NFL coaching carousel has bizarre twist

The New Year usually signals a few things – colder weather, post-holiday doldrums, having to endure yet another Ryan Seacrest appearance from Times Square, and the NFL coaching carousel starting its annual spin.  Since we last visited this topic, Wade Phillips, Brad Childress, Josh McDainels, Mike Singletary, John Fox, Eric Mangini and Tom Cable were handed their walking papers.  The Dolphins have yet to make a decision on the future of Tony Sparano, but he could be out soon as well.

What’s unusual this year however is that there are fewer head coaching openings. The Vikings and Cowboys took the interim tag off Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett, respectively.  A number of other coaches rumored to be on the hot seat, including Tom Coughlin (Giants), Jack Del Rio (Jaguars), Gary Kubiak (Texans), Marvin Lewis (Bengals) and potentially Jeff Fisher (Titans) all will be sticking with their current teams.

Wait a minute − I see a trend developing here.  Why are teams promoting interim coaches, keeping ones who would normally be fired and not bidding on free agents such as Bill Cowher?  Because of the looming lockout.

You see, if the NFL owners and NFLPA can’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement once the current one expires on March 3, players will literally be locked out of their teams’ facilities.  That means no workouts, OTAs, etc.  That could potentially lead to a delayed/shortened training camp and – GASP – a delayed or even shortened 2011 season.

If a team brings in a new coach with a new staff, new playbook, etc., that team would be behind the proverbial eight ball should there be less time to prepare for the season.  Hence, owners aren’t willing to spend millions on new coaches who might be paid to sit around for a few months.

Now I’m no financial journalist (although I do play a glorified one during the day), but it seems to me that this is a clear smoke signal being sent from the owners:  they anticipate at least some sort of lockout, and they won’t be giving in to the NFLPA anytime soon.  There are a multitude of economic implications too long to mention, but it sure smells like the owners are preparing for the worst.

That being said, there are still three known and one potential opening to speculate about.  Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh is the hottest candidate right now.  He had been the favorite to take the 49ers job, with reports suggesting an offered salary of $5 million per year.  But then today comes news that his can’t-miss quarterback Andrew Luck would be returning for his junior season.  Now, Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports reports that the Dolphins are on the verge of signing Harbaugh, with other reports speculating at a salary of $7-8 million per year.  But shouldn’t Miami actually HAVE a job opening before they “post” it?

According to this Tweet by ESPN analyst John Buccigross this morning, “Chris Mortenson says Tony Sparano will coach Dolphins next year.”  Should Harbaugh decide to stay in Palo Alto or take another NFL job, a report by Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network mentions Fox’s Brian Billick, Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels (which is complete insanity – do the Niners remember the taping scandal from earlier this year?) as potential candidates in San Francisco.

No clear front-runners have emerged yet in Denver or Cleveland, but it will be interesting to see how John Elway and Mike Holmgren handle their first hires.

Despite all this turmoil and potential lockout, there is still one constant: no one knows why Al Davis fired Cable after the man improved to 8-8 going with a 6-0 division record, and no one knows who will take the Raiders job.  Some things never change.

Used with permission of the author.

Chris Lardieri runs the “West Coast View” column for Sports Climax. A veteran to the keyboard, Chris also covers the Los Angeles Dodgers for Examiner.com and has written about Major League Baseball for Inside Edge, a scouting company that provides content to ESPN Insider and Yahoo Sports. Follow Chris on Twitter for more sports observations.

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