A Little Leeway For Coaches

Some coaches -- the Giants' Tom Coughlin could be one of them -- may be on the hot seat this year. But the unusual environment the lockout has caused may prompt owners to give some a pass on the upcoming season. Friend Len Pasquarelli tells us why.


By Len Pasquarelli
Senior NFL writer
The Sports Xchange

It might not be quite akin to an endangered coach who starts a rookie quarterback and who -- because of turnover at the game's most significant position and an owner's belief that he isn't apt to make a change while in the midst of such a critical transition -- wiggles off the hot seat and buys himself another season of paychecks.

But one certainly has to wonder what effect, if any, the lockout will have on the reluctance of owners to change coaches at the end of the 2011 season, a year that will be unlike any other in recent NFL history, and which figures to be chock-full of mitigating circumstances and built-in, ready-made excuses.

Given the number of franchises whose staffs have distanced themselves from the amicus brief recently filed with 8th Circuit Court by the NFL Coaches Association -- and even dismissing those who might have been pressured by management to disavow the legal maneuver -- it's obvious most coaches despise the lockout.

The stoppage precludes them from doing what they do best, has forced some of them to accept salary reductions and, in a real-world manifestation, has dramatically altered their usual vacation schedules.

But in an ironic twist, the lockout might actually provide a reprieve of sorts for a few guys who normally would enter the 2011 campaign on the endangered species list.

Especially if the lockout extends into training camp.

Recent negotiating sessions, which resumed Tuesday in the Washington, D.C. environs, have prompted a sense of optimism that the two sides could reach at least the framework of a CBA agreement in time to keep camps from being interrupted.

But even if that's the case, minicamps and OTAs have been missed, a moratorium on trades and free agency has disrupted the normal flow of the offseason, and staffs will have a condensed period in which to enact change and to assimilate draft coaches and veteran newcomers.

In essence, coaching staffs will be able to insist with some degree of foundation and legitimacy, the 2011 season will include an asterisk.

"It's an interesting concept," acknowledged one owner who has been close to the labor discussions, but whose coach is not in any danger. "No matter what happens with the (labor) talks, even with a best-case scenario, it's not going to be business as usual. There are probably going to be coaches who say, 'Well, this season should be a do-over.' And there might be some (owners) who buy into that."

After a year or two in which the head-coach changes fell short of the average over the previous 20 seasons, there will be eight new head coaches in 2011. The number includes the two coaches, Jason Garrett in Dallas and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier, who took over their respective franchises as interim coaches during the '10 season. Add to that the three coaches who will enter only the second season with their clubs in 2011, and that probably means that one-third of the head coaches in the league are safe through at least this season.

Despite the prevalence of instant-gratification owners, the guys who call the shots haven't been quite a trigger-happy the past few seasons. Counting the 2011 season, the league's 32 head coaches will enter the coming campaign with an average of 4.2 seasons of tenure with their current franchises. More than half, 17, in fact, will be in their third season or less. So the odds of a significant turnover aren't all that great to begin with.

There appear to be only 3-4 coaches whom the consensus would suggest are on the hot seat for 2011.

And the lockout, in its own way, may cool the impetus of some owners for change.

"It's been demonstrated that continuity works," agreed the aforementioned owner. "And this has been anything but a stabile offseason. So maybe some owners, trying to (foster) continuity, won't be as quick to go for the panic button. It could well be one of the elements of the lockout no one has thought much about yet."

Hard to fathom, for sure. But indeed, for some endangered coaches, the lockout mess could conceivably turn into a mulligan.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.