New coaches face added problems amid NFL lockout

Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows his brother faces a challenge.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows his brother faces a challenge.
Posted: March 23, 2011

NEW ORLEANS - NFL head coaches are big on preparation and detail. It's why they work all of those 18-hour days. Well, that and the fact that a good many of them prefer watching game film to going to Bed, Bath & Beyond with the missus.

Imagine then the frustration the league's eight new head coaches must be feeling as the labor standoff starts to gobble up their all-important offseason prep time.

It's a little easier for some than others. The Cowboys' Jason Garrett and the Vikings' Leslie Frazier both spent parts of last season as their team's interim head coach. Two others - the Titans' Mike Munchak and the Raiders' Hue Jackson - were in-house hires. And the Broncos' John Fox has the benefit of nine seasons as an NFL head coach to fall back on, even if he couldn't pick his right tackle out of a lineup right now.

But for the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, the Browns' Pat Shurmur and the Panthers' Ron Rivera, this lockout could be an absolute disaster if it drags on into the late spring and early summer or beyond.

How do you get acquainted with your players and put your stamp on the locker room when your players are barred from your facility and you can't even speak to them if you bumped into them on the street?

How do you install a new offense and defense when your minicamps and OTAs get scrubbed and your training camp is abbreviated?

"Everybody seems to agree that [the lockout] is a disadvantage for first-year coaches," Harbaugh said yesterday at the coaches' media breakfast at the NFL meetings. "It probably is. But we'll find a way to overcome it.

"I love being in uncharted waters, I really do. There's something about it. There's more of a challenge to it. I grew up in 12 different towns by the time I was in high school. I don't know, I feel more comfortable in uncharted waters."

A smart-aleck reporter - no, it wasn't me - asked Harbaugh if he's still going to love those uncharted waters if he doesn't start seeing land by the early summer.

"I'm not going to panic," he said. "I'll find a way."

The former Bears and Colts quarterback is a helluva coach. He proved that at Stanford when he turned the Harvard of the West into a near national champion.

His hiring was the first smart thing the Niners have done in years. But if the lockout drags on into the summer, he's going to need to be more than a helluva coach. He's going to need to be a miracle worker.

Even his brother John, the Ravens' coach, acknowledged that.

"It's going to be pretty tough," he said. "We were having dinner the other night and [Lions coach] Jim Schwartz told him basically there's no way you're going to be able to get it done [if the lockout lasts into the summer]. He told him there's no way you're going to be able to accomplish what you need to accomplish in 2 weeks if this thing lasts a while.

"Jim just kind of bit his tongue, which is what you've got to do in this situation. Because there's nothing you can do about it. You've just got to try to get your team ready to play."

Clearly, teams with established coaching staffs and veteran rosters are going to have a distinct advantage if there is a protracted lockout. If you assume that most of their players will spend more time in a gym than a Five Guys, they will be a lot more game-ready than Harbaugh's Niners or Rivera's Panthers or Shurmur's Browns.

The Eagles' Andy Reid is the longest-tenured coach in the league, but even he's going to have some challenges if the lockout lingers. He has a new defensive coordinator and new defensive position coaches and a new offensive line coach. Still, he's in much better shape than the new guys.

"We had a hard time getting the helmets on the guys in our first minicamp [in 1999]," Reid said. "In the minicamps, you basically install what you're going to get in training camp. So it's going to be a repeat [in training camp]. It's not like you're loading up every day all the way to the first game.

"So you're going to [have to] skip one of those legs if you don't have the first minicamp. You'll have to play catch-up, maybe. That pool [of options] might not be as great early on. A lot of things you might've used early in the season you might not put out there until Week 4 or 5 or 6."

The Browns were supposed to start their offseason workout program on March 14, which was 3 days after the players union decertified and the league imposed the lockout. If the lockout wipes out minicamps and OTAs, the first time Shurmur will see many of his players will be when they report to training camp, whenever that will be.

"I think I'm going to have to catch up in some ways," he admitted. "I don't know about the advantages and disadvantages [of being a new coach in this situation].

"Every team is going to have to deal with some scheduling problems [if the lockout lingers]. I'm trying not to think about it. I'm just planning and replanning as time goes by. It's somewhat of a dynamic calendar right now."

You spend your whole career trying to get one of these 32 NFL head-coaching jobs, and then, when you finally land one of them, you walk into the middle of a freaking labor war.

"It's going to end sometime and the key is going to be being ready to play," said the Panthers' Rivera. "We have to be fluid. We've talked to the coaches. We've told them, 'Hey, let's keep working. Let's do the things we talked about doing. Let's get those things done and then go from there as it happens.' "

And be sure to bring name tags to training camp.

Send email to pdomo@aol.com

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