Several coaching changes taking place in the NFL this week

Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano adjusts his headset as he coaches against the San Diego Chargers during their NFL football game in San Diego, California October 2, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

There have been several coaching changes that have taken place in the NFL this week. Here’s the latest news from around the league.

Sparano now the offensive coordinator for the Jets
Following the resignation of Brian Schottenheimer on Tuesday night, the Jets moved quickly by hiring former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano offensive coordinator on Wednesday. Sparano called plays with the Cowboys in 2006 and his style matches that of Rex Ryan’s “ground ‘n’ pound” philosophy. There was also a report from the New York Daily News on Wednesday that several players and members of the organization have doubts about whether Mark Sanchez has enough ability to succeed at quarterback. Apparently some want the team to pursue Peyton Manning if he were to become available this offseason.

Raiders dump Jackson after one season.
The Raiders have fired head coach Hue Jackson, believes owner Mark Davis and not new GM Reggie McKenzie was at the root of his termination. “I would be hard-pressed to find a guy who didn’t like Hue,” receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh said. “I’ll bet you San Diego, Kansas City and Denver like this move, because we would have been good next year with Hue.” The Raiders will be searching for their 34th head coach in the past five seasons.

“Marty Ball” coming to Tampa?
The Bucs interviewed 68-year-old Marty Schottenheimer for their vacant head-coaching position on Tuesday. He’s 200-126-1 during the regular season but just 5-13 in the postseason, which has bread the moniker “Marty Ball.” While he often does a fantastic job rebuilding teams, he’s been heavily criticized for his conservatism and brutal coaching during the postseason. According to’s Jim Trotter, Marty’s son Brian will not be joining the Bucs’ staff if Marty lands the head-coaching job.

Haley heading back to the desert?
The Cardinals have apparently spoken to ex-Chiefs head coach Todd Haley about possibly returning to Arizona, although it’s not known at this point if a) Haley is interested and b) what position he would hold. It’s worth noting that the Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller on Tuesday, so maybe the team is already in the process of making room for their former offensive coordinator.

Jaguars hire Mularkey, Falcons need to replace both coordinators.
Following the Falcons’ embarrassing 24-2 loss to the Giants on Sunday, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left the organization Monday to accept the same role at the University of Auburn. On Tuesday night, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey was hired as head coach of the Jaguars, leaving the Falcons with two positions to fill. Jack Del Rio’s name has been mentioned as a potential replacement for VanGorder but as of this time, nobody has been mentioned as a potential suitor for Mularkey. (The options are limitless, although if I were the Falcons I’d scoop up Hue Jackson in heartbeat.)

Gruden staying in Cincinnati.
Bengals’ offensive coordinator Jay Gruden confirmed on Wednesday that he won’t be interview for any open head-coaching jobs this offseason. “I’m new to this. If I’d been in the league 25 years, I would have interviewed,” Gruden told the media. “I just wanted to put it to bed and move on with what we’ve got going here.” Noble might not be the best word to describe Gruden’s decision to stay put but it’s nice to see that a coach wants to grow as a coordinator before rushing off to be a head coach.

Colts find their new GM.
The Colts hired Eagles director of player personnel Ryan Grigson as their next general manager according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Grigson is highly regarded in the scouting community and was the runner-up to Howie Roseman for the Eagles’ GM job in 2010. He’ll replace Bill Polian in Indianapolis.

Bears promote Mike Tice to offensive coordinator.
This transaction actually happened last week but it was worth noting in this piece. Tice did a nice job maximizing the talent that former GM Jerry Angelo got him along the offensive line (that’s a nice way of saying that Tice didn’t have much to work with), but he’s not much of a game-planner. Chances are he’ll manage the running game and the Bears will seek another coach to coordinate their passing attack. If you’re confused, so are most Chicago fans.

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Jets back up their talk, shock Patriots in Foxboro

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan (R) talks to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the Jets beat the Partriots during their AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Foxborough, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts about the Jets’ shocking 28-21 victory over the Patriots in the Divisional Round on Sunday.

1. Jets back up their talk.
If a head coach and his players are going to talk as much as Rex Ryan and the Jets do, they better back it up. Towards the end of this week, even Reggie Jackson was telling the Jets to shut up and just play football. Everyone was tired of them, but as I wrote throughout the week, all that bravado is what riles this team up. That’s who they are and if they continue to back it up, then they might as well keep talking (even at the risk of becoming public enemies No. 1 in the eyes of fans outside of New York). The Jets brought the fight right to the Patriots’ doorstep and then followed through with a knockout punch. For the second straight year, the Jets won two road games to advance to the AFC Championship Game. This may be a strange comment, but I think had the Jets played at home the past two postseasons, they wouldn’t have reached both title games. This team absorbs that “us versus the world” mentality and would follow Ryan off a cliff if he asked them, too. What an upset.

2. Pressure is the great equalizer.
The 2007 New York Giants showed everyone that if a team can pressure a quarterback, it can disrupt the flow of even the most potent offenses. Defensive end Shaun Ellis had a great game as both a pass-rusher and as a run-stuffer. His two sacks of Tom Brady on the Patriots’ second possession set the tone for the rest of the game. From that point on, you got the sense that the Jets would continue to bring the heat until the Patriots stopped them. What’s interesting is that the Jets didn’t blitz Peyton Manning last week. That speaks to Ryan’s ability as a game planner that he can beat two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in back-to-back weeks with two different schemes. In total, Ryan’s defense sacked Brady five times and finished with seven QB hits. It wasn’t until about the five-minute mark in the third quarter that New England’s offense finally got its passing game going and by that time, the Pats were already trailing, 14-3.

3. That said, it was a complete effort by the entire Jets’ team.
The Jets’ ability to pressure Brady played a huge role but New York was just better in all phases of the game. There were times when the Jets only rushed three down linemen and Brady still had nowhere to throw because New York’s back eight blanketed his receivers. Even when New England receivers broke off their routes and tried to shake free in the Jets’ secondary, they couldn’t. Offensively, Mark Sanchez was brilliant. (Or as brilliant as Sanchez can be at this stage in his career.) He only threw for 194 yards but he completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for three touchdowns and finished with a QB rating of 127.3. His touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes early in the fourth quarter was thrown to a spot where only his receiver could catch it and Holmes made an incredible play to secure the catch and get two feet inbounds. Most importantly, Sanchez also didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, the Jets didn’t turn the ball over once and were only penalized three times. That’s huge when you’re playing on the road against a team as good as the Patriots. From the coaching staff (what a job Brian Schottenheimer did calling plays) down to the players, the Jets were about perfect execution on Sunday evening and that’s why they have a shot to play in the Super Bowl.

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Five Questions: Jets vs. Patriots

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) calls a play in the huddle in the first quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 6, 2010. The Patriots defeated the Jets 45-3. UPI/Matthew Healey

Matchup: Jets (11-5) @ Patriots (14-2)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET, Sunday

1. Can the combination of Sanchez and Schottenheimer top Belichick?
Earlier this week, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan essentially told the media that this game will come down to whether or not he can raise his level of coaching to match that of Bill Belichick. I understand what he was saying, but I disagree with him. This game won’t come down to Ryan – it’ll come down to whether or not Brian Schottenheimer can raise his game. While Ryan certainly has his hands full trying to figure out a way to slow the Patriots’ offense, Schottenheimer must design a game plan that will top Belichick’s defense. Outside of a couple of throws, Mark Sanchez did not play well last weekend in Indianapolis. It was the Jets’ running game and defense that propelled them to victory. So first off, can Sanchez play better? If he can, will his offensive coordinator put together an intelligent game plan so that he can exploit the very few weaknesses that the Patriots have?

2. Will the Pats overlook the Jets?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Patriots are the better football team in this matchup. They have a tremendous coaching staff, they’re always prepared and they have the best quarterback in the league in Tom Brady. But in Week 9, the Pats were beaten by the Browns because they started reading their own press clippings. They did it again in Week 15 after rattling off five in a row and were set to face an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team at home. Matt Flynn nearly beat them that night, as New England’s defense looked flummoxed in a narrow 31-27 victory. With all the trash talk the Jets have been doing this week, it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots will overlook their most hated rivals. But they also beat this team 45-3 just over a month ago and it’s human nature to think that things will play out the same way. Belichick needs to remind his team that the Jets have already beaten them once this season and they’re not going to be caught unprepared like in the last meeting.

3. Can the Jets get their running game going again?
The Jets beat the Colts last week because they were able to run the football in the second half and leave Peyton Manning on the sidelines. They have to do that again if they’re going to pull off another upset. It’s a pipedream to think Sanchez will out-duel Brady, so the Jets need their defense and running game to be as good, if not better than they were against the Colts. A couple of costly turnovers by Sanchez hurt the Jets in their 45-3 loss to the Patriots in December. He must protect the football so the Jets don’t fall behind early and are forced to throw in order to get back into the game. New England has given up 108.0 yards per game this year and an average of 104.0 YPG over the past three weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene won’t be able to run all over the Pats this weekend, but they might be able to control the tempo again like last Saturday.

4. How will Woody’s injury affect the Jets?
Damien Woody was arguably the Jets’ best run-blocker, so losing him for the season could be catastrophic. New York needs to be able to run the ball on Sunday if it’s going to pull off an upset and without Woody that could be difficult. Plus, you have to figure that Belichick will figure out a way to exploit the injury and cause some havoc for Sanchez. There’s no other way to put it: Wayne Hunter (Woody’s replacement) must step up this weekend.

5. Can the Pats stop Keller again?
I the Jets’ 28-14 victory over the Patriots in Week 2, Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In the teams’ second meeting, he caught just three passes for 27 yards and was only targeted four times. You can probably bet that Sanchez will look his tight end’s way more this weekend in effort to spread the ball around and keep New England’s defense guessing. Keller has long been a hidden weapon in the Jets’ passing game and he’s killed teams over the middle this season. New England can’t fall asleep on this guy because he can hurt defenses.

Does anyone want to coach the Bills?

According to, Jets’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has declined the opportunity to interview with the Bills for their vacant head coaching position.

Schottenheimer has remarked throughout the season how much he enjoys working with new Jets coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, and how truly content he is with his current job as the offensive coordinator of the league’s top-ranked running attack.

“I realize we’re probably only going to have him for as long as we’re in this tournament,” Ryan said, “but we’re enjoying it right now.”

“I’d love to be a head coach, but I say that with an asterisk,” Schottenheimer said Sunday after the Jets beat the Bengals in the wild-card round of the playoffs. “That’s my dream, but I want to be a head coach when the time is right, when the situation is right. I don’t want to just take a job to take a job.

Three things:

1) Who calls the NFL playoffs a “tournament?” Come on, Rex.

2) Good for Schottenheimer for waiting for the right opportunity to become a head coach. He realizes that if he fails, his chances of becoming a head coach for another team dwindle.

3) Does anyone want the Bills job? It’s one thing if Bill Cowher rejects you, but quite another when Brian Schottenheimer (a man who wants to become a head coach) does it.

Maybe the Bills should have given Perry Fewell more consideration before firing him. At least his team played hard for him after he took over for Dick Jauron.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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