Candidates list proves Packers willing to give fired coaches a second (or third) chance

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds up the Vince Lombardi Trophy as he celebrates after the Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in NFL Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.

GREEN BAY - Here was Mike Pettine, fresh back into the coaching business last January, just thankful for his new job. Or, more specifically, thankful for what his new job wasn’t.

The Green Bay Packers' newly minted defensive coordinator had seen the top of his profession. And the top doesn’t always look all that good. Two years after the Cleveland Browns hired him as head coach, Pettine was a beaten man. He just wanted to coach again. Not administrate. Coach.

Maybe, somewhere deep down, Pettine would like to climb to the top of that ladder again. He’s in no rush. Pettine made that clear.

“When I was the head coach,” Pettine said, “I didn’t enjoy the lack of interaction with the actual football part of it. I always made the comparison, it was going from being the teacher to now you’re the principal. The administrative part might be, as a coordinator, 90 percent football, 10 percent administrative stuff. That essentially flipped, and I didn’t like it.

“I missed the camaraderie of the room, the interaction with the staff, the interaction with the players. The chess-game part of it. The designing a game plan tailored to your opponent. That’s the further thing from my mind."

Ambition being what it is, being a head coach again is not the furthest thing from the minds of many former head coaches. Over history, many have put themselves through that ringer a second time. Looking at the list of known candidates the Packers are interviewing for their vacancy, it’s possible and perhaps likely they’ll hire a coach who has been fired from the same job once before. Or maybe twice.

The Packers started their search by interviewing Jim Caldwell and Chuck Pagano. Caldwell led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl appearance in 2009, but the Colts fired him after a 2-14 season in 2011. He led the Detroit Lions to considerable success, including three winning seasons and a playoff appearance in four years, but the Lions fired him last year.

Pagano led the Colts to an AFC Championship game appearance and three straight 11-win seasons, but was fired last year after three straight seasons without a winning record.

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New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, whom the Packers interviewed Friday, was fired after two seasons as Denver’s head coach. Adam Gase was fired last week after three years as Miami's head coach. Dan Campbell, formerly the Dolphins interim head coach in 2015, was not retained after finishing with a 5-7 record. Mike Munchak was fired after three seasons in Tennessee.

Of the known interview candidates, only Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, New England defensive coordinator Brian Flores and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken have never been an NFL head coach.

It’s not uncommon for coaches to be hired again after previously being fired elsewhere. The league is a constant cycle, populated by second chances. Sometimes it works splendidly. Other times it doesn’t.

As the Packers do their research on so many former head coaches, here’s a look at good and bad examples from the past.

The good

Bill Belichick: Why not start with the greatest? (To many people outside Green Bay, at least.) Sounds crazy, but before becoming a future Hall of Fame coach with the Patriots, Belichick was once fired by the Cleveland Browns. Belichick coached five seasons in Cleveland, amassing a 36-44 record. His lone winning season was an 11-5 record in 1994. When the Browns went 5-11 the following year, Belichick was fired three months after the franchise’s move to Baltimore was announced. Belichick returned to head coaching five years later in New England. Since then, he has led the Patriots to seven Super Bowls. His five championships are the most for any coach in the Super Bowl era.

Tony Dungy: Dungy led Tampa Bay to the playoffs three straight years, but when it was perceived he could not get the team over its final hurdle, the Bucs fired him despite a 54-42 record in five seasons. In his second act, Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to one of the more impressive regular-season stretches in NFL history. Starting in 2002, one season after the Bucs fired him, Dungy led the Colts to seven straight seasons with double-digit wins. The Colts won 12 games a record six straight times, a record since broken by Belichick. And, yes, Dungy got the Colts over that final hurdle, leading them to a Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears.

Pete Carroll: After the Patriots’ success depreciated in each of Carroll’s three seasons as head coach, from 10-6 to 9-7 to 8-8, owner Bob Kraft fired him despite his never having a losing record. Kraft replaced Carroll with Belichick, so that didn’t turn out too bad for the Patriots. After a hiatus in college football, leading USC to consecutive national championships, Carroll proved he could succeed in the NFL. After becoming the Seattle Seahawks head coach in 2010, Carroll has been the most successful coach in the NFC this decade. He’s 89-54-1 with the Seahawks, leading them to a pair of Super Bowl appearances, including a championship in 2013.

The bad

Hue Jackson: After a one-and-done season in Oakland, Jackson was hired by the Browns before the 2016 season. He went 1-15 in 2016. Then, the Browns became only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. After a stumbling, 2-5-1 start this season, the Browns fired Jackson in October. In less than three years, Jackson led the Browns to a 3-36-1 record. That’s less than ideal. The Browns rallied after Jackson was fired, winning five of their final seven games.

George Seifert: Sometimes, even coaches with impressive pedigrees struggle in second jobs. Despite never winning fewer than 10 games in his eight seasons, the San Francisco 49ers fired Seifert three years after he led them to a Super Bowl XXIX victory. The Carolina Panthers, still young in their franchise’s history, hired Seifert in 1999 no doubt in part because of his track record. After a promising 8-8 season in 1999 (following a 4-12 record in 1998), the Panthers went 7-9 in 2000. Then the bottom fell out in a 1-15 season in which the team was criticized for looking disinterested. Seifert was promptly fired after the season.

Rich Kotite: His first coaching stint in Philadelphia actually didn’t go too badly. Kotite went 10-6 and 11-5 in his first two seasons with the Eagles, even advancing to the NFC divisional round in 1992. But after treading water the next two seasons, Philly fired him. Kotite picked up a job with the New York Jets in the next season, and even was granted control over the team’s personnel. In two seasons, Kotite led the Jets to a 4-28 record. He was fired after the Jets finished 1-15 in 1996.

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