AROUND THE NFL

ProFootballZebras.com had declared (with reason) that Ron Torbert was the likely referee of Super Bowl 53.  But it is John Parry instead.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL has announced the referee for Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

 

John Parry got the nod from the league to referee the game. It is the third time as an official and second time as a referee that Parry has been selected to work a Super Bowl in 19 NFL seasons.

 

He worked last Saturday night’s game between the Cowboys and Rams, which featured a curious in the grasp call during a pass attempt by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. It was a curious call because Prescott was in the grasp of a teammate rather than a Rams defender, but Parry (blew the whistle).

 

Parry’s crew will be made up of umpire Fred Bryan, down judge Edgar Camp, line judge Jeff Bergman, field judge Steve Zimmer, side judge Eugene Hall and back judge Terrence Miles. It is the first Super Bowl assignment for Bryan, Camp and Hall.

 

The folks at Pro Football Zebras had not thought Parry would get the nod because he had a previous Super Bowl (as did Carl Cheffers).  Of the four Divisional Playoffs referees, Torbert and John Hussey have not worn the white hat in a Super Bowl.

 

We would note that after working Super Bowl 46, Parry did not receive a post-season assignment in five of the next six seasons (and then, in 2016, only a Wild Card game, the wild Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game) until this year.

 

In other officiating news, Clete Blakeman (AFC) and Bill Vinovich (NFC) will work the Conference Championship Games.  The DB finds it interesting that Blakeman, from the midst of Chiefs Nation in Omaha will work the AFC game while Vinovich who lives in Southern California has the game involving the Rams. 

 

Both Blakeman and Vinovich had AFC Wild Card games earlier in the postseason meaning that the NFL will use eight referees for the 11 playoff games (Tony Corrente and Walt Anderson also had Wild Card games).

 

Walt Coleman and Pete Morelli are retiring and they will share the referee assignment for the Pro Bowl in Orlando next week.

 

The four first year referees are not eligible for the postseason.  Veteran refs who are not working the postseason are Craig Wrolstad, Brad Allen and Jerome Boger.   

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

The Bears are pondering whether or not disgraced RB KAREEM HUNT is worth a second chance.  Patrick Finley in the Chicago Sun-Times:

 

The Bears aren’t openly pursuing running back Kareem Hunt. But they could one day.

 

On Monday, coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace left open the possibility the Bears could sign Hunt, who was released by the Chiefs on Nov. 30 after video showed him pushing and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last year.

 

While nothing is pending — “We’re not even close to that point,” Pace said — neither the coach nor the GM ruled out a signing when asked a total of six questions about Hunt.

 

Nagy said he spoke with Hunt, who played for him last year with the Chiefs, last week on the phone.

 

“We had a good conversation,” Nagy said. “Here’s a kid that I spent a year coaching on offense. It’s a tough situation. I wanted to make sure that he’s OK but understanding, too, that the situation that happened is unfortunate for everybody. He knows that.

 

“So the only thing I cared about when I talked to him was literally his personal life, and it was a good conversation. He sounded good. That’s it.”

 

Three days after the Chiefs released him for being untruthful about the incident, Hunt went unclaimed on waivers. He was put on the commissioner’s exempt list. He has no pending criminal charges, but it’s unclear if he’ll face league discipline.

 

“Obviously there’s a lot of things off the field that he’s got to take care of,” Pace said.

 

Asked whether Hunt deserves a second chance, Nagy said he was “raised to give guys second chances, not third chances.”

 

Pace failed miserably with his last reclamation project. At the suggestion of then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and with the blessing of chairman George McCaskey, Pace signed troubled 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald in March 2015. McDonald was arrested two months later on suspicion of domestic violence and child endangerment and was immediately cut.

 

Pace was asked what effect that move might have on him signing Hunt.

 

“I think every one of those is unique,” he said. “Everyone is different. All the circumstances are always different. So we’re not even there yet.”

– – –

This on the hiring of Chuck Pagano to run the defense. Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune:

 

The Bears’ search for a new defensive coordinator sure didn’t take long. Less than 60 hours passed from the time Vic Fangio accepted his new job as Broncos head coach to the time the Bears announced that Chuck Pagano would become Fangio’s successor.

 

During a Friday interview in Lake Forest, Pagano hit it off immediately with Bears coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. There was instant chemistry and a vibe that the 58-year-old coach would fit in quickly in the Bears’ high-energy and low-drama environment.

 

As the Bears did their homework on Pagano, Pace likened his feelings to those he experienced when digging into Nagy’s background a little more than a year ago.

 

“The more research we did … everybody you talk to, it just starts bringing you in toward this person,” Pace said. “Chuck checks a lot of boxes that are exciting.”

 

Pace rattled off Pagano’s top qualities. Aggressive mentality. Strong evaluation skills. A collaborative nature. Sharp people skills.

 

“Those are all things that kept coming up the more we met with him or talked about him,” Pace said. “That’s exciting. I think it’ll be good for our defense. We’ve got a lot of good players on that side of the ball and we’re just looking forward to continuing to improve.”

 

That’s the thing. Pagano isn’t coming into a construction zone. Unlike Fangio, he won’t have to clear away rubble at Halas Hall and start building from the ground up. The Bears just came off a season in which they had more takeaways than any other team in the NFL. They allowed the fewest points too. And no NFC team had more sacks.

 

The momentum the defense built is significant. And with 10 of the top 12 defensive players under contract for 2019, including four Pro Bowl playmakers, Pagano’s biggest task may lie in how quickly he can learn his players’ strengths and then match those up with the style of his defense.

 

For this job, at this time, there’s no point forcing things on a group that has enjoyed such high-level success. As Nagy emphasized Monday, the Bears’ defensive players are comfortable in who they are and what they do. There’s little to gain by significantly disturbing that comfort.

 

“In the end,” Nagy added, “I feel comfortable knowing that Chuck is, by no means, a guy who says, ‘Hey, we’re coming in, we’re doing it this way.’ There’s none of that. That’s not who he is and I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”

 

That said, the Bears aren’t naive enough to believe that their continuity won’t be disrupted at least a little even with so many starters and key contributors returning. This season’s success, by all accounts, was a byproduct of the familiarity Fangio had with his players and the confidence those players had in the responsibilities and calls their defensive leader gave them.

 

That bond, that trust just doesn’t materialize overnight.

 

Nagy acknowledged Monday that the defense may inevitably take a step back initially before getting its footing and charging forward again.

 

“It will be really neat to see how that goes,” Nagy said. “We’ll have to monitor that over (organized team activities) and into training camp. But any time you have a change like this, it’s not like going into Year 5 with the same defense. … (Now) it’s about how fast can you get it back up and running.

 

“Chuck understands what he’s getting into here player-wise. And as coaches we all understand that when you’re surrounded by good players, a lot of times it’s the players and not the plays (that make the difference). Chuck has tons of experience. He gets that and he’ll do everything he can to keep this thing rolling.”

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles have re-iterated that QB CARSON WENTZ remains the apple of their eye.  Tim McManus of ESPN.com:

 

The Eagles are sticking with Carson Wentz as their quarterback despite the late-season success of Nick Foles over the past two years.

 

“Yes, Carson Wentz is the quarterback going forward,” coach Doug Pederson said at a joint news conference with executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman on Tuesday. “And in Nick’s case, listen, we’d love to have everybody back throughout the roster, but as I’ve said many, many times, it’s not about one guy, it’s about the team, and we’re going to do what’s best for the team.”

 

Barring a franchise tag designation, Foles can become a free agent this offseason.

 

“We would love to keep Nick Foles,” Roseman said. “You talk about a guy we drafted here and we’ve grown incredibly close with. I don’t know a team that wouldn’t want to have Nick Foles on their roster. Certainly as we go into the substance of those discussions, we haven’t had them yet, but there’s no question we love having Nick Foles as an Eagle in Philadelphia and we’d love to keep him.”

 

Foles, 30, wants to be a starter, however, and could net a sizable payday on the open market, making it likely he’ll be elsewhere in 2019.

 

The Eagles have not moved off their position that Wentz, 26, is their franchise quarterback. He was the lead candidate for MVP before his knee injury in 2017, and threw for over 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 11 games this season while coming off a torn ACL/LCL. He was also playing through back pain for part of the year. It was discovered after Week 14 against the Cowboys that a stress fracture had developed.

 

On Monday, Wentz said that he does not anticipate the back injury to be a recurring issue, and he is hopeful to be on the field with his teammates when the offseason training program begins in April.

 

“We have a lot of confidence in Carson and his ability to be our quarterback and to hopefully be a 19-game starter when we look at the season and what we’re trying to do,” Roseman said. “That being said … quarterback’s always going to be a priority position for us. We’re always going to try and have talent at that position. We’ve got great quarterback teachers in this building. We’re always going to be looking at that spot and trying to improve like any other spot that’s important to our football team.”

– – –

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with advice for QB NICK FOLES and his agent:

 

Last year, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles tiptoed around the elephant in the room regarding his football future, opting to accept the reality that he remained under contract in Philadelphia for 2018 and not jostling for a trade. This year, Foles needs to be ready to take a stand.

 

If, as it appears, the Eagles will play out Foles’ contractual situation in a way that allows them to control his rights for 2019, Foles needs to be sure that everyone realizes that he has plenty of power. From the Eagles exercising a $20 million option for 2019 to Foles invoking his right to buy his freedom for $2 million to the Eagles applying the franchise tag at $25 million or so, Foles should make it clear that he will gladly sign the one-year tender, refuse to sign a long-term contract with the Eagles or someone else that doesn’t take into account the $30 million or so he’d make under the tag in 2020, and prepare to go year to year, Kirk Cousins-style, until Foles gets a fair contract from whoever holds his rights or a chance to hit the open market.

 

Still only 29 years old (he turns 30 in five days), Foles has several years left in the NFL. It’s time for him to finally get a financial reward for his actual and potential contributions, and if the Eagles intend to apply the franchise tag as a precursor to trading Foles, Foles needs to make it clear that he’s no longer going to be a passive participant in the business aspects of his career.

 

Once that franchise tag is applied and accepted, Foles will have real leverage. And he will need to use it.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals are considering bringing in ambitious John DiFilippo to tutor Kliff Kingsbury on the ways of NFL offense.  Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic:

 

After getting fired as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings in December, John DeFilippo seemed to lose all the traction he had built as a young, hot-shot candidate to become an NFL head coach. The 40-year-old could be back in the league very soon, though, and it could be with the Cardinals.

 

DeFilippo has interviewed with the team for its vacant offensive coordinator position, according to multiple reports. John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM was the first to report the news.

 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals apparently have hired a running backs coach, luring James Saxon away from the Steelers, according to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala. Saxon has served in that role for Pittsburgh for the past five seasons.

 

Saxon played eight seasons in the NFL as a running back, spending time with Chiefs (1988-91), Dolphins (1992-94) and Eagles (1995) before beginning his coaching career at Rutgers (1997-98). He’s been a running backs coach in the NFL for 19 seasons, previously working for the Bills (2000), Chiefs (2001-07) and Dolphins (2008-10).

 

So the Steelers have seen their veteran coaches of running backs and the offensive line (Mike Munchak now in Denver) head West.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

The Raiders still don’t have a home field for 2019 – and this report says they haven’t ruled out a return for another lame duck season in Oakland.  Jon Becker of BayAreaNewsGroup.com:

 

Don’t close the door on the Raiders playing one final season in Oakland just yet.

 

The Raiders will meet with the Coliseum Authority one last time to discuss possibly playing at the Coliseum in 2019 before leaving for Las Vegas, the Bay Area News Group has learned.

 

“Yes, there still is a possibility that an agreement can be reached, (I’m) not sure what the odds are, but still possible,” said Scott McKibben, executive director of the Coliseum Authority.

 

Since backing out of a tentative lease in Oakland a little more than a month ago when it was sued by the city, the Raiders have explored playing next season at a number of places. They’ve discussed staying in the Bay Area at Levi’s Stadium, Oracle Park in San Francisco or even Cal. They’ve also talked about San Diego or London.

 

CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reported Saturday the Raiders would most likely play either at Levi’s or at Oracle Park next season. But considering owner Mark Davis has never seemed interested in sharing a stadium with the rival 49ers, the Giants’ stadium or the Coliseum seem like the Raiders’ best local options.

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has indicated the league would like to know the Raiders’ plans for next season “by early January, February,” for 2019 scheduling purposes.

 

But before making a decision, though, the Raiders will at least entertain the idea of another season at the Coliseum.

 

“Once the Raiders have completed all their research on other places we will sit down and talk one last time,” McKibben said.

 

McKibben didn’t indicate when he expected the meeting with the Raiders to happen, but one source told the Bay Area News Group it could be held as early as sometime this week.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com sees the Ravens looking to re-sign LB C.J. MOSLEY:

 

One of Eric DeCosta’s first big decisions as the new Ravens General Manager may be to hang onto one of his own.

 

According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, the Ravens have had contract talks already with linebacker C.J. Mosley, and hope to reach a deal before he becomes a free agent in March.

 

Mosley’s one of their top defensive players, and they have a reputation of keeping their own players in house, a policy that DeCosta saw first hand as he was apprenticing under former G.M. Ozzie Newsome.

 

Of course, if they can’t reach a deal with Mosley before the market opens, the franchise tag is obviously a possibility. But with a need for putting some more parts on offense around quarterback Lamar Jackson, they’d benefit by reaching a long-term deal rather than having one big number sitting on this year’s cap.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

WR ANTONIO BROWN says the truth, his truth, is out there and soon we will all know it.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers (for now) receiver Antonio Brown has allowed people like coach Mike Tomlin and owner Art Rooney II to speak about Brown without rebuttal. The rebuttal apparently is coming.

 

Brown said Tuesday on Twitter that an “interview [is] coming soon.”

 

That message came minutes after Brown posted this message: “Stand up for yourself and stop allowing others to tell u who u are what u are and how u are. Many are watching your every step so be you and be consistent. Via Pops @DeionSanders.”

 

It’s a good observation, but we’ll add this to it: “Get your side of the story out there before the other side of the story hardens into presumed truth.”

 

Although Brown has been pushing back against the Steelers, he has yet to provide his version of any of the events that resulted in him missing a key Week 17 game. He needs to do it, sooner than later.

 

And if he wants it to be credible, Brown needs to pick an interviewer who will ask tough but fair questions aimed at getting to the bottom of the situation, drawing out all relevant evidence while also testing his assertions with common sense and established facts.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

In the last 18 months, the Colts have had an amazing turnaround in their offensive line’s performance.  But now they have fired offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.  Zac Keefer of the Indianapolis Star:

 

The Indianapolis Colts’ first move of the offseason is a stunner: offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo is out.

 

DeGuglielmo’s exit, confirmed by a team source, comes just after one season in Indy. Originally one of three assistants hired by Josh McDaniels before the Patriots’ offensive coordinator elected to back out of his contract and stay in New England, DeGuglielmo stayed on under coach Frank Reich and oversaw the rapid overhaul of a unit that had for years been among the worst in football.

 

Not anymore. Before DeGuglielmo’s arrival, the Colts allowed an NFL-worst 56 sacks in 2017. This season, buoyed by the arrival of sixth overall pick and Pro Bowl guard Quenton Nelson, the career year of center Ryan Kelly and the surprise seasons of right guard Mark Glowinski and right tackle Braden Smith, the Colts allowed just 18 sacks, two better than any team in football.

 

The unit also paved the way for running back Marlon Mack to crest the 100-yard rushing barrier on four separate occasions, a first for a Colts’ rusher in over a decade.

 

It was one of the biggest developments in the Colts’ turnaround season: Andrew Luck finally had protection, and it resulted in 10 wins, a playoff victory and a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

 

Wrapping up the season on Sunday, a day after his team fell 31-13 to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round, Reich heaped praise on his coaching staff,  one he was forced to cobble together late in the coaching cycle last winter after being hired the first second of February. Both coordinators — Nick Sirianni on offense and Matt Eberflus on defense — will return, Reich said, after both drew interest from the Cleveland Browns about their head coaching vacancy. The Browns eventually hired Freddie Kitchens.

 

“I just think we have a top-notch coaching staff,” Reich said.

 

DeGuglielmo’s grating style isn’t for every player, but most of the Colts’ linemen took to him. “He’s just awesome,” Ryan Kelly said midseason. “He gets the most out of guys, not by (shouting expletives) at us all game, but by giving us confidence. I love playing for him.”

 

“Gug is great for that group,” echoed Reich. “Blunt and direct and (a) throwback — the whole deal.”

 

DeGuglielmo was blunt and direct, outspoken during practice and in interviews with the media. He rarely held anything back.

 

“I’m not changing,” DeGuglielmo said of his hard-nosed approach midseason. “If they don’t like me, they need to learn to accept it or move on. Or move me on, one of the two. I’m not changing.”

 

That’s what Reich did Tuesday. Suddenly, he’ll be looking for a new coach to lead one of the best lines in football. DeGuglielmo’s assistant this past season, Bobby Johnson, could be among the candidates to replace him.

 

This from Mike Garafolo:

 

@MikeGarafolo

Stunner: The #Colts are letting OL coach Dave DeGuglielmo go, sources say. That line made tremendous leaps this season. But Frank Reich wants his own guy. DeGuglielmo was the only offensive coach Josh McDaniels had hired. Reich is actually recommending him to other coaches.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Mike McCoy, the ex-Chargers coach who has been fired during the season in each of the last two years, could get another chance in Jacksonville.  Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union:

 

Mike McCoy, who is long on experience but short on recent success, interviewed with coach Doug Marrone, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

McCoy, 46, was fired in October after seven games as Arizona’s offensive coordinator. The Cardinals were 1-6 at the time and finished the season with the NFL’s worst scoring offense (14.1 points per game). The Jaguars were 31st at 15.3 points per game.

 

Prior to his stint in Arizona, McCoy held the same post in Denver for 10 games before being fired in November 2017. That dismissal came amid a six-game losing streak that dropped the Broncos’ record to 3-7. Their offense ranked 27th in scoring (18.1 ppg) that season.

 

McCoy worked under Vance Joseph in Denver and Steve Wilks in Arizona. Both have since been fired.

 

Before stops in Denver and Arizona, McCoy was the head coach in San Diego for four seasons, totaling a 27-37 record. Under McCoy’s guidance, the Chargers went 9-7 and won one playoff game in 2013. They went 9-7 the following season but missed the playoffs. McCoy was dismissed after posting records of 4-12 and 5-11 the next two years.

 

With Philip Rivers at quarterback, the Chargers ranked 12th, 17th, 26th and ninth in scoring during McCoy’s tenure. They’ve ranked 13th and tied for sixth in Anthony Lynn’s two seasons.

McCoy got his start in the NFL as Carolina’s quarterbacks coach in 2000. He remained on staff with the Panthers through the 2008 season before his first stop in Denver, which lasted four seasons as offensive coordinator.

 

From 2009-12, the Broncos’ offense ranked 20th, 19th, 25th and second in scoring. The big jump in 2012 coincided with the arrival of quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions during his first season in Denver.

 

It’s possible Marrone could view McCoy as a quarterbacks coach, though Scott Milanovich remains on staff.

 

Several previous candidates for the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator position have since found work elsewhere. Todd Monken was hired as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator. Gary Kubiak, who was expected to interview with Marrone on Tuesday, was hired as an offensive adviser in Minnesota.

 

It’s unclear whether any candidate has been offered a job in Jacksonville.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills may be adding veteran coach Joe Philbin to their staff.  Ryan Talbot of UpstateNewYork.com:

 

The Buffalo Bills’ search to fill coaching vacancies has not been widely publicized. As of now, Buffalo has openings at wide receivers coach, offensive line coach and special teams coach.

 

Buffalo reportedly interviewed Keith Armstrong for their special teams job and had interest in interviewing Sean Kugler for their offensive line coach, but both coaches have found new homes. No other names had been linked to Buffalo until ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported on Monday that Bills had interviewed Joe Philbin for an unidentified role with the team.

 

Via ESPN:

 

“Meanwhile, former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who served as the interim head coach for the final four games this past season, has interviewed with at least three teams — the Bills, Browns and Minnesota Vikings– according to multiple league sources.”

 

As mentioned by ESPN, Philbin most recently served as the Packers’ offensive coordinator and interim head coach. He was also the Miami Dolphins’ head coach from 2012-2015.

 

Demovsky did not specify which opening Philbin interviewed for with Buffalo, but it’s likely that he interviewed for the team’s offensive line coach vacancy. Between his head coaching job with Miami and his stint in Green Bay, Philbin served as the Indianapolis Colts’ assistant head coach and offensive line coach (2016-2017). He could receive a similar title if he joins the Bills.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

“No one thinks we can win,” is TOM BRADY’s version of being an underdog in a game for the first time more than three years.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Patriots were favored in every game this season and postseason. They were favored in every game in 2017, regular season and postseason. They were favored in every game in 2016 except two games during Tom Brady‘s Deflategate suspension. And they were never an underdog in 2015. But they’re not favored now.

 

New England is a 3-point underdog at Kansas City on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, and that makes this the first time since 2014 that Tom Brady has played a game in which he was the underdog

 

The last time was November 30, 2014, when the Patriots visited Lambeau Field and were 3-point underdogs against the Packers. The Patriots lost that game, 26-21.

 

Now Brady is an underdog again, finding himself in an unfamiliar position of most people expecting him to lose, even if he convinces himself he’s in that position all the time.

 

All told the Patriots have been underdog 17 times with Brady since Brady returned in 2009 from his knee injury.  Only one of those games was in the postseason, at Denver in the 2013 NFC Championship Game (a loss).

 

In those games, the Patriots are 9-8 outright, 12-5 against the spread.  New England also won at Arizona as a 9-point underdog with Jimmy Garoppolo as the QB on September 11, 2016.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Out of all the many job offers we are sure that Gregg Williams has received in the last few days – it looks like he is taking the chance to coordinate the defense for Adam Gase.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

We’ll have to wait until Gregg Williams’ next media availability to find out how many job offers he’s received since the Browns passed on making him their permanent head coach, but it appears he’s settled on the one he wants to take.

 

Williams was linked to the Jets after Adam Gase was hired as the team’s head coach last week and Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Williams is finalizing a deal with the team on Tuesday. Williams went 5-3 as the interim head coach in Cleveland last year and it looks like his new job will have some similarities to his previous one.

 

Gase wasn’t talking about Williams specifically on Monday, but the longtime NFL coach sounds like a perfect fit for the job responsibilities.

 

“It depends on who we end up bringing in here and how I feel like I need to use my time,” Gase said, via the New York Post. “I’m pretty sure that everyone is in the same boat that I need to spend my time with the quarterback. Whoever we bring here on the defense has to do a great job of making sure that he’s really the head coach of the defense. That’s what we’re looking for.”

 

Assuming the talks don’t break down, the Jets would be the eighth NFL team to employ Williams since he entered the league as an Oilers assistant in 1990.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

MINORITY COACHES

For whatever reason, more of the NFL’s black coaches seem to rise up on the defensive side of the ball.

 

And for whatever reason, more offensive coaches get hired as head coaches.

 

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com has more.

 

Eric Bieniemy stood and smiled in front of the Kansas City Chiefs’ press corps last Wednesday. He spoke deliberately and passionately, with pauses in between as if he were a well-spoken professor or a preacher.

 

Days earlier, no fewer than five NFL teams expressed interest in interviewing the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for a head coaching job. He took many of those interviews, and given his upbeat weekly news conference, it seemed like he landed one of the three remaining jobs on the market (all of which he interviewed for).

 

Alas, one day later, the New York Jets hired former Miami head coach Adam Gase to be their new leader. And one day after that, news trickled out that the Cincinnati Bengals were leaning toward hiring Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, while the Miami Dolphins were expected to hire New England Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

 

Assuming the Taylor and Flores hires will become official when their teams’ seasons end — both are coaching in the NFL’s final four — it will bring an end to another head coaching cycle that was surprisingly rough for Bieniemy and other top minority candidates, like Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Kris Richard and former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell.

 

Of the eight new head coaches hired by NFL teams over the past two weeks, only Flores — a Brooklyn-born son of Honduran immigrants — is a man of color.

 

“I would have put my house up on Bieniemy getting a job … and lost the bet,” said John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that was created in 2003 to promote diversity and equality of job opportunities across the NFL.

 

A statistical step back

Flores will join Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers and Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers as the only minority head coaches in the league to start the 2019 season. That’s half the high-water mark of eight that was in place at the start of the 2018 season.

 

On the surface this is a step back, one that — along with the fact that five of the eight head coaches who were fired this season were men of color — isn’t a great look for the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, who has made it a goal to increase front-office and coaching-staff diversity in a league of players that is approximately 70 percent black.

 

“I do feel that the group we had, starting with Jim Caldwell, Kris Richard, all these guys, we had guys we knew could be head coaches,” said Wooten, who regularly fields calls from NFL teams seeking the names of qualified minority coaching candidates. “We’re not talking about just quarterback whisperers. We’re talking about guys we know have ability to teach, develop and, above all, lead.”

 

That’s why Wooten is primarily interested in identifying how the NFL got to this moment — with all these qualified black coaches on the outside looking in — and rectifying the situation.

 

It’s clear the success of Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay — a brilliant 32-year-old strategist and quarterback guru who is white — contributed to at least five other teams (the Cardinals, Bengals, Jets, Browns and Packers) attempting to copy the formula by hiring young offensive coaches with quarterbacking backgrounds during this cycle. And given the fact a majority of the league’s quarterbacks coaches and offensive coordinators are white, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the McVay prototype also skewed toward a preponderance of white coaches hired during this cycle, too.

 

Plan of action: ‘We want to push this further’

Wooten and the Fritz Pollard Alliance have settled on a new proposal that they hope to pitch to the NFL at the scouting combine in late February, one they hope will increase the number of minority coaches in the mix for these jobs over the next several years.

 

“You’ve gotta get into the system, and the only way to get into the system is go back to what Bill Walsh did,” Wooten said.

 

Walsh, the legendary Hall of Fame coach for the San Francisco 49ers, was renowned for building a diverse coaching staff. During his 10-year tenure in San Francisco, he hired and trained minorities who went on to become head coaches or offensive coordinators, including Dennis Green, Ray Rhodes and Sherman Lewis.

 

And while the league has already adopted the Bill Walsh Minority Coaching Fellowship — which has provided training camp coaching experience to over 2,000 minorities since it was established in 1987 — Wooten says the next step is to take that fellowship to the next level by establishing a pipeline that lasts during the regular season, too.

 

“We want to push this further and be more like Bill Walsh and put people on the [regular season] coaching staffs — that was his primary thing,” Wooten said. “We’ve got to ask the league that each team — [because] they’re going to hire quality control guys and assistants anyway — take one minority on offense and one on defense. That’s what we’ve got to ask them to do.”

 

Wooten added that ideally, the proposed minority coach on offense would have some quarterbacking expertise, which would in turn help the coach climb to the role of offensive coordinator, leading to a fully stocked background that would be more attractive in the head coaching market in an increasingly pass-happy league.

 

“We’ve been thinking and looking at this for quite a while,” Wooten said. “We’ve already talked about it, but we plan to make it a formal proposal at the combine because we have the support of the [NFL’s] diversity and inclusion committee.”

 

Wooten said they’ve been talking to committee members for quite a while, and will pitch the idea to two or three NFL committees at the combine.

 

“I think the committees realize there are times in which we need to do certain things,” Wooten said. “It’s just like [the recent] strengthening of the Rooney Rule, where the owner or decision maker now have to be in the interview.”

 

The current reality has left many quality minority head coaching candidates disappointed and wanting, yet Wooten is encouraging overlooked candidates like Bieniemy, Richard and Caldwell to focus on becoming better coaches and leaders while helping their teams win.

 

“They’re with good teams, and they know the road is long and it’s crooked,” Wooten said. “You have to endure. They’ll get another shot. This comes around every year. Just keep working.

 

“As the old folks say … get up, get your boots on and let’s get after it again. The race is not given to the swift, but the one that endures to the end.”

 

The DB thinks it might be a bit early to be proclaiming the three coaches that Paylor and Wooten are concerned about – Caldwell, Bieniemy and Richard – as passed over.

 

Richard seemed to do nice work alongside Rob Marinelli with the Cowboys, but we should note that he was fired as DC by the woke Pete Carroll after the 2017 season for reasons that remain murky.  The Seahawks played about the same defensively in 2018 under the new DC Ken Norton, Jr. (also a man of color).

 

Bieniemy, age 49, surely must be a good coach or Andy Reid wouldn’t have had him alongside for so many years.  The former running backs coach for the Chiefs, he has just one year under his belt as OC.  At the same time that some are wondering why Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor have been elevated so quickly as associates of Sean McVay, we would also have wondered if Bieniemy got a head coaching job after just one year as Reid’s primary associate in the Kansas City offense.

 

Caldwell, age 63, is a more nuanced situation.  A rare African-American who has been a lead offensive coach for many years, he has had two head coaching runs already.  He’s 62-50 with Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford in Indianapolis and Detroit.  The book is that he’s a good coach, well-respected, but also a very low-key personality.  His body of work probably is comparable to Bruce Arians, but he just doesn’t have the spark that would convince an owner or GM who wasn’t familiar with him to take a chance with him on a turnaround the way Arians did.  Perhaps an even better comparison for Caldwell is Mike Mularkey – both were canned last year for Belichick disciples after 9-7 seasons and both have not been re-hired as head coaches in 2019.

 

More on the subject from Robert Klemko of SI.com on the “privilege” that propelled the four young coaches to the top of the hiring heap – as near as we can figure out it is that they had fathers, fathers who were coaches.

 

Let’s start with some facts. The 2018 firings left just two of the NFL’s 32 teams with African-American head coaches, in a league in which the players are better than 70% African-American. This latest wave of hirings has done nothing to ameliorate that disparity; the league’s head coaching fraternity has gotten far less diverse. Of the eight newly hired or presumptive head coaches, one, Brian Flores, who’s in line for the job in Miami, is black. Two coaches are recycled—Bruce Arians in Tampa and Adam Gase with the Jets. In addition to Flores, first-timers include Vic Fangio (Denver), Freddie Kitchens (Cleveland), Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona), Matt LaFleur (Green Bay), and Zac Taylor, the presumed candidate in Cincinnati. In this year’s process, the ineffectiveness of the Rooney Rule—which requires that all teams interview at least one minority candidate before making their hiring choices—was laid bare once and for all.

 

But instead of focusing on who the newcomers are not, it may be more instructive to examine who they are.

 

In 2016, I wrote about that year’s rookie class of quarterbacks, a predominantly white group of young men who, through special talent and hard work, ascended to the 1% of the most difficult and important position in the game.

 

What made them who there were? Turns out they had a lot in common. They were mostly sons from two-parent homes, with strong parental advocates who guided their amateur careers with ample resources and a depth of knowledge about the challenges ahead. They were from affluent families, with few exceptions, and they carried themselves with confidence and a sense of responsibility unmistakable in successful quarterbacks. They were invested in themselves, and perhaps as important, they’d been invested in—by the elaborate framework of advocates and resources surrounding them. It was no mistake that they were NFL quarterbacks. There was perhaps one Cinderella story in the bunch; the rest were bred to be where they were.

 

These new head coaches have a lot in common with our quarterbacks.

 

Take new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, 39, who played football for his father at New Braunfels High in Texas. His late mother retired from teaching, only to rejoin the high school so her schedule matched with her sons. Kliff played quarterback.

 

Throw in Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, 44, whose father, Freddie Kitchens, Sr., was a Gadsden, Ala., youth coach. Freddie Jr. played football for Freddie Sr. as a boy, and Senior had the means to ferry Junior to and from practice and games for numerous youth baseball teams, too. Freddie played quarterback.

 

Then there’s new Packers coach Matt LaFleur, 39, son of Denny and Kristi LaFleur. His father was a standout linebacker at Central Michigan, and later, linebackers coach at the school. Matt would get his coaching start as a graduate assistant there in 2004, years after the retirement of his father, who maintained close ties to the program. LaFleur, of course, played quarterback, as did his brother, now an assistant with the 49ers.

 

As for presumed Bengals head coach Zac Taylor, currently the Rams’ quarterbacks, coach, he played quarterback at Nebraska and got his start in coaching as an assistant under his father-in-law, Mike Sherman, at Texas A&M. Here’s my colleague, Andy Benoit, on the Taylor family:

 

The Taylors grew up in Norman, Okla., on a cul-de-sac in the type of neighborhood you see in a 1990s Americana family sitcom. More than 20 kids lived nearby. A neighbor had a big square yard, and the touch football games were epic. “Everyone in Norman knew our block,” Zac says. “There were five kids in our neighborhood who started at QB in high school. We had Division-I athletes from a number of sports available to play at any moment.”

 

The Taylors’ dad, Sherwood, played football for Barry Switzer at Oklahoma in the 1970s and coached briefly for the Sooners and Kansas State Wildcats in the early ’80s. “He was always the most physical when we played sports, not afraid to elbow an eighth grader,” Zac says. Besides Zac and Press, Sherwood and their mother, Julie, had two daughters. It was a close-knit family with strong traditional values.

 

The exception to this group, Brian Flores, is an all-too-rare example of a young, African-American coach leapfrogging more experienced candidates on the way to a top gig. He’s been propelled not by quarterback expertise or pedigree upon entry to the NFL, but through a 15-year long alliance with Bill Belichick, the most successful head coach in NFL history and one of football history’s renowned defensive minds.

 

To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with what the Kingsbury, LaFleur, Taylor and Kitchens families have accomplished.

 

Parents should strive to make lives better for their sons and daughters. The greatest and most successful American families are built on sacrifice and experience, and it’s no coincidence that the majority of successful NFL coaches got head starts from their dads.

 

But let’s not pretend this is a meritocracy. The journey of the most elite football coaches mostly mirrors that of the most elite quarterbacks. There’s an exceedingly narrow path to becoming an NFL head coach at a young age, as Kingsbury, Kitchens and LaFleur have done, and the first step on the drawbridge—the prerequisite—is privilege. That necessarily leaves a number of boys, white and black, on the outside looking in. At an immediate deficit are those from single-parent homes, those whose fathers aren’t coaches, those who aren’t surrounded by advocates and resources and examples of professional success in close proximity.

 

As a result, the game suffers. When the pool of candidates in any field is narrowed by pedigree, connections and nepotism, many of the best potential candidates are never seeing the light of day.

 

The statistics tell us the boys in this group are disproportionately children of color, and the history tells us that America’s legacy of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, the War on Drugs, and every other manifestation of systemic oppression of African-Americans in this country is a direct influence on the station of the typical black child in America.

 

This is only part of the problem, of course. The argument can be made that white coaches may appeal more to predominantly white decision-makers, whether those decisions are conscious or unconscious, the result of intentional racial bias or bias unknown to the boss himself. An equally compelling argument could be made that black coaching candidates are held to higher standards than white candidates.

 

But the problem of under-representation among NFL head coaches, at its root, begins much earlier. It begins with socioeconomic disparities deeply rooted in this nation’s sad, exploitative history. It’s about our collective willingness to ignore that history, and to be satisfied with programs and policies meant to curb racial inequality, which in reality amount to nothing more than Band-Aids on gunshot wounds. It’s about the way black, football-loving boys grow up in comparison to the men they end up playing and working for in pro football.