Hiring head scratchers
Two more NFL teams filled their coaching vacancies today. Both moves stunned me.
Carolina hired Matt Rhule away from Baylor, one week after Rhule stated he would be staying in Waco. $70 million over six years was too much to pass up.
Now, Rhule must dertermine whether or not (S)Cam Newton is the right quarterback in Charlotte for 2020 and beyond. Newton missed all but the first two games of 2019 with a foot injury, and he is nowhere near ready to participate in any kind of drills, especially those which involve contact. Newon has been a shell of himself since winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player and leading Carolina to a 17-1 record before losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
If I were Rhule, I would wipe the slate clean. Time to move on and groom someone new. Maybe the Panthers go with a bridge–Eli Manning might be interested–and draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, which would be wildly popular in the Carolinas, in 2021.
Carolina is nowhere near as wretched as it was in the late 1990s and early 200s, when Rae Carruth was convicted of murder-for-hire and the Panthers went 1-15 in 2001, but nowhere near 2015. The Panthers are clearly no better than third in the NFC South right now. They need to make up their mind on Newton, or else they’ll fall behind the Buccaneers and farther behind the Saints and Falcons.
The track record of college coaches succeeding in the NFL is mixed. Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carroll won national championships and Super Bowls. Barry Switzer did as well, but there’s an asterisk since the team was molded by Johnson. Chuck Fairbanks was moderately successful in New England after leaving Oklahoma. Dennis Green, formerly at Northwestern and Stanford, coached the Vikings to a 15-1 regular season in 1998 with the highest-scoring offense in NFL history at the time, but Minnesota fell in the NFC championship to Atlanta. Sooners legend Bud Wilkinson bombed out with the St. Louis Football Cardinals in 1978 and ’79 after 14 seasons as an analyst and politiicaan.
The Giants, who coveted Rhule, instead looked up Interstate 95 and plucked Patriots receivers and special teams coach Joe Judge.
In November 1970, the Saints fired Tom Fears and replaced him with J.D. Roberts (see below), who at the time was the coach of a minor league football team in Richmond. The morning after the hiring was announced, numerous callers to the Saints’ offices asked “Who the hell is J.D. Roberts?”. If this were 1970 or 1980 and not 2020, the Giants’ offices might have callers asking the same question about Joe Judge.
Judge is 38. He has been on Belichick’s staff since 2012. He previously was an analyst or some other low-level staffer under Saban at Alabama for three years, including its 2009 national championship. He played at Mississippi State for Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom during a period when the best the Bulldogs could hope for was not to be as terrible as Vanderbilt.
Supposedly he’s like Belichick and Saban, a douchebag who hates the media and only cares about what a player can do for him right now, not what he did in the past. Eli, you’re better off getting the hell out of New Jersey.
If the Giants wanted a coach on the Patriots staff, why not go after Belichick himself? He was Parcells’ defensive coordinator for eight seasons, including the 1986 and 1990 Super Bowl championship seasons. He didn’t get the Giants job after Parcells was forced to step down in May 1991 becuase Belichick was already in Cleveland.
Belichick has accompolished more than anyone could have dreamed with the Patriots when he was hired in 2000, and with the uncertainity surrounding Brady, this would be the best time to bail. Where better to go than the place where he cut his teeth and became the NFL’s preeminnent coordinator? The Giants are in sorry shape, and if he could turn BIg Blue back into a champion, he would cement the legacy he seeks as the greatest NFL coach ever.
Giants general manager David Gettelman–who drafted Newton in Carolina and somehow kept his job while Pat Shurmur didn’t–is going to offer the offensive coordinator job to Jason Garrett, whose tenure as Cowboys coach was terminated Sunday when Jerry and Steven Jones refused to renew his contract. Not a bad idea to bring in a former NFL quarterback (who played collegiately just down the road from the Meadowlands at Princeton) with head coaching experience. Garrett coached quarterbacks when Saban was with the Dolphins in 2005 and ’06.
I’m beginning to wonder if John Mecom was secretly calling the shots in the Giants’ coaching search.
Mecom, who owned the Saints from their inception in 1967 until selling to Tom Benson in early 1985, made some of the worst coaching hires in NFL history, or at least in the Super Bowl era, which began the year before the pros came to the Big Easy.
Tom Fears, a Hall of Fame receiver for the Rams in the early 1950s, was the Saints’ first coach. He was an assistant to Lombardi in Green Bay before going to Atlanta for the Falcons’ first season in 1966. Fears proved playing the game and coaching it are worlds apart. Fears preferred veterans, which left the Saints as the NFL’s second oldest team (behind George Allen’s Rams) by time the 1970 season kicked off. Save for Doug Atkins, the Hall of Fame defensive end from George Halas’ glory days, and Billy Kilmer, who was buried behind John Brodie in San Francisco, none of the Saints’ old farts did anything.
Like Jerry Jones, Mecom called the shots in the early days, and the Saints made the dreadful mistake of trading the #1 pick in the 1967 draft for Gary Cuozzo, Unitas’ backup in Baltimore. Mecom became enraptured by Cuozzo’s performance in a 1965 game in relief of an injured Unitas. The Colts used the Saints’ #1 pick to draft Bubba Smith, who became an instant All-Pro. He would have followed Art Donovan and Gino Marchetti into the Hall of Fame if not for injuries.
Fears was fired midway though the seaosn and replaced by J.D. Roberts, an ex-Marine who was an All-American under Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma, winning the 1953 Outland Trophy as college football’s outstanding lineman. Roberts’ training camp practices were pure hell: three hours twice a day, both in full gear. He even ordered full-contact practices during game weeks, a practice which was falling out of favor.
In his first game leading the Saints, Tom Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal, a record which stood until 2013, to defeat the playoff-bound Lions.
Roberts was Archie Manning’s first NFL coach. As a rookie, Manning engineered big wins over the Rams and Cowboys, the latter of whom returned to New Orleans three months later and defeated the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. After defeating the Cowboys, the Saints went 4-16-2 through the end of 1972.
Roberts was fired four games into the 1973 exhibition season and replaced by John North, who was hired in the offseason after a long stint as an assistant in Detroit. North’s first regular season game saw New Orleans get destroyed by Atlanta 62-7 in Tulane Stadium. The Saints had back-to-back 5-9 seasons in ’73 and ’74, up until then their best records. However, after a 1-5 start in ’75, North was gone.
Hank Stram, who won Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs, was hired in 1976. Manning missed the entire ’76 season with an elbow injury, and the Saints went 4-10, although one of the victories was over the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Stram ordered backup quaterback Bobby Scott to throw a pass on the game’s final play, and it went for a touchdown to Tinker Owens. After the game, Stram ordered his players to carry him to the center of the field, but Chiefs coach Paul Wiggin refused to shake his hand.
Manning returned in ’77, but he was still limited. The Saints bottomed out on December 11 of that season with a 33-14 loss to the Buccaneers in the Superdome. It was Tampa Bay’s first NFL victory after 26 consecutive losses. Stram was fired, although Mecom waited until two weeks after Super Bowl XII was held in the city, presumably to avoid media questions.
Dick Nolan, who led the 49ers to three consecutive division championships at the beginning of the 1970s, replaced Stram. Nolan led the Saints to 7-9 in ’78, with two of those losses coming to the Falcons on last-second touchdown passes by Steve Bartkowski. In the 1979 draft, the Saints blundered greatly by drafting Texas punter/kicker Russell Erxleben 11th overall. Erxleben proved his worthlessness in the ’79 season opener. When a punt snap went over his head in overtime, Erxleben went back inside his 10-yard line to retrieve the ball. He threw a chest pass which was intercepted by James Mayberry at the 6. Mayberry sauntered into the end zone to give Atlanta a 40-34 victory.
After defeating the Falcons 37-6 in the rematch in Atlanta, the Saints were 7-6 heading into Decmeber with a Monday Night game vs. the Raiders at home. New Orleans led 35-14 midway through the third, but Snake Stabler, down to his final three games in Oakland, led the Silver and Black to 28 consecutive points and a 42-35 victory. It may have been an omen for Tom Flores, a rookie coach in ’79, for almost 14 months later, the Raiders returend to the Superdome and defeated the Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
The Saints ended 8-8 in ’79 after defating the eventual NFC champion Rams in what was thought to be their final game in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
In 1980, the Saints house of cards collapsed. That was the infmous year of the “Aint’s”, with fans wearing bags over their heads to games both home and away. Following a 27-7 loss on Monday Night Football to the Rams in the Superdome (one night before Roberto Duran said “No Mas” to Sugar Ray Leonard) which dropped the Aint’s to 0-12, Nolan was canned.
Interim coach Dick Stanfel, a Hall of fFame guard during his playing days, was in charge when the Saints blew a 35-7 third quarter lead to the 49ers and lost 38-35 in overtime in the game which began the legend of Joe Montana’s comeback magic.
The next week, the Aint’s won their only game of 1980, defeating the Jets 21-20 at Shea Stadium on a day where winds gusted in excess of 40 MPH (64 km/h).
Bum Phillips, a close friend of Mecom, was hired three weeks after he was fired by the Oilers. Phillips almost got the Saints to the playoffs, but came up just short. In the 1982 strike season, New Orleans was tied with Detroit and the Giants for the last NFC spot at 4-5, but the Lions held the tiebreaker edge and got in. In 1983, the Saints could go to the playoffs by defeating the Rams in their season finale, but lost 26-24 despite not yielding an offensive touchdown. Los Angeles scored its points on two interception returns, a punt return, a safety when Jack Youngblood sacked Stabler in the end zone, and last but not least, a 42-yard Mike Lansford field goal on the game’s final play.
My brother and I attended our first NFL game on 4 November 1984, when the Packers defeated the Saints 23-13. Three weeks later, Mecom announced he was selling the Saints. In March 1985, Tom Benson ponied up the $70 million and became the owner of an NFL franchise to go along with his numerous automobile dealerships in Louisiana and Texas.
Bum stayed around in 1985, but resigned after 12 games. Son Wade coached New Orleans in its final four games of ’85.
Benson hired Jim Finks to run the whole footballl opertaion in January 1986. Finks hired Jim Mora as coach, and the Saints have not been plagued by bad coaching since, save for the three-year disaster with Mike Ditka.
Back to the Giants.
The good news is Parcells was largely unknown when he was promoted from defensive coordintator to head coach in 1983 to replace Ray Perkins.
The bad news is Belichick assistants have largely failed in the NFL. Josh McDaniels was booted after 29 games in Denver. Matt Patricia is an epic fail in Detroit. Even Saban was a pedestrian 15-17 in Miami.
Sorry about the dissertation, but I got on another roll.
Posted on 2020-01-07, in National Football League and tagged Bum Phillips, Carolina Panthers, Dick Nolan, Hank Stram, J.D. Roberts, Joe Judge, John Mecom, John North, Matt Rhule, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Tom Fears. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.