Editor’s Note: This column was posted before Bill O’Brien was named head coach of the Houston Texans.
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Lovie Smith is back in business in the NFL.
The former Bears coach employed the best strategy to let potential employers know he was serious about returning to the sidelines when he didn’t take any television or media gigs during the 2013 season.
It’s too easy to turn yourself into a caricature when you are sitting on a CBS, Fox or ESPN panel yukking it up with the other show ponies.
When the Tampa Bay Bucs decided to jettison Greg Schiano on Black Monday, the Bucs’ opening became the No. 2 head-coaching job of the six that became available the day after the season ended.
Smith is going to have to demonstrate an improved facility with offensive football, but there seems little doubt that he is going to upgrade a solid-looking defense that ranked 17th last season.
It’s solid looking because there are several players that Smith is going to fall in love with. The best of the bunch is underappreciated outside linebacker Lavonte David, who led the Bucs with 144 tackles and also had five interceptions and 6.0 sacks.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a stud in the middle of the defensive line, who had 9.0 sacks, 50 tackles and four pass deflection.
There has been some talk that cornerback Darrelle Revis would not fit Smith’s Tampa-2 scheme, but a healthy Revis is still one of the top three cover men in the league. It would be surprising if Smith decided Revis was not an asset for the Bucs.
With Smith already hired, here’s a look at the remaining five head coaching positions, as we rank them in terms of desirability, from worst to best.
5. Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings become nomads in 2014 as they will share a stadium with the Minnesota Golden Gophers for two years while their own new stadium is being built. While that presents plenty of problems because the college stadium is not state of the art and does not compare with even average NFL stadium facilities, it’s not the biggest issue.
The Vikings are woeful at the quarterback position with Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman on hand. Cassel was decent in the final weeks of the season, but he is not a winning quarterback. Ponder has never looked like a first-round quarterback, while Freeman is a complete disaster who does not understand how to read defenses.
The Vikings defense ranked 30th overall and there’s little to feel good about since defensive end Jared Allen, 31, is starting to slow down and linebacker Chad Greenway, 30, is not a game-changing player.
4. Cleveland Browns – The Browns have looked like clowns for several years, and when owner Jimmy Haslam met the media to explain the firing of head coach Rob Chudzinski after one year, he met with one question that compared his teams’ leadership to The Three Stooges.
Haslam has his own problems with the criminal investigation of his Flying J business, and that adds to the organization’s instability.
The Browns have quarterback problems of their own with the likes of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell trying to carry the load, but wide receiver Josh Gordon is one of the NFL’s best and he could be sensational in 2014. The defense ranked ninth overall, but it needs to be retooled because it gave up too many big plays at key moments.
3. Washington Redskins – The Redskins have a quarterback in Robert Griffin III who should be the face of the franchise for years to come. However, they also have owner Daniel Snyder, who likes to “help” the coach do his job.
While Mike Shanahan deserves as much of the blame as anyone for the team’s failure in 2013, Snyder made it clear that RGIII was his favorite player. While that’s fine for the fans sitting in the endzone, an owner should not play the role of fanboy and that impacts the way a coach does his job.
The Redskins have the tools on offense with Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson to make a run at the NFC East title, but the defense has gotten old and slow and needs to be rebuilt.
2. Houston Texans – If you listen to many of the NFL’s most astute observers, the Texans have the talent to become a playoff contender next year.
While they made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 and boast perhaps the game’s best defensive end in J.J. Watt – 32.0 sacks and 23 passes defensed in the last two years – there are big problems. Quarterback Matt Schaub is no longer is a viable quarterback and Case Keenum is unproven.
Still, the combination of running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson means the Texans have some working parts.
This is a team that lost 14 games in a row. There are many lingering problems under the surface that could keep the Texans from rebounding immediately.
1. Detroit Lions – Jim Schwartz was never able to get his talented team to play disciplined football, and that’s why his team was such a disappointment.
But look at what the next coach has to work with. The combination of Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson should be enough to help the Lions score 30 or more points at least 10 times per season.
Defensively, the Lions have sensational talent in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley along with middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and strong safety Glover Quin. They can punish opponents if they can find some consistency.
A strong head coach has a chance to make the Lions a consistent playoff team, and that coach will know that owner William Clay Ford will give him a full-fledged opportunity without interference.
The Lions have never even been to the Super Bowl and they haven’t won an NFL championship since 1957. If they can hire the right head coach, both of those facts could change in the next year or two.