hide his tremendous upside as an offensive coordinator. The issues with his Huskers teams were NEVER the offense. It was the defense. As OC? Doesn’t have to worry one damned bit about the defense. As Gruden’s OC in oakland, all they did was completely redefine the West Coast Offense as it existed, turning Dick Gannon into a NFL MVP despite his inability to throw a ball 11 yards down the field. As his own playcaller in Lincoln, he completely overhauled the Huskers offense, attaining a level of success so amazingly incredible that when Dr. Tom cleaned house and brought in Bo Pelini to right the ship? Pelini kept the entire offensive staff in place. Bo Pelini might be mentally unstable, but he’s not stupid. You don’t screw with what works. And Bill Callahan’s offensive system works.

To get Callahan, all we’d have to do is offer him the job. He’s currently the Jets offensive line coach (although if Brian Schottenheimer is not retained, Callahan is the favorite for the Jets’ OC job). Make the offer. Get Callahan in here. The guy has found a way to help top ten offenses with Rich Gannon, Marques Tuaisosopu, and Mark Sanchez under center. He actually lost two games at Nebraska despite topping 50 points. The guy is a horrendous head coach.

But he’s the best available offensive coordinator on the market. Go get him Chiefs. Go get him!

Coming (hopefully) tomorrow, part five: free agency and (possibly) the draft. If you resign yourself to Cassel (or Orton) being under center next September 10th, then the primary focus for one or the other has to be offensive tackle. And since I believe spending a first round pick on an offensive lineman is just about the stupidest thing a franchise can do, that means Clark Hunt needs to open the checkbook in free agency. Thankfully, the new CBA requires him to do that, to a healthy multi-million dollar tune this offseason, just to get the Chiefs within sight of the 95% floor threshold …

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