Predicting the HC Candidates - The Retreads

Stephen Dunn

Do you believe in second chances? NFL history is full of coaches who stumbled initially, and then got another shot where they more than took advantage, they won championships. Maybe the next legend is still out there, once discarded but waiting to be rediscovered. Will the Panthers go for a retread Head Coach? It would fulfill the need for experience and might be the quickest way to build a winner. A nice thing about a retread is that though their first job as a HC did not necessarily end well many times they know where they made their mistakes and can work to prevent them the next time out.

Once upon a time there was this well-regarded defensive coordinator who learned to coach from an NFL legend. One day, he got his big chance to be the head coach of an NFL franchise. He took it, and had decent, but not spectacular results.

The team he took over was coming off a 3-13 season, but they had a decent quarterback to build around and some scattered talent to go with him. The new coach assembled a staff full of people who would one day be household names, and proceeded to go 6-10, 7-9, and 7-9 in his first three seasons.

In his fourth season, things finally clicked and they went 11-5 and made a decent playoff run that included a nice win against the New England Patriots. Then the next year the wheels fell off, and they went 5-11. Our well-regarded defensive coordinator with the good staff was let go.

But his career wasn't over. He went back to work for the NFL legend, following him from one team to another, until he got a second chance. After four years on the sidelines, he was offered another head coaching job. His new team was coming off an 8-8 season, and like his first team they also had a promising quarterback, but they had even more talent around him.

In his first season he went 5-11, but there were signs that things would turn around. And they did. Since then, Bill Belichick has amassed a 134-43 record with five AFC Championship wins and three Superbowl championships. Think the Browns feel silly for letting him go after the 1995 season?

The point is, just getting a shot at coaching an NFL team puts you in an exclusive club. And often, those who are fortunate enough to get the chance twice make the most of it. No one knows if the next Bill Belichick is out there, but he may be, and this post will take a look at a few "re-tread" candidates who may get interviews for what is likely to be an opening in Carolina in 2013.

As with the other posts in this series, a few filters have been applied to narrow down the list of names to evaluate. When looking at a retread, a little emphasis has been placed on coaches who've had sustained success or who've built toward it. Coaches like Tony Sparano, who inherited talent and watched the team's performance fall year after year, have been rejected.

Coaches who are near the end of their career have also been left off the list. The Panthers are looking for a long term solution, not someone with an almost built-in expiration date.

Coaches who only made it a year or two before losing their positions are also gone. There's no need to repeat the Josh McDaniels experiment in Carolina, is there?

And those who have already had their second chance, well let's just leave it at that. Sorry coach Wannstedt, coach Phillips, your ship has sailed...

And for the Cowher/Gruden/Holmgren fans out there, give it time. This list is about people who do their work on the sidelines, not the broadcast booth. Maybe the Panthers need a coach who likes to coach more than talk about coaching. And we can talk about those guys later.

So after going through that criteria, five names bubble to the top. All of them experienced limited success, all of them wore out their welcome, and each of them will likely be a head coach again, someday.

Mike Sherman, Miami Dolphins Offensive Coordinator

Mike Sherman seems like an almost obvious candidate. He coached in Green Bay for six seasons, and had a 59-43 record with four trips to the playoffs. Granted, he had Brett Favre, but it takes more than a great Quarterback to win consistently in the NFL.

Sherman's teams were very good offensively, but never more than the middle of the pack defensively until his final year. His staff was stable on offense, but he went through three defensive coordinators in his final three years.

With Favre under center, the Packers ran what might best be called a West Coast Offense, gunslinger style. Sherman led his team to break franchise records for rushing in 2003 and passing in 2004. They also won four straight NFC North titles.

Sherman was fired from Green Bay after a 4-12 season that saw him place three pro-bowlers on the IR list and 29 interceptions from their star quarterback. Although it was his first losing season, and Green Bay's first since 1991, management knew that Favre would retire soon and wanted to take the entire team in a new direction.

Sherman is an offensive-minded coach, and would probably get a lot out of Cam Newton. However, he would need a strong defensive coordinator to succeed. At Texas A&M, his teams were known for blowing late game leads, and that's something to be concerned about.

Brad Childress, Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator

Childress also got the chance to coach Brett Favre, and with him he came within one ill-advised pass of the Superbowl.

In 2006, he took over a mediocre Vikings team that had gone 32-32 over the previous four seasons, and led them to steadily improving 6-10, 8-8, 10-6, and 12-4 records. Aside from Favre, he was hampered in Minnesota by poor quarterback play, and his inability to develop Tavaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels led to Favre's signing.

When Childress was hired, there was an issue with the way he released wide receiver Marcus Robinson. In 2010 the Vikings traded for Randy Moss, and history repeated itself as Childress made a unilateral decision to release him four weeks later. This did not sit well with fans, and there were grumblings from the players as well.

The local media kept this issue in the center of fans' minds, and articles were written calling Childress' integrity into question. Like former Carolina coach John Fox, Brad Childress prefers to keep his thoughts to himself. Unlike Fox, who just stays quiet, Childress is known to disassemble and outright lie to the media, and they don't like it.

The Vikings started the season 3-7, and amidst the bad press he was getting, Childress was fired midway through the season.

Childress is another West Coast Offense disciple from the Mike Holmgren tree. Prior to the Vikings, he was Andy Reid's offensive coordinator. And as a head coach, he had a solid staff that's spawned two more head coaches in Leslie Frazier and Mike Tomlin.

Mike Tice, Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator

Like Childress, Tice also coached the Vikings. In fact, he was the coach that went 32-32 in the four seasons prior to Childress' arrival. However despite coaching under Dennis Green, he's not known for a West Coast Offense, at least not the Bill Walsh variety. Instead, Tice used the Joe Gibbs system as a head coach, which is a tight-end heavy variant of the Air Coryell offense.

Tice actually took over the coaching duties of the Vikings for the last game of the 2001 season, when Green was fired. In his first full season as the head coach, the Vikings led the league in rushing. In his second, they led the league in total offense. In his third, they didn't lead the league, but they broke team records for passing yards, total yards, and touchdowns.

In short, his teams were known for high powered offensive performances. Having Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss didn't hurt, but he still managed to get the most out of what he had. Under his coaching, the Vikings recorded an NFL record for the most consecutive games with over 300 yards of offense with 36.

Tice made the playoffs in his third season, although he did it at 8-8. He won his wildcard game, and then lost in the divisional round. He finished a fairly disappointing 9-7 in his following year, and the Vikings allowed his contract to expire.

Tice did well on the field, but off the field his Vikings were an embarrassment. In 2005 their star running back was caught at the airport with a drug-test avoidance device. Tice himself was caught in a ticket scalping scandal. And during the Vikings bye week, several members of the team went on an infamous boat party that resulted in four misdemeanors and a pretty memorable Steve Smith touchdown celebration.

In sum, Tice proved to be a very good game offensive game day coach, but off the field he let his players run wild. That may not play well in Carolina, but with good veteran leadership and a GM that drafts high character players, it could work out.

Todd Haley, Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator

Haley was the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 2009-2011, and was hand-picked by new GM Scott Pioli to take over after Herm Edwards was fired. Haley was also a member of the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff that faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Haley's known as an innovative offensive coach, and under his direction as Offensive Coordinator, the Cardinals were third in the League in scoring. In the playoffs, they scored 30 points in their first three games, before falling to the Steelers 27-23.

When he took over the Chiefs, Haley maintained a good number of Herm Edwards' staff, including offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. The two clashed, however. The Chiefs lost their first five games, and Gailey pushed Haley to change offensive systems midway through the season. Instead, Haley dismissed Gailey and handled the play-calling for the remainder of the season.

Haley also had difficulty managing his star running back, Larry Johnson. Johnson took to twitter to question Haley's coaching abilities, and in reaction he was suspended, and then released. After that episode, the team responded and won three of their final eight games to finish 4-12. That record may look bad, but it was a two game improvement for the Chiefs.

The offense that Haley had installed, and to which Gailey objected, was a variation of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive scheme run in New England. In search of a new Offensive Coordinator for 2010 that understood that system, Haley brought in Charlie Weis. On the defensive side, he added Romeo Crennel to his staff.

The Chiefs started strong, winning their first three games en route to a 10-6 finish. They lost in the Wildcard game, but for a franchise that had won a combined ten games in the previous three years, the season was viewed as wildly successful.

In 2011 however, the couldn't build on their success. Injuries exposed just how thin the roster was, and eventually they succumbed to attrition. The Chiefs lost starting running back Jamaal Charles in a blowout loss in week two game, which followed a blowout loss in week one. They started 1-3, but rallied to get to 4-4 before losing starting QB Matt Cassell to a season-ending hand injury. The Chiefs lost three more in a row, and at 5-8 GM Scott Pioli decided that enough was enough, and released him.

On the surface, it may have been a surprise to casual observers, but the Chiefs were 28th in total offense, they were erratic, and his last game was their sixth blowout loss of the season. This one was to the Jets, and during the game his sideline behavior resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Haley certainly showed talent on the sidelines, and it's questionable whether it's fair to blame him for the talent level of the team. He also wasn't shy about bringing in big names as coordinators. He was young and a little combustible, but he's currently doing good work in Pittsburgh, and it's not far fetched to think of him on the sidelines again in the near future.

Jack Del Rio, Denver Broncos Defensive Coordinator

Del Rio is a familiar name to most people who follow the Panthers, having the distinction of being the only coordinator under the Fox tenure who was actually popular with fans.

Del Rio lasted only one season in Carolina before being given the whistle in Jacksonville. While there, he racked up a 68-71 record for a franchise marked by disinterested ownership and poor fan support. In his first five years, he made the playoffs twice and had a 45-35 record. This, despite being in a division that featured Peyton Manning in his prime.

In his first season, he lifted the Jaguars defense to the league's best, but on offense he was never as fortunate. He largely mishandled a quarterback situation between Mark Brunell and Bryan Leftwich, announcing that he was benching Brunell and giving Leftwich the job in his rookie season, without talking to the players first. Brunell ended up starting, but was replaced in week four due to injury.

Del Rio insisted Leftwich was his starter in 2007, and then cut him days before the season opener. He did the same thing to David Garrard in 2011, cutting him five days before the opener and naming Luke McCown the starter. Then he benched McCown after two games, putting in rookie Blaine Gabbert, who spent the rest of the season learning how to duck and cover instead of how to step up into the pocket.

In short Del Rio's problems in Jacksonville were in how he managed his staff and players. His tenure was filled with quarterback chaos, inconsist efforts, staff turnover and late-season collapses. He refused to give his assistant coaches interview for lateral positions, and as a result he probably lost current Panthers quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, who left when his contract ended.

He's also known for an interesting decision in his motivational methods. He placed an ax and a wooden stump in the locker room to remind players to "keep chopping wood." They did, except for punter Chris Hanson, who accidentally hacked into his leg instead and was placed on injured reserve.

Del Rio has run a variety of defenses, and currently starts with a cover 2 in a 3-4 front. On offense, in Jacksonville he ran a West Coast, but he would be likely to yield to whatever his Offensive Coordinator wanted to run if he came to Carolina. If he gets the job, at least he won't have to worry about who's lining up under center, and could focus instead on getting his team over the hump in the playoffs.

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