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NFL 2000

Coaching Carousel

Parcells, Johnson, Vermeil Are Gone; Wannstedt, Belichick Land With New Teams


When the NFL coaching carousel stopped spinning, three stars had stepped off, another was thrown off, and three lesser-knowns were looking for work.

Gone from the sidelines this season are the likes of Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson, each with two Super Bowl championships in their resumes, each burned out from working toward a third title. Dick Vermeil retired following his only championship, which some say was three decades in the making.

Also out is Mike Ditka, whose three-year stint with the Saints was a disaster, leading to an entire housecleaning in New Orleans.

Joining Ditka, Parcells, Johnson and Vermeil were Pete Carroll, Ray Rhodes and Chan Gailey. At least Rhodes (defensive coordinator in Washington) and Gailey (offensive coordinator in Miami) quickly found work in the league.

In what has become an annual merry-go-round for NFL coaches, a half-dozen jobs changed hands. Some transitions--Dave Wannstedt for Johnson in Miami, Dave Campo for Gailey in Dallas, Mike Martz for Vermeil in St. Louis--were smooth enough, moves up by staff members. Others, particularly Bill Belichick's move from the Jets to New England, were the stuff of soap operas.

"It can be a crazy business," Ditka once said, and with nearly half of the head coaches in their first or second seasons in their current jobs, Ditka was correct.

Take the Belichick situation, as weird as any the NFL coaching fraternity--a very shaky bunch to start with--has witnessed.

On the first Monday of the year, Parcells retired and Belichick, as per his contract with the Jets, was elevated to head coach. It wasn't exactly uncharted territory for Belichick, who guided the Cleveland Browns for five years.

But he bugged out, quitting the next day with a rambling, sometimes incoherent speech.

"It's about the whole package, built up over a period of months," Belichick said, citing an uncertain ownership situation that soon was resolved. "It really was triggered when Bill said, 'If you have that many questions--and I can't answer them all, I'm not the new owners, I'm not selling the team--if you have that many reservations about it, then you should think about whether you want to be in this job."

That would seem to be good advice for any NFL coach, considering the turnover. That Belichick was able to land in New England--following legal hassles and compensation--wasn't so surprising because there always seems to be an opening somewhere.

Never have owners been more impatient with coaching staffs. In this era of free agency, too many owners believe a quick fix is possible. When they devote much of their funds under the salary cap to high-priced newcomers, they--and the fans--expect quick results.

That's certainly how things are shaping up in Washington, where Norv Turner doesn't need just a winning season or division title to survive. If the Redskins don't get to the Super Bowl at the least, owner Daniel Snyder isn't likely to retain him.

"We're definitely the 'Who's Who' of the NFL now," veteran receiver Irving Fryar said. "We've got a lot of great names who carry a lot of great talent with them. Yeah, on paper, we're the team."

Vermeil had the team of 1999, and now Martz, the mastermind of the high-powered attack that helped carry St. Louis to its first pro football crown, gets to oversee the entire operation.

And if the Rams don't repeat, will Martz be viewed a failure? It's a certainty that at least some will think that way.

Which, of course, is unfair.

"I don't want my learning curve as a head coach to affect this team," Martz said.

The Rams actually should be the least-affected team by the coaching change. The Dolphins figure to miss Johnson's bombast and motivational skills. Same thing for the Jets without Parcells.

Dallas is revamping its offense again, returning to the style of the early 1990s at which Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith excelled. Green Bay is doing much of the same under Mike Sherman, who was a pro assistant for only three years before replacing Rhodes.

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