Good time to be a first-time coach

You don’t have to be a devout NFL follower to realize this is a league in perpetual change. Players, coaching staffs, front offices and rosters constantly turning over, with franchises in pursuit of glory. It’s part of the game.

Lately, however, the trend has been toward younger coaches and personnel execs. They come cheaper (a reality in this economic climate), they are often a little more malleable and, with less of an age gap, they can relate to modern athletes more easily, at least in theory (in some cases these coaches are younger than some of their players). It’s happening on the personnel side as well, with first-time general managers becoming more and more common.

There were 11 coaching openings in the NFL this offseason; nine of them went to “rookie” head coaches. And the two head coaches who did have previous experience were not exactly over the hill (Eric Mangini and Jim Mora). And one of those openings was in essence filled in 2008, when the Seahawks named Mora to replace Mike Holmgren with Holmgren retiring after ’08 (by the way, Holmgren is most definitely 100 percent intent on coaching in the NFL in 2010, according to a source with knowledge of the situation).

Of the 2008 coaching changes, all four of them went to first-time head coaches. So that’s almost half the league changing the guard over two years, and 13 of those 15 jobs going to younger guys who had never served in that role before.

Pretty striking stuff.

If you go around the league you’ll find entire divisions essentially dominated by first-time head coaches (and this directly on the heels of the days when guys like Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil came back from, in some cases, quite lengthy retirements in their grandfather years).

Three of the league’s eight divisions have nothing but head coaches on their first gig in that role calling the shots –- AFC South, NFC North and NFC South. Now, this includes guys like Jeff Fisher, currently the longest tenured coach, but, nevertheless, had never been a head coach anywhere prior to taking over the Oilers/Titans franchise. As far as coaches with prior NFL head-coaching experience, besides their current job, there are no more than two such coaches in any division.

Of the 32 coaches in the NFL, 25 are on their first head-coaching assignment.

When you talk to coaches and personnel guys around the league, many figure this trend will continue for a while. As we continue to see younger guys take over as GMs, it stands to reason that we will see younger and younger head-coaching candidates get their first opportunities as well. Especially among those GMs with more of a salary-cap background, they tend to be able to exert a little more control over the coaching staff if it’s not littered with grizzled old football men, and in general gravitate to others of a similar age demographic.

Will be interesting to see how this holds up over time, and make no mistake, with guys like Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden itching to get back into the coaching game, and the potential for eight to 10 more openings a year from now, surely some guys with prior experience will be employed again. And you never know if/when guys like Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy return to coaching as well.

So we may not see the percentage of first-timers this high again, but I’d be surprised if there are not more 30-and 40-somethings given the reigns for years to come, too.

Randoms: Horrible loss for my Red Sox last night. Uggh. That was painful to watch a 10-1 (and what could have been 11-1) lead evaporate due largely to dink-and-dunk singles and one major fielding blunder (George Kotteras had to try a throw to first on a squibber to load the bases in the 8th with no one out). That hurt … Right now Horton Hears a Who! is pretty much the big thing in our house. Our 2-year-old asks for “Horton” throughout the day. As far as Seuss adaptations go, it’s not too shabby. We also get requests for The Grinch Who Stole Christmas year round — the genius original with Boris Karloff at the helm — which holds up remarkably well even on a 95-degree scorcher. Our 4-year-old daughter is already well-versed in Hannah Montana and that Jonas Brothers show, thanks in large part to some older cousins. Guess you can’t fight city hall too much on this stuff. I was kind of hoping we’d be watching Backyardigans, Dora The Explorer and Wonderpets for a few more years, but the powerful tentacles of greater pop culture/tween-marketed programming are difficult to avoid.

– Jason La Canfora

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