by Dan Pompei
November 28, 02010
Detroit is where head coaches go before they are sent out to pasture. No one gets another head coaching job after they have coached the Lions.
But there may be an exception.
Marty Mornhinweg was ushered out of Detroit after two inglorious seasons. Opponents who have to prepare for his Eagles offenses these days aren’t laughing very much though.
Mornhinweg has resurrected his career with a little help from his quarterback, and could be in line for a second chance as a head coach.
ICONEagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is the man behind Michael Vick's play.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “I would tell you he’d be a great head football coach. He has a phenomenal football mind and he’s good with people. He’s a good person. Those are good qualities to have in a head coach.”
Mornhinweg has one of the most valuable skills in the game. And it’s not a skill that is common. He can get the best out of a quarterback.
It’s happening now with Michael Vick, of course. But this isn’t the first time. Donovan McNabb had his best season ever with Mornhinweg as his offensive coordinator in 2004. Jeff Garcia had a career year under Mornhinweg in 2000. Steve Young threw for more yards and touchdown passes with Mornhinweg as his coordinator in 1998 than he did in any other season. And Brett Favre threw for a career high 39 touchdown passes, won a Super Bowl and was named league MVP the one year Mornhinweg was his quarterbacks coach.
In the case of Vick, Mornhinweg broke him down fundamentally and had him start from scratch. Vick said the Eagles coach “completely changed me as a passer.”
Mornhinweg addressed Vick’s footwork, his throwing motion, his reads, everything. The result, of course, is a far superior player. Vick leads the league with a passer rating of 108.7. His accuracy has improved dramatically. He previously completed 53.7 percent of his career passes; this year, he is completing 62.8 percent.
Mornhinweg doesn’t use a cookie cutter approach with all of his quarterbacks, so he had a specialized plan for Vick. “You have to coach each quarterback differently because they are all different,” he said.
I asked him if there were similarities in coaching all the great quarterbacks he has coached. “They all have common traits—the instincts, a little bit of a mean streak even though you don’t always see it publicly, they have great determination, and a high level of skill and ability,” he said. “But they all have different styles.”
Mornhinweg’s experience with Young helped him with Vick. “Both are about the same size, both are left-handed, both have uncommon skill and ability, great athleticism, great escapability and running ability,” Mornhinweg said. “But it’s too early and almost unfair to compare them because Steve is a first ballot hall of famer. Some of the things Mike is doing right now, Steve did over a long period of time. Mike’s challenge is playing at that high level over a long period of time.”
There also are parallels between Vick’s style of play and Favre’s style of play. “Brett would try to do it as you wanted and then let his natural ability take over,” Mornhinweg said. “Mike has a little bit of that too. Brett is more of a gunslinger type. But Mike does have a little bit of that in him.”
With Vick playing like Young and Favre combined, it’s enough to make a league forget all about what happened in Detroit.
Things I didn’t used to know
Charles Woodson has been under the radar this year, but he's still playing excellent football.
*Tramon Williams has emerged as the Packers’ best cover man, and one of the best in the league. But that doesn’t mean Charles Woodson has fallen off. In fact, some of the big shots at Lambeau Field believe Woodson is playing every bit as well as he did one year ago, when he was voted NFL defensive player of the year. The 34-year old doesn’t have the same kind of interception production he had last year, but he is doing all the little things well. Woodson gets to where he is supposed to be. He is getting opponents on the ground. And he is a leader who gets teammates lined up and compensates for the mistakes and shortcomings of those around him. It will be interesting to see how Woodson and Williams match up with star Falcons receiver Roddy White Sunday.
*Word out of San Diego is Vincent Jackson has looked awfully good in practice, and has been clicking with Phillip Rivers as if he never had been away. The only issue for Jackson against the Colts Sunday could be his conditioning.
*Sidney Rice, meanwhile, remains in a state of transition for the Vikings. The receiver, who returned from hip surgery last week, still is bothered by the hip. If he plays against Washington today, my Vikings peeps tell me his reps could be limited.
*Also on the subject of the Vikings, many players in the locker room were not disappointed to see Brad Childress sent packing. But I’m told one player was disappointed—Tarvaris Jackson. Childress has been the quarterback’s main advocate, and with Childress gone, the concern is Jackson might not have a future in Minnesota either.
*Stevie Johnson is turning heads with his production (and his celebrations) for the Bills, but NFL scouts still are skeptical about the receiver. This is what one told me: “He has NFL hands but CFL speed. He’s a good guy on that team, but he wouldn’t even make the Cowboys.”
*Even though Jay Cutler has a big arm and Mike Martz has big ideas, the Bears have struggled to get the deep game going. On throws that have traveled more than 20 yards, Cutler has eight completions in 36 attempts for 291 yards. His passer rating on those plays is 35.3, which ranks 58th in the NFL, according to Stats, Inc. What gives? The Bears haven’t had adequate pass protection to give the deep routes time to develop. And when they have, either Cutler or his receivers have been off.
My Sunday Best: Second-chance coaches
If Marty Mornhinweg gets another chance to be a head coach and is successful, he won’t be the first “second chance coach” who has been better the second time around. Here are my best second chance coaches—men who became winners after being fired from their initial jobs. I don’t count coaches like Don Shula, Dick Vermeil and Jon Gruden who never were considered failures. It should be noted that there are seven second chance coaches in the league currently.
1. Bill Belichick. He was 36-44 as the head coach of the Browns, and it took time and experience for him to learn the people aspect of his job.
2. Tony Dungy. He actually was pretty good when he was the coach of the Bucs, but he was forced out because he didn’t take the team to the next level. He became a genius when he took a job on the same team with Peyton Manning.
3. Tom Coughlin. An eight-year stint with the expansion Jaguars helped soften his edges. He became a better coach and won a Super Bowl with the Giants.
4. Mike Shanahan. It’s easy to forget he bombed out as coach of the Raiders before winning a pair of Super Bowls with the Broncos. Now, he’s a third chance coach for the Redskins.
5. Norv Turner. After going 58-82 in his first nine years as a head coach with the Redskins and Raiders, Turner is 35-19 with the Chargers.
Numbers Games: Falcons vs. Packers
One of the reasons the game between the Packers and Falcons Sunday could help determine who gets home field advantage in the NFC is these two teams don’t beat themselves.
ICONMatt Ryan knows how to take care of the football.
Neither team makes a lot of mistakes. The Falcons, for instance, with Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan under center, have thrown only five interceptions. That’s the second lowest total in the NFL. The Packers, meanwhile, have fumbled only four times. That’s better than all but two teams.
The Falcons have an NFC-low 10 giveaways. The Packers rank third in the conference with 14.
The Falcons have lost 171 yards in negative plays. That’s best in the NFC. The Packers have lost 197 yards, which ranks fifth in the conference.
The Falcons also have committed a league-low 38 penalties. The Packers have committed 53 penalties, fifth lowest in the NFL.
Good teams let their opponents beat themselves. It will be interesting to see which of these two mistake-avoiding teams will screw up Sunday.
Coach Talk: Someone you should know
I want to tell you about a friend of mine who also happens to be one of the best coaches I’ve ever met. His name is David Inserra, and he is he the head coach at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois.
Saturday night, Inserra guided his Hawks to the 8A state championship for the third straight year with a victory over Mount Carmel. It also was the sixth time in the last eight years that Inserra had his team in the championship game. In his 10 years at the school, his teams have a 116-14 record. They are 50-0 in the Central Suburban League.
But Inserra’s Maine South team had no business being in the state championship game this year. The Hawks had lost 17 starters (eight on offense, nine on defense) from last year.
They started the season with two losses, being outscored 75-24. Within a week of those games, 10 players quit the team, including a returning starter from the previous season. Three other starters, including a returning starter from last year, suffered season ending injuries. All told, starters missed more than 100 games. They didn’t settle on their starting quarterback, a sophomore, until the third game of the season.
And it’s not like this team is bursting with talent. They have one senior, right tackle Victor Nelson, who is a big time college prospect. He has committed to Boston College. No other senior has been recruited by a Division I school.
Yet Maine South won every game on its schedule after the 0-2 start. In the semifinal game, they beat a Loyola team coached by former Bills linebacker John Holecek in dramatic fashion. Trailing by nine with less than three minutes to go, the Hawks scored two touchdowns in nine seconds on a pass and then recovered a fumble in the end zone for the win.
How has Inserra built this program into such a powerhouse? A few ways.
*He stresses team first, and would rather play a marginally talented leader than a knucklehead with high end ability.
*He has developed quarterbacks consistently.
*He and offensive coordinator Charlie Bliss run an aggressive attack that high school defenses struggle with.
*He has benefited from continuity. Inserra has had the same offensive and defensive coordinator for his entire time as head coach, and the three of them have worked together for 20 years.
*He oversees an intense offseason program that players buy into.
*He and his staff do an incredible job of motivating and teaching.
Inserra hasn’t reinvented any wheels. He’s just coached football in his little corner of the world as well as anyone, anyplace.
Scout Talk: Offensive Tackle Class of 2011
If it’s an offensive tackle you need in the April draft, the best advice may be hold your fire. Let the first round pass. And then jump. A number of offensive tackles look like solid second and third rounders. But the only one who looks like a legitimate first rounder at this point is Colorado’s Nate Solder. Other tackles who are chosen in the first may be picked too high because of the vacuum caused by the lack of talent at the position.
Solder has the kind of length and athleticism teams look for in a left tackle. He doesn’t have the kind of power and anchor ability you want in a top 10 pick, however.
The next two tackles in line right now are Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo and Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi. Castonzo clearly has the athleticism and quickness to play the left side, whereas Carimi might be better suited to be a right tackle in the pros.
Two wildcards who could heat up or cool off in the postseason are Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod and Texas Christian’s Marcus Cannon. Each has first round ability, but neither has shown enough consistency to make a team feel secure using a first round pick on him.
Two players with second round grades who have left tackle feet are DeMarcus Love of Arkansas and James Brewer of Indiana. Love is a little off and on though, and Brewer is considered somewhat of a developmental prospect.
Right tackle prospects who are highly considered include Lee Ziemba of Auburn, Danny Watkins of Baylor and Orlando Franklin of Miami.
One Man Yelp: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
Let’s start at the end. I didn’t like it. Left you hanging. Left you down. No closure. But I should have figured as much. That’s why this was Part I. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is a movie based on one half of a book. The second half, due out next July, should be much better.
The rest of the movie was quite entertaining, as each of the previous movies in the Harry Potter series have been. It plods along at times, at a very deliberate pace. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The story no longer is about Harry Potter’s self preservation—though his survival is central to the story theme. It’s about Harry saving the muggles and defeating Voldemort, the evil one who has neither a heart nor a nose. In order to do this, Harry and his friends must find and destroy the horcruxes which contain Voldemort’s soul. Voldemort and his Death Eaters have Harry and his friends on the run through the entire movie.
There are some surprises on the journey. An animated scene. Harry’s dance moves. Ron’s jealousy of Harry boiling over. And an unlikely hero who saves Harry, Ron and Hermione but pays with his life.
It’s all good stuff. I just wish I could have seen Part II the same day.
*As a head coach, Les Frazier could be Tony Dungy II. He might be more like Dungy than any of Dungy’s other protégés.
*I’ve got a problem with Richard Seymour being fined only $25,000 for punching Ben Roethlisberger the same week when Asante Samuel is being fined $40,000 for a helmet to helmet hit on Derek Hagan. What Seymour did clearly was intentional, and not in the course of the game. What Samuel did may have been unintentional and was difficult to avoid. Something doesn’t add up.
*There is no sense in taking the Thanksgiving day game away from the Lions unless the league can guarantee it can replace the Lions with a better team. And it can’t. The NFL had three bad games this Thanksgiving, even though at least two of them looked like good matchups before the season started.
*If Bud Adams has to choose between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young, he should call Al Davis and accept whatever the Raiders owner is willing to give him for the quarterback.
*Deion Sanders was right—Asante Samuel is an excellent off corner, maybe the best in the league. He’s not as good in press, however.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.