Friday, January 05, 2007

You're Fired Week

The sixth season of Donald Trump's egotistically charged The Apprentice debuts across America Sunday night. Which means the nation will again have the opportunity to see someone feel the wrath of Trump's "You're fired" each and every week.

Ironic that the show kicks off at the conclusion of what could be called "You're fired week" in the National Football League.

The week following the end of the NFL regular season is always interesting for a couple of reasons (other than the obvious anticipation of wild card weekend). First, we can sit back and analyze coach and coordinator dismissals, and try to determine who will fill the vacated spots in each city, and second, we can breakdown who should have gotten the boot, but didn't.

This year was less entertaining than in the past. Thus far, only two coaches have been officially fired (Dennis Green following three lousy seasons in Arizona and Jim Mora after the Falcons missed the playoffs for the second straight year), two have left on their own preference (Nick Saban jumped from the Miami Dolphins to the SEC's Alabama Crimson Tide and it isn't official yet but Bill Cowher looks like he will break from the Steelers after 15 years) and one has "resigned" (Art Shell "decided" - with added emphasis on the quotation marks - to part ways with the Raiders after only one, horribly unsuccessful season).

So we may only see five new head coaches in the league next year. That's if Cowher doesn't accept Saban's old post in Miami and Mora doesn't find work in Arizona.

Time to speculate on who will fill the five empty roles in Pittsburgh (assuming Cowher does in fact leave), Atlanta, Miami, Arizona and Oakland.

Pittsburgh Steelers

This might be the best job to try and fill from within. There's one way to tell: the incredible amount of attention the team's offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt, has already received on the open market. Whisenhunt's name has popped up as a possible candidate for several jobs around the league.

So, why not take advantage of the fact he's already in Pittsburgh? The Steelers may in fact do that, and we think they eventually will. The only way it doesn't happen is if the Cardinals or Falcons fail to land their first options and one of those teams sweeps up Whisenhunt before Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney and G.M. Kevin Colbert can do anything about it.

If for any reason Whisenhunt doesn't get, or take, a promotion, watch for Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to be the Steelers' man. A hard-nosed defensive guru, and a former finalist for other jobs, Rivera would fit in nicely in Steel town.

Who they should go with: Whisenhunt
Who they will go with: Whisenhunt

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons have looked into interviewing Rivera, and apparently have interest in 49ers assistant coach Mike Singletary. Either way, they seem to love the Chicago Bear connection, and that's not a bad way to go. But, we don't think Singletary is ready to be an NFL head coach yet.

Atlanta gave Mora his first NFL head coaching job, and Mora's immaturity proved to be his demise. In light of that, they would probably love to bring in someone with experience, but we wouldn't recommend Dennis Green because, well, by all indication he's lost his mind.

Jim Haslett immediately comes to mind as a guy who has the experience, has many years ahead of him, and knows the ropes of coaching a) in the AFC South, and b) an erratic, pocket-breaking quarterback.

Who they should go with: Haslett
Who they will go with: Rivera (if they can get him)

Miami Dolphins

If Cowher finds his way out of Pittsburgh and into Miami, it won't be without controversy and expectations. The original reason Cowher was expected to step down from the Steelers job following this season was fatigue. The man just needed a break.

But if he jumps to Miami, who may be willing to pay big bucks following the Saban embarrassment, it will prove to Steelers fans and players that money was indeed at the forefront of his departure. The Dolphins would reportedly have to give up draft picks to the Steelers in a John Gruden-Bucs-Raiders-esque situation, but we think they will cave and give it all up to bring in arguably the best coach in the game.

That's how desperate the Fins are, and that's what they'll do.

We can't argue against it. Cowher said he'd listen, and if he'll come to Miami it'd be ridiculous for the Dolphins not to bring him in. The whole situation (debacle) is just a little strange, and we think it will sour Cowher's era in Pittsburgh just a tad.

Who they should go with: Cowher
Who they will go with: Cowher (if he'll do it)

Arizona Cardinals

The Cards are the other team interested in Whisenhunt. They also have interest in, for a reason beyond us, Houston Texans assistant coach Mike Sherman. I guess they already tried the successful old guy, and now it's time to try the unsuccessful old guy? The young Cardinal players would tune out Sherman (just like the Packers did) faster than they did Green.

If Arizona is smart, they'll go after Whisenhunt hard. But we don't think the Steelers will let him get away. We haven't heard this name tied to this team yet, but is seems to make the most sense: Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

Martz, who had one of the more successful seasons of his career despite the Lions bad record, is said to be better suited for coordinator-type jobs because he isn't the best decision-maker and goes a bit nuts upstairs a few times a game. But he'd be a great fit in Arizona, working with one of the most talented young offenses in football and playing his old team, the St. Louis Rams, twice a year.

Who they should go with: Martz
Who they will go with: Sherman (if they do indeed miss out on Whisenhunt)

Oakland Raiders

With word only coming late Thursday Shell wasn't coming back, not much has been put out there in regards to who the Raiders might be interested in bringing in.

Singletary is a Raiders kind of guy, and could jump the pond from San Francisco. We'd imagine the Raiders would give him a call based on reputation, Al Davis loves reputation. But they'll likely go after the best coordinator they can bring in.

Whisenhunt isn't a realistic possibility because he turned the Raiders down last year, and we would understand if that happened a lot again this time around.

Who they should go with: Rivera (it'd have to be one hell of a pitch)
Who they will go with: Haslett (in other words, they'll do opposite what the Falcons do, and possibly reuinite him with ex-Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks)

Now, this is assuming no other coaches get the axe between now and the beginning of next season. You'd think it would be fair to assume every coach with a playoff team is safe, but Tom Coughlin isn't a sure shot to stick around with the limping Giants and rumour has had it Tony Dungy would fit nicely leading his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Bill Parcells has said he and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will iron things out after the playoffs, and at that point Parcells will know if he will stick around in Dallas or not.

Last season, five coaches lost their jobs during You're Fired Week. So again, this is a tame year. But history shows that when teams want to make changes, they make them right away. We can't imagine any other moves, aside from the three playoff coach possibilities above, will be made.

But how about the lucky ones? How about those coaches that probably should have been let go but survived? We can only spot one this time around.

Joe Gibbs, Washington Redskins

They tried. It was cool for a bit, it didn't work. Can't the 'Skins just admit it failed, just like the Steve Spurrier experiment, and move on? Nope. Dan Snyder's ego is too much like Trump's.

Gibbs has gone 21-27 and won one playoff game in three seasons with one of the most talented and expensive teams in football. You'd think Snyder, a guy who puts winning above all else and doesn't tolerate much, would have stepped in after two losing seasons out of three, but Gibbs is still employed despite the struggles. He's 66-years-old, and hasn't really improved the team at all in three years.

To boot, the Redskins have the highest paid (and some would say the best) defensive assistant in the game, waiting to be plucked by one of the many teams that will show interest in him this off-season. Gregg Williams, who has head coaching experience, would be a great replacement for Gibbs.

But, unless Snyder is delaying his decision (possibly to give Gibbs a chance to "walk away" like Shell in Oakland), Gibbs will get a fourth year on the Washington sideline.

The reason so few coaches received pink slips, and only one should have but didn't, is because so many coaches have taken brand new jobs the last couple years. Those coaches inherited, usually, bad football teams. It takes time, and that's why the Gary Kubiaks, Rod Marinellis and Romeo Crennels remain safe.

But watch out Jack Del Rio, John Fox and John Gruden. Your teams are too talented to miss the playoffs another year. And we can pretty much promise it: If your squads aren't playing football in January, 2008, the three of you will be the next to hear those dreaded words.

"You're fired."

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