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The Cycle: The NFL Coaching Carousel

The NFL coaching carousel appears to be over for the 2023-24 season. I actually find it amusing these days that the media refers to the NFL seasons and as the beginning of the NFL’s coaching change “cycle.” They actually call it a cycle. It’s like the sun rising, it’s gonna happen no matter what, the only question is how many jobs will come open.

I was reading recently about the “winners and losers” in this years “cycle,” and some believe that the Los Angeles Chargers hiring of Jim Harbaugh made them the big winner. I don’t have an argument about that one. I think Jim helps the Chargers right away and they are in a better place with Harbaugh immediately. But in the NFL, it’s all about winning. That’s it. The division Harbaugh joins happens to feature Kansas City, the new self appointed dynasty, the Bronco’s and the Raiders. Not an easy go, but, Harbaugh has a great chance to make noise in his first year as long as quarterback Justin Herbert stays healthy, and the salary cap doesn’t bite him. And, they do have salary cap issues in Charger land. So, stay tuned.

In my personal opinion, the really big winner in the coaching “cycle” were the Detroit Lions. Look, they were a dropped pass away from the Super Bowl this year. Both of their co-ordinators were assumed to be gone to another franchise as head coaches. Both of them are staying in Detroit. Do you know how big that is? I have to tell you, keeping both Aaron Glenn, and Ben Johnson is the biggest coup in this years “cycle.” I am a big believer in continuity, not only on the field, but on the staff. The Lions keeping these two is as important as what they do in the draft and free agency. That may sound like hyperbole, but, I am serious. These guys clearly have made a commitment to Detroit, and the players who are here see it. It isn’t lip service. These two guys stayed because they feel they have a great chance to win it all in the very near future. That fact hasn’t escaped the players. It sets a tone, from the top down. It’s a huge win for the Lions this off season.

The other part of this “cycle” that surprised me were the names Belichick, Carroll, and Vrabel. All three of these guys are very successful and respected coaches. Belichick is even mentioned as maybe the best ever…even though the Shula, Landry and Lombardi fans would take exception. Anyway, as I write this, those three are still without jobs in football. The most surprising of the three, in my opinion…is Mike Vrabel.

The reason that I am not terribly surprised at Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll are still looking is that to land a head coaching job, the situation they had to find was unique. They are both veterans in the league. Both are in their 70’s. I think an owner, to feel comfortable with them at the helm, needs a veteran team with an established quarterback and a two to three year window to get to the Super Bowl. That’s a hard set of circumstances to navigate. In addition, the prospect of control may be an issue. The two veterans like Belichick and Carroll come with an expectation of control that may not be in sync with a sitting general manager. I’m not saying it can’t happen, I’m just saying the bumps in the road can be problematic. Now, that doesn’t mean these two can’t contribute to a team. As I write this, both are being mentioned as possible defensive co ordinator candidates. That would be totally up to them because when you are not the head coach, you have a boss. Neither of these guys has had a boss for quite a while. It would be an adjustment.

And, let’s be honest. The coaching carousel has started to migrate to the young. Look around the league. The older guys are giving way to the younger group. Mike MCDonald in Seattle, Sean McVay at the Rams. DeMeco Ryans at Houston, they are all in their 30’s. Only 12 of the 32 coaches in the NFL are over 50.

I think Vrabel, on the other hand, was a surprise in not landing a head coaching job. It was just in 2021 when he was coach of the year. He’s still young. I believe he will be a head coach in the NFL again. I’m not sure what went wrong with Vrabel. It may have been as simple as timing. But, he will be back in the mix in the next “cycle.” And, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t surface this year as an assistant on some staff. He’s a good coach.

Oh, and one thing I am sure of…don’t believe any of the crap that was written that suggested Vrabel’s size was a factor in him not getting a job. A  publication, I won’t mention, intimated that “insiders” said Vrabel’s physical size was intimidating, and that was a factor in him not getting another gig. That is such a crock. That suggestion is so stunningly stupid, it leaves me speechless. And, that’s a good trick.

I mean imagine, if that issue was part of the red flag items in hiring a coach, the Lions Dan Campbell wouldn’t have the job in Detroit. He’s a former player and big man. In this day and age, in the National Football League, I can’t believe anyone would even throw that out there. It’s ludicrous. I can’t believe I’m even writing about it. It should get no credence whatsoever, but, I felt it was sooo stupid it needed to be debunked, trashed, disputed, discredited, and thrown out with the garbage. The landfill just got a little bigger.

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