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Winners, losers in NFL regime changes

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Chris O'Meara)
New Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, right, smiles as he poses for a photo with new head coach Lovie Smith during an NFL football news conference Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Licht becomes the fifth general manager in team history. He takes over a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2007. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Seven NFL teams – the Texans, Titans, Vikings, Bucs, Lions, Redskins and Browns – have new head coaches to begin the 2014 season, and Tampa Bay and Miami have new general managers, as well.

To pick the winners and losers before any of these men have even had a chance to meet with their players for the first time would be silly.

But there is no question that some teams did better than others in how they handled the process of change. And there is always a working list around the NFL of which coaches and executives might be the most ready to take over top jobs, and who might be wading in a bit over their heads.

The Houston Texans get extremely high marks for moving the most quickly and decisively to hire exactly the guy they wanted before anyone else could claim him.

Bill O’Brien was on just about everybody’s list, and Houston is the perfect situation for him, an offensive-minded coach who, with all his Texans back healthy, will have almost everything he needs to contend immediately.

The Tennessee Titans are a very close second and, had they not handled the firing of Mike Munchack so embarrassingly bad, they’d be first. Ken Whisenhunt is another coach who was on every team’s list, was thought to be headed to Detroit, and owner Tommy Smith and GM Ruston Webster pulled quite a coup getting him to come to Nashville.

Some questioned the Minnesota Vikings replacing Leslie Frazier with another defensive coordinator in Mike Zimmer, but the dominance of clubs such as Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina last year is making GM Rick Spielman look pretty smart.

Zimmer is one of those guys who got passed over a half dozen times in recent years and nobody understood why. He’s an outstanding defensive coach whose players listen to him, and the addition of veteran Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator is a perfect fit.

Lovie Smith in Tampa is a mixed bag. Smith knows how to win and probably will win quickly – in the regular season – with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis ready to go on defense and Doug Martin, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph all returning from injury or illness to go along with Vincent Jackson on offense. There is some real talent there.

But giving him complete control and allowing him to hire his own GM, Jason Licht, and then add Jeff Tedford as his offensive coordinator was a huge mistake. Neither is close to the best hire he could have made and Tampa might be good but never good enough as a result.

The hiring of Jim Caldwell in Detroit and Jay Gruden in Washington are tough to call.

Caldwell won with Tony Dungy’s team in Indianapolis and then it all fell apart on him just two years later. Now he needs to assemble a winner. Good man, good coach, but I don’t know if he’s the right one.

Jay Gruden did a nice-but-not-spectacular job running the offense in Cincinnati, but Daniel Snyder has ruined a lot more accomplished coaches than him. Whether he has the goods and can work with Snyder is anyone’s guess.

The interesting part about new Browns coach Mike Pettine is he’s a good football coach and might surprise a lot of people in Cleveland. But is he good enough to overcome the clown show owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner appear to be running down there right now? The fact he was their fourth or fifth choice makes it difficult to get excited about his hiring.

The question you have to ask about new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey is, after doing a nice job of acquiring talent as the director of player personnel in Tampa, why wasn’t he a candidate there, particularly when they hired the somewhat underwhelming Licht?

Did Smith outsmart the Dolphins or himself?

• Hub Arkush covers the NFL for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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