Job Security?

Looming lockout could help embattled coaches.

Looming lockout could help embattled coaches.

By Ralph Vacchiano

In at least eight NFL cities right now, if this were any other year, there would be coaches pondering their futures and owners assembling a short list of replacements. There might not necessarily be firings this early, but there’d certainly be a feeling of inevitability in places like San Francisco, Dallas, Jacksonville and San Diego.

But the coaches in all those cities — and in places like Minnesota, Carolina, Cleveland and Cincinnati — might end up getting an unusual, and perhaps undeserved, stay of execution.

Because in the NFL, this is not any other year.
The looming lockout — which so many NFL sources consider to be a lock (pardon the pun) to happen at least in the offseason — could be enough to save the jobs of any of the on-the-hot-seat coaches and anyone else whose teams underachieve this season.

No matter how desperate or impulsive their bosses are, it might not make sense to end the marriage — even if the results are poor.

It’s simple, really. And all you have to do is look at Dallas. Jerry Jones has often said he will not make a coaching change during the season, but this isn’t most seasons. His Cowboys are off to a 1–5 start, and it is becoming more evident that his team will not be playing a home game at the Super Bowl in February.

But what is Jones to do? When you factor in the lockout, it might not make much sense to let Phillips go.

Let’s assume — everyone else is assuming, so it’s hardly a stretch — that the NFL owners will lock out the players beginning on March 1. And if that happens, play the scenario out to where there’s no urgency to sign a new collective bargaining agreement at least until training camp is scheduled to start in July — probably not until late August when the new regular season looms.

Can Jones, while he’s crying poverty and insisting on cutbacks with the rest of the NFL owners, be paying two coaches during the lockout? He’d still owe Phillips more than $3 million for 2011. And unless he simply promotes offensive coordinator Jason Garrett — a possibility since he makes $3 million, too, but not a likelihood given the disaster that is this season — he’d probably spend more than that on a new coach. So he’d be paying more than $10 million total for three coaches — none of whom would be coaching during the lockout.

And he’d have to have a new coach. He couldn’t let the Cowboys go without one, even for the short term, because the draft will still happen in April, and plans have to be made.

But even if Jones bit the financial bullet and endured the criticism of paying two coaches (or more) while trying to argue for a reduction in player costs, is that even a smart move? If there’s a lockout that lasts until August, his new coach won’t be allowed to have practices, workouts or any contact with his players for most of the first six months of his tenure.

He might have to install a new plan, a new offensive and defensive system, new team rules, a new workout program, and whatever else he wants to install in a matter of 2-3 weeks with the regular season closing fast. Even if he made the big move for an established, big-name coach like Bill Cowher, that’s not exactly the formula for success.
Maybe those are all leaps of faith that a lockout is coming, but the owners certainly are preparing as if that’s the case — which means Jones and so many others all have to keep that in mind. So maybe the smart call, even in the days following a disastrous season, will be to just hold on to the status quo.

And that takes some of the intrigue out of the remainder of the season. In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis’ controversial tenure might continue despite the disappointment they’re suffering through right now. In Cleveland, unless Mike Holmgren wants to coach the team himself, he might end up giving Eric Mangini one more year. As beaten as Jack Del Rio seems in Jacksonville, that small-market franchise certainly won’t want to be paying multiple coaches. And yes, Chargers fans, you may end up with another year of Norv Turner, too.

And Phillips, and Mike Singletary in San Francisco and Brad Childress in Minnesota — they all might also be safe. None of them would’ve been in a very comfortable position in any other year. But the lockout that threatens the future of the NFL might end up being a security blanket for many on-the-bubble coaches around the league.

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