While owners and players wring their hands over the possibility of a work stoppage, the business of the NFL marches on – at least until March 3, when the collective bargaining agreement ends.
In the meantime, coaches do what they do best in the offseason -- meet with scouts, prepare for the Combine, work on their draft boards and hope they can hold their very necessary OTAs.
The newly hired head coaches? Guys like Pat Shurmur and Jim Harbaugh, who will take over the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, are new to their jobs, making their assignments more difficult. They might lose valuable offseason workout time with their players if there’s an extended lockout.
There are six new head coaches in the league, discounting Jason Garrett with the Dallas Cowboys and Leslie Frazier with the Minnesota Vikings, both of whom took over at midseason. So who’s got the best chance to succeed among the newbies? Here are the three we think will have an impact:
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Hotly pursued by a number of teams, Harbaugh opted to keep his commute short and moved from Stanford to Santa Clara, Calif. The team he inherits hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2002, it but certainly has the weapons to win the NFC West. All he needs to do is find a quarterback, a pass-rushing linebacker and some help in the secondary (the draft may help in one or two areas). Harbaugh brought many of his Stanford coaches with him, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is an NFL veteran. The big question Harbaugh must answer is whether a college coach can win at the NFL level. None has in the past.
Pat Shurmur, Cleveland Browns
Browns president Mike Holmgren is something of a king maker, having hired Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci and others who coached in the NFL. Shurmur, 45, had no connection to Holmgren, but he worked with GM Tom Heckert for eight years. He spent the past two seasons as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator and helped develop quarterback Sam Bradford. Can he do the same with Colt McCoy? The Browns have just one playoff appearance in the past 13 seasons and ranked 29th in offense last season but showed flickering signs of improvement. Shurmur will work without an offensive coordinator, handling that task himself. That’s not a wise decision, but if he can pull it off, the Browns might be on their way to recovery.
Hue Jackson, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders enjoyed a significant improvement on offense this season, scoring 410 points (sixth in the league) after totaling just 197 in 2009. Much of the credit went to Jackson, the team’s offensive coordinator, who took over playcalling duties from head coach Tom Cable. When owner Al Davis dismissed Cable, who led the team to an 8-8 record, Jackson was the presumed successor. Jackson got capable play from QB Jason Campbell, who was benched twice but still completed 59 percent of his passes and had an 84.5 passer rating. If oft-injured running back Darren McFadden can produce another season like this last one (1,664 yards from scrimmage, 10 touchdowns), the Raiders should be favorites in the AFC West. Having DE Richard Seymour back will support a defense that ranked 11th in the league in yards allowed.
Not on our list: Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans; Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers; John Fox, Denver Broncos. Combined, their teams went 12-36 this season. All three have significant quarterback questions, which is no way to start a new job.