John Smallwood: New, younger group of coaches in NFL

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Raheem Morris has become the NFL's youngest head coach.

SAY THIS FOR the owners in the National Football League, when a new trend starts they don't just ride the wave, they surf a tsunami.

While the decision in Oakland is still pending and an opening in Kansas City may or may not happen, the latest round of the NFL Coaching Derby has thus far had a clear theme: "In with the New."

Of the nine coaches who have been hired by teams for the 2009 season, six have had no previous experience as an NFL head coach, one was named permanent head coach after serving as the interim for his first experience, and two are second-time coaches who just a few years ago got their first opportunities.

Generally when coaches are hired you'll see a few names that make you wonder, "Why is this guy getting yet another chance?" And with nine openings, you definitely would've expected to see some familiar faces.

However, right now the only new coaches to have previously been an NFL head coach are Eric Mangini, who takes over the Cleveland Browns after being fired by the New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks head man Jim Mora, who formerly coached the Atlanta Falcons before becoming the Seahawks offensive coordinator and ultimately replacing the retiring Mike Holmgren.

But again, Mangini's job with the Jets was his first, as was Mora's with the Falcons so they would hardly qualify as same-old-retreads.

Clearly the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin and the Arizona Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt, both hired as untested head coaches in 2007 and now in Super Bowl XLIII, got owners looking more at coordinators and assistant coaches instead of recycled names.

And after this season, with first-time head coaches Mike Smith in Atlanta, John Harbaugh in Baltimore and Tony Sparano in Miami making the playoffs, the copycat mode kicked into high gear.

In San Francisco, the 49ers permanently promoted interim coach Mike Singletary after the team rallied to finish 5-4 under him after he replaced Mike Nolan on Oct. 20.

Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, Rex Ryan with the New York Jets, Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis, Raheem Morris with Tampa Bay, Jim Schwartz in Detroit, and Josh McDaniels in Denver will be making their NFL debuts as head coaches during the 2009 preseason.

I've always been in favor of going for a fresh face when making coaching changes, but this transition from experience to inexperience is rather astonishing.

At the end of the 2008 season, two coaches who won Super Bowls - Tony Dungy in Indianapolis and Seattle's Holmgren, who won a world title in Green Bay - retired. Two more Super Bowl winners, Mike Shanahan in Denver and Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, were surprisingly fired.

In less than a month, the NFL lost coaches who combined to win five Super Bowls and appear in seven.

If you add either Tomlin or Whisenhunt, one of whom will win Super Bowl XLIII, with Bill Belichick in New England and Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants, there are just three current coaches who have won world championships.

The Eagles' Andy Reid, Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, John Fox of the Carolina Panthers and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears are the only other current head coaches who have guided their teams to a Super Bowl appearance.

You probably would have to go back to the early seasons of the league to find a time when there were so few head coaches with championship game experience.

What really emphasizes the trend to go new is that Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls with Denver, and Gruden apparently were not seriously included in the mix of coaching searches.

Tampa Bay and Denver also represent the extreme in going from experienced coach to novice.

When Shanahan came to Denver, he became the coach who helped quarterback John Elway, who was then in his late 30s, become a Super Bowl champion.

At 32 years old, McDaniels, who served 3 years as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, would have been the youngest active head coach in the NFL and the fifth youngest in league history . . . until Tampa Bay hired Morris, who is 4 1/2 months younger

There are 22 players on the Broncos roster who are within 4 years of age of McDaniel, with four being 32 and one older.

Morris is in a similar position with the Buccaneers.

In less than a month, Morris went from being the Bucs defensive backs coach to being promoted to defensive coordinator to being named Gruden's replacement on Jan. 17.

At the end of every season, there are inevitably a number of changes among the head coaching ranks in the NFL. But this year there seems to be something else going on.

This year it looks there has been a changing of the guard. *

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