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BG: Candidates line up to work the sidelines


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Candidates line up to work the sidelines

By Ron Borges, Globe Staff, 1/4/2004


Job openings, like job applicants, are not all the same, even when there are only 32 such jobs in the world. At the moment, seven NFL franchises are in the market for a new head coach and some, such as the Washington Redskins, are frantically cavorting around the country looking for Daniel Snyder's next victim while others, such as the Chicago Bears, are moving almost glacially toward a replacement for departed Dick Jauron.

As has been well documented, both of New England's coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, are in play on several fronts and any team would be lucky to hire either of them. But would they be lucky to end up in some place like Arizona, where Vince Lombardi would be lucky to go .500, or Oakland, where the Raiders are hamstrung by age, salary cap problems, and what appears to be a housecleaning with the firing of Bill Callahan and possible departure of personnel men Bruce Allen and Mike Lombardi?

After a week of discussing each of the openings with general managers and personnel men around the league, here is a ranking of the jobs.

1. ATLANTA: The Falcons have the best young player in the game in Michael Vick, a defense that is nowhere near as bad as its last-place ranking, and enough speed to return to the playoffs. Their cap situation is not ideal but it's not terrible. At present they have about $71 million on the books for next year, leaving them with about $8 million to play with, but whoever comes in may jettison some costly old hands such as Ray Buchanan and Bob Whitfield. That would leave their cap hemorrhaging dead money (money owed to players no longer on the roster) but they would still be in fairly good shape, at least for the short term -- which is the length of time most head coaches have to win. On the upside, there is the presence of a non-meddlesome owner who wants to win now in Arthur Blank and an experienced general manager in Rich McKay, who left the Buccaneers after losing a power struggle with coach Jon Gruden. Former coach Dan Reeves was fired with three games to go because Blank's fears came true: Vick returned after missing two-thirds of the season with a broken ankle and the Falcons won three of their last four, bolstering Reeves's position that if he had Vick all season they would have lived up to their preseason hype. He was right.

LEADING CANDIDATES: St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith fills a lot of bills, including Blank's desire to give opportunities to deserving minorities. With a weapon like Vick at his disposal, Dennis Green is really the best fit, but McKay doesn't want another power struggle like the one he faced with Gruden.

2. NY GIANTS: Solid organization, patient ownership, and a lot of skill players who can make the kind of plays that win games. The downside is the offensive line needs to be rebuilt and the team is only $3 million under the projected cap. The Giants greatly underachieved this season in large part because the problems along the offensive line were never solved. But they are set at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, and that's a big start toward winning. The defensive front needs some work but the unit is set at both corners as long as Will Allen and Will Peterson are healthy. The Giants need retooling, not rebuilding, ownership is among the most reasonable in the game, and GM Ernie Accorsi is solid.

LEADING CANDIDATES: Crennel and ex-Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin believes he needs all the personnel power to win and he won't get it as long as Accorsi is there. If the Giants are smart they'll give Crennel a well-deserved shot after 23 years as an assistant.

3. BUFFALO: The Bills are more talented than their 6-10 record would make them appear, which is the first criteria for anyone looking for a good job. Second is ownership. Ralph Wilson is as reasonable and knowledgeable a football man as there is in any of the 32 owner's boxes. That's a big plus; just ask Steve Spurrier. Lastly, their salary cap is no longer a mess. The Bills figure to be about $10 million to $12 million to the good, although they'll have to deal with a $6 million bonus due Drew Bledsoe in November and the impending free agency of their best corner, Antoine Winfield. Although Buffalo will interview several coordinators, club president Tom Donahoe went bust hiring Gregg Williams with no head coaching experience last time, so look for him to go with a proven commodity. That could be Jauron, who did a better job in Chicago than he got credit for, Coughlin or Jim Fassel.

LEADING CANDIDATES: Anyone with head coaching experience and a dislike for Kevin Gilbride's offense.

4. CHICAGO: The Bears have a solid defense and a running game if Anthony Thomas's 1,000-yard season doesn't lead to the same kind of slippage that followed his outstanding rookie year. They have 60 players already under contract for next year and are still between $8 million to $12 million under the projected salary cap. That gives them tremendous flexibility in free agency. They also believe they have the young quarterback of the future in Rex Grossman, who started the final three games and won two. He also seemed to win over his teammates. None of the team's core players will be leaving in free agency and Jauron did a good job developing younger players, despite facing nearly sure dismissal. Because the contracts of GM Jerry Angelo and club president Ted Phillips were extended four years they will likely be tied to the incoming coach, who will also get a five-year deal.

LEADING CANDIDATES: As usual in Chicago they have no clue, although LSU's Nick Saban has a chance primarily because the Bears say they're unlikely to pursue a college coach. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Maryland's Ralph Friedgen are possibilities.

5. WASHINGTON: The Redskins are in reasonable cap shape but have to find a way to sign cornerback Champ Bailey, who becomes a free agent in March. They can franchise tag him but that would make him unhappy and probably trade bait just before the draft. The 'Skins have a lot more talent on offense than it appeared under Spurrier's system. If the new coach simply readjusts the blocking schemes in pass protection, Patrick Ramsey will stay upright more often. They need a running back with power to complement the passing game because Trung Canidate will never be reelected the starter, but there will be veteran runners available. Defensively, they are good but not great, which is why they are looking at Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. He says he's not interested until after the playoffs and some people say he's not interested at all after failed stints as the boss in Green Bay and Philadelphia. Worst thing about the job is you're working for Snyder and have to accept Vinny Cerrato as personnel man and ownership's yes man. Coach regularly gets outvoted, 2-1, if he disagrees with Snyder. How bad was it? Spurrier left $15 million on the table to get away from this situation.

LEADING CANDIDATE: Fassel. It's his job if he wants it, and word circulating at the end of last week is he wants it so he can come back and beat the Giants. That's no reason to work for Snyder.

6. ARIZONA: In theory this should be a great job. The Cardinals have $20 million in cap space and only one potential free agent loss of note. The problem is they have $20 million in cap space because ownership won't spend any money and they only have one potential free agent loss of note because they've already lost all their top talent the last three seasons. Winning in Arizona is near impossible under the Bidwill ownership. They do things like waste money on a star in nova like Emmitt Smith and then insist he play when his backup is clearly superior. The Cardinals were the youngest team in the league for the third year in a row, which means they aren't getting better they're getting cheaper, and their roster is so short on talent it's a wonder they won at all.

LEADING CANDIDATES: Fassel, but they won't get him, so Crennel is alive here, too.

7. OAKLAND: They still have salary cap problems, although they are about $3 million under the projected cap. The worst problem is they have grown way too old in way too many places and have a front office in transition with Allen and Lombardi looking to get out if they can. Allen was talking to Tampa last week about its GM job and Lombardi is also rumored to be putting out feelers. Defensively, cornerback Charles Woodson is disgruntled and a free agent. If he is retained he forms one of the NFL's best tandems with Phillip Buchanon, but this isn't flag football. Who plays in front of them? Not enough talent on the line or at linebacker to be competitive. Offensively, they are old at quarterback, old at receiver, old and fat along the offensive line, and average at running back. Add to that the fact that whoever comes in has to answer to Al Davis and you have a high-pressure situation without many weapons on your side of the fight. You'll hear a lot about Green the next few weeks but that's happened before and led to nothing. Same will be true this time. Look for Dallas offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon to get a long look as well as Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders, but in the end Davis will do the unexpected.

LEADING CANDIDATE: Rick Neuheisel, ex-Colorado and University of Washington head coach.

Opportunity knocks

New York Jets assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum will be in Tampa tomorrow to interview for the Buccaneers' GM job. Working with Gruden is no picnic, but Tannenbaum coexisted with Bill Parcells, so he's experienced in that area and a master numbers cruncher. Tannenbaum has been seen for several years as a fast-rising executive, so the time to grab him may be right . . . Miami is also looking for a GM to share power with coach Dave Wannstedt and the leading candidates are former Saints GM Randy Mueller, Tampa Bay personnel director Tim Ruskell, and ex-Eagles personnel guru Tom Modrak, who now assists Donahoe in Buffalo. Mueller is being pushed by Joe Bailey of the NFL office in New York. Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga called commissioner Paul Tagliabue last week seeking assistance and he was referred to Bailey, who touted Mueller. If the Dolphins' Eddie White, who is sifting through the choices for Huizenga, is looking at Mueller, he should talk to Saints owner Tom Benson about him and about his predecessor, Chiefs director of pro personnel Bill Kuharich. Benson fired Kuharich and Mike Ditka and replaced them with Mueller and Jim Haslett. They won their first year with the team Kuharich had built and then went about destroying it. With Mueller in the mix in Miami, White and Huizenga would be well advised to call the Chiefs and ask permission to talk with Kuharich as well. Kuharich has been both a GM and club president and was a finalist for the Seattle GM opening a year ago that went to Bob Ferguson. Why go Saints lite if you can get the guy who helped Jim Finks build one winning team there and then did it again despite Ditka's presence? . . . Wannstedt received a one-year contract extension despite not reaching the playoffs for the second year in a row. Although Wannstedt has his detractors, retaining him may have been a wise choice by Huizenga. Wannstedt's teams have won 41 games in four years. If that gets you fired, what keeps you working? . . . The Chiefs got some good news last week when 67-year-old Dick Vermeil signed on for another year as head coach. Vermeil said he decided to stay on after remembering how much he regretted leaving the Rams after they won the Super Bowl in 2000. He didn't regret it as much as the Rams now regret forcing him out to make room for Mike Martz, who is not the boss Vermeil is . . . Look for deposed Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell to replace George O'Leary as the Vikings' defensive coordinator. O'Leary left to become head coach at Central Florida. One thing that is attractive about Cottrell to head coach Mike Tice is that he coaches the defensive line as well as coordinates the defense. That's the same role O'Leary had . . . The reason Cottrell, one of the league's most respected defensive coordinators, was fired by the Jets was that Herman Edwards couldn't fire offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Hackett is an ally of GM Terry Bradway and became untouchable. Several of the Jets' defensive players have publicly rallied to Cottrell's defense, claiming Hackett was immune to criticism because of his close working relationship with quarterback Chad Pennington. Although Pennington came to Hackett's defense late in the year, it was the protection by Bradway that saved him. And you thought it was all about winning in the NFL.

A great escape?

Fired Arizona coach Dave McGinnis may not be unemployed long. If Fassel lands a head coaching job other than the one with the Cardinals, he is likely to bring in McGinnis as defensive coordinator. McGinnis stands to be paid $1 million this year by the Cardinals, less whatever he earns coaching elsewhere. A friend of McGinnis categorized his firing this way last week: "He got a raise and he got away from the Bidwills," he said. "So how was that a bad deal?" . . . According to several sources inside the Bills organization, here is what happened with Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown that led to his not being active for the final game. He not only showed up late for Tuesday practice, as his agent admits, but according to sources in position to know he also went after Gilbride and offensive line coach Pat Ruel in two fiery confrontations during positional meetings and missed two practices, not one. Brown also supposedly told Williams he was too depressed to practice. "I'm worried about Ruben," one Bills player said. "Something is really bothering him. He wasn't playing well. You don't know if he wasn't playing well because he was depressed or he was depressed because he wasn't playing well, but either way it was a bad situation.". . . One NFL insider with vast knowledge of coaching contracts and opportunities said last week that Spurrier's decision to leave Washington with $15 million still on the table boiled down to three factors. "Steve hated pro players, he hated cold weather, and he hated Vinny Cerrato," the source said. "Snyder wasn't even in the top five reasons for leaving." Spurrier grew to distrust Cerrato and felt he did not act in the best interest of winning if it would put him in conflict with Snyder's opinions . . . In case you're wondering just how costly the loss of a talented young quarterback can be, consider this: the Jets' and the Falcons' defensive units played two extra games in terms of minutes because of the losses of Pennington and Vick this season. That would wear out anybody . . . Patriots Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour understands how things work in the NFL, and he realizes the interest being expressed by several teams in Crennel is different from what it was a year ago, when the San Francisco 49ers brought him in for a cursory interview. "His name is surfacing a lot, not just as far as a minority candidate, but as a real consideration for the job," Seymour said. "I think the sky is the limit for him when the opportunity comes." To Seymour, Crennel's greatest strength as a coach, beyond his knowledge of defensive football, is that nothing seems to rattle him. "He's a guy that you can just look at when things are going bad and have a sense of calmness," Seymour said. "Seeing him on the sidelines, when things are getting pretty tough, getting rough, everyone is saying, `What do we do?' How do we do this?' You can look at him, get a sense of calmness. He'll tell everyone, `Do your jobs.' Whatever he says, do it. You have so much trust in doing it, that's what we go out and do.". . . Seymour, by the way, has special motivation for getting back to the Super Bowl. He'd like to get a Super Bowl ring. Didn't he get one two years ago when the Patriots upset the heavily favored Rams? He did, but he didn't keep it. He wore it one time, then he gave it to the people who made receiving it possible. "I gave that one to my parents," Seymour explained recently. "I'm trying to work on another one right now. The opening ceremony when we got it that summer was the only time I wore it. I never wore it to any games or to functions. Everyone always asks where it is. When I gave that one to my parents I said, `Hopefully I can attain some more.' "

Give it some thought

Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck is quickly becoming one of the best at his position in the AFC. But when it comes to verbal analysis, Bulluck may be the master of asserting the obvious. Asked about Baltimore's 2,000-yard running back, Jamal Lewis, before yesterday's AFC wild-card playoff game, Bulluck said, "Jamal Lewis is one of the premier running backs in the league and a very good one at that." One would imagine so. Bulluck then expanded on the secret of how to stop Lewis. "The bottom line is you've just got to tackle him," he said. "Obviously, if it was that easy then he probably wouldn't have run for 2,000 yards this season, but that's really what you have to do. You have to tackle him." Imagine so. Lastly, Bulluck made a comparison to try and put Lewis in some kind of perspective. "He's probably the closest thing that anyone has seen to probably Jim Brown," Bulluck said. "That's a big compliment but it is what it is." Ludicrous is what it is. Jamal Lewis is a very good back who pounds the ball and has the speed to go all the way. Jim Brown was the greatest running back of all time. That is what it is, too . . . Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan knows the kind of pressure that will be on the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick next weekend when they host an AFC playoff game. With a 14-2 record and home field throughout, much is expected of New England, and Denver faced a similar situation in 1996. "You are judged on what you do in the playoffs," Shanahan said. "Each team. I don't care if you're 14-2 like New England or a wild-card team. You have to go out and prove yourself. We were 13-3. We had home-field advantage and we didn't take advantage of it one year back there in 1996. When you look back on that team, it was just another team."

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One NFL insider with vast knowledge of coaching contracts and opportunities said last week that Spurrier's decision to leave Washington with $15 million still on the table boiled down to three factors. "Steve hated pro players, he hated cold weather, and he hated Vinny Cerrato," the source said. "Snyder wasn't even in the top five reasons for leaving." Spurrier grew to distrust Cerrato and felt he did not act in the best interest of winning if it would put him in conflict with Snyder's opinions

What about his system didn't work?? DUH!! Morons...

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