SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Dolphins fans who have criticized the hiring of Adam Gase generally make the same point: This is the fourth consecutive time the Dolphins have taken an offensive assistant coach and made him a head coach --- an approach that clearly hasn’t worked here, at least pre-Gase. Whereas Tony Sparano had been an offensive line coach, Cam Cameron and Joe Philbin (like Gase) were NFL coordinators before Miami hired them.
So we started wondering: Generally how successful is this strategy of hiring offensive coordinators as first-time NFL head coaches? Here’s what we discovered:
### Since 2000, there have been 21 occasions in which a team hired a head coach who had been serving as an offensive coordinator in his previous job and had no NFL head-coaching experience, like Gase.
Of those 21, only five have produced winning records in their first head coaching jobs: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (104-55) and his predecessor Mike Sherman (57-39), ex-Rams coach Mike Martz (53-32), former Vikings coach Brad Childress (39-35) and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett (45-43).
### This is discouraging: Since 2000, AFC teams have hired 12 head coaches who were an offensive coordinator in their previous job and hadn’t coached an NFL team before. Of those 12, not a single one produced a winning record in that first head coaching job; Gary Kubiak (61-64 in Houston, two playoff appearances in eight seasons there) was the only one who was even somewhat successful in that first job. (He's now with Denver.)
The others: Cameron (1-15), Philbin (24-28), the Browns’ Pat Shurmur (9-23) and Rob Chudzinski (4-12), Buffalo’s Mike Mularkey (14-18), Denver’s Josh McDaniels (11-17; Gase was his receivers coach), San Diego's Mike McCoy (23-27), Kansas City’s Todd Haley (19-26) and Oakland’s Bill Callahan (15-17; made Super Bowl, then lost, with a very good team his first season; then went 4-12 and was fired), Lane Kiffin (5-15) and Hue Jackson (8-8).
Those 12 AFC coaches produced only seven winning records and five playoff berths in 32 combined seasons and won 41 percent of their games. Gase, incidentally, said he wanted to return to the AFC.
The caveat, of course, is that five on that list coached struggling franchises in Cleveland and Oakland. But the Dolphins are in the same boat.
### Hiring offensive coordinators as head coaches has been more successful in the NFC this century, though Marty Mornhinweg (5-27 with Lions) and Scott Linehan (11-25 with Rams) were disasters. Those nine NFC coaches have won 53.3 percent of their games.
### Here’s the bottom line: Of the 21 previous first-time NFL head coaches who moved directly from offensive coordinator jobs this century, there was one excellent hire in terms of results (McCarthy), one very good one (Martz) and four pretty good ones (Garrett, Sherman, Kubiak and Jay Gruden), though Sherman and Kubiak were fired, and Garrett has only one playoff berth in six years. If you characterize mediocre Childress as pretty good, that’s generously seven out of 21. Not a good percentage.
### And of those 21 --- all of whom came with reputations as strong offensive coaches --- only five (perhaps six if you include Philbin) coached quarterbacks who became appreciably better under their stewardship as head coaches: Aaron Rodgers (McCarthy), Tony Romo (Garrett), Kurt Warner (Martz), Matt Schaub (Kubiak) and Kirk Cousins (Gruden). Tannehill improved under Philbin, but then regressed, and it was Sherman and Bill Lazor working primarily with Tannehill.
Bottom line: More recent first-time head coaches who moved directly from offensive coordinator jobs have flopped than succeeded. Does that mean Gase definitely will flop? Of course not.
In fact, Gase’s work with quarterbacks has been as or more impressive than any of the aforementioned 20 achieved as coordinators. Jay Cutler had his highest passer rating under Gase in Chicago.
Whether you believe Gase should get a lot of credit for Peyton Manning and a talent-laden Denver offense breaking the NFL points record in 2013 is entirely subjective, but Gase did wonders with Tim Tebow as his quarterbacks coach.
So perhaps Gase will join McCarthy as coordinator-to-head-coach success stories this century. But that would be the exception to 21st century results.
### Asked by WQAM’s Joe Rose about how he’s going to split his time between offense (he’ll call the plays) and the two other units, Gase said: “I will be leaning towards offense early. But the great thing about bringing [offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen in], it's someone who has been in this offense before. The way we've mapped this out, I feel comfortable being able to have my hand a little bit on defense and special teams, let those guys do their job but know what's going on,... and being impactful on offense as well.”
NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, whose nine-year tenure as Ravens head coach (1999-2007) followed a stint as Vikings offensive coordinator, told me some coordinators who become coaches “have no clue what it all entails.”
Billick called plays his first, eighth and ninth years as a head coach; while he says it’s doable, “it’s hard to manage both,” he said. "Most eventually give it up. Mike McCarthy turned the duties over last year; his obligations as head coach got away from him in the Seattle [playoff] game.” (McCarthy seized play-calling duties back this past December.)
### FYI: For those wondering, successful coaches Bruce Arians and Sean Payton and less successful Marc Trestman didn’t fit the criteria for this study, because Arians went from offensive coordinator/interim head coach with Indy to head coach at Arizona; Payton went from Cowboys assistant head coach/QB coach with Dallas to Saints head coach; and former offensive coordinator Trestman was a CFL head coach before coaching the Bears.
### The Dolphins plan to stick with a 4-3 defense, according to a source close to the situation. One of the things Gase and management like about new coordinator Vance Joseph is his ability to communicate with players.
### The Heat’s lack of offense at small forward has become increasingly problematic.
A career 15.6 per game scorer, Luol Deng is averaging by far the fewest points of his career (9.9, 27th among small forwards) and shooting 42.1 percent (second lowest of his career), while attempting 4.6 shots per game fewer than normal.
“It’s very hard to get the looks you're normally used to getting or the way you’re used to playing,” he said. “We're all sacrificing somehow. Some have got to sacrifice more than others. It's very difficult to play your old style. That's how it is. We've got guys on the team who shoot a lot; we have guys on the team that shoot less. Goran [Dragic] has the ball in his hands less than he's used to. I'm not cutting or doing stuff that I'm used to. It's a lot more spotting and spacing the floor. It's challenging, but you want to win and see where it goes and you just keep working on it.”
Everyone is hoping for the best for Deng as he recovers from a frightening eye injury.
### An AmericanAirlines Arena official asked Tyler Johnson for a ticket to get in a recent Heat game, the third time AA officials questioned him entering the building, unaware he's a player. Across the street, at Bayside, some people “think I’m Goran. I go along with it.”
### UM is pursuing several defensive backs in the final days of recruiting partly because of serious concerns internally about cornerback, where Corn Elder is the only returnee with substantial experience. (UM also likes sophomore-to-be Sheldrick Redwine.)
UM’s top corner (and top overall) commit, Tyler Byrd, now plans to visit Tennessee and said he will announce on Signing Day.
Though he told Rivals.com that UM has a strong lead, he said he wants to see the Volunteers' campus before deciding. Byrd visited UM this weekend and he tweeted a picture of himself in a UM jersey, holding up the U sign, with the words: "Found my jersey. Had to put it on."
UM hosted one other cornerback this weekend: Kissimmee-based Henry Miller, a Pitt commitment who also will visit Ohio State.
Two safeties who can play cornerback also reportedly visited: UM oral commitment Malek Young and three-star Miami Southwest safety Christopher William, a soft Florida commit.
UM already is aware it will need to give the corners help with safeties, where UM is deep.
### We hear Jose Fernandez’s camp believes he could make $30 million annually as a free agent after 2018. The Marlins indicate they are no longer getting trade calls for him (that's fine with them). But they are resigned to losing him eventually.
If the Marlins are winning a lot and in serious contention the next two seasons, they could hold onto him through at least the midpoint of 2018. Otherwise, they figure to trade him within a year of free agency, perhaps after 2016 if this upcoming season is an unmitigated disaster. At $2.8 million, he remains a bargain for 2016.
### For as well as Panthers GM Dale Tallon has drafted, his recent trades are also paying dividends. The team leaders in goals, Jaromir Jagr and Reilly Smith (15 apiece for each), were both acquired in deals in 2015, Jagr from New Jersey for second- and third-rounders and Smith from Boston for Jimmy Hayes.
With 15 goals, Smith already has surpassed last year's 13 for Boston. He has 15 goals and 11 assists and a plus 9 in plus/minus. Hayes, for Boston, has 11 goals and 11 assists and is a minus 5.
The Panthers, who beat last season's Stanley Cup finalists (Chicago, Tampa) on consecutive nights by a 9-2 margin, have now won 14 in a row when defenseman Aaron Ekblad is in the lineup.