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Where Are They Now? A Look Back At The NFL Coaching Class Of 2009

Eleven NFL teams hired new head coaches in 2009. More than half have already been fired, and most of the rest are close to it. The changes were supposed to usher in a new era. What happened?

2009 was a year of change in the NFL. Eleven teams, a third of the league, hired new head coaches that season. It was supposed to mark the dawn of a new generation. Only two of the new hires had prior NFL head coaching experience. The rest were the usual mix of successful coordinators and long-time organization men in line for thier turn on top. 

Almost three years later, success has eluded most of the class of 2009. Five have already been fired. Two more will most certainly be out of work by January, and another two are fighting for their coaching lives every week. So what happened to this group of the best and brightest? 

We Hardly Knew Ya

Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders (2009-2010, 13-19) - Cable replaced Lane Kniffin, who was in his second season, after the Raiders jumped out to 1-3 record through the first four games. Cable won four of Oakland's last 12 games, the same ratio as Kniffin that season, but it was enough for the late Al Davis to drop the interim from his title. Cable was 5-11 in 2009 and 8-8 in 2010, but it wasn't enough for Davis who declined to renew his contract in January.  

Cable was making progress with the team, just not enough for Al Davis.  Cable's notorious assault charge of former assistant Randy Hanson gave him a black eye, no pun intended. Working with the mercurial Davis probably doomed him from the start. 

Mike Singletary, San Francisco 49ers (13-18) - Like Cable, Singletary took over during the 2008 season, losing the interim tag for 2009. He inherited a franchise still grouping to find its way after half a decade in the wilderness. At first, Singletary's passion won people over, but his passion did little to facilitate results, alienating players and coaches instead. 

Passion is often seen as an easy cure for moribund franchises, and coaching certainly requires heavy does of it to be successful. But there's a need for balance in all things, and the 49ers current head coach, Jim Harbaugh, seems to have the right mix of fire and technocratic acumen needed for a head coach. 

Jim Mora, Seattle Seahawks (5-11) - Seattle expected Mora to replace a legend, Mike Holmgren and do it with a roster of players mostly constructed by Tim Ruskell, who was shown the door along with Mora. 

Failing to live up to a legend is its own unique, common instance for head coach failure. 

Eric Mangini, Cleveland Browns (10-22) - The writing probably should have been on the wall based on the up and downs of his last two seasons with the Jets. Unsurprisingly, that carried over with the Browns. In his first season, Mangini changed quarterbacks three times and infuriated faithful Cleveland fans with his aloofness...and little to justify it.

Mike Holmgren kept Mangini and the entire staff when he took over in 2010. Still, it was obvious that Mangini was just a glorified interim as Holmgren and his general manager, Tom Heckert, set about putting their imprint on the team. This was a case of picking the hot name instead of the right candidate. Sort of like...

Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos (11-17) - McDaniels also had the unenviable task of following a legend. Still , he compares more to Mangini than Mora, thanks to his failures as a personnel man. 

Part of the problem with the Belichick disciples is that they are not their mentor. Belichick's success translating his total vision, from personnel moves to the Xs and Os on the field, is a rare feat. All of professional sports is littered with former coaches who tried to do it all, but failed. Probably shouldn't undersell the benefits of having Tom Brady to make you look good either, as McDaniels did.  


Dead Men Walking

Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams (10-33) - Expectations matter in the NFL, and the Rams were supposed to own the NFC West this season. Obviously, things are not going as planned. Spagnuolo was given tremendous leeway to remake the organization according to his vision. Still, a culture of losing pervades. Injuries, a conservative approach, undisciplined and erratic play, and a new offense have all conspired to undermine Spagnuolo this year. A victim of circumstance, many of his own making, Spagnuolo is likely on the bread line come January. 

Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts (24-19) - Caldwell started his coaching tenure with back-to-back seasons of double digit wins and trips to the playoffs. And here are the Colts at 0-11. Obviously losing Peyton Manning destroyed the Colts, but was Manning really the only standing between 10 wins and 11 losses? Obviously not, since the Colts canned defensive coordinator Larry Coyer yesterday. Front office disarray and resulting bad drafts have compounded the problems. Coaches that preside over a mess like this don't survive. 


Endangered Species

Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs (18-25) - Haley's path mirrors Spagnuolo's, following a strong second season with a flop this year. Injuries to key players like Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel hindered the Chiefs. Inconsistent play hasn't done Haley any favors. Of the still surviving coaches on this list, Haley is the only one at odds with his general manager. That kind of tension played out against the backdrop of a losing season never spells good things for a coach. 

Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17-25) - The Buccaneers' 10-win season in 2010 exceeded expectations. The truth is that Morris' team really wasn't a 10-win team, just an improving squad that got a few breaks and an easy schedule. Now, Morris is under fire in the media and from fans for following up with a wildly inconsistent 4-7 season, so far. His job probably isn't as endangered as the three names listed above, but he does need to show some consistency down the stretch. There's a lesson here about expectations, which we'll get to in a minute. 


Golden Boys

Rex Ryan, New York Jets (26-17) - Never dull, Rex Ryan put his stamp on the Jets as soon as he took over for the failed Eric Mangini. This season hasn't gone as well as anticipated, and as long as the Jets continue to chase the Patriots in the standings, Ryan's position will be uncomfortable. It might be time for him to think about replacing Brian Schottenheimer and getting some offensive talent if they ever hope on unseating New England's dominance. Still, when measured against the other members of the class of 2009, Ryan is by far the most successful.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions (14-28) - Schwartz has done exactly what was expected of him, steadily improving the Lions each year of his tenure. With the playoffs a real possibility, which would be the first time since 1999, Schwartz has cemented his legend as part of the city's rebirth, as told by a Chrysler commercial. Like Ryan, his personality is all over the team, even though that might have stoked Ndamukong Suh's passions a little too much. He and general manager Martin Mayhew have the start of a dynasty, and it's a testament to what the right combination of general manager and head coach can do. 


Rather than a single unifying factor leading to the demise of this bunch, there are a number of lessons to take away from the experience. Poorly run organizations make poor coaching decisions. Proper vetting and an understanding of how winning organizations function would have never allowed Mangini or Singletary to be hired. Young hot shots like McDaniels and Mangini were also given a tremendous amount of power, particularly with regards to personnel. It was a responsibility that neither man was prepared for, and it cost them dearly.

There's a larger lesson about expectations in today's NFL here as well. Haley, Morris and Spagnuolo outperformed reality in their second season. While those performances are indeed desirable, they took those men too close to the sun long before those teams and those men were ready to fly that high. Compounding matters, all three of those men appear even less prepared to react to the resulting crisis.

As for the two successful coaches, they owe their fortunes to both design and circumstance. Both men changed the culture of the organization, most notably Schwartz with the Lions, and infused the on-field product with their personalities. They also have competent personnel departments to work with, injecting them with talent and roster depth. Steady improvement since taking over set more reasonable expectations, even for Ryan in his fickle media market. Finally, scheduling and the occasional good bounce of the ball have helped them along the way. 

About a month from now, teams will fire and hire new leadership to meet the even growing expectations of a billion dollar business. Watch for history to repeat itself.