THIS YEAR, A TOUGH JOB—ROOKIE COACH—IS EVEN HARDER
This is an article from the Aug. 1, 2011 issue
GETTING A TEAM PREPARED after a lockout that canceled workouts and minicamps, prevented personnel moves and pushed back the start of training camp won't be easy for any of the league's coaches, but it will be especially hard for the eight first-year bosses. Here's a look at the task each is facing, from toughest to easiest.
1 Ron Rivera,Panthers
Carolina had two victories last season, might lose running back DeAngelo Williams to free agency, must resolve the trade demand of wide receiver Steve Smith and has to choose between a rookie (Cam Newton) or a second-year pro (Jimmy Clausen) at quarterback. Not an easy first job for the former defensive coordinator of the Chargers and the Bears.
2 Mike Munchak,Titans
After jettisoning Vince Young and losing Kerry Collins to retirement, Tennessee has no veteran QB; star running back Chris Johnson has all but announced he will hold for a new contract; and big-play wide receiver Kenny Britt has all sorts of off-the-field distractions. And, oh, by the way, Munchak must fill the shoes of the most successful coach in franchise history, Jeff Fisher.
3 Hue Jackson,Raiders
Free agency could cost the Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, their best defensive back; guard Robert Gallery, the most dependable member of the offensive line; and free safety Michael Huff. Then there's owner Al Davis, who is always prone to doing the unpredictable. What if he brings in QB Vince Young? How would that affect chemistry?
4 John Fox,Broncos
Fox loves to run the ball but lacks a bell-cow back. Knownshon Moreno has dropped 15 pounds and is talking the talk, but he has had injury and fumbling problems. The Broncos are also thin on the interior of their defensive line and face questions about their secondary, where safety Brian Dawkins is a free agent and cornerback Perrish Cox is facing sexual-assault charges.
5 Jim Harbaugh,49ers
The former Stanford coach inherited talent, but the lockout prevented him from bringing in a QB to replace veteran Alex Smith, a pending free agent who is now expected to re-sign. The Niners have 16 players (six starters) scheduled to hit the open market, and Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Clements will also have to restructure his contract, or he could be cut.
6 Pat Shurmur,Browns
Cleveland is switching to the West Coast offense (which Shurmur used as the Rams' coordinator) and a 4--3 defense, but these should be fairly smooth transitions because the changes fit the personnel. The Browns' biggest concern is retaining its key free agents: cornerback Eric Wright, defensive end Jayme Mitchell, guard Floyd Womack and defensive end Robaire Smith.
7 Leslie Frazier,Vikings
Frazier faces less of a challenge: He was Minnesota's interim coach for three games last year and has a veteran-laden, playoff-caliber team. But there are issues, none bigger than at QB, where Brett Favre has retired and the top two candidates to replace him, rookie Christian Ponder and second-year vet Joe Webb, have two career starts between them.
8 Jason Garrett,Cowboys
No "new" coach has a roster as loaded as Garrett (Dallas's interim coach for the last eight games of the 2010 season) does. And unlike other coaches in this category, he has a Pro Bowl--caliber quarterback in Tony Romo. The Cowboys went 5--3 last year after Garrett replaced the fired Wade Phillips, and there will be no significant changes in offensive or defensive philosophy.