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Blanket Coverage: Recent coaching hires stray from the NFL's winning formula

You can learn a lot about the NFL's most and least successful franchises by looking at both the new hires and candidates who were passed over for this year's head coach openings.

With Kyle Shanahan all but signed on as the 49ers’ next sacrificial lamb head coach, all six coaching jobs have been filled. Shanahan joins Sean McVay (Rams), Doug Marrone (Jaguars), Sean McDermott (Bills), Anthony Lynn (Chargers) and Vance Joseph (Broncos) as the coaching Class of 2017.

I certainly have made my thoughts known on the state of NFL coaching, and I’m not overly enthused about this group outside of Shanahan and McDermott, who both have the type of track record (multiple years as a coordinator, coaching in different systems with different coaches) that seems to be indicative of success.

But I wanted to get more of a sense of what people inside the game think about the big picture in regards to this latest round of coaching hires, a job pool that didn’t entice Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enough to take a job. So I asked three executives, all from successful franchises, what they thought. It wasn’t pretty, and their scorn was universally aimed at one place: the owners.

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“They’ve made a lot of money in business, but it’s incredible to me how far out of their depth they really are on this,” said one executive. “They have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Look at Jacksonville. They keep Marrone—I mean, he was an assistant head coach on that team the past two years [8–24], was he not?—and say he’s by far the best candidate. After speaking to McDaniels, Shanahan and Mike Smith? Are you kidding? He was obviously the best candidate to give that whole group another shot at proving they put together a good team and quarterback. Bulletin: They’re not that good, it wasn’t Gus’s fault. And then, after hiring Marrone, the owner hires Tom Coughlin to oversee everything. Basically he’s telling [GM] Dave [Caldwell] what to do? How else is that going? I don’t know. I think that most of these places are screwed up.”

That was basically the consensus: Owners are morons.

“I think the one thing about these jobs is the only way for true success is if you’re philosophically aligned in everything that you do,” said another executive. “And that means everything. From how you grade draft prospects to what your philosophy is on surgeries to your free-agent process and your position descriptions. There’s a laundry list of things that you have to have the right partner. You can’t be trying to mesh two philosophies that are different. It’s just very difficult. Somebody’s got to be the bull, whether it’s the GM or the coach, and they both have to see everything the exact same way.”

They have a point. Look at this season’s most successful franchises. Bill Belichick has full control of the Patriots. In Dallas, Jason Garrett had been with the Cowboys and knew exactly what he was signing up for. In Kansas City, Andy Reid brought in long-time friend John Dorsey to run personnel. In Atlanta, coach Dan Quinn was given final organizational say and works with GM Thomas Dimitroff on everything. The Steelers have a tried and true organizational philosophy. The Seahawks are Pete Carroll’s show, and GM John Schneider was brought in to get Carroll’s players. In Green Bay, Ted Thompson is a strong GM, but he had previous experience with Mike McCarthy before hiring him. John Elway runs the show in the Denver, and he won biggest with a coach (Gary Kubiak) he had a lot of history with.

Now let’s look at the recently failed regimes, they all have the same theme: all five involved shotgun marriages between coaches and GMs that had no previous working relationships (Les Snead/Jeff Fisher, Rams; Dave Caldwell/Gus Bradley, Jaguars; Doug Whaley/Rex Ryan, Bills; Tom Telesco/Mike McCoy, Chargers; Trent Baalke/Chip Kelly, 49ers).

None of this year’s new hires has a past with the dominant power broker in the building. Elway at least has a loose relationship with Joseph through Kubiak, who had Joseph on his Texans staff. Marrone and Caldwell certainly have a history from the past two years, but if Coughlin now calls all the shots, that doesn’t count for much.

All the while, both McDaniels and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will be in their current jobs for at least another year. Why? No one has a good answer. The 49ers insisted on interviewing GM candidates, which may have turned off McDaniels, who wanted to choose his own GM. McDaniels likely told the Rams and Jaguars the truth—that both their young quarterbacks (Jared Goff and Blake Bortles) were not the answer—while the GMs that traded up (Rams) or overdrafted (Jaguars) to get both were part of the interviews. Gee, I wonder why both teams then went with coaches (McVay and Marrone) who will gladly work with those quarterbacks.

“The only way McDaniels is going to take a head job is it’s got to be that way: He has to be working with somebody that he knows,” said another executive. “Belichick is a brilliant guy and Brady is awesome, I get all that. But if you were an owner and you hire a guy from that system, wouldn’t you want that guy to use that model? Why argue against that model? That model has been successful for 16 years now. It’s incredible. Belichick only wins because of Brady? That’s the dumbest thing you could ever say. There’s a process to how they do things. Why wouldn’t you encourage him to utilize that process? I don’t understand it.”

Between keeping Roger Goodell in his job and failing to fill open jobs within their own franchises efficiently, this is the latest installment of the running series “how owners are ruining the NFL”.

Blanket Report

Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines in the NFL this week:

Go crazy, folks

Travis Kelce needs to grow up: Kelce is 27 years old and he just finished his fourth season in the NFL. There is absolutely no excuse for the way he continually kills his team with his selfish play on the field and his embarrassing words off it. Peter Pan, it’s time to grow up.

Taylor would be great fit for Browns: ESPN reported that the Browns are expected to go after Bills QB Tyrod Taylor should he, as expected, be released by Buffalo. Taylor had a good season for the Bills and has room to grow. He would be a terrific fit for Hue Jackson’s offense, so this would be a great move for Cleveland.

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Slow your roll

Tomlin was right on Brown, but he created the problem: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did a great job calling out Antonio Brown in the wake of his post-game Facebook video. This part, especially, rang true and honest: “He’s a great player, he’s a hard-working player, he’s respected largely in the locker room for those things, but incidents such as this don’t help him in that regard. … I think that’s oftentimes why you see great players move around from team to team. I definitely don’t want that to be his story. I'm sure he doesn’t want that to be his story, so he has to address these things that put him and us in position from time to time in settings such as this that need to be addressed.” That was great stuff by Tomlin. But what shouldn’t be overlooked is that Tomlin created the atmosphere for Brown’s actions and some of the other nonsense that goes on with the Steelers, including multiple suspensions and how such a talented team constantly underachieves during the regular season.

Godsey wasn’t a fall guy in Houston: The Texans had a historically bad offense, and free-agent QB Brock Osweiler did not have a good season. One day after losing to the Patriots, offensive coordinator George Godsey and the team mutually parted ways. It’s certainly easy to say that Godsey was made the fall guy by coach Bill O’Brien, but that wasn’t the case. Godsey did a good job there but was a victim of circumstances, and a fresh start was probably wise for everyone involved. Godsey is well respected and will likely land somewhere as a quarterbacks coach in short order. What happened in Houston wasn’t Godsey’s fault, but now it’s up to O’Brien to get it fixed.

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What to watch on Sunday

NFC Championship Game

Hope the Georgia Dome scoreboard operator has strong fingers, because they’re going to get a workout when the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (33.8 points per game) hosts No. 4 (27.0). In the postseason, both teams have been even better, with the Packers averaging 38 points per game and the Falcons 36. They were also among the bottom third in points allowed. Like Atlanta’s 33–32 victory in the team’s regular season meeting, this game will come down to which defense can force the most punts. With Clay Matthews healthy for the rematch, the Packers have more potential play disruptors on defense. Falcons edge rushers Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney have a much more difficult assignment getting past Green Bay’s excellent pass protection to affect the scorching-hot Aaron Rodgers, who killed Atlanta in Week 8 with 60 yards on scrambles.

One injury to watch: Julio Jones (toe) did not look right against the Seahawks. The Falcons can’t afford to lose him like the Packers can Jordy Nelson (who is unlikely to play through his broken ribs). Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will have a great gameplan as usual, focusing on the Packers’ inside linebackers who are weak in coverage and then attacking the voids in the deep zones, but Rodgers is in such a zone right now it’s difficult to see a middling defense like Atlanta’s getting enough stops.Packers 38, Falcons 32.

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AFC Championship Game

This will be an old-school we-hate-them, they-hate-us grudge match with modern trappings. The Steelers think the Patriots cheated them out of Super Bowls in 2001 and ’04 because of Spygate. And you may recall that when these teams met in Foxborough in ’15, Pittsburgh’s headsets went on the fritz and started pumping out the local radio broadcast of the game. No wonder coach Mike Tomlin called the Patriots a------s after beating the Chiefs on Sunday. The Steelers ought to be less concerned about past slights and more worried about finding a way to slow Tom Brady, who has owned them at Gillette Stadium (he’s 4–0 against Pittsburgh there) and has completed 75.9% of his passes with a 136.4 rating in two games against defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Butler’s units have had no answer for receiver Julian Edelman, who has caught 20 of 22 targets in those two meetings, but without Rob Gronkowski and with a banged-up receiving corps, someone will need to step up—TE Martellus Bennett and WR Chris Hogan need big games.

One thing to keep in mind: In their past get-togethers New England has never faced the full combined firepower of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Which means that Sunday will present an altogether new challenge for the Patriots’ defense. The best skill-position combo they faced this season was way back in Week 1 against the Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson. The best quarterback they’ve faced since then was Russell Wilson, in Week 10, and he torched them in a 31–24 Seahawks win. The Patriots simply are not battle-tested against an offense of this caliber. If Roethlisberger doesn’t rapidly improve on the road, however, it won’t matter. On the road in the regular season, he completed just 59.4% of his passes for 238 yards per game, with nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 78.4 rating. At Arrowhead Stadium last week, he was even worse: 224 yards, no TDs, one pick and a 72.5 rating. Pittsburgh has zero chance against New England if Road Ben shows up. Patriots 30, Steelers 27.