When Tony Dungy stepped forward and eulogized his son James on Tuesday, the NFL's No. 1 New Year's resolution should have been clear.
"Hug your kids every chance you get," the Indianapolis Colts head coach said. "Tell them you love them every chance you get. Because you don't know when it's going to be the last time."
When Dungy's son passed away and everyone began talking about the little time coaches spend with their children, it made me think about former San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Bob McKittrick. In 1999, McKittrick, who was a notorious workaholic, was diagnosed with cancer and not long after, he began urging some of his friends in the coaching fraternity to slow down and appreciate other parts of their lives.
For the guys who invented the 18-hour workday, it's an old and oft-broken pledge – one that typically goes out the window a few hours into the New Year. But that sentiment seemed to resonate from Dungy's words.
With that in mind, the first New Year's resolution for the NFL has Dungy and McKittrick in mind.
NFL coaches: Spend more time with the family. We laughed when Nick Saban came out and told us that he forgot his anniversary and landed in his wife's doghouse. But for coaches who sleep on their couches and eat their meals in the film room, it happens more than any of them will admit. Just one year, it would be nice to see coaches find a way to squeeze some home life into their regular-season schedule. Will it happen? Not with fans' expectations, salaries and media scrutiny at an all-time high. This might be the one resolution nobody can afford to keep. Then again, it seems like it's the one resolution nobody can afford to break.
Colts players: Win a ring. Perhaps no team respects and loves its coach more than the Colts do with Dungy. And while a Super Bowl ring isn't going to ease any pain, it would – at the very least – provide something positive in what are going to be trying days, months and years for one of the good guys in the league. The tragedy aside, it would cap a year in which the Colts and Peyton Manning are as complete as they have ever been.
Seattle Seahawks: Pay Shaun Alexander. Considering his consistent production, Alexander deserves to be the highest-paid running back in the league. He's never missed a game in his career, and at 28, he already ranks 12th on the all-time rushing touchdown list. With two more good seasons, he could be second only to Emmitt Smith on that list. Other than Steve Hutchinson, the Seahawks have locked up most of the offense surrounding Alexander, so it makes no sense not to treat the running back like anything other than what he is – the centerpiece.
Terrell Owens: Start over. Owens is too good to forever be known the way he is now – as a spoiled, self-centered big mouth. Maybe it's too late. But in his physical condition, Owens could carve out at least another three or four years as one of the NFL's best receivers and repair his image. Wherever he lands, Owens is going to have to resist his impulses to say anything and everything. And if he can't, then he needs to simply stop talking to all forms of media for the rest of his career.
Fans in New Orleans: Let the Saints go. Tom Benson doesn't want to be part of New Orleans anymore, and he's not selling the team. So why would New Orleans Saints fans want to continue lining the pockets of a man who doesn't want any part of the city and its current problems? Have faith in the league and commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The NFL wants a team in New Orleans, and that means one will end up there at some point.
Baltimore Ravens: Sign Jon Kitna and franchise Jamal Lewis. Don't worry about whether a veteran's presence will hurt Kyle Boller's development. Obviously the absence of one hasn't helped any. Go out and get Kitna so there is a solid veteran option if Boller doesn't extend this season's late progress into 2006. As for Lewis, slap the franchise tag on him and see if he can bounce back with one more opportunity.
William Clay Ford: Give Matt Millen an ultimatum. Having arguably the most futile reign in the history of the NFL's modern era can't be accepted. So the Ford family should tell Millen exactly what it wants next season: Hire the right coach and turn the Detroit Lions into a playoff team in 2006, or break out the broadcasting resume. Millen has had ample time to get the job done, and yet Detroit fans have watched other franchises blow past their team in the last five seasons. It's not asking too much to turn the Lions into a winning team in one year.
Ownership and the NFLPA: Extend the collective bargaining agreement. The league is in the midst of the most serious labor impasse in over 10 years, and if something can't be agreed upon by the end of the coming year, then 2007 becomes an un-salary-capped season. And the level paying field as we know it goes kablooey. For a league as prosperous as the NFL, it makes absolutely no sense to allow that to happen. The players union says that if an agreement can't be reached by March, it will walk away from the negotiations and let the uncapped year arrive. In fact, it's sounding more and more like the players want to see the uncapped season. And once that cap disappears, it's gone forever. Welcome to Major League Baseball.
Bill Parcells: Hang around another year. Drew Bledsoe isn't getting any younger, and that's a problem. But the defense has the young talent to make the Dallas Cowboys special in 2006. Having a healthy offensive line and a deep backfield to go along with a top-notch defense could make the Cowboys worthy of the Super Bowl next season. And if you don't believe it, take a look at the Chicago Bears.
Cincinnati Bengals: Clear out a spot for a Super Bowl trophy. That's right. Measure up the fingers and buy something to polish the Lombardi Trophy. Regardless of what Indianapolis, New England or Pittsburgh do this offseason, the Bengals should get themselves ready to run all the way to the title next season. All of those young players will be a little more mature, and the Bengals will have the cap room to go out and get at least one more defensive piece – maybe a heavy-duty defensive tackle – to bring it all together.
The buzz in league circles is that Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be the hottest coaching commodity this offseason, with the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders expected to be very interested in his services. The Rams link seems a bit odd, considering Williams' reputation as a disciplinarian and the fact that many of the Rams' players have chafed under Joe Vitt's demanding coaching style.
What is clear is that Williams has rebuilt his reputation to its highest point since he left the Tennessee Titans in 2000 to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills. While Williams' stint with the Bills was disappointing, he has opened a lot of eyes across the league by piecing together a Redskins defense that has ranked among the NFL's best in back-to-back seasons.
Two other factors opened a lot of eyes: Williams played a role in the hard-line stance against linebacker LaVar Arrington's freelancing, and he held together his seventh-ranked unit – which doesn't have a single Pro Bowler this year – through midseason injuries and a slump.
If Shaun Alexander walks away with MVP honors this season, he likely won't be the only person in the Seattle franchise to pick up some hardware. President of football operations Tim Ruskell had arguably the best offseason of any personnel man, and he has to be considered the leading candidate for the league's Executive of the Year award.
Ruskell had a strong draft, with major contributions from linebackers Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill, and also made several no-frills, free-agent signings that helped pump life into both sides of the ball – defensive end Bryce Fisher, defensive tackle Chartric Darby, cornerback Kelly Herndon and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.
A league source confirmed this week that the consulting of former coach Dan Reeves will extend beyond the current Houston Texans roster, coaching staff and administrative structure. Reeves apparently will also be asked to provide his input on the draft, too – further evidence Texans general manager Charley Casserly will either be fired or have his capacity reduced this offseason.
It also lends credence to the theory that Reeves' current position is merely the first step in what will become a long-term post with the Texans, although it's unclear what capacity that could be. Head coach is by no means a certainty because the Texans wouldn't be able to hire Reeves without securing an interview with a minority candidate first – per the league's Rooney Rule.
Speaking of the Texans, it's highly unlikely the team is going to part ways with quarterback David Carr, who is due an $8 million bonus this offseason. But if Houston does, one NFC personnel man said he won't be out of work long.
"I don't think he will be available, but if he is, I think there would be a lot of interest from a lot of teams," he said. "We had a very good report on (Carr) before the draft. He was worthy of that (No. 1) pick. … I think a lot of teams thought highly of him and still do. It's not like (former Cleveland Browns quarterback) Tim Couch, where there is an injury. David Carr can get the ball down field, and he's still got what teams were looking for when he was drafted. What is measured (going into the draft) isn't going to change."
Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Willie Roaf is said to be leaning toward returning for another season, despite speculation that he would retire after 2005. Roaf, who has a $3.5 million base salary next season, was named to his 11th Pro Bowl this month. His hamstring injury earlier this season prompted fresh speculation that he would call it quits, but when healthy, he has consistently graded out as Kansas City's best lineman.
Sources from within the Carolina Panthers have been bashing the attitude of wideout Rod Gardner since releasing him earlier this month. Apparently coaches thought Gardner was loafing in practice and had poor study habits – something that led to his failure in picking up the team's offense. According to one source, coaches even went as far as telling Gardner in November that he had to work harder or face a release.
It looks like the offensive line is going to be a high offseason priority for the San Diego Chargers, particularly with the status of left tackle Roman Oben still being up in the air. Oben's left foot didn't respond to treatment in the weeks after he suffered a severe sprain in a 28-20 win over Kansas City. The Chargers' running game became more inconsistent without Oben, and the team is expected to take a hard look at the line's depth – despite backup tackle Leander Jordan doing a fair job of filling in for Oben.
Believe it or not, Chris Simms could still end up as the No. 3 quarterback on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' depth chart next season. Despite his recent growth, head coach Jon Gruden apparently isn't going to move off his plan to have an open competition next season between Brian Griese (if he's healthy), Tim Rattay and Simms.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
All those struggling NFL regimes of the past sure had it easy.
Thanks to the Internet, fan apathy is being taken to a new level in Detroit, where the "Fire Millen" crusade has yet to lose steam. Even though the season is drawing to a close, the campaign to can Millen looks like it's going to have a strong lifespan in cyberspace, thanks to about a dozen blogs/websites that have popped up in recent months.
Of course, the "fire coach" websites are nothing new. But this is the first I've ever seen for a general manager. And it's not just one site, either. Here are just a few (with multiple other variations): firemillen.com, firemillen.net, firemattmillen.com, etc.