The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for

Interim in Vogue


When the Redskins finally put Jim Zorn out of his misery, it will be confirmation they are giving up on the season. History tells us that's a sure thing, kind of like the "wait 'til next year'' that was the annual cry of the Brooklyn Dodgers I rooted for so passionately in my youth.

But firing a coach in midseason isn't giving up the future. Raymond Berry, Marty Schottenheimer and Art Shell tell us that. So does Mike Singletary. And most of all, Marv Levy.

Levy was hired by Buffalo in 1986 after it fired Hank Bullough with the team 2-7. He was 61, although he shaved three years off his actual age because he thought (probably correctly) that a 58-year-old would be more employable.

His team went 2-5 to finish that '86 season and was 7-8 in 1987. From then on, Levy was 114-65, with four straight Super Bowl appearances. The Bills lost them all but the trips earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame and an eternal place in the hearts of fans in Buffalo, now likely to miss the playoffs for the tenth straight season.

The other four were (or are) midseason replacements who went on to turn around their teams.

Berry took over the Patriots in 1984 and had them in the Super Bowl the next season, although they lost to the Bears 46-10 in one of the more memorable blowouts.

Schottenheimer replaced Sam Rutigliano in Cleveland in 1984 and got the Browns to AFC title games in 1986 and 1987, losing the former in overtime after John Elway's brilliantly engineered 97-yard drive tied the game in the closing seconds of regulation.

Shell became the first African-American coach of the modern era when he replaced Mike Shanahan after four games with the Raiders in 1989 (Shanahan was the Lane Kiffin of that era, a 33-year-old wunderkind who wouldn't obey Al Davis.) Shell had the team in the AFC championship game the next season (it lost 51-3 to Levy's Bills) and was 56-41 through 1994 in his first stint under Davis.

Singletary is currently 3-2 with the 49ers after finishing 4-3 last season, looking very much like a keeper rather than an "interim.''

"Interim'' coaches seem in vogue these days because owners and GMs know they can't turn around a bad team in midseason. This year, they are even more likely to hang on to struggling coaches because of the Super Bowl winners on hiatus for one reason or another: Bill Cowher and Mike Holmgren voluntarily; Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan involuntarily.

Plus Tony Dungy, who at age 54 says he's retired for good. I buy that just as I buy the idea that the others will return.

So assuming Zorn goes, he may be the only one fired before the season ends -- a lot of the coaches on hopeless teams are "saviors'' themselves, first-year guys brought in to turn things around.

The rest of the half-dozen coaches who may be in trouble?

They might start winning and get a reprieve.

By Dave Goldberg  |  October 21, 2009; 9:50 AM ET  | Category:  Coaching , San Francisco 49ers , Tennessee Titans , Washington Redskins Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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