Though the contest is barely more than a week old, the music already is fading out in the NFL’s annual offseason game of coaching musical chairs.
Of the five openings at the start of the offseason, only the Cleveland Browns remain with a head coaching vacancy.
And, while many of the hires might well prove to be huge succeesses, it’s hard not to feel as though the whole process wasn’t rushed.
The Dallas Cowboys, after all, announced they’d hired new coach Mike McCarthy practically in the same press release they officially announced they were parting ways with Jason Garrett.
The Washington Redskins, likewise, agreed to terms with Ron Rivera just days after the regular season ended. That, at least, was understandable given the Redskins fired former head coach Jay Gruden midway through the season, and Rivera was let go from his post with the Carolina Panthers with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
Then there was Tuesday’s madness.
Early in the day, it was reported the Panthers had surprisingly reached a deal with Baylor head coach Matt Rhule to replace Rivera. It wasn’t a surprise Carolina was interested, and it certainly came as no shock Rhule was headed to the NFL. But the New York native took the job without so much as participating in an interview with a Giants franchise he grew up cheering for and was previously employed by.
This was seen as a major embarrassment for New York before reports quickly emerged it had reached agreement with New England Patriots special teams coordinator and wide receiver coach Joe Judge.
Rhule’s deal is a behemoth, worth up to $70 million over seven years according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. That’s Jon Gruden money for a coach without a single NFL victory on his resume.
Rhule reportedly called the Giants and offered them a chance to match the offer before signing with Carolina. But ESPN reported New York was too far down the road in negotiations with Judge and declined.
While the breakneck speed of this year’s negotiations – McCarthy reportedly was locked up after a day of interviews and spending the night at Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ mansion – is unique, the hires themselves have not been particularly original.
Only Judge represents an outside-the-box approach. His special teams background gives him something in common with New England’s Bill Belichick – the longest-tenured active head coach in the league – and John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens, who hold homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
He would become the first coach to go straight from special teams coordinator to the top job since Harbaugh in 2008.
Aside from Judge, however, this year’s hires are mostly predictable. McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and Rivera are retreads, and Rhule was one of the hottest candidates in the college ranks after succeeding in tough turn-around jobs with Baylor and Temple.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with predictability, but it would have been nice to see some fresh blood in the mix. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, in particular, deserves a shot.
He has overseen one of the game’s most explosive offenses over the past two seasons, and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has a great reputation around the league for producing solid coaching candidates.
Bieniemy also would provide the NFL some much-needed diversity. With the Browns holding the only remaining vacancy, and assuming Tuesday’s hires hold and become official, there are only four minority head coaches currently employed by the league.
The reasons for the lack of diversity are myriad and worthy of a column on their own. But one easily fixed problem is the rule book.
Bieniemy is in play as a part of Cleveland’s wide-open search, and he also was considered a serious candidate in Carolina. But the fact Rhule was available to start on the job immediately certainly didn’t hurt his case.
While Bieniemy can interview, he can’t accept a job until after Kansas City’s playoff run ends. Many franchises simply aren’t willing to wait, and there is a risk involved for those who do.
Just two years ago, the Indianapolis Colts believed they’d reached agreement with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and even announced his hiring after New England lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl.
But, by rule, there was no signed contract. And McDaniels backed out on the day his introductory press conference was scheduled to take place.
There’s little reason to believe Bieniemy – or any other candidate, for that matter – would make a similar exit. But the rule’s very existence allows for the possibility and could give some owners pause.
So get rid of it.
I understand the argument against having a coach with split allegiances in the postseason, but the truth is there’s no way to legislate that away.
If a coach has agreed to a deal in principle, at least part of his time is going to be spent thinking about his new job and getting that franchise running. Even McDaniels hired three assistant coaches who ultimately were retained for the 2018 season in Indianapolis.
My proposal is to follow the college rule. Let contracts be signed and let incoming head coaches appoint a proxy to run operations with their new team until the playoff run ends.
It certainly will give all parties a little more peace of mind.
And, if we’re lucky, it will mix up the coaching candidate pool a bit, too.