While judges argue about whether the owners or players are being hurt more by the NFL lockout, the biggest victims are really Ron Rivera and Pat Shurmur.
They are two of the NFL’s six new head coaches. Unlike Denver’s John Fox, a veteran of nine seasons in command in Carolina, and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, who coached Stanford the past four seasons, Rivera and Shurmur have never been in charge of a football team.
And unlike Oakland’s Hue Jackson and Tennessee’s Mike Munchak, Rivera and Shurmur weren’t internal hires who know their players and in the case of Jackson, directed his team’s offense last season.
Rivera, who replaced Fox in Carolina, was a defensive coordinator for six years for Chicago and San Diego while Shurmur guided St. Louis’ offense the last two years before being named Cleveland’s coach.
That’s fine except that like every other new boss in NFL history, Rivera and Shurmur haven’t been able to meet with their players (other than the one-day break in the lockout on April 29) or install their schemes. And with the legal battle between the owners and players dragging on at least until June 3 and no more talks scheduled until June 7, Rivera and Shurmur will then be about five months on the job and barely three months from the scheduled start of the season.
“They’re in trouble,” said an NFC general manager. “How can those guys catch up? Our system is intact. Our coordinators are back and so are all of our coaches except one. But the Carolinas of the world are behind the eight-ball.”
An AFC GM countered by recalling that as recently as the 1980s, the offseason was really just that, off.
“There was a lot of good football played when we had only three days of minicamp between the end of the season and the start of training camp,” he said. “Our athletes are still the best athletes in the world. I just read a great article (in which New England coach Bill) Belichick said, ‘You know what? We’re just gonna have to scale back the playbook.’ There is an issue with the new coaches, but for the most part, it’s terminology. We all do the same things. Do you ever watch a game and it looks totally different? No. The first six weeks of the season, there might be a difference, but I don’t think (the shortened offseason) will be difference during the last six weeks.”
Perhaps, but as the lockout keeps dragging on, those first six weeks of the season seem to be increasingly right around the corner while Rivera and Shurmur are still stuck on square one.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.