Tomlin among seven new coaches, seven new approaches
By The Associated Press
Friday, July 20, 2007
When Terrell Owens was asked this spring about the Dallas Cowboys' coaching change Bill Parcells out, Wade Phillips in he was his usual outspoken self.
"I don't think you have to be a disciplinarian to get your point across," Owens said in a pointed dig at his old coach. "I think having a new head coach is good for everybody."
Yes, T.O. is ingratiating himself with the new guy. So are the rest of the Cowboys and almost 500 players on the rosters of six other teams that open camp in the next 10 days with new head coaches. The only difference is, at some point, there will be a brouhaha involving Owens and a coach, either the laid-back Phillips or one of his assistants.
Every season, new coaches mean changes for every player on the teams they take over. There are seven this year, three of whom take over contenders: Phillips, Mike Tomlin for the retired Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, and Norv Turner in San Diego. The other four are more problematical, with Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, Lane Kiffin in Oakland, Bobby Petrino in Atlanta and Cam Cameron in Miami.
Turner will be taking over a team that has basically the same offense he used in 2001, when he was offensive coordinator in San Diego. Petrino, known as a passing guru, has a bigger task he's spent the offseason adjusting his offense to Michael Vick's running ability, but may have to readjust if Vick's indictment for sponsoring a dogfighting operation leads to a suspension.
But in any case, all have to make adjustments, on and off the field.
"New coaches always make dramatic changes, even if it's just in routine, workout regimen and other day-to-day things," says Indianapolis president Bill Polian. "There's always a feeling-out process with both the coach and his staff. It doesn't mean they can't win. It just means a lot of things change."
As camps open, Polian's Colts and New England, who played a memorable AFC title game last January, are considered the league's best teams, along with San Diego in a conference that is clearly superior to the NFC.
But the coaching change could drastically affect the Chargers, whose 14-2 record was the best regular-season mark in the league last season.
Marty Schottenheimer was let go after a playoff loss to the Patriots because he and general manager A.J. Smith were always at odds. And while Schottenheimer traditionally has had problems in the postseason, Turner has had trouble getting there. He is just 58-82-1 in stints as head coach of the Redskins and Raiders, although he really had no chance in Oakland, where he coached in 2004-05.
Turner isn't likely to tinker with San Diego's offense, which he basically installed in LaDainian Tomlinson's rookie season. But other things will change, because both of last year's coordinators are among the new head coaches: Phillips in Dallas and Cameron in Miami, replacing Nick Saban, who departed for the University of Alabama.
Phillips and the Cowboys might have a shot at a title in the NFC, which has no dominant team.
Chicago, which dominated the conference last season before losing to the Colts 29-17 in the Super Bowl, remains a lukewarm favorite. But there are plenty of questions with the Bears, starting with quarterback Rex Grossman, who was able to survive an inconsistent regular season, but demonstrated against Indy that he's not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback yet.
Can the Cowboys contend? They will have to battle in the NFC East with Philadelphia and maybe the Giants, although New York seems headed for a season-in-waiting waiting for coach Tom Coughlin to be fired.
Dallas was eliminated from the playoffs last season in Seattle when Tony Romo, the Cowboys' young quarterback, dropped the snap on what could have been a game-winning field-goal attempt with 1 minute, 19 seconds left. Then Parcells, a disappointing 34-32 in four seasons, stepped down and was replaced by Phillips, 45-35 as a head coach in Buffalo and Denver.
Hiring a retread Turner was the front-runner at one point seems to signal that owner/general manager Jerry Jones will have more say in the team's daily operation.
Jones says no, although he told The Associated Press in a recent interview, "I'm always going to have a say in how my team is run." One anomaly is that tough guy Parcells didn't run nearly as many offseason workouts as the more laid-back Phillips, whose 3-4 defense tends to be more aggressive than the same system run by Parcells.
The new coaches also include the two youngest in the league, the 32-year-old Kiffin and Tomlin, 35.
Cowher stepped down after 15 seasons and now moves to the head of the line for any vacancies that open after this season, if he wants to get back into the business. Whisenhunt goes from the Steelers, where he was offensive coordinator, to the historically challenged Cardinals.
Tomlin, just the Steelers' third coach since 1969, has signaled he will run a tough camp for a team that was a disappointing 8-8 a year after winning the Super Bowl. "NFL training camps are not supposed to be pleasant," he says.
That's a bit out of character because he is a protege of the Colts' Tony Dungy and another of Dungy's products, Chicago's Lovie Smith, both of whom try to save their players from early exhaustion.
Kiffin, co-offensive coordinator at powerhouse Southern California, also comes indirectly from the Dungy tree. His father Monte, Tampa Bay's defensive coordinator, served in the same capacity when Dungy coached the Bucs and helped develop the "Tampa Two" defense.
Lane Kiffin began with workouts so tough and physical that the Raiders were forced to forgo their last week of practices for violating a union rule against contact drills.
He also faces what every Oakland coach deals with, the constant scrutiny of owner Al Davis, who at any point could decide that JaMarcus Russell, the first overall pick in the draft, is ready to start at quarterback. Even if Kiffin doesn't think so, Davis always gets his way.
Cameron's arrival in Miami was greeted with relief by players, coaches and staff after Saban's domineering ways. The day Saban's departure became official, Dom Capers, the team's defensive coordinator, was walking around Dolphins headquarters with a big smile, chatting with reporters with whom he'd been forbidden to chat.
"Good to talk to you," he kept saying.
Cameron brought in 37-year-old Trent Green, whom he once coached in Washington, to fill a quarterback position that's been without a top performer since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season.
"When you're coming in as a new staff and you're putting in a new offense and you know there's somebody out there who has a background in this offense, and somebody you've worked with before, there's an understanding or a comfort level," acknowledged Green, whose acquisition led to the eventual release of Daunte Culpepper, obtained last season in a trade with Minnesota.
Cameron will run the offense. But Capers, a former head coach in Carolina and Houston, is in total charge of the defense after he signed a new three-year, seven-figure contract even before Cameron was hired. Since Marino retired, that unit has carried the team.
Then there's Atlanta, where Petrino, who ran one of college football's best offenses at Louisville, succeeds Jim Mora the younger.
Petrino's mission is to juice up the offense, his specialty, especially the passing game on a team with a running quarterback. Last season, Vick became the first QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, but Atlanta was last in the NFL with 148.2 yards passing per game and Vick was 20th in passer rating.
Some of that might have been the system and the receivers.
The West Coast offense under Mora and coordinator Greg Knapp seemed ill-suited to Vick's scrambling style, and Atlanta has been bringing in allegedly big-time receivers like Ashley Lelie and Peerless Price who have failed badly.
But the Vick indictment leaves the Falcons in limbo. While the case is unlikely to be resolved in the courts until after the season, Vick could be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell under the NFL's new personal conduct policy. While that's not on the immediate horizon, there's a precedent: Goodell has already suspended Tennessee's Adam "Pacman" Jones for the season although Jones has yet to be convicted of anything.
If Petrino doesn't have Vick, quarterback becomes a problem. The Falcons traded promising backup Matt Schaub to Houston, making the newly signed Joey Harrington the potential starter.
Whisenhunt inherits an Arizona team that was expected to do more last season, but finished an accustomed 5-11. Edgerrin James, who averaged only 3.4 yards per carry behind an awful offensive line, calls Whisenhunt "super cool." He'll need to be more than that on a team that has talent, including second-year QB Matt Leinart, but always finds ways to lose its last title was 50 years ago in Chicago.
Whisenhunt brought in Russ Grimm, one of Washington's fabled "Hogs," and the Steelers' ex-offensive line coach, to revamp that unit. It starts with Levi Brown, the fifth overall pick in the draft at left tackle, risky in itself because that's a tough position for any rookie. But at least with Leinart being a left-hander, Brown won't be protecting the quarterback's blind side.
Maybe Whisenhunt and Grimm can finally bring a winning attitude to a losing locker room. There always are atmospheric changes that can make a difference with new coaches.
In Dallas, for example, the players seem much more relaxed after the departure of the autocratic Parcells. Even Jones acknowledges that people at their headquarters were "walking on egg shells" under the Tuna.
At one news conference during a minicamp, cornerback Terence Newman sat down between a couple of reporters and threw out a question that Phillips began answering in a serious way. Then he looked again, finally noticed who had asked it and laughed.
Parcells would have scowled.