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Joe get an A- from Profootballweekly


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Christmas break may have just ended in schools across the country, but in the NFL, the final grades are in for the league's head coaches with another regular season completed.

It's hard to imagine any profession subjected to as much scrutiny as the head coaching profession, as fans -- and publications like Pro Football Weekly -- take great delight this time of year speculating on which head coaches will grab postseason honors, and at the same time, which ones slipped up enough to receive pink slips.

In addition to the quick firing of Vikings head coach Mike Tice on the same day the regular season ended, the Rams' Mike Martz, the Packers' Mike Sherman, the Texans' Dom Capers and the Saints' Jim Haslett were let go the following day. On Tuesday, Norv Turner of the Raiders was fired. It's quite possible even more coaches being scrutinized in the following article will be dusting off their résumés in pursuit of new employment by the time you read this.

One old-school veteran of the coaching wars, Kansas City's Dick Vermeil, has already departed on his own terms after concluding that the day-in, day-out grind has taken its toll -- again.

In any event, PFW presents its annual head-coaching report cards, assigning a grade to each coach, along with the reasons behind it.

NFC East

• Tom Coughlin, Giants

Coughlin

The disciplinarian Coughlin's main task was to get his team to follow him, in lockstep, to contention. His design was tricky, though, with a young QB in Eli Manning, a defense that had holes in several spots and an offense that was too Tiki Barber-dependent in 2004. Coughlin has managed to get the Giants back to contention a year before the experts imagined, and he has quieted the talk of a roster that can't relate to his sometimes cold approach. Winning games has a way of doing that. Perhaps the one major disappointment has been the team's disturbing lack of discipline in terms of penalties, as it has racked up a club-record 143, to break last year's mark of 127 and also eclipsing the franchise's record for penalty yards, with 1,115. Those are disturbing numbers that could keep the Giants from reaching elite status.

• Grade: B-plus

• Joe Gibbs, Redskins

Following a semi-disastrous first season after re-entering the league, Gibbs has come back with a vengeance this season -- perhaps aware that his own self-pride might prevent him from returning if he didn't succeed this time around. With the Redskins making the playoffs, whipping their fan base into a frenzy that has been unrealized the past six years, Gibbs fixed three critical shortcomings from last season: Modernizing an offense that reeked of 1987; taking advantage of a successful defense and superb coordinator Gregg Williams while they last; and repairing special-teams units that were horribly inconsistent. Though there are some deficiencies on this team, Gibbs and his staff should be celebrated for the work they did to adapt to the times and the personnel they had.

• Grade: A-minus

• Bill Pacells, Cowboys

It's easy to forget just how much the club has changed in a year. A new quarterback, a new defensive scheme (not to mention an overhaul in personnel), front-office changes and several players returning from injury all have improved the Cowboys' overall worth, and Parcells has been in charge of overseeing the whole operation -- all with owner Jerry Jones looking over his shoulder. When you take that into consideration, Parcells has done a nice job returning his team to the winning column, but missing the playoffs a second straight season has left a sour taste in everyone's mouth.

• Grade: B

• Andy Reid, Eagles

Consider how many injuries the team has sustained -- both physical and mental -- this season, and it's not hard to pardon Reid for some of the blame for the Eagles missing the postseason and finishing with their worst record since Reid's first season. The Terrell Owens-Donovan McNabb feud began in the offseason, festered all through training camp and exploded at mid-season, creating the mother of all distractions for a team looking to get back to the Super Bowl. Sources said, privately, Reid was extremely burned out, mostly thanks to the T.O. situation, but he has kept his public face as impassive as ever and tried his best to keep his team in line. With very little veteran backlash, consider Reid's job of keeping the team from sinking further to be a considerable victory.

• Grade: C

NFC North

• Steve Mariucci/Dick Jauron, Lions

Mariucci

Preseason hyperbole surrounding the wealth of A-list prospects dotting Detroit's roster wound up working against Mariucci. Mariucci committed to veterans, in part because of their knowledge and more diligent preparation, which sat as well with management as a chili burger and fries. The world-beater offense some projected couldn't move boulders, or even crunch crackers, and Mariucci was fired on Nov. 28. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron replaced Mariucci and made few changes. His defense was beset by injuries, and the offense showed only flashes of breaking out of its shell. Jauron started Jeff Garcia three times, then turned to Joey Harrington in the final two games.

• Grades: D/Incomplete

• Mike Sherman, Packers

Stripped of personnel duties prior to this season, Sherman was left to concentrate almost exclusively on the on-field product. Unfortunately for him, after signing a two-year contract extension, he lost several star players, including offensive pillars Javon Walker and Ahman Green. Sherman was damned by the front office, to a degree, in that many areas of weakness from last season showed up once more. The misfortune and 4-12 record never showed through in the team's effort on game day. Some would say that's a credit to Sherman, his coaching staff and the professionalism in the locker room. But the record itself is an eyesore, the worst since 1991, and that led to Sherman's firing the day after the season ended.

• Grade: D

• Lovie Smith, Bears

Smith held a closed-door, coaches-only meeting in hopes of steering a U-turn from a 1-3 start. The Bears are 10-2 since, including an eight-game winning streak. Smith's forte is defense, and he made an unmistakable imprint on a young, talented group that kept the Bears flying without much backing from the punchless offense. Smith showed a willingness to make the tough decision, swiftly sitting ineffective starters -- FS Mike Green, QBs Chad Hutchinson and Kyle Orton and PR Bobby Wade -- for the betterment of the team. The offense has also improved, if only slightly, after Smith moved to can coordinator Terry Shea last offseason in favor of Ron Turner.

• Grade: A-minus

• Mike Tice, Vikings

The Vikings started 2-5, and Tice was dragged through the mud and everything else in the Twin Cities. Tice had endorsed a deal sending Randy Moss out of town, subsequently deflating MVP QB Daunte Culpepper and the entire offense. Off-the-field issues flared up again. Details of a "sex cruise" involving Culpepper and other key team members became the latest in a tragically classic library of incidents under Tice's watch -- coaches, including Tice, scalping Super Bowl tickets, Onterrio Smith and the Whizzinator, innumerable strikes against Moss -- that eventually led to his dismissal at season's end. The Vikings did rally from their early-season slumber, a nod to Tice's motivational skills, but again faded late in December, which has become a bothersome trademark for Tice-led teams. In the final five games of the year between 2003 and '05, the Vikings were 6-9, twice blowing chances to make the playoffs.

• Grade: C-minus

NFC South

• John Fox, Panthers

Fox

Fox didn't have nearly as many injuries this season to deal with as he did in 2004. And because the Panthers were healthy, expectations soared that they could return to their Super Bowl form of 2003. Fox never let his team wilt under the pressure, and he navigated a tough schedule to get Carolina back in the playoffs. Fox's biggest challenge was adjusting his offense from his preferred run-first philosophy to a passing attack featuring QB Jake Delhomme to WR Steve Smith. With the Delhomme-to-Smith combo succeeding and the running attack stuck in neutral, Fox boldly replaced veteran RB Stephen Davis, who had 12 touchdowns, in the starting lineup with DeShaun Foster because Foster fit a passing offense better.

• Grade: B

• Jon Gruden, Buccaneers

This was supposed to be another rebuilding year for Gruden and the Buccaneers. Gruden had to assimilate a dozen rookies into a team full of aging veterans. It was a much smoother transition than anyone expected. Despite starting three rookies and a backup quarterback in his normally complex offense, Gruden has his Buccaneers back in the playoffs for the first time since he won Super Bowl XXXVII. The Buccaneers' defense returned to top-five form. But what's most surprising is how Gruden adjusted his offense with rookie RB Cadillac Williams and backup QB Chris Simms, who replaced injured starter Brian Griese in Week 7.

• Grade: A-minus

• Jim Haslett, Saints

How do you accurately grade Haslett and the Saints? His squad faced unprecedented turmoil off the field dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The Saints were forced to relocate to San Antonio, Texas, and when they got there, they lived out of hotels and practiced in inadequate facilities. That they were able to win three games was a miracle in itself. But, with the talent filling Haslett's roster, it's hard not to expect more. That seems to be the theme of Haslett's tenure with the Saints: They always leave you wanting more. Haslett deserves credit for uniting his team and keeping them competitive in most games, so we'll overlook the Saints' sub-.500 record somewhat.

• Grade: B-minus

• Jim Mora, Falcons

Atlanta's second-year head coach began to resemble his famously furious father in the final month of a disappointing season. Mora's run-ins with officials and the media as the Falcons' playoff hopes slipped away turned the focus away from his bright coaching mind and made folks wonder if Mora could keep his emotions in check. The Falcons overachieved in Mora's first season, making it to the NFC championship game. In Mora's second year, his Falcons fell back down to earth and missed the playoffs. Mora's sophomore slump can mostly be attributed to the decision to go younger on defense and the team's inability to stop the run.

• Grade: C-plus

NFC West

• Dennis Green, Cardinals

Green

Green is the first to admit the Cardinals have been a major disappointment after ringing up double-digit losses for the second straight season and failing to improve as the year progressed. The NFL's top-ranked passing offense has been offset by the league's lowest-ranked running attack, and although the Cardinals have had few problems moving the chains, their failure to generate big-yardage plays and score touchdowns inside the red zone has been disturbing. The defense has a lot of talented players, but it also has displayed a knack for ill-timed breakdowns, as was the case in the Cardinals' ugly loss to the lowly Texans in Week 15. The special-teams breakdowns on coverage -- four TDs allowed on kickoff and punt returns -- have also been costly.

• Grade: D

• Mike Holmgren, Seahawks

It's hard to find fault with the job Holmgren has done in a season in which the Seahawks have compiled the best record in team history. After looking burned out at the end of last season in no small part due to his strained relationship with team president Bob Whitsitt, Holmgren has remained on the same page from the outset with Whitsitt's replacement, Tim Ruskell, and has maintained an even keel despite potentially unnerving incidents, such as defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes' mild stroke and a nightclub altercation in which S Ken Hamlin suffered severe head injuries that ended his season prematurely. Seattle's spread offense has remained beautifully balanced from beginning to end, and its bend-but-don't-break defense is greatly improved from last season.

• Grade: A

• Mike Martz/Joe Vitt, Rams

Martz has been sidelined much of the season with a heart-valve infection, but his strained relationship with the Rams' front office, especially president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, has created an uneasy atmosphere, with his dismissal expected to trigger a substantial makeover. Vitt started out strong in an interim capacity but tailed off in recent weeks with his blunt approach wearing increasingly thin. The lack of patience with the team's ground game has been a persistent problem, and some of the coaching decisions in recent weeks have been head-scratchers of the highest order. Larry Marmie's defense has been a major downer. The unit's tackling, in particular, has been consistently subpar.

• Grades: D/D

• Mike Nolan, 49ers

Nolan has had his share of growing pains in his first year on the job, but, for the most part, his players have responded to his unyielding approach on both sides of the ball and have remained fully committed to Nolan and his solid staff. Nolan's game-management skills have left a lot to be desired, and his decision to dump LB Jamie Winborn and the manner in which he handled the LB's departure was more than a bit puzzling. While not many teams in the league have suffered as many injuries to key players as the Niners, the numbers in the NFL team rankings -- 32nd in both total offense and total defense -- don't lie. An experienced voice in the Niners' wet-behind-the-ears front office would help Nolan considerably.

• Grade: C-minus

Material from Pro Football Weekly.

Visit the PFW Web site at http://www.profootballweekly.com

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