'The NFL Beat': You're Fired

A spin around the league’s coaching carousel

'The NFL Beat': You're Fired

This is “The NFL Beat” and you’re fired. Yes, you. You have been a great reader of the column and I can assure you this is solely about what I feel is best for “The NFL Beat” as an organization moving forward. We’re cleaning house. Starting from scratch and starting things over.

All readers who haven’t yet been fired: Let this be a lesson to you. It can happen at any time. Just ask any of the readers I recently laid off in my first paragraph. “NFL” stands for “Not For Long” and here we take our own spin around the league’s coaching carousel.

Raiders Owner Mark Davis was able to secure the organization’s first GM since 1972 (when his late father Al took over) in the form of Packers Director of Football Operations Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie is a former Raiders linebacker, and has been credited with overseeing many aspects of the Packers post-Favre rebuilding process and subsequent resurgence. His first highly-publicized move as Raiders GM was the quick and decisive firing of first-year Head Coach Hue Jackson.

The Raiders finished 8-8 for the second straight season in 2011, and for the ninth straight season, failed to make the playoffs. Denver’s Week 17 loss to Kansas City left the door wide open for the Raiders to stamp their playoff ticket, claiming the elusive AFC West title with a win over San Diego, but the league’s most penalized team was unable to take advantage, playing sloppy and committing costly penalties as usual.

Let me go on record as saying I like Hue Jackson. During my time at Raiders training camp this summer, I was consistently impressed with his aptitude for the game offensively, his demeanor, and his interpersonal communication style. I was very surprised to hear his post-game rant last week, claiming he was “pissed” at his players, and hinting there is only so much a coach can do when game plans are not properly executed. He also went on a tangent about how he would be “taking complete control” (presumably of offseason activity) in what some perceived to be an ill-fated attempt at a power play.

Since being fired, Jackson has told reporters off-record that (McKenzie) “is gonna gut this place” and that “no job is safe.” I agree. McKenzie has inherited a team that was built by Al Davis. While there is an undeniable nucleus of talent on the offensive side of the ball and a defense that is rounding into elite shape, the culture of the Raiders is still the culture of the Raiders. McKenzie believes he has purchased a vehicle that is in need of more than a quick paint job and wax. McKenzie wants a new engine, a new transmission, and a sick aftermarket high-performance steering column. McKenzie has said “I’m gonna rebuild with my guys” and his No. 1 “guy” is Packers Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Winston Moss. Expect Moss to be interviewed and announced as the next Raiders head coach once Green Bay finishes their post-season exploits.

A Few Other Notable Coaching Moves

Former Bucs Head Coach Raheem Morris has been hired by Mike Shanahan’s coaching staff as defensive backs coach for the Redskins. Morris posted a 17-31 record in three seasons as Bucs head coach, and will now be returning to his signature role coaching DBs. He is one of the league’s best in this realm, and is an out-of-the-park hire for a Redskins team that can sorely use more discipline in pass defense. We will get a close look at how Morris is fitting in at Senior Bowl practices later this month, as the Redskins staff will be coaching the South Team.

Fired late in the season by the Dolphins, former Head Coach Tony Sparano has accepted the position of offensive coordinator for the Jets in place of former OC Brian Schottenheimer who last week announced he would not be returning for the 2012 season with the Jets. I love the hire. Sparano inherited a Dolphins team coming off a 1-15 campaign under HC Cam Cameron, and in his first season led the Dolphins to an AFC East title, finishing 11-5. During his three seasons as head coach, he compiled a 27-31 record in Miami and had a 4-3 record against Rex Ryan. Sparano is an avid proponent of generating a bruising run-attack, an attribute that Ryan desires in his team’s culture; but one that Schottenheimer consistently got away from. Former Chiefs HC Todd Haley will also be interviewing with the Jets. The plan is to bring Haley on as a “co-offensive coordinator for the passing game” while leaving Sparano in charge of play-calling and oversight of the run game.

Senior Bowl

The Austin Chronicle broke a little news of our own this week, confirming that talented University of Washington junior running back Chris Polk has received an invite to, and will be playing in this year’s ridiculously stacked Senior Bowl.

I spoke Tuesday with a University of Washington AD regarding Polk’s reported participation in the 2012 Senior Bowl. He said the Senior Bowl generally handles their official announcement process, but someone apparently put a comment on Coach Sarkisian’s blog which was then picked up by the Seattle Times. He said that Polk, a junior, is eligible to play in the Senior Bowl because he is a fourth-year junior, and has graduated. He reminded me that Polk played in two games before his season was lost to injury in 2008, and he has played every game for three years since.

Polk is thought of as a top tier RB for the 2012 Draft, ranking as high as two and three at RB on particular industry draft boards initially. Stay tuned for on-ground scouting reports and coverage from Mobile later this month.

Tough Break for Former Aggie QB Ryan Tannehill

Reports are starting to come out of California that Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill and Wisconsin WR Nick Toon have both suffered “significant” foot/leg injuries during predraft season training in L.A. The availability of Nick Toon for this year’s Senior Bowl is highly in doubt, while Tannehill’s representatives have come out saying he will not be able to play.

Tannehill and Toon were slated to be two of the top players at their respective positions in the Senior Bowl, and the timing of these undetailed “significant” injuries comes at an inopportune time for their draft stock. We’ll keep you posted as reports continue to trickle in, and we wish the best to both Tannehill and Toon in their recovery process.

Dwight Jones and the Senior Bowl

North Carolina WR Dwight Jones has been best-known recently for a terribly thought-out New Year's Eve Bash, but the fact remains that he is an elite draft prospect in 2012. At the beginning of this draft season, Jones is a prospect with the ability to legitimately solidify a body of work that would merit top tier consideration at his position. He is that good and the potential greatness is there. It isn't that he is not already a well-known commodity. He's already going in the first round of many early mock drafts.

I texted today with a UNC AD who told me that he was told a few weeks ago that Jones was playing in the Senior Bowl, but hasn't really had any updates since then. Assuming nothing has changed on Jones' end, he'll be another player we'll be spotlighting down in Mobile later this month.

[Alex Dunlap is the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]

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