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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Six new NFL coaches face uphill battles

From the Bay Area to Carolina, it will be a struggle to turn these franchises around.

August 20, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Hue Jackson, left, is the latest to try to turn around the fortunes of the Raiders. Former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh is already playing it close to the vest with the 49ers.
Hue Jackson, left, is the latest to try to turn around the fortunes of the… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

Reporting from Santa Clara, Calif. — One is especially secretive. Another surprisingly candid.

A third has turned back time (and turned down boom boxes), and a fourth has daily meetings with an irascible football legend nobody else ever sees.

They are the NFL's new head coaches — six in all — and each is faced with the monumental challenge of reversing the fortunes of a down-on-its-luck franchise.

Only one of them has been a head coach in the league before (Denver's John Fox), and one takes over a team that was .500 last year (Oakland's Hue Jackson) with the other teams a combined 23-57.

Are they determined to change the culture of their club?

"People like the word 'culture,' that seems to be the big buzz word from everybody, but to me it's more attitude," new San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Our attitude is to do as many things right as we possibly can. I think when you can do that, then people feel that they are prepared and gives them the best chance to not be unsuccessful. That's our attitude that we're taking."

His practices aren't as routinely physical as those of Mike Singletary, the coach he replaced, but Harbaugh's intensity comes through in other ways. With the way he runs around on the field — and not just when working with the quarterbacks — it's as if he's still playing.

Harbaugh is very concerned about what information trickles out of training camp too. He doesn't discuss injuries — he seems more steadfastly against that than most coaches — and, although the workouts are open to spectators, he has security guards positioned all over the practice facility, including on the roof.

Soon, he will close practices so that reporters can watch only the first 30 minutes, which is typically reserved for stretching. While other franchises have done that over the years, it's the first time anyone who covers the 49ers can remember the team going to that extreme for every practice. Harbaugh conceded that wherever he has coached, he has had people scour newspapers and the Internet for any tidbits of information they can find on opponents — this player was limping, that one was feeling a little sick.

For him, the rationale of "but this is the way the 49ers have always done things" is more an indictment — considering the franchise hasn't made the playoffs since 2002 — than a reason to stick to the old rules.

A 90-minute drive north, in Napa, Jackson has taken over a Raiders team that made history last season, becoming the first club to sweep its division … and miss the playoffs.

Jackson played a big part in the success Oakland had, calling a lot of the right plays and turning the head of Raiders owner Al Davis, who eventually fired coach Tom Cable and moved Jackson into that spot.

Davis, 82, has not made a public appearance at practice — this is the deepest into camp he has gone without doing so — but he is staying at the team hotel, and Jackson said they speak on a daily basis. In recent years, Davis has occasionally watched practices from the passenger seat of a golf cart between fields.

Asked to characterize his conversations with the enigmatic owner, Jackson said: "They're great. They're daily. They're constant. They're unbelievable."

Each of the new coaches — except Carolina's Ron Rivera — look as if they will go with a veteran quarterback, at least as a bridge to a younger player. Fox has Kyle Orton in Denver, Mike Munchak has Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, Harbaugh has Alex Smith, and Jackson has Jason Campbell. Pat Shurmur, the new coach in Cleveland, technically has a veteran in second-year quarterback Colt McCoy, even though he was only the starter for half the 2010 season.

As for Rivera, he has yet to make the call whether he'll go with No. 1 pick Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen, drafted in the second round a year ago. Ultimately, Newton will get every chance to claim the job.

What people are starting to notice about Rivera is his refreshing candor. Whereas the coach he replaced, Fox, was an expert at saying a lot but actually revealing very little, Rivera has been very direct and frank when discussing injuries, the status of position battles and the like. It will be

interesting to watch if that continues.

In Tennessee, Munchak has taken an old-school approach in an effort to bring his team together. Things got pretty relaxed in the locker room under longtime coach Jeff Fisher, with players cranking up their personal stereos and even playing video games in their individual stalls.

Munchak does not allow that. He has banned all music blasters from the locker room and has asked that players not wear any type of headphones while working out. He wants teammates talking to one another. It's not that he is against R&R — in fact, he has enhanced the players' lounge — but he clearly thinks there is a time and place for it.

For the moment, the players seem fine with that.

"If the changes that have been made, if that's the way he wants it, that's fine; it's his show," guard Jake Scott told the Tennessean. "But in the end we have to go out and win games."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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