Commentary | Conspiracy theorists thrive as NFL rushes to fill coaching vacancies

adell@bradenton.comJanuary 13, 2013 

If you don't own a Vince Lombardi calendar, you may not be aware that we are in the height of the conspiracy theory season.

Look in your rear-view mirror and see the blood dripping from Black Monday, when NFL owners gave pink slips to eight head coaches and chopped the heads off a whole bunch of assistants.

So now it's open season.

Former coaches want to become current coaches and some astute college coaches are working the system, flirting with the pros to get their respective universities to add a few more dollars to their million-dollar contracts.

Bill Parcells has said a coach is only as good as his record. He might be right, but he should have added the record is often only as good as the players.

Conspiracy theorists have set up camp at One Buc Place, and those who can stand the cold have traveled to the Windy City, where the Chicago Bears are handing out tickets for all the people they want to interview for the head coaching job.

Often what the beloved departed coaches say leaves clues to what really drove them out of town, so listen carefully.

Three Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant coaches quit to go back to the college ranks. It makes us wonder if it was head coach Greg Schiano who uttered those famous anonymous words that found their way out of the locker room and onto Pro about sending his staff back to college.

We always thought Schiano was part of the group that a certain person wanted shipped out of town. But that's what makes conspiracy-theory fishing so much fun.

Former Bucs receiver coach P.J. Fleck, who quit to take the head position at Western Michigan, told a Tampa radio show last week that the team's second-half offensive plunge was about defenses changing schemes more than anything else.

He said talk that quarterback Josh Freeman and his receivers were miscommunicating as the offense went into the tank was a small factor.

"I just think they (opponents) did a great job scheming against us like everybody does toward the end of the year," Fleck said. "I wouldn't say it was a ton of miscommunication, in terms of we weren't on the same page. That happens in the National Football League sometimes, where the defense gets the best of you."

We don't know if Bucs quarterback coach Ron Turner shared his thoughts, but soon afterwards he quit to take the top spot at FIU. The 59-year-old was a head coach at the University of Illinois and offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl team in 2007.

It would seem reasonable to assume that Turner was looking for a job with more responsibility. But he is going back to college for the first time since he was fired by Illinois in 2004, and conspiracy theorists cannot ignore the assumption that the Schiano-led Bucs drove him away.

Ron Cooper gives conspiracy theorists a bit more to chew.

Until he became the Bucs' defensive backs coach in 2012, Cooper's resume glittered with success, turning out first-round picks and back-to-back Thorpe Award winners in three years at LSU among many previous achievements.

Last season, the Bucs were dead last in pass defense, and the rumor mill is working overtime. Some say Schiano wouldn't allow Cooper to coach the way he wanted to, and Cooper wanted out. Others said Schiano wanted him gone.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter unless you are a conspiracy theorist. That being so, the Bucs' secondary before Cooper arrived was a dysfunctional house of cards on the verge of collapse.

The two best cornerbacks would eventually be known as the Adderall Twins. Aqib Talib was then traded, and you can bet the house Eric Wright will not be wearing a Bucs uniform next season. Both were credentialed head cases and served four-game suspensions for breaking NFL substance abuse rules.

Talib admitted his crime, while Wright continued to add to a litany of excuses that goes back nearly 10 years.

Behind those two knuckleheads, the Bucs had basically untested, undrafted free agents. Signing Wright as a free agent was a colossal mistake by management and going into the season with no depth at cornerback added to the dilemma.

If Cooper wanted out, no one could blame him. And the 50-year-old will have an almost immediate chance to silence critics because the USF pass defense was one of the worst in the country the past two seasons under Skip Holtz.

In '12, the Bulls pass defense ranked 88th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools, was last interceptions with two and allowed an FBS worst 68.4 completion percentage.

So say this about Cooper, he doesn't run from problems.

But the darling of all conspiracy theorists at the moment is Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who obviously knows that behind the Golden Dome sit millions and millions of dollars from a fan base that is arguably the biggest in the country.

He has moved up the college ranks, turning teams into winners at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. But conspiracy theorists love Kelly because he spent 13 seasons at GVS winning two NCAA Division II national titles and that long tenure has earned him equity among the cynics.

Now if he wants to skip out on Notre Dame after only three seasons or hold the Irish hostage for money, no one can blame. He is flirting with the Philadelphia Eagles and deep-pocketed owner Jeff Lurie.

So Kelly didn't get that national title against Alabama, but he could be college football's biggest winner in 2012.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at

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