JERSEY CITY, N.J. — In the past decade there have been 69 head coach changes in the NFL and only one of 20 retread coaches went on to win a Super Bowl.
Come Sunday night, though, there will be another that joins the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin as the only coaches to win a title in the last ten years after “failing” as head coaches in their previous stops.
Both the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the Broncos’ John Fox were given chances to coach in the NFL at the highest level after they fell short in their first attempts. And the teams that gave them the opportunity are reaping the benefits.
Carroll said that he hopes his success gives other coaches that were maybe fired prematurely or just needed a change of scenery another crack at being a head coach.
“I wish guys would get more chances,” said Carroll, who first coached the New York Jets and the Patriots. “I wish guys would get longer opportunities to show who they are because I just know that quite often owners won’t know. They won’t know what they had if they don’t give them an opportunity.
“I think I’m an example of that to some extent. I had a couple of times I got bounced.”
Carroll coached the Jets for only one season (1994) before he was bounced. He got another chance three seasons later with the Patriots, but lasted only three years. He then went back to college and helmed Southern Cal for nine seasons before the Seahawks extended an offer to return to the NFL in 2010.
Fox had more success with the Panthers than Carroll had at either of his first two jobs. He won 73 games in nine seasons and reached the Super Bowl in 2003 before eventually losing to the Patriots, 32-29.
While he didn’t take a step back into a lesser role like Carroll did in 1995, or didn’t leave the NFL for a hiatus also like Carroll did in 2000, Fox said he was able to learn from his past mistakes.
“I think you’re always growing, you’re always learning. Life is kind of trial and error,” he said. “I’ve always been of the belief that if you stop learning you stop living.”
Coaches far too often take the brunt of criticism — and praise — for their teams’ success or failure. There are far too many other variables at play for one person to have that much impact.
Yes, over time the good separate themselves from the bad no matter the circumstances. But sometimes good coaches don’t win for reasons out of their control and aren’t given enough time to overcome the disadvantages they were handed.
“This is a very unique job and it’s a job that takes time for guys to develop their way and their style,” Carroll said. “Very rarely does everybody have their act together when they hit it. There’s so many variables to the decision-making, the choices that you’re faced with and the uniqueness of the spread of things that you have to deal with that it takes time to get your act together.
“So anybody that gets a one-year shot, you have no idea what he could have done.”
Ironically, Carroll was hired by Seattle after Jim Mora was fired after one season. Mora was on his second head-coaching stint, but a surprising number of coaches have recently been fired after just one season.
The Browns cut Rob Chudzinski loose in January after one year. Mike Mularkey in Jacksonville (2013) and Hue Jackson in Oakland (2012) are other recent one-and-done coaches.
Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was given only two seasons in Cleveland. He would like another chance. The Buccaneers canned Greg Schiano in January after only two years. But they replaced him with Lovie Smith, who falls in the Fox category of a long-time coach that couldn’t get over the hump at his first stop.
“There’s always plenty of opportunity. There’s, what, seven, eight guys that changeover every single year,” former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said. “So there’s always opportunities, and if guy’s done a good job even though he may be a so-called ‘retread’ he’s going to have an opportunity. But some of these owners are looking for that new hot name coming out of college or maybe the up-and-coming coordinator.”
Johnson was once the hot name. He is often the example used when owners hire a college coach that may have no or little NFL experience like the Eagles did last year with Chip Kelly.
Forty-nine of the 69 coaches hired over the last decade before this offseason had no prior NFL head coaching experience and four — the Saints’ Sean Payton, the Packers’ Mike McCarthy, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Colts’ Jim Caldwell — eventually won Super Bowls.
Four of 49 (12.3 percent) is only slightly better than two of 20 (10 pct.). But there are still retread coaches getting second chances — recently, Ken Whisenhunt, Andy Reid and Jeff Fisher — and that number could grow after the examples set by Carroll and Fox.
Broncos offensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who guided Denver as interim coach as Fox recovered from a health scare, wants another shot. He was fired in 2011 after nine seasons with the Jaguars.
“There certainly are opportunities each and every year, and at some point it will match up with what somebody’s looking for and what I offer,” Del Rio said.
The Patriots gave Bill Belichick another chance after he struck out with the Browns, and he went on to win three Super Bowls. The Giants hired Coughlin after a failed stint with the Jaguars. The Seahawks and Broncos are a victory away from looking like geniuses.
“Hopefully the example gives some guys a second shot — that I’ve demonstrated,” Carroll said. “And I hope it helps some other guys out because there are some really good coaches that aren’t head coaches right now.”