Rerun season came early for the NFL’s most beloved reality show/key party: "America’s Next Great Head Coach, General Manager or Whipping Boy."
Last week’s episode featured fresh new personalities: college masterminds, special teams coordinators, a dude who left the country for a few years to get his head straight. This week marked a return to formula, as NFL owners rehashed past highlights in search of the tried, tired and retired: Norv Turner, Mike Singletary, Monte Kiffin, Mike Martz, Ken Whisenhunt and (shudder) Jim Mora II.
The Roman numerals at the end of (shudder) Mora II’s name remind us that he is not technically a junior – his middle name is Lawrence, while his father’s was Earnest; the family must have realized prenatally that the name would not fit – and that the NFL has always been plagued with sequelitis. Mora II (shudder) should have been a straight-to-video production, while Jimmy Raye III sounds like Syfy channel fare but is in fact a hot general managerial candidate, as well as the son of the offensive coordinator who needed C3P0 to translate his messages to Alex Smith.
Perhaps buggy software updates are a better metaphor: the second Mora on his third coaching stop with zero to show for it is Mora 2.3.0.
Mora 2.3.0 emerged briefly as a Chargers head-coaching candidate (UCLA gave him a one-year extension on Friday). Going from Norv Turner to Mora 2.3.0 is like going from AutoPilot to AutoDestruct. Mora 2.3.0 is unlike Turner in that he is far surlier and is more likely to focus on getting his next job than preserving his current one at all costs, but he is like Turner in the important respect that neither should ever be an NFL head coach again. I took some shots at Chip Kelly last week, so I just want to be clear here: I would clone Kelly eight times and pack the Supreme Court with him before I let Mora 2.3.0 valet my Honda.
The Chargers are also considering Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, last seen waving a wand over Ryan Lindley and chanting, “Become Kurt Warner: bippity boppity boo!” to no avail. Mike Martz, who spoke to the Raiders about an offensive coordinator position, drew up a plan to steal Whisenhunt’s Warner Wand and, needless to say, 50 people were sacked.
The Chargers at least avoided sequelitis in their GM search, hiring young Colts executive Tom Telesco. The Jaguars also hired a former Colts executive as general manager, though Dave Caldwell was more recently with the Falcons and may just have been the first guy off the shuttle that runs between the two organizations. Caldwell’s first acts with the Jaguars were to fire Mike Mularkey and denounce Tim Tebow. It can only go downhill from there.
Telesco and Caldwell proved last week that it was better to have worked for Bill Polian than to be Bill Polian. Both Telesco and Caldwell followed Polian from Carolina to Indianapolis and were part of the 2000-05 scouting department that surrounded Peyton Manning with talent. Caldwell left before the 2006-10 period when Polian surrounded Manning with ballast; Telesco stayed behind, but his youth and success with the 2011 draft made it easy to pin all the Jerry Hughes-caliber selections on the ex-boss who had taken to angry ranting on ESPN.
Yes, Polian recently adopted the ever-popular anti-mathematics stance by asserting that “Moneyball does not work” when he learned that the Bills were assembling an analytics department, making them one of the last teams in the league to do so. (Most teams do it quietly because they don’t want grumpy old executives-turned-commentators shouting about them that “Moneyball does not work.”) When teams spurn sequelitis and do their homework, they can peer into the workings of an organization and separate the forward thinkers from the grouches doomed to wage a losing battle against polynomials. The only team to express interest in Polian’s services was the Jets, a rare example of bad publicity that is really worse than no publicity.
The Jaguars and Chargers took the top-down approach to staffing their organizations that is used by most successful companies and non-crazy people: owner selects GM, who selects coach, who selects staff. The Jets are trying to build from the center out, with Rex Ryan as the star and everyone else trapped in orbit. Managerial candidates picture themselves as the sliced tomatoes in a Woody Johnson-Rex Ryan sandwich, and suddenly Jacksonville looks inviting. The pepper jack cheese in that Jets sandwich is Neil Glat, who sounds like a Kevin James character but is actually Johnson’s right-hand man. Glat has reportedly been asking “esoteric” questions to GM candidates, prompting Polian to scream, “Esoterica does not work in the NFL!” Forget interviewing the likes of Raye III; Glat should sit down with Lance Armstrong.
The Browns have also chosen to make their organizational flowchart look like a roadmap of Moscow. Team president Joe Banner hired Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski as head coach, then owner Jimmy Haslam announced that Chudzinski would have a say in determining who would direct player personnel, while Chudzinski immediately brought aboard former mentor Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator; so much for hiring an innovator.
Chudzinski also began the search for a defensive coordinator, thankfully announcing that the Browns would run an “attacking-style defense.” It would not be January without hearing that reassurance from every single team hiring a new defensive staff. The hypothetical Browns personnel guru to be named later will assume all the responsibilities and privileges not carved up among Haslam, Banner, Chud, Turner and some high-profile defensive coordinator. In other words, he will be in charge of asking esoteric questions.
Rob Ryan must have heard “attack defense,” seen organizational rigmarole, and figured he was a shoo-in at Cleveland. Ryan boasted that he would be out of work “for like five minutes” after the Cowboys fired him last Tuesday. While Ryan immediately drew interest from the Rams, they did not officially hire him until Monday; with 288 five-minute periods in each 24-hour span, he was off by a factor of 1728 percent. But then, mathematics have no place in the NFL. “I inherited a team that was 31st in the league in defense and made it better,” he said, his Cowboys having lurched all the way to 19th last year. Ryan and Turner share a knack for taking over units ranked near the bottom of the league, surfing central tendency until they reach mediocrity, then declaring it progress. A Turner-Ryan staff would be a Regression to the Mean Dream Team. It would also be a rerun, as the pair coached together on Raiders teams that went 9 -23 in two seasons.
The Cowboys replaced Ryan with Monte Kiffin, 72-year old architect of the Tampa-2 defense. Kiffin’s system is subtly brilliant, and he probably has plenty of gas in the tank, so never mind that the Cowboys have used a philosophically opposite system for so long that no one on their roster is suitable to the Tampa-2, and Jerry Jones is not the patient rebuilding sort. The Tampa-2 is just superficially simple enough for the casual fan to sort-of understand, so its appeal to Jones was obvious.
One problem with the Tampa-2 is that it focuses on pass coverage, with minimal blitzing. It’s aggressive in its own way, but there is no way that it can be described as “attack-style” after years of Ryan influence. The Cowboys gained a fine veteran coach – the “Seinfeld” of this rerun season – but they lost the most important piece of January rhetoric any team can have. We will no doubt get to hear Jones explaining the Tampa-2 in muddled detail in the months to come, which will be fair compensation.
The Browns deserve credit for not leaping on someone like Ryan or searching their 2002 Street & Smith’s annuals for a Kiffin. Chudzinski has paid his dues and will bring fresh offensive ideas to the table if Turner does not pummel them with his lobster mallet. The franchise has suffered from front office philosophical clashes before (see 1999 through three weeks ago), and a careful three-person search for a personnel director may be their first step toward admitting it was a problem. There is no perfect mix of valuable experience and new ideas, only a consensus among rational souls that Mora 2.3.0 has neither.
The Bears and Eagles are also trying to balance old ideas with new. Like jilted lovers on the rebound, the Eagles rushed from Chip Kelly to Brian Kelly, listening to Kelly Clarkson on their earbuds during the drive. Both Kellys elected to remain at their colleges, so the Eagles interviewed Brian Billick. If your name happens to be Kelly Billick, you can expect a phone call from Jeffrey Lurie sometime soon.
The Bears continued their attempt to crash LinkedIn by contacting anyone who could explain the basic principles of stopping a read-option offense – they skipped Dom Capers, wisely – but their search grew stale when they ran out of Marc Trestman and Keith Armstrong-types and had a chat with Mike Singletary. Forget reruns; as a head coaching candidate, Singletary is somewhere between an infomercial and a test pattern.
Rumors surfaced late last week that the Bears hired Trestman; Trestman and the Bears denied them, but it may have been a stall tactic while contract terms were finalized and the Montreal Alouettes coach found the proper French-to-English translation of “attack-style defense.”
Teams like the Eagles and Bears may just have been biding time while in-demand assistants like Mike McCoy (Broncos) and Gus Bradley and Darrell Bevell (Seahawks) finished the playoff runs that created that demand. Since playoff coaches can only cram interviews in during their off days, owners and GMs have plenty of time on their hands to listen to what someone like Singletary or Mora 2.3.0 has to say. That’s what reruns are typically used for: as placeholders in the schedule while producers gear up for an entertaining new season. Bradley and the others hopped on planes just hours after their teams were barely knocked from the playoffs, so we should be getting a fresh batch of episodes soon.
Of course, some television networks consist entirely of reruns. They fill up the edges of our cable tier and no one watches them. The Jaguars and Chargers have been there and done that; it’s always best to take some chances with original programming, even if it means having to ask the esoteric questions.