Michael Lombardi Would Have Josh McDaniels As His #1 Coaching Candidate, Despite How Bad the Last Two Years Have Been


[Aside: Unprompted, Lombardi brought up our post about his comments about Haley’s behavior earlier this year, and said that he has not spoken with Pioli in 8 months.]

He then discussed guys that he thought would be considered by Pioli, based on Pioli having worked for him in Cleveland and knowing how he thinks. Lombardi said that not only did he think McDaniels was on top of Pioli’s list, but that McDaniels would be his (Lombardi’s) first choice for a head coaching candidate.

Lombardi said of McDaniels in St. Louis: “I’m not sure Knute Rockne could build that team, that’s an expansion team.” Well, actually, with McDaniels this year, they’ve been worse offensively than every expansion team since the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who averaged 8.9 points a game. Including those Buccaneers, the six expansion teams since 1970 averaged 14.2 points. McDaniels’ Rams offense: 11.8 points per game.

The Rams are on pace for the 10th lowest scoring season since 1978, out of almost 1,000 team seasons, putting them in the bottom 1%. Perhaps this team would have been the worst without McDaniels, but its not a compelling case to complain about talent. Let’s talk about the talent he had in 2007 that got him to be a top coaching prospect too.

Using the pro-football-reference database, which now has coordinator information for most teams back into the 1980’s, there have been 32 teams who have averaged less than 14 points in a 16-game season. How many of those coordinators ever got an opportunity to be a head coach again after presiding over a really bad offense? Bruce Coslet is the patron saint of these coaches, having coordinated offenses for three different franchises while averaging less than 14 points (Jets, Bengals and Cowboys). Four coaches were both offensive coordinator and head coach, and got additional opportunities to coach after their horrible season – the aforementioned Coslet, Joe Bugel, Chris Palmer, and Tom Cable. There are only two other coaches who fit the Josh McDaniels mold as offensive coordinator only, who later got an opportunity to be a head coach: David Shula (1989 Cowboys) and Pat Shurmur (2009 Rams).

So, if McDaniels gets a chance to coach again, he will be part of a small, elite group of men that includes current Cleveland favorite Pat Shurmur, the offspring of Shula, Joe Bugel, Bruce Coslet, Chris Palmer, and Tom Cable.

I don’t think that the Rams this year are very good. They’ve had injuries on the offensive line and struggle protecting the quarterback. You would have to think this team was not only sub-par, but the worst collection of offensive talent of the last 30 years, to think McDaniels has not hurt his stock. I’m sorry, but if you are an offensive genius, you don’t preside over an offense that scores less than 12 points.

Then there is the issue of whether Josh McDaniels had enough time in Denver. He started 6-0, then finished by losing 17 of his last 22 games. His tenure was marked by some arrogance early, and the final straw was probably the large fine for videotaping 49ers practice while the team was in London. This year could be seen as either some validation or some more negativity for McDaniels, depending on your view.

Some of McDaniels’ personnel calls don’t look that bad, but are we going to give him full credit for selecting Tim Tebow, who isn’t running the offense he wasn’t drafted to run? The team has also rebounded pretty quickly without McDaniels, though, and went 8-8 the year before he arrived, and now have a winning record after he is gone.

Lombardi mentioned Marv Levy (because he coached in Kansas City and never made the playoffs before moving to Buffalo) and Bill Belichick’s first tenure in Cleveland as examples of coaches who were fired too soon. I’m not sure how applicable those cases are to McDaniels. If anything, they got more time, as both coached five full years at their first job, and eventually, moves were made when they didn’t have enough success.

McDaniels burned his bridge pretty quickly, before two full years were up. Since 1978, there are 44 coaches including McDaniels who coached between 16 and 32 games at their first head coaching job. 37 of them never were a head coach again (other than maybe as a interim coach). The six that were, in reverse order of how many total games they coached in the NFL:

  • Chan Gailey, fired after 2 years in Dallas, returned to coaching a decade later with Buffalo, 9-20 since returning;
  • Tommy Prothro, lasted 2 seasons with Rams in early 1970’s, two years later returned to coach the Chargers. Went 21-39 in 4.5 seasons in San Diego before being replace by Don Coryell;
  • Pete Carroll, fired after 1 season with the Jets, later returned with the Patriots, and then after coaching in college at USC, returned to Seattle last year. 39-37 in the NFL with the Patriots/Seahawks;
  • Monte Clark, fired after 1 season with 49ers despite going 8-6, returned after one season to Detroit, where he coached 7 seasons with a 43-61-1 record;
  • Wade Phillips, fired after 2 seasons in Denver, later coached Buffalo and Dallas, going a combined 65-42;
  • Mike Shanahan fired by Al Davis before the end of year 2. He returned to the 49ers as coordinator, and replaced Phillips in Denver six years later. Shanahan has a 148-105 record and won two Super Bowl titles with Denver.

So Mike Shanahan is the person to point to for an example of someone fired very early in their first coaching job, who later became successful. He is not the norm. Wade Phillips is the second most successful “early firing” of the last 30 years. Maybe McDaniels can rebound. Is he ready now?

Losing a team and the faith of an owner so soon in Denver, and turning around and coordinating one of the worst offenses of the last 30 years, wouldn’t seem to be something that would boost an outlook. It will be a hard sell in Kansas City based on those facts. He does know the right people, though.

[photo via Getty]