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Way too early grades for NFL coaching and GM hires

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The final, way too early word on whether NFL teams hired the right person for the job.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

49ers promote Jim Tomsula to head coach

There's a really snappy NFL Films feature on the new 49ers head coach that's worth your time. And anyone who has an NFL Films doc about them can't be all bad, right? Tomsula spent nine years in NFL Europe, and landed with the 49ers in 2007. That means he's been with the team through Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and Jim Harbaugh (the 49ers have established a clear pattern for Jims and Mikes).

His work as the defensive line coach speaks for itself. And there's something to be said for continuity here. Tomsula may be a fine head coach for the 49ers. What stinks here is how the Jed York and the organization handled it all and what it suggests about this hire.

Jim Harbaugh could still be the head coach in San Francisco, were it not for the bitter divorce between him and the York/Trent Baalke camp. Right off the bat, promoting Tomsula is a step down from what they had in place but couldn't get out of the way of their own egos.

I mentioned the continuity element to this hire, but that overlooks the fact that the team is letting the rest of its coaching staff go, except for running backs coach Tom Rathman. That's fine in the case of Greg Roman, but it also means parting with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio ... you saw what he did with that defense this year, without Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Worse, the team blocked Fangio from interviewing for other defensive coordinator jobs since the end of the season until now.

Tomsula gets an opportunity, and that's great for him. But this is about Jed York and his GM winning their turf war, and that raises a red flag for the team's immediate future.

Grade: C

Broncos "part ways" with John Fox

Marvin Lewis spent the first week of January doing the same thing he's done for the last four years: not worrying about his head coaching job in Cincinnati. The Bengals lost in the opening round of the playoffs again, four years in a row and six times since Lewis took over in 2003. Jeff Fisher rang in the new year with an approach he's become used to: delivering his final press conference and promising to stick to the plan next year, the same plan that hasn't yielded a winning record since 2008.

This is a golden age of mediocrity in the NFL, an epoch where one playoff appearance or even hovering around .500 is considered an acceptable result. That's what made the news out of Denver this week so much more shocking. Head coach John Fox and the Broncos agreed to part ways -- nobody's actually getting fired this year -- after four seasons that included a 46-18 record, a 3-4 playoff record and an AFC Championship. He won games, just not one game in particular.

On Tuesday, Denver's head wrangler, John Elway, made it clear that the only acceptable result for the organization was a Super Bowl win.

There most certainly was more happening behind the scenes here. Fox Sports' Jay Glazer was reporting on the possibility of Fox "parting ways" before the Broncos lost to the Colts. What exactly caused the rift isn't clear (roster control? personnel management? Peyton related things?), but the fact is Elway made a startling decision to take a contending team and hit the reset button with his coaching staff, a rarity in a league that values so-so results from its head coaches.

It's also a huge risk. On the sidelines during games, Fox had a deserved reputation for coaching not to lose. Denver's loss to Baltimore in the divisional round two years ago is a perfect example of that. But you can't overlook his overall results. Elway now finds himself in a predicament. It's a terrible year for coaching candidates. The entire staff is likely headed somewhere else, so there's no continuity for a team coming off three straight seasons with at least 12 wins. Oh, and he's maybe got one year of Peyton Manning left, maybe. So the new guy will have to start over at quarterback, unless Manning retires.

The Broncos are aiming high, higher than most NFL teams whose fear of sliding backwards keeps them from moving forward, putting guys like Lewis and Fisher on the league's tenure track. Now, it's up to Elway and Co. to make it pay off.

Grade: B

Raiders expected to hire Jack Del Rio

HAHAHAHAHA! Mark Davis fired the last former Broncos defensive coordinator, Denis Allen, he hired to coach the team in September, so naturally he went back to the same well. Del Rio's record in Jacksonville speaks for itself, eight years without a division title. I'd be more concerned by the fact that Denver spent big to upgrade its defense this year, and it got shut down completely by the Colts right when the Broncos needed it most.

But the creepy similarities don't end there. Oakland's interim was Tony Sparano, who famously buried a football to mark a new era or something. Del Rio famously put a stump and an axe in the Jaguars locker room to keep his team chopping wood (where do these guys get this stuff?) only to have his punter chop his foot with it.

Keep chopping wood, Oakland.

Grade: F

Jets hire Todd Bowles

The AFC East is going to be one big blitz, with linebackers and safeties randomly showing up in the A gap, stunting around the tackles, dropping in on the breakfast buffet, everywhere. One more thing to point to out in the discussion of the division's preferred method of attacking the quarterback: Tom Brady had a 103.7 rating against the blitz this season.

Hiring Bowles is the rare Jets move not aimed specifically at beating Brady and the Patriots. Sure, it's one of the things he'll be expected to do, but this move, along with hiring actual personnel person Mike Maccagnan to be GM, is about starting over, rebuilding a team decimated by years of poor roster management and inter-office turf wars.

That's the biggest and most important difference here, hitting the reset button on the team's leadership.

Bowles is finally getting the shot to coach a team he's long deserved, and there are some notable similarities to the last guy who coached the Jets. Bowles is a defensive specialist who blitzes like it's his religious duty. His work with the Cardinals defense over the last two years has been outstanding. At least, hopefully, the Jets have learned a lesson about hiring a strong offensive coordinator ...


Bowles and Maccagnan have a big job on their hands; this isn't a quick turnaround project. It will require some patience which they should get from the notoriously generous media that covers the team ...

Future tabloid trouble aside, this is a good start for the Jets.

Grade: B

Bills hire Rex Ryan

This is a good get for the Bills. It's probably an upgrade over Doug Marrone and at least you know Ryan is pretty well steeled against whatever insensitive media types reportedly bother the former Bills head coach, even if he does have to face the New York Post two times every season. Speaking of that, staying in the AFC East had to be a major selling point. Not only does Ryan get to keep those regular matchups with Belichick and Brady, games he relishes, he also gets to wave a middle finger at Woody Johnson twice a year, with a little help from Mario Williams and a loaded Bills defense.

The biggest downside to this might be the reports that they plan to hire Greg Roman as their offensive coordinator. It's obviously going to be a ground and pound offense, which is fine unless the road to a division championship runs through Gillette Stadium ... or any of the other NFL teams that have embraced offensive innovation. And then there's the question of quarterbacks. The Bills have EJ Manuel under contract and no first-round pick this year. Those earlier rumors, before Ryan was hired, about him linking up with Marc Trestman make a lot more sense for a team that may be forced to get by with an inferior option at the position. Still, Roman's a step up from Ryan's previous offensive coordinators, a murderer's row of incompetency featuring Brian Schottenheimer, Tony Sparano and Marty Mornhinweg.

Grade: A-

Jets hire Mike Maccagnan as GM

He gets points right away just for not being John Idzik, but starting a job where the bar's already been set so low can be a real catch-22. The new kid in your office that knows a thing or two about Windows and hooking up a projector to the laptop is always a welcome addition for the first six months or so. But after awhile, everybody learns to restart their computer themselves.

Maccagnan even looks like a guy working thanklessly in the middle management ranks of a large IT department, complete with frumpy dress shirts and a poor sense about acceptable facial hair for the office. Fortunately for the Jets, his background is in personnel, not computers or the related field of cap management. The Texans made him their director of college scouting in 2011, the year they drafted J.J. Watt; that's the kind of thing you can coast on for awhile. His drafts were by no means perfect, but it's hard to account for the behind-the-scenes politics of his role versus the roles the coach and GM played. At any rate, the Texans finished 9-7 this season with Ryan Fitzpatrick starting 12 games; there's something positive to be said for a team that can do that, even if they do play in the AFC South.

Grade: B

Falcons rearrange front office around Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli

I was a little surprised that owner Arthur Blank kept Dimitroff. The rumor mill led us to believe that the Falcons GM would get the boot along with head coach Mike Smith. After all, two losing seasons in a row can largely be attributed to the front office's failure to find adequate depth for the offensive line and a defensive line that mustered just 54 sacks over the last two seasons.

Instead, Blank shuffled the deck chairs. Dimitroff retains his title, but scouting, drafting, etc. falls on Pioli's shoulders. His track record as a personnel man is good enough (except for the whole Matt Cassel thing, which is kind of a big deal). He added plenty of talent to the Chiefs' roster and didn't put them in any kind of cap purgatory. But he left Kansas City with his reputation in tatters when the Kansas City Star pulled back the curtain to reveal an organization run more like the Nixon White House than a football team.

We may have already seen the fallout of Blank's decision to renew his vows with Pioli and Dimitroff. It may have helped scare off Rex Ryan as the team's next head coach. Will Josh McDaniels get the job now, completing the holy trinity of ex-Patriots second chancers?

Grade: C

Washington hires Scot McCloughan as GM

What's going on in Washington? Since the end of the season the team has fired defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, after five seasons (FIVE!) of consistently terrible defense. Jay Gruden and RG3 declared a public truce. Then, Dan Snyder went out and hired a general manager, one that actually has a pretty good track record as a personnel man, albeit one with some personal demons that took him away from the game for a long time.

Bruce Allen might have a legitimate point with his comical "winning off the field" statement.

Grade: A

Chicago Bears hire Ryan Pace as GM

Pace's work as the Saints scouting/personnel guy speaks for itself. It's not his fault they're in cap trouble over those hefty contracts. New Orleans was a huge disappointment on the field, which is even more of a mystery considering just how loaded the roster looked when people were picking them as a playoff team back in August.

The guy has his work cut out for him in Chicago. The defense needs a massive overhaul, especially in the secondary. And then there's the little matter of what to do about Jay Cutler. First, he's got to hire a head coach, something that will go a long way toward deciding the Cutler question. It's a good move for the Bears, snatching an up and comer, and fans are pretty jazzed about it, always a plus.

Grade: A

Dolphins hire Mike Tannenbaum as VP of football operations

Leave it to Stephen Ross to make a terrible hire that makes EVERYBODY mad. The Fritz Pollard Alliance says the team skirted the Rooney Rule in hiring Tannenbaum. The Jets are upset because Tannenbaum currently represents one of their head coaching candidates, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, which made for a conflict of interest situation most befitting of the two AFC East rivals in incompetency. Since then, Priority Sports, Tannenbaum's agency, has clarified that he will not be negotiating contracts prior to starting his gig with the Dolphins on Feb. 1.

If you want to, you can look at the Dolphins and see nothing but dysfunction. The locker room turned into a human resources nightmare last year. Joe Philbin promised to fix it, while denying knowledge about what was going on under his nose. The team was on the way to its first winning record since 2008, but finished the season with a 1-3 skid to end up at 8-8. And then there was the weird Mike Wallace situation in the last week of the season.

Tannenbaum's track record as general manager for the Jets is iffy at best, highlighted by the Mark Sanchez extension. But personnel isn't his responsibility. Incumbent GM Dennis Hickey still has control over that, after a pretty good record in free agency and the draft in 2014, his first year.

Maybe Tannenbaum's the football czar Ross needs to iron out some of the dysfunction in Miami (though Tannenbaum was an advisor to the team last year). Adding a layer of bureaucracy is usually a poor way of fixing problems, but at least it's not Jeff Ireland.

Over at the Phinsider, SB Nation's Dolphins blog, they're tentative but trying to stay positive, and that's a fair way to approach it, for now.

Grade: C