Start the coaching carousel, it’s playoff time
December 30, 2003
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
Day one of the NFL postseason should have had fans buzzing about Green Bay’s miraculous path to the playoffs and Minnesota’s nosedive out of them.
Instead, the headlines were once again hogged by teams raising the country’s unemployment rate.
Gregg Williams of the Bills, Arizona’s Dave McGinnis and the Bears’ Dick Jauron were dismissed Monday despite combining for 17 victories in 2003. What happened to the days when Cincinnati was the only franchise looking for a new coach?
The castoffs join Jim Fassel, who directed the Giants to a Super Bowl appearance in 2000, and Dan Reeves, who did the same for the Atlanta Falcons in 1998. How was Reeves supposed to win with Kurt Kittner and Doug Johnson at quarterback for most of the season?
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So far, all of the firings have involved coaches with losing records. But fickle owners in other sports – namely baseball – have become so impatient that they are canning coaches with winning records. The Boston Red Sox came within a win of advancing to the World Series and yet Grady Little was fired.
We’re lucky our bosses are more forgiving of our shortcomings.
Getting back to football, why haven’t the Buccaneers fired “Chucky?” After all, Jon Gruden won fewer than half of his games with a unit that was supposed to defend its Super Bowl title.
Without a doubt more dismissals are on the way and local sports fans are probably wondering if both Bay Area coaches will get their pink slips.
Word came out of Oakland late Tuesday afternoon that Bill Callahan had been fired, but an official announcement won’t come until later in the week. Earlier Tuesday, Steve Spurrier resigned after his second season with the Redskins.
After making the Super Bowl a year ago, the Raiders have fallen to the league’s worst at 4-12. Like Reeves, injuries forced Callahan to play most of the season with a less than desirable quarterback in Rick Mirer.
But unlike Reeves, Callahan has lost respect among some of his key players – most notably cornerback Charles Woodson. Keeping Woodson happy and in Oakland will be one less piece owner Al Davis will need to look for to put together the jigsaw puzzle that won’t fit on his dining room table.
Callahan probably sealed his fate at midseason when he called his squad the “dumbest team in America.” Certainly Callahan’s next job won’t be in public relations. Why would any coach say such a thing when he is ultimately responsible for the way they are playing? He must have rented “Dumb and Dumber” the night before the press conference.
Like Fassel and Reeves, Callahan has been to and lost a Super Bowl, but there aren’t many owners today with the memories of an elephant.
Perhaps Davis is making the hasty firing because there are so many worthy candidates to replace Callahan. Plugging in Reeves, Dennis Green (who is interviewing with the Cardinals today), LSU’s Nick Saban or Cal’s Jeff Tedford could be a quick fix.
But aren’t Raiders’ fans weary of Davis’ history of hiring low-profile coaches? It’s time for the renegade owner to come out of seclusion and coach the team himself. He’s making all of the decisions as it is, right?
Across the bay, it appears the 49ers will give first-year coach Dennis Erickson some more time. 49er brass tolerates losing seasons as well as movie buffs embrace Shelly Long’s roles.
As long as there are so many “coaches” in the front office undermining Erickson’s authority, the 49ers can’t very well hold the former college coach accountable for a 7-9 season. It will be interesting to see who the 49ers put behind center next year and if the franchise will hold onto moody star receiver Terrell Owens.
Speculating is what the postseason is all about. However, wouldn’t it be nice if the guesswork focused on selecting a potential Super Bowl champion?
That’s right, the playoffs do begin on Saturday and it’s anybody’s guess who will supplant the Bucs as the next champion. The Packers and Patriots are the league’s hottest teams and California and New York don’t have a team in the running for the first time in 49 years.
Let’s hope that the coaches that don’t make it to Houston hang onto their jobs.
– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or firstname.lastname@example.org