LOS ANGELES, February 3, 2015 — One day after the Super Bowl ended, the Atlanta Falcons finally hired their new head coach, Dan Quinn. The Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator could not officially be hired until the Seahawks finished their season. While assistant coaches want their teams to go as deep into the post-season as possible, it often hurts their own chances of moving up the ladder.
With the 2015 Draft only three months away, most teams want their coaching staffs in place as quickly as possible. In this case the Falcons waited and got the man they wanted all along. Three teams blew up their entire organization to start from scratch, but only one of them should have done so.
Oakland Raiders — Dennis Allen was fired four winless games into the season. Interim coach Tony Sparano went 3-9 down the stretch. Sparano interviewed for the head coaching job, but did not get it. Owner Mark Davis saw Jon Gruden stay at ESPN and Jim Harbaugh head to the University of Michigan to honor Bo Schembechler. Davis eventually went with the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars for nine years.
Analysis: Del Rio is a good hire. He knows defense. While he only made the playoffs twice with Jacksonville and had an overall losing record, his best season saw the Jaguars go 12-4. The Raiders have not gone 9-7 since 2002 and have not seen 12-4 since 2000. Adding former 49ers quarterback Bill Musgrave to tutor Derek Carr makes for a serious upgrade on both sides of the ball.
San Francisco 49ers — Owner Jed York refused to fire general manager Trent Baalke and then himself, instead getting rid of the true winner in the organization. Jim Harbaugh led the 49ers to three straight NFC Title Games including one Super Bowl. The organization wanted him out before the season started. They let their offensive and defensive coordinators go and promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula from within.
Analysis: Eddie Debartolo was the best owner in the NFL. Now the 49ers have one of the most imbecilic ownership groups in sports. Jim Tomsula’s family might not even know who he is. York fired a combative guy who won for an untested company man who has not even been a coordinator much less a head coach.
Buffalo Bills — This was a stunner. The Bills have the longest playoff drought, having last made the postseason during the 1999 season. After leading the 2014 Bills to a 9-7 record, Doug Marrone just quit. Perhaps he thought the new owners were going to fire him. Maybe he thought he would be a lock for one of the other openings. Either way, The Pegulas snapped up Jets coach Rex Ryan after he was let go from the New York Jets.
Analysis: Marrone had the team moving in the right direction, but Rex Ryan is an upgrade. Rex has some great defensive pieces already in place including Mario Williams. He still needs a quarterback, but this time he will not be saddled with a general manager determined to sabotage him. Rex is a winner. He will get the Bills back to the playoffs.
New York Jets — Owner Woody Johnson fired general manager John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan. After consecutive trips to the AFC Title Game, Ryan missed the playoffs four straight years. Johnson ended up hiring Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Analysis: The jury is out on this one. Bowles is a well-respected defensive mind but the Jets replaced one defensive guru for another one on a team where the problems are on offense. Johnson should have fired Idzik and kept Ryan. Ryan was never allowed, as Bill Parcells said, to shop for the groceries. Bringing in a new general manager with a first time coach could be a recipe for disaster.
Denver Broncos — After four straight AFC West Titles including two trips to the AFC Title Game and one Super Bowl appearance, John Fox was fired. President John Elway described it as a mutual decision. Elway replaced Fox with Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who coached the Houston Texans for several seasons. Kubiak was Elway’s backup quarterback in Denver during their playing days.
Analysis: This was a mind-numbingly stupid decision. Elway is starting to resemble the 49ers of the 1990s (and the 49ers of 2014), where anything short of a Super Bowl win is considered a failure. Fox is a winner who took one team in each conference to a Super Bowl trip. Kubiak in his time with the Texans did not reach the AFC Title Game once. Elway wants Peyton Manning to come back, but Kubiak is a quarterback guru on a team that needs to toughen up on defense.
Chicago Bears — Two years ago, the Bears fired defensive-minded Lovie Smith after a 10-6 season. Two years of the offensive-minded Marc Trestman led to the team tumbling downward. Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were fired. In came John Fox, who was unemployed for about five minutes after Denver let him go.
Analysis: This was excellent leadership from the top. Trestman is described as a great offensive coordinator by some and an overrated offensive coordinator by others. He was a terrible head coach who is being replaced by a great head coach. After two years of going soft, the Bears will get their traditional attitude back on defense. Fox worked with Tim Tebow, Jake Delhomme, and Peyton Manning. He will revitalize Jay Cutler. The Bears needed to take a keg of dynamite to the organization, and they did. They are already much better.
Atlanta Falcons — The Atlanta Falcons were losers for most of four decades before they hired Mike Smith. He brought them five winning seasons, including four playoff berths. Twice the Falcons were the top seed with a 13-3 record. They came within ten yards of a trip to the Super Bowl. After two bad seasons, Smith was fired and replaced with Seattle Seahawks coordinator Dan Quinn.
Analysis: This one will take time to sort out. Smith is a good coach who never should have been fired to begin with. Quinn has never been a head coach before, but leading the Legion of Boom gives him some credibility. Time will tell how much of that was him and how much was Pete Carroll. The Falcons are loaded on offense at the skip positions and replaced a defensive mind with another one.