Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we close within a month of the opening of NFL training camps...
• Brian Billick may be gone from Baltimore after nine years and one Super Bowl title, with his future now cast as a game analyst with FOX and as a co-author of an upcoming book about the NFL. But in one key way his imprint on the league remains beyond his coaching tenure. No fewer than four former Billick assistants in Baltimore are current NFL head coaches, which ties the Colts' Tony Dungy for the league's second-fullest coaching tree.
Billick's former Ravens assistants include Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, Mike Nolan in San Francisco and Atlanta's new head coach Mike Smith, who also happens to be Billick's brother-in-law. Interestingly, all four coached defense in Baltimore, which was always the strength of Billick's Ravens teams, despite his offensive background. Say what you will, but Billick certainly recognized defensive coaching talent when he saw it.
Dungy also has four of his former assistants in NFL head coaching jobs, and all of them worked for him during his six-season tenure in Tampa Bay (1996-2001): Kansas City's Herman Edwards, Chicago's Lovie Smith, Detroit's Rod Marinelli and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. Coincidentally, all four worked on the defensive side of the ball with the Bucs, but that was Tampa Bay's strength as well as Dungy's background too. Whenever Dungy retires, he'll have a fifth member of that club, because the Colts have already named assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell as his successor.
Perhaps the more amazing thing is that Dungy and Billick worked together in Minnesota from 1992 to 1995, where they were defensive and offensive coordinators on Dennis Green's staff for most of that time. Dungy left Minnesota for a head coaching job with the Bucs in January 1996, and Billick did the same for Baltimore in January 1999. Combined, their eight former assistants now comprise one-fourth of the NFL's 32-man head coaching ranks, a pretty impressive feat in any era.
If you're wondering whose coaching tree currently out-does even Billick and Dungy's, look to South Florida, where Bill Parcells now works as the Dolphins new football czar. The Tuna still has five former assistants in the head coaching ranks: New England's Bill Belichick, the Giants' Tom Coughlin, Cleveland's Romeo Crennel, New Orleans' Sean Payton, and Miami's Tony Sparano.
• Once the Giants signed David Carr and drafted Andre Woodson, you could see the end coming. But I'm still feeling a little wistful about New York parting ways this week with reserve quarterback Jared Lorenzen, he of the exquisite "Pillsbury Throwboy'' nickname.
One of my favorite training camp stops in recent years was the Giants in Albany, N.Y., just to get the chance to watch the roly-poly Lorenzen get his share of practice snaps. I always walked away entertained, and believing if John Daly could suit up and play in the NFL, that's what it would look like.
Wishing no ill will on Eli Manning, I always secretly hoped fate would force the Giants to turn to Lorenzen as a starter just once in his career, because if the big lug ever won a game or two he would have immediately ascended to cult figure status in New York. Now we'll probably never get to witness that particular phenomena, and it feels like an opportunity we shouldn't have missed.
• I suppose it was all but inevitable at some point, the confluence of Don Imus and Pacman Jones in the same story. Talk about a couple of guys who have been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late. Try as he might, Imus can't seem to choose the right words to avoid costing himself trouble. And we're about to find out if Jones is making better choices these days in Dallas. By that, of course, I'm referencing quite a bit more than him just opting to go back to using his given name of Adam.
• The more you hear about the slimy way Bobby Petrino chose to end his 13-game drive-by in Atlanta last December, the more you get the feeling the Falcons are so much better off without the University of Arkansas's new leader of men.
According to a league source, on the day Petrino resigned, his coaching staff was left waiting all day without sight or sound of him until he gathered them at about 5 p.m. that Tuesday. That's the day the staff would have normally been responsible for putting together a game plan for Atlanta's Week 15 trip to Tampa Bay, but no one knew where Petrino was from 8 a.m. that morning on.
When Petrino finally met with his staff, a source said Petrino uttered all of about two sentences of explanation, saying he had resigned from the organization and that he had enjoyed working with his assistants. With that, he left the room and headed for his introductory news conference with the Razorbacks.
If you tried to handle such a departure with less grace or class than that, I'm not really sure how one would manage it.
• If the indications coming out of Baltimore are correct and former Heisman winner Troy Smith does win the Ravens starting quarterback job this preseason, new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is likely to be in line for much of the credit. Sources in Baltimore told me last week Cameron's calm and steady approach to teaching has really been behind the quantum leap Smith's game has taken this offseason.
"Cam's very good at figuring out a player's strength, figuring out what he does well, and then tailoring the offense around those skills,'' the Ravens source said. "He's got Troy moving around and doing a lot of the same things he had success doing at Ohio State.''
• New rule that the Raiders would be wise to insert in Javon Walker's contract: The veteran receiver, who seems to have a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, doesn't get to spray champagne on anyone ever again until he finds himself in a Super Bowl-winning post-game locker room.
And yes, that could mean he's in for quite a wait in Oakland.
• I see where Tony Romo is reportedly close to a $10 million endorsement deal with Starter that would give him his own line of clothes and shoes.
That's great. Now if the Cowboys always-telegenic quarterback can somehow negotiate an actual playoff victory as his next feat, I'm sure the slightly out of order procession of these accomplishments will quickly be forgotten.
• Michael Strahan to the Fox pre-game show? Now there's a shocker. He's only been auditioning for that gig since, oh, 2001 or so. Looks like more hi-jinks and hilarity to ensue this season with Terry, Jimmy, Howie and the rest of the crew. Can't wait.
• Bit of a head-scratcher that Daunte Culpepper would turn down an offer to be Green Bay's backup at $1 million for 2008. If it's a potential starting shot he wants -- and it apparently is -- it's hard to imagine where Culpepper might have a better pathway to some time at No. 1 than with the Packers, who are tossing the keys to first-time starter Aaron Rodgers this season.
Culpepper's familiarity with the NFC North from his days in Minnesota seemingly would have been another check mark in Green Bay's favor. Culpepper is thought to be hopeful of landing in Jacksonville, which isn't far from his hometown of Ocala, Fla. But with David Garrard and Cleo Lemon sitting 1-2 on the Jaguars' depth chart, does Jacksonville need Culpepper as much as Green Bay did? This is where I have my doubts about whether Culpepper, who has been self-represented in recent years, is getting sound advice regarding his career choices.
• What a precipitous fall from grace it has been for former Chargers starting right tackle Shane Olivea. The former seventh-round pick was sensational as a rookie starter in 2004, and San Diego awarded him a fat new contract just before the 2006 regular season began, locking up what appeared to be a key building block player for the long term.
But Olivea's play was never as impressive after the new deal, and the three-year starter lost his place in the lineup mid-way through 2007, with Chargers officials questioning whether big money played a role in him losing his motivation. San Diego released Olivea in February, no one signed him, and this week came news that he has been suspended while team-less for the first four games of the coming season due to failing a league drug test.
Sometimes the NFL really does stand for Not For Long.
• Didn't you just know Dallas would eventually find itself in a messy contract stalemate of sorts with that veteran receiver who entered the league in the 1996 draft? But didn't we all assume it would be Terrell Owens and not Terry Glenn? I know I did.
• Has anyone thought of printing up "Free Chris Simms'' T-shirts in Tampa Bay yet? I mean, other than Simms himself, and probably his Jon Gruden-loathing father too?