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

Experience trumps genius


When Tony Dungy was 33, he was a hot head coaching candidate, in part because the NFL office desperately wanted an African-American head coach and Dungy was considered the brightest of the bright.

Dungy didn't get his head coaching job until he was 41 after a frustrating series of "thanks, but ...'' interviews. As it turns out, it was for the best. "There were so many things I didn't know at 33,'' he told me a decade later, after he'd turned around a Tampa Bay team that had had 13 consecutive seasons of double-digit losses. "I learned a lot more in the last ten years.''

This was Pat Bowlen's mistake when he hired Josh McDaniels at 32, especially because he gave McDaniels the power over personnel that allowed him to dispose of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Peyton Hillis and others.

Yes, young head coaches have succeeded. Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Mike Tomlin all were in their mid-30s when they were hired and all eventually won Super Bowls -- as did Dungy.

But they all had experience in different systems and under less authoritarian coaches than Bill Belichick, who spawned McDaniels. Belichick's style might work -- although he failed in his first try from 1991-95 in Cleveland -- but it's unique to him. So a coach like McDaniels who may be brilliant at Xs and Os may not be brilliant at handling people. When Belichick was a "genius'' young defensive coordinator for the Giants in the 1980s, he was told by general manager George Young he would not succeed Bill Parcells as head coach because he didn't have a good touch with players, media and others who impinge daily on a coach's life.

Should McDaniels have been fired in midseason?

Well, Bowlen gave conflicting signals, first saying his coach was secure, changing his tack a few hours later and finally firing McDaniels the next week. The ostensible reason was the taping of a walkthrough practice by the 49ers when the Broncos were preparing to play them in London.

But the real reason has to be the numbers: 5-17 since a 6-0 start a year ago. Those are always the real numbers when coaches are fired. They were in Dallas and Minnesota where Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier are 5-1 since they took over.

Maybe this time Bowlen will be a little more thorough in his search.

Garrett was originally the heir apparent in Dallas -- he turned down a couple of jobs to become offensive coordinator there. Frazier was considered a head-coach-in-waiting around the NFL -- if not for the Vikings then for someone else.

That's not the case with Eric Studesville, who succeeds McDaniels (and, incidentally, becomes the eighth current African-American coach, a record for any one time). But he's older than McDaniels, 43, and has coached in the NFL since 1997 with the Bears, Giants, Bills and Broncos -- better credentials than his predecessor.

So, what happens if he wins a few games?

Last year, the Bills appointed Perry Fewell as their interim coach when they fired Dick Jauron and he went 3-4. They chose to hire Chan Gailey, who has just two wins in 12 games while Fewell went on to become defensive coordinator of the Giants and has done well enough to be a prime head coaching candidate again.

Maybe it's time to reward experience and hard work rather than "genius.''

By Dave Goldberg  |  December 7, 2010; 11:57 AM ET  | Category:  Coaching , Dave Goldberg , Denver Broncos , NFL Rules Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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