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Padanilam: NFL’s coaching carousel creates questions

| Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Over the long break, there’s been a lot happening in the world of professional football. We’re down to the final four teams in the playoffs, quarterbacked by Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles, respectively. But rather than talk about what’s happening on the field, I think what’s happening off it has been far more interesting.

It’s been a particularly interesting offseason for the NFL’s coaching carousel, with more moves that have me scratching my head than praising the respective decision-makers. So I’m going to take this time to talk about a few of the most perplexing ones.

Jon Gruden to the Raiders

Okay, so I know there’s a lot of Jon Gruden fans out there. In fact, my colleague Marek Mazurek jokingly advocated for him to coach at three collegiate programs at once in a relatively recent column because he loves him so much.

But he’s nowhere near deserving of a 10-year, $100-million deal.

Yes, he has a Super Bowl ring. But he also has just a 95-81 record, including just 57-55 in his last seven seasons from 2002 to 2008. Which was, you know, 10 seasons ago in a fairly different NFL landscape. So no, his resume does not exactly strike me as worthy of a very long-term contract and the second highest annual salary in the league. It might have been the case that it took those numbers to lure Gruden out of retirement, but is that cost worth it? Especially if the coach you fired to give him the job went 12-4 just one year ago in his second season on the job.

Additionally, the Raiders hiring Gruden served as yet another example of an NFL franchise making a mockery of the Rooney Rule — a requirement for NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for open coaching jobs. Although the Raiders brought in two minority candidates for interviews, it was very clear the job was Gruden’s from the beginning and the interviews were more to appease the rule than legitimate opportunities for the two minority candidates. I think the spirit of the Rooney Rule is still needed, but how it has taken shape in practice is seriously flawed and needs to be revisited by the league.

The Titans firing Mike Mularkey

This move made little sense to me, frankly. Mularkey went 9-7 each of the last two seasons — his only full seasons as the team’s head coach — and made the playoffs this year, winning once on the road as underdogs before losing to the New England Patriots on the road as overwhelming underdogs. To me, the move comes as a result of unrealistic expectations by management and a misunderstanding of progress by the front office more than anything else.

I understand there were questions about whether Mularkey was using Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota properly and playing him with his strengths in mind, but those questions also ignore the other personnel on the team. Mariota is a spread quarterback at his best, someone who takes snaps from the shotgun and has the luxury of space and the ability to run. But DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are not spread running backs — we’ve seen Murray run the system before in Philadelphia, and the results were poor. Henry, on the other hand, has never played in such a system between his time at Alabama and Tennessee, and it certainly isn’t a system that suits his bruising running style.

The Titans were a team structured around its offensive line and running backs. If it wants to change philosophies by parting with Mularkey to build around Mariota, then the front office will have to expect more changes to come to find personnel on the offensive side that fits such a system and the steps backward that will inevitably precede any potential steps forward. And that leads me to think the Titans will wish they had stayed the course of progress under Mularkey.

Marvin Lewis stays with the Bengals 

The 15-year marriage between Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals is roughly the NFL’s equivalent of the relationship between Ross and Rachel on “Friends” — existing with the eternally looming question of “will they/won’t they.”

This offseason, the Bengals said they will, for at least one more time, hand Lewis a two-year extension. For a team that considered parting ways with the coach when he was coming off his fifth consecutive playoff appearance and four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, the move is dumbfounding.

The same arguments — a winless 0-7 record in the playoffs hinting at the team having reached its peak with him at the helm — still applied, and he had just 13 wins in his last two seasons. If anything, the time was now, but I guess the Bengals are content with mediocrity. I wish to some day enjoy the job security Lewis has found in the city of Cincinnati.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin