Posted January 23, 2014

Cover-Two: Grading the coaching hires

AFC South, Cover-Two, NFC East, NFC South, NFL Coaches
Mike Pettine is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Mike Pettine is the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. (Bill Wippert/AP)

The 2014 coaching carousel is in full swing. Which teams are making the right decisions for their future? Chris Burke and Doug Farrar grade all the offseason coaching hires in the latest Cover-Two.

Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns

Chris Burke: C-plus

You know, I really thought I would hate the Browns’ eventual move far more than I do. Pettine has paid his dues in the NFL and his success at multiple stops made a head-coaching spot almost an inevitability. Pretty impressive rise for a guy who was coaching high school ball at the start of the 2000s.

The problems here are with how this was handled and the time it took. The former left the Browns reeling in terms of public perception — not the end of the world, especially if the team wins, but a hit that a struggling franchise did not need; the latter means that the Browns now have less time to prep for the offseason and a smaller group of potential assistants from which to choose.

Pettine ought to get the most of a Browns defense that was reworked prior to 2013, and the pieces mostly fit what he likes to do. Offensively, he’ll need a hand. And considering that side of the football has been such a struggle, one wonders if he’ll be able to turn things around there.

Doug Farrar: D

Not that there’s anything specifically wrong with Pettine per se — there’s no read on him as a potential NFL head coach outside of his time as a defensive coordinator for the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. He’s been successful at that level, his players love him by all accounts and it’s entirely possible that he could possess the necessary qualities to be a fine head coach in the NFL someday.

The problem is not with Pettine. The problem is with the Browns, who have chased several candidates following their decision to replace former head coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season. Several of those candidates rebuffed Cleveland’s advances, perhaps due to the reported disconnect in communication between various members of the team’s front office. Pettine clearly wanted a shot at a head coaching position, no matter the possible dysfunction, and who will be calling the shots when it comes to personnel moves remains to be seen.

Pettine is known for his aggressive, blitzing style on defense, which would make him a nice fit with defensive coordinator Ray Horton had the front office not chased Horton out after making the call on Chudzinski. Unless everyone is reading the Browns wrong, the best thing about this job for Pettine is that when it all goes sideways, he won’t be blamed for it.


Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings

Chris Burke: B+.

Zimmer is going to have his work cut out for him in Minnesota, where there are massive issues at quarterback and a roster overall that was fourth-best in a shoddy NFC North this season. His background as a defensive guy means that he will need some help addressing the offensive issues, too.

That said, the Vikings also finished dead last in the league in points allowed, and Zimmer brings immediate credibility there. He has thrived as the Bengals’ defensive coordinator since taking that job in 2008, and a head coaching job was the inevitable end of the line for him there. Giving Zimmer a chance ought to be looked at as a preferable decision by the Vikings over trying to recycle someone like Gary Kubiak or Mike Munchak. Zimmer will be hungry to prove his worth, and he has the expertise to really bolster the Minnesota defense.

Doug Farrar: A+.

Frankly, it’s about damned time.

Mike Zimmer has been one of the NFL’s most respected defensive minds since he became the Dallas Cowboys’ defensive coordinator in 2000. He filled that position with authority until 2006, gaining the total respect of Bill Parcells along the way, and that’s no mean feat. He was unfortunate enough to be the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2007, when Michael Vick’s dogfighting and Bobby Petrino’s outright cowardice turned that season into a nightmare for all involved. Undeterred, Zimmer signed on with the Bengals in time for the 2008 season, and his Cincinnati tenure has been the bow on a coaching career that goes back decades.

The Vikings are very wise to look past Zimmer’s blunt personality and lack of P.R. polish to see the lifer of a coach he really is. Zimmer had been turned down for other head coaching opportunities in recent years because he tells it like it is — even to front offices who don’t want to hear it — but that in no way diminishes his potential as a head coach.

The Vikings are dealing with roster attrition on both sides of the ball, and they desperately need a franchise quarterback. They play in a very tough division, and this probably isn’t a one-year rebuild. But they had to start with Leslie Frazier’s replacement, and in my humble opinion, they hit it right out of the park with this choice.


Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions

Chris Burke: C-.

If there was any doubt that the Lions’ ownership and front office believed Jim Schwartz’s fiery personality was in large part to blame for the team’s recent failures, this hire puts that thought to bed. Whether or not the Lions actually wanted Ken Whisenhunt, they’ve landed themselves a well-respected coach — with Tony Dungy’s support — who has the head coaching experience so badly desired here.

Will that be enough? The roster in Detroit is talented enough to contend for a playoff spot again in 2014, but the issues with discipline, on and off the field, will stand as a massive challenge for the low-key Caldwell. The hope above all is that Caldwell can get Matthew Stafford back on track, and should he succeed, the Lions may wind up as one of the league’s more dangerous teams. Right now, though, this gives the impression of being an uninspired hire — one the Lions’ brass perhaps scared itself into after the Schwartz gamble backfired.

Doug Farrar: D

Frankly, this makes the least sense of all the head coaching hires, and it might be the biggest mismatch for the coach in question. Caldwell was rightly praised for opening up Baltimore’s offense late in the 2012 season when he was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator following the firing of Cam Cameron, and the Ravens’ subsequent Super Bowl win took a lot of the sting out after Caldwell presided over the Indianapolis Colts’ 2-14 Peyton Manning-less season. But what happened to the Ravens in 2013 really bears further investigation. In Caldwell’s first full season in charge of the offense, the passing game regressed somewhat and the run game completely bottomed out. Injuries played a part, but the lack of cohesion must be laid at Caldwell’s feet.

The Lions had Ken Whisenhunt in mind, but Caldwell was a recommendation from Tony Dungy to the Lions’ brass, and Dungy was happy enough about the selection of his former assistant in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis that he predicted a playoff run for the Lions nest season.

Unquestionably, the Lions have all the talent to make that happen. But they’re been struggling with cohesiveness as a franchise for years, and Caldwell has done nothing to date to give assurance that he’s the right captain for a rough-riding ship full of alpha males. Caldwell may prove the naysayers wrong, but he looks a lot more like a placeholder and position coach, not someone the Lions should give this much control.


Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans

Chris Burke: B.

How much of Whisenhunt’s success in Arizona was attributable to Kurt Warner? That’s the big mystery here as Whisenhunt embarks on another coaching gig. No doubt, he deserves a ton of credit for helping Warner enjoy one last hurrah before heading off into retirement, and both Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers thrived under Whisenhunt’s tutelage. That background alone had the Titans (with Jake Locker), Lions (Matthew Stafford) and Browns (TBD) inquiring here.

But Whisenhunt was just 18-30 in the years after Warner left the desert, which led to him losing his job after 2012. Clearly, he earned enough respect in the locker room and around the league to warrant all the attention he picked up this season, but he will face some skeptics. The proven results outweigh the curiosities for now, and a Titans team that was right in the thick of the playoff race all season now has upgraded its staff.

Doug Farrar: B.

Whisenhunt did great work with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh when he was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2004 through 2006, and he was a big part of Kurt Warner’s career rebirth when the Arizona Cardinals made him their head coach in 2007. Whisenhunt’s subsequent “failure” to make chicken salad out of guys like Derek Anderson and Kevin Kolb should not be held against him, especially and specifically because he did such a great job with Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers’ offense in 2013.

Now, Whisenhunt’s primary task will be to discern whether his new team should go forward with Jake Locker, who was taken with the eighth pick in the 2010 draft. Locker has been hit-and-miss with his mechanics and production to date — he’s an amazingly athletic quarterback who still has a lot to learn, and one year left on his rookie contract to show that he can do it. There’s also the matter of what to do with running back Chris Johnson, who has $8 million base salaries in each of his next two seasons and has expressed dissatisfaction with the way he was used in 2013. But Whisenhunt inherits a quality offensive line, a lot of great players on defense, and he’ll be in a division that didn’t exactly beat the world last season. If he can either fix Locker or get the right replacement in the draft, this hire should work. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy frequently praised Whisenhunt for the job he did as offensive coordinator, and recently said that he went above and beyond. Whisenhunt definitely deserves another shot.


Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins

Chris Burke: D+.

Jay Gruden probably will receive more of the blame than he should for the issues Cincinnati had on offense — Andy Dalton’s play at times, like in the playoffs against San Diego, hamstrung him some. Still, this does not feel like a groundbreaking move for the Washington franchise. Perhaps a huge chunk of that may be because defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will reportedly stick around on the new staff, despite the 2013 Redskins underperforming on that side of the football.

Gruden’s background working with quarterbacks obviously carries to the nation’s capital the hope that he can get Robert Griffin III back to being the dynamic player he was in 2012, as opposed to the banged-up, hesitant QB Washington dealt with this season. But Gruden’s preference for a pass-first scheme may contrast with the best of Griffin’s abilities at the NFL level.

True to form for this franchise, owner Daniel Snyder may have gone for name over substance here. Nothing really jumps off the page about Gruden’s past work, particularly coming off the inglorious playoff exit.

Doug Farrar: B.

It’s entirely possible that no head coach could be entirely successful with Dan Snyder as his team’s owner, but Gruden will have a better chance than most. During his three years in Cincinnati he learned to deal with an owner in Mike Brown who knows far less than he thinks he does, and Gruden unquestionably developed Andy Dalton to the peak of his (rather obvious) limitations. Gruden simplified things for Dalton, and as the Bengals added more and better weapons, their offense chugged along as far as Dalton could take it.

Now, in Washington, Gruden will work with a general manager in Bruce Allen who he worked with in Tampa Bay from 2002 through ’08. As long as Gruden and Allen are on the same page, it could solve at least some of the dysfunction that’s been going on with this team since Snyder bought it. The disconnect between Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III was clear, and Griffin’s talents far outstrip Dalton’s, so Gruden comes in with a headstart. We don’t yet know if Gruden has the ability to oversee everything, an important attribute in his new position, but given the circumstances, the Redskins could have done a lot worse.


124 comments
gooniegoogoo4
gooniegoogoo4

I have to be honest....Gruden is entering an unprecedented situation in REDSKINS history.....


You ask....what do you mean by 'Unprecedented'??


I'll tell you....unlike Shanahan, Zorn, Gibbs, Spurrier, Schottenheimer before him.....The Redskins have:

1) A relatively young roster with young players (not old veterans) at a # of skill positions....Love or hate Shanahan....they did purge roster of their old talent and drafted young.

2) An abundance of cap room that hasn't been in Washington since.....ever. If the Redskins cut the 4 players with large cap #s they are supposed to cut their Cap Space goes from 30 to as high as $ 49 Million.

3) THIS IS THE KEY......for the 1st time since before Snyder bought the team they may have a Front Office and Coaching Staff that are not just young and talented but actually on the same page.

4) In addition to their cap space....they also have all but 1 of their draft picks. Usually the redskins had cap space or draft picks but not both......this year is different. Given that they will probably trade Cousins for something.....we shall see.


Unprecedented

Chris P1
Chris P1

How can anyone grade "coaching hires" BEFORE they've even coached ONE season?? Besides, some of these franchises (Cleveland) have such poor ownership that a new coach probably won't make much difference. Also, if you don't have a quality QB in this league, you're doomed.

Mark20
Mark20

I think this desire to find a head coach "who has a great defensive (or offensive) mind" is way over rated. They are not the O or D coordinators, they are responsible to pull the whole team together in all aspects. They are like the CEOs of the team. Look at Bill Belichek, a supposed defensive genius. When is the last time the Pats had an outstanding defense? As a Pats fan, it's a long time ago. You need to find a good leader, not someone who is simply good at X and O's on defense. Luckily, using Belichek again, he is also a good leader.

ascii44136
ascii44136

I'll die a Lions fan but once again we're "full of talent, and full of hope" in anticipation of a new season, only to be given the same ole Lions of 45+ years. We should have been in the Playoff's this year for sure, but (once again) found a way to lose out. Maybe they need a new stadium (sarcasm)

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

Chris and Doug are you guys related to Don Banks because this seems like the type of hack article he would write.... How can you give a competent grade to any coach before the first snap of the football.. AND WHY ? are you trying to make it look like RG3 had anything to do with the hire in D.C. why?  because its easy to make vilains out of black athletes in the media and guys like Doug and Chris take advantage of it any chance they get !


How about this i will give your article a giant "F" for failure,  lacking in any originality and having the nerves to call yourselves writers. Now if the all media were forced to stand behind what they said ..ie lose thier jobs then i would take things they say seriously, and if they kept getting things  wrong it would be more interesting at years end when they are standing in the unemployment line with the coaches they were vilifying all season long

Whatever
Whatever

Whisenhunt took the wrong job. He should have taken Detroit, where he could have jump started that offense under Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson just like he did in Arizona with Warner and Fitzgerald. He's going to suffer in Tennessee, unless they draft a ready-to-play QB. 

As for the other teams -- who knows. Caldwell may do well with Stafford and Johnson, but without Peyton in Indy he failed miserably (but with the QBs they had and that team getting old, most coaches may also have failed). Zimmer should do well in Minnesota, but I'm not sold on Gruden, particularly because Washington is a mess of infighting thanks to Shanahan and his monstrous ego.

BarrySoetoro
BarrySoetoro

If not for Peyton it would be "Tony Who"?? Dungy should have a statue of Peyton in his house and thank it every day.

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

TONY DUNGY RECOMMENDED ROD MARINELLI. That's all you need to know. 

Starstruck
Starstruck

Gruden is already publicly knuckling under for RGIII, so he will be little more than a yes-man for RGIII and Snyder. 

PWINGS
PWINGS

Re: Pettine  "Unless everyone is reading the Browns wrong, the best thing about this job for Pettine is that when it all goes sideways, he won’t be blamed for it."

Who won't blame him for it? The media? The fans? Ask Chudinski who ownership will blame for it. Go ahead, ask him!

Clayton_Bigsby
Clayton_Bigsby

So, what exactly are these grades based on? Because if it's coaches taking the money, Whisenhunt gets a A+. But, if we look at potential to ever win a Super Bowl, the it's an F.

Also, Zimmer, Caldwell, Gruden...I mean what's the criteria? Best hire? Worst roster? Mostly they just appear dumb.

JohnDThorpe
JohnDThorpe

Caldwell and the Lions will win more games this year than any of the other teams who hired new head coaches.


If Burke or Farrar want to take bets, they know where to find me.

WillWillis1
WillWillis1

Putting the grades in context would make them more "useful" measures. For example, Burke gives the Zimmer hire a B+. That fundamentally implies the Vikings could have done better. Therefore, it stands to reason that Burke should have pointed out by name the "A" grade coaches that the Vikings passed over (same for Farrar's grades). 

maca13
maca13

Not sure why people are so high on Zimmer, he's only thrived as a DC when the HC he was under had a strong defensive background - Parcells in Dallas and Lewis in Cincy. Otherwise he was mostly average, except Atlanta, which was a train wreck. Wisenhunt was useless without Warner and was a good, but not great OC in Pittsburg. His offense has never been top 5 without Warner running it. 

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Vikes: Everyone & Grandma gives Zimmer high praise, but a bit generous, Doug, no (A+)?;

Lions: Then a bit stingy with Jim, guys.  Nice resume, JC.  Peyton's absence a shock ('11);

Titans: One year they're getting the bum's rush (Ken & Jim), then back in clover.  Bridges.

Redskins: You guys a regular Siskel & Ebert, quite a range here (the (+) was nice, Chris), kinda' like North assessment ("shoddy" v. "very tough").  Variety is good.  One thing we can't blame on coaches (Gruden) are INTs (Dalton), which shoulda' saved Schwartz (Stafford late).


Doug: "Griffin's talents far outstrip Dalton's."  Andy got careless late, but Rob's more than a tweak away from solid.  Good breakdowns, fellas, I learned a lot...really.

MarkCalasade
MarkCalasade

Zimmerman is going to be a great HC. Despite his not being a QB guru, this is the move the Lions should have made.

Wombat
Wombat

Mike Zimmer was the best coach in Cincinnati... we Bengals fans will miss him! Good Luck with the Vikings Zim!

gary41
gary41

Whisenhunt is not capable of handling the current deficiency at QB existing at Tennessee or developing a qualified replacement, based on history.  Jay Gruden would have been much better.  Hard to imagine why Whisenhunt didn't go to Detroit, where he could operate with a known quantity at QB.  All of these replacements are a notch deficient for various reasons and the Browns, if they ever find anyone remaining in the mix, is another matter.  Except for the Redskins, which acted quickly for a reason, it looks like a lot of teams made hurry up decisions, without great thinking.     

rskins09
rskins09

Seems almost impossible to predict whether a new head coach will be a success or not --- almost like a crap shoot .. 

DWJ08
DWJ08

Odd. I thought that coach's grades were given out after there was at least a season of work to judge.

Cool
Cool

Chris Burke must have an evil twin that writes every other article for him.  In an article about the Caldwell hire in Detroit he makes sure everyone knows that no coach is a sure thing.. and then you come over to this section and you read how Lovie Smith is pretty much.. the best choice anyone could make.. and then turns his attention to dissing on Caldwell.. Lovie get's a grade of an "A" while Caldwell gets a grade of "C-"    Which is it Mr Burke, are there no sure things or not.  Giving someone a grade of an A means you fully expect them to succeed.

DavidHarte
DavidHarte

Whisenhunt has proved he can't spot of develop young QBs so why would a team with a talented, young QB hire him?


Unless an established leader is available, and Kurt Warner is not coming back, the Titans are in trouble.


Bad choice for this team.

dandaec
dandaec

Looks like Burke gives Gruden a D+ only because they are keeping Haslett. jay Gruden has been a winner wherever he has played or coached. What grade would Burke have given the Skins for the Joe Gibbs hire in '81? You give the Titans passing grade because of Whisenhunt and his success with Rivers, but failing grade to Skins, ignoring Grudens success with a much less talented QB? Gimme a break!

Starstruck
Starstruck

I think most readers would agree that if we grade these SI new hires - Burke and Farrar - they would each get an F-. It's presumptuous and ignorant for internet bloggers to grade coaching hires before they even move into their team offices. 

Chris P1
Chris P1

@ascii44136The Lions have talent.....but, like Dallas, they just don't do the little things well and are undisciplined.

FranklinMint
FranklinMint

@Whatever In addition to the money, the Titans gave him more control over his staff (Lions insisted he keep some coaches) and insisted on keeping a 4-3 defense (Whiz prefers a 3-4). 

AndrewM1
AndrewM1

@Whatever- Tennessee offered him $1M more, I hear, so, no, he didn't take the wrong job.  Also, if you look at how much cap space is allocated to how many players, Tennessee is going to have a lot more flexibility going forward for a coach who wants to build the team he wants.

GeoMack
GeoMack

@BarrySoetoro  Tony Dungy turned around the Bucs who had 18 straight double digit loss seasons before he came to town. If you want to criticize his offenses in Tamp that's fair but he did a great job instilling a winning attitude during his tenure in Tampa. And for thanking Peyton, why didn't the Colts win a SB before he went to Indy???? He has publicly admitted his shortcomings with the offense in Tampa but had he not fixed the defense in Indy while leaving Peyton alone the Colts probably never win the SB. 

Chris P1
Chris P1

@StarstruckI thought that RGIII might become a "franchise" QB. Instead, he looks more and more like a "franchise-killing" QB.

lazaro
lazaro

@Clayton_BigsbyWho's "they"? Do you mean the coaches appear dumb? Or the writers? Or the Illuminati? What's the criteria for "dumb"? How can "they" be "dumb" if there are no criteria?

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@JohnDThorpe I would be happy to take your bet as well. Anyone who thinks Caldwell was even a passable hire should really stop talking about sports. 

Starstruck
Starstruck

@JohnDThorpe Thank you for your input, Tony Dungy. My guess is that Caldwell goes no better than 8-8 in his first year. 

lazaro
lazaro

@WillWillis1 "Therefore, it stands to reason that Burke should have pointed out by name the "A" grade coaches that the Vikings passed over (same for Farrar's grades)."

No, it doesn't stand to reason that at all.

rjfisher72
rjfisher72

@MarkCalasade If Zimmer was hired that could have worked out, but would have been dependent on who the Lions hired as their OC. With the $$$ given to Stafford, they will sink or swim with Stafford's progress.

Rupe
Rupe

@gary41 He had one head coaching job where his big move at QB didn't work out due to injury issues.  How is that any indication that he's incapable of handling "the current deficiency at QB"?  Care to discuss how he developed a rookie QB as the Steelers Offensive Coordinator?


Mjt1884
Mjt1884

@DWJ08  I thought so too but since the article is titled "Cover-Two: Grading the coaching hires" I guess it only reviews the candidate that was hired. Time will tell...

Starstruck
Starstruck

@Cool Lovie hit the ground running by planning for this for the past year. He already has assembled his staff. On the other hand, who is Caldwell going to recruit? Retreads. 

Rupe
Rupe

@DavidHarte  Yeah, he did an awful job of developing a young QB when he was the Steelers OC...it took two entire seasons to get him to the Super Bowl.  Unacceptable.

Wombat
Wombat

@dandaec It will be interesting to see if Andy Dalton has a better year without Gruden or if Gruden has a better year without Dalton. As a Bengals fan, Gruden was good but not great. He abandons the running game constantly. Hope he does better for you Redskins fans!

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@StarstruckNot all of us.  Some of realize that this stuff is for entertainment purposes only and, thus, don't take it that seriously.   These guys get paid to provide content and to attract readers, and even if you don't like what they write, they seem to be doing their jobs well.

JakeNelson1
JakeNelson1

@Mjt1884 @DWJ08 I think it's a matter of "how well does what we know about this coach's background, philosophy, attitude, etc., match up with what their new team needs?"

rjfisher72
rjfisher72

@Starstruck @Cool I don't see any re-treads being mentioned for Caldwell's staff, their DC is going to be the Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin (he's been a DC in college at Florida but never in the NFL) and their OC will probably be Clyde Christensen who was an OC with the Colts the 3 years Peyton was with the Colts.


Lovie is hiring a college HC retread in the Tedford to run their offense.


SinkOrSwim227
SinkOrSwim227

Hmmm I don't like the sound of that! We are big on the running game!! But, only time will tell. #HTTR

Starstruck
Starstruck

@JoeCabot I doubt that either SI.com or these writers consider their opinions to be for ' non-serious entertainment only.' That's not why they are hired. 

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@rjfisher72 @Starstruck @Cool I'm less worried about retreads for coordinators. A lot of people can't make the leap to HC, but that doesn't mean they aren't good coordinators. 

el-cid
el-cid

@JoeCabot @Starstruck Bingo.  We're reading an online article from a sports/entertainment rag.  Lighten up everyone.  We argue about this stuff for fun.  

JJRR
JJRR

@JoeCabot @Starstruck "oh this isn't meant to be that serious" does not count as an excuse for "these two guys opinions are wrong and they don't appear to know what they are talking about".  It may be bleacher report, but its not the onion.  

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Starstruck Do you think that they believe that this stuff is written to change humanity?   Seems like the level of seriousness is up to the reader, and some of you take these things more to heart than do others.