(A seriously strong article about one of few head coaching candidates out there! This is a great read.. front paged by DouglasM-)
Last season the St. Louis Rams appeared too had turned a page. They were on an upward slope to relevance, primed for a run to the post-season on the coattails of a rising head coach, a bright, young quarterback and a relentless defense – nothing could prevent them from winning the worst division in football. Then, before you even realized, everything changed.
Take your pick of excuses why the Rams have struggled – injuries, schedule, lockout, a suddenly stronger NFC West – but they all lead to the same conclusion: they’re completely out of anyone’s control. That’s not what fans, media and ownership want to hear. We demand accountability. The facts are the Rams have won ten games in three years, 23 games in six years and have not won the division since 2003. Patience is a virtue long lost on weary fans.
It seems almost a foregone conclusion that drastic change is imminent; that heads will roll throughout all of Rams Park as we once again, potentially, stare complete overhaul in the face. I can’t even pretend to know what is going on inside the head of Stan Kroenke; I can’t even guarantee that he exists - but I can promise someone will be handing out a pallet of pink slips within the next couple of months.
Many have mixed feelings when it comes to soft-spoken, monotonous head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Some like him, more hate him and others couldn’t care less if only the Rams were winning. It’s a matter I haven’t yet committed to; however, I’m not so slow to disclose my contempt of his hiring Josh McDaniels, a decision I believe has ultimately doomed Spags.
No one can say for certain that Coach Spagnuolo’s tenure in St. Louis is over, but it can’t hurt to at least start looking elsewhere. Eventually the Rams will have to get it right. The snakebites will heal, the storm clouds will clear, the curse will be broken and Justin King will be banished to Narnia. That’s what good coaches can do. You just have to know where to find them. To me there are three classes of NFL head coaching candidates.
First are the obvious, the upper echelon of coaching talents and, because they have done it before, fans immediately assume that they will succeed again. Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher are a few names that come to mind. Pipe dreams are wonderful, but if there is anything that I have learned by following the NFL, it is that you can’t live in the past and that history, while a great teacher, cannot be trusted in conventional wisdom. The game evolves too quickly. Any extended time spent away from the sidelines, while arguably good for the man, does no favors for their coaching habits. Why would they choose the Rams anyway?
The two others, I know, have become all Rams fans’ favorites: newly converted coordinators. The reason I say "two" has nothing to do with offense and defense; it’s more the perceived value and rank by teams and the media alike.
There are the guys you’ve always known about, purely because they receive constant media attention. More than likely, if they are only recently raved about as potential head coaches, they are presently near the helm of a helluva good team and/or playoff run. I’m sure we all remember the buzz that surrounded defensive coordinators Rex Ryan, Jim Schwartz and especially Steve Spagnuolo in 2009. These guys sparked the headlines, good or bad, because winning creates relevance.
This leaves us with the candidates of whom you have never heard. More often than not they have something really good going for them that sweetens the pot, making them attractive options to head coach deprived teams. These are the coaches who have spent years behind the scenes, quietly building impressive resumes, working one-on-one with the players we all know and love. I invite you to now recall former Rams offensive coordinator, Browns head coach Pat Shurmur and his "pot-sweetener" Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford. I’m fairly certain that no one reading at Turf Show Times would consider Shurmur a viable option for head coach, but, fan of the dink-and-dunk or not, he did run a more affective offense than we’re used to seeing nowadays.
Still unconvinced? This group also included Super Bowl winners Mike Tomlin and Mike McCarthy, two coaches few had ever known of before hitting the spotlight with elite NFL franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. Tomlin, 34 at the time, had spent only one year coordinating before taking on the Steelers job, making the Minnesota Vikings the league’s best rush defense. McCarthy, once offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, was selected in 2000 as the NFC Assistant Coach of the Year by USA Today.
For the most part, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski likely falls into the ladder of the three categories and, as rumor has it, could soon be eyeing a head coaching gig. In the wake of Jack Del Rio’s inevitable departure from Jacksonville, ESPN’s John Clayton was one of the first to speculate the Jaguars as a potential suitor. If there is anywhere less appealing than St. Louis, it has to be Jacksonville.
Chudzinski, or "Chud" as many prefer, does certainly have something working in his favor. He is the mastermind behind the greatest, most undisputed OROY season since Eric Dickerson: QB Cam Newton. I am among the millions of haters now "eating crow" because I was absolutely certain that Newton was a surefire bust. I was wrong – he looks like a stud – but his offensive play caller cannot go unaccredited.
Carolina currently ranks 5th in the NFL with 399 yards per game and 11th in points with 24.1 per game. These are the type of numbers of which Rams fans can now only now dream, reminiscent of much grander days, when touchdowns were not an anomaly. The Panthers are still considered among the lower tier of teams, but, unlike the Rams, offense cannot be deemed reason why.
Before Chudzinski ever reached the NFL, he spent seven seasons coaching at his alma mater, the University of Miami. There he worked as a tight ends coach and then offensive coordinator. During his tenure he personally coached three all-Americans: Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr.
Prior to accompanying Ron Rivera to the other side of the country, they worked along side each other in San Diego. There Chudzinski spent two separate two-year stints working as a tight ends coach, first from 2005-2006 and again from 2009-2010. If there is anyone that I would want coaching Lance Kendricks at this point, it is the man who coached Antonio Gates to the Pro Bowl four times.
He has also suffered two previous stints with the Cleveland Browns. In 2004, Kellen Winslow’s missed rookie season, he was their tight ends coach. He also spent 2007 and 2008 as the Browns offensive coordinator under then head coach Romeo Crennel. In 2008, the Browns defied logic and sent four offensive players to the Pro Bowl: LT, Joe Thomas; QB, Derek Anderson; WR, Braylon Edwards and TE, Kellen Winslow III. For effect, I’ll say again, he got Derek Anderson to the Pro Bowl.
Chudzinski, still only 43-years-old, has plenty of years coaching left in him. Whether or not he’s yet prepared to take on the responsibility of a complete football team remains pure speculation and, as always, is open for debate. As we are all well aware, coordinators are often simply not suited for the job. He may even elect to stay with Rivera and Newton in Carolina for another year or two, but I have a feeling we will one day see him chewing out Ed Hochuli, challenge flag in hand, on the path to either saving or ruining an entire NFL franchise.
I’d love to take a more in depth look into his offensive system and philosophy, imagining it with some of our current players, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Needless to say, it would not be run to the same affect with Sam Bradford behind center; however, with Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey (who will be a free agent at year’s end) already combined for over 900 yards, I can only assume that he knows how to use two TE’s, perhaps better than others. I don’t think Steven Jackson would suffer from the power running he emphasizes either.
Keep your eye on this guy, because he is a growing coaching talent in this league. He knows how to score and does it without an elite supporting cast.
You can only assume that a playmaking star such as Oklahoma State wide receiver, Justin Blackmon would be atop his draft board. Consider the combination of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart that he currently uses, as well. He would likely value a talented backup running back to spell Jackson a lot more than those we are now used to seeing in the "war room."
And how sweet would it be for Stan Kroenke to steal something else away from Shahid Khan?
Just a thought. Thanks for reading.