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    HomeSportRussini: What I’m hearing in NFL Week 15 on the league coaching...

    Russini: What I’m hearing in NFL Week 15 on the league coaching carousel and more

    Brandon Staley pulled into the Los Angeles Chargers practice facility on Friday morning on very little sleep, if any at all. He knew what was coming. Heck, we all did. If you watched a few highlights, maybe saw the box score, or even caught the game Thursday night, you probably made the same face my 2-year-old made when he tried his first lemon last summer.

    The entire thing was sour.

    The Raiders broke the Chargers in Las Vegas in a game that could be seen in every Amazon Prime household, and Staley’s seat was no longer hot, it was in flames.

    Around 8 a.m. Friday, he walked into owner Dean Spanos’ office, and after a brief conversation, he was fired. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco was let go as well. It was a startling fall for Staley, who ascended the NFL coaching ladder with exceptional ambition. The 41-year-old had one of the quickest rises in the history of the NFL. Four years after being an NCAA Division III defensive coordinator, he transformed the Los Angeles Rams’ defense remotely over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic and coached it into the No. 1 defense in the NFL. After just one season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator and play caller, teams like the Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles were competing to hire him. Owners all wanted “the defensive Sean McVay.”

    The Chargers won him. They thought they were getting a supernova, a football savant.

    Maybe it was all too much, too fast.

    Three years ago, there were a lot of coaches around the football world asking how did a guy coaching small college football get the coveted job of guiding quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers after only one season as an NFL coordinator? There was a belief around the league that Staley was underperforming from Day 1 because it’s thought that Herbert is so good, how can the Chargers not win big in their division? And how are they not in the playoffs every year?

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    Despite this rise that defied conventional wisdom, Staley was never known for exuding a lot of humility. From some of his answers at news conferences to some around the league believing his entire perspective was a little too cocky, the Staley vision never took. In fairness to Staley, he’s not the only arrogant coach who flamed out in these circumstances. I’ve had several conversations with general managers over the years who have shared with me that they want their coaches to be self-assured, and scores of accomplished coaches are having their agents hit up the Spanos family pitching them that they can be the one to draw out Herbert’s talents.

    Dean Spanos said in his official statement following the announcement of the firings that the Chargers “need a new vision.” A short time later, a coach who wants the job texted me, “Give me Justin Herbert, and I’ll show them that vision.”

    If Herbert is truly a transcendent player, it’s time for him to show it. That will be his challenge for whoever is chosen. If the next coach also fails, chances are we will be looking at the quarterback in a much different way. The search is on.

    Next coaching firing?

    There are no surprises arriving in Washington at the end of the regular season. At this point it’s understood around the building based on multiple people I have spoken with that Ron Rivera and some front office members will be fired. Since acquiring the team, new owner Josh Harris has had the vision to keep Rivera in place through the end of the season, then move on. It’s really not a secret anymore.

    A similar picture is taking shape in New England, where most believe at the end of this season there will be a mutual parting of ways. The Athletic’s Jeff Howe did a deeper dive on it here:

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    (Oh, and the Patriots aren’t trading for Vrabel if they and Belichick part ways. Nothing has changed there. )

    Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Antonio Pierce is doing everything he possibly can to permanently get the head coaching job. His interim experience has won over the Raiders locker room, and with three games left, he gets one final push to show he’s the right person for the job.

    Over the past few weeks, his former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, along with Adam Gase and Marvin Lewis, have been advising him. It’s like Pierce is cramming for a test and hiring a school of tutors who have seen it all to give him some answers. Raiders owner Mark Davis will still have to conduct a coaching search at the end of the year, even if he decides to hire Pierce. This is still a wait-and-see situation depending on how the next few weeks go.

    Getting it out of the game

    On Monday night, Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill was injured during a hip-drop tackle just as NFL owners were gathering in Dallas to begin discussions on a few pivotal NFL matters. The hip-drop tackle was the headliner as commissioner Roger Goodell made clear the league wants it out of the game. For Goodell to voice that clear of an opinion during league ownership meetings tells you where this is headed. The league will probably ban it before next season. Expect more movement on this, the tush push and the kickoff play when the NFL’s competition committee meets in February and at the spring meetings in March.

    C.J. Stroud suffered a concussion in last Sunday’s game and the rookie quarterback is in concussion protocol. Stroud still needs to pass a few more tests, and a team source said he will not play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans and wasn’t in the facility much this past week.

    The opportunity is right here for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday night, and they know it. There is still a chance they can lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and their game against the Baltimore Ravens could be the thing that ultimately determines it. If the Jaguars win, they will pick up a game on Baltimore in the standings.

    It won’t be easy. Jacksonville is coming off two losses, and QB Trevor Lawrence is playing on a sore high ankle sprain. The Ravens have been rolling all season and have some attitude right now. Why? During meetings this past week they’ve been discussing their game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville last season, one in which the Ravens blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost 28-17. Baltimore had Jacksonville at third-and-extra long on the winning drive and couldn’t close it out. A Ravens source told me, “It’s a game that still stings us.”

    So here comes Baltimore, and here comes Nelson Agholor. Before I get into how he was described to me as “the unsung hero of the wide receiver room,” it does not matter what he accomplishes as a player, I cannot erase this tremendous clip from his time with the Eagles and this sound bite. Please watch:

    Now in his ninth season, Agholor joined the Ravens last March and has as many touchdowns as Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie standout Zay Flowers. This is a room that was criticized for years, and now Lamar Jackson has a plethora of pass catchers who can all get it done.

    Well done

    There have not been many memorable moments for the Titans this season, but what they did on “Monday Night Football” against the Dolphins will go down as the greatest comeback of the season.

    Tennessee became the first team in NFL history to make a 14-plus-point comeback in the final three minutes to win the game.

    Now here’s the sizzle of the story. Let’s go back. The team scored a touchdown to cut Miami’s lead from 27-13 to 27-19 with 2:40 left in the fourth quarter. Head coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans decided to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. The choice was an easy one because it had been pre-planned.

    How?

    Vrabel and his game strategist/director of football administration, John Streicher (his nickname is “Stretch”), had actually talked about the exact game situation the night before over a heavy steak dinner. Before dinner, they had been reviewing some games around the league and zeroed in on a particular team in their division that didn’t use this strategy after scoring to go down eight points in the fourth quarter. While enjoying a tomahawk steak, they got into it and discussed their own strategy. It became the center of dinner conversation along with other staff members and Vrabel’s family. This pivotal discussion couldn’t have worked out better for the Titans because when the situation presented itself, the Titans knew exactly what they were calling.

    Keep in mind, the odds of success for a two-point attempt are 50-50. When teams have something they believe in, they feel that the percentages go even higher based on a look the opposing team gives and the play they have prepared. I’d love to have Stretch standing with me the next time I’m at the roulette table! (Black 17. Always.)

    Joe Cool Flacco

    The plan was always for the Cleveland Browns to sign Joe Flacco to a contract despite some roster management decisions that sent him to the practice squad the last few weeks. It looked sloppy, but it all made sense to the Browns’ front office and to Flacco’s agent Joe Linta.

    When I asked a Browns source to describe Flacco, they said, “He’s the adult on the team.”

    Flacco, nearly 39, is the oldest player on the Browns’ roster, and he has the most experience in big moments, including winning a Super Bowl. He also knows the AFC North well. As long as Kevin Stefanski continues to run the ball to give the best part of his team, the defense, time to rest, the Browns have a really good chance of overcoming an unbelievable number of injuries to get into the playoffs.

    70

    He’s calling his shot.

    “I can hit 70,” Dallas Cowboys kicker Brandon Aubrey said this week. That’s the distance he believes he can kick a field goal in a live game. Why would we doubt the newcomer? The former soccer player has hit all 30 of his field-goal attempts and 39 of his 42 extra-point attempts in his first NFL season. Though he hasn’t been asked to hit 70 yards in a live game, his attitude tells you he believes, and that’s most of the battle.

    The longest field goal ever made in an NFL game is 66 yards by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker in 2022. The 28-year-old Aubrey, who’s been given the nickname “Butter” by his quarterback Dak Prescott, can’t have a meltdown Sunday in Buffalo, where it’s set to be in the 40s with some wind for most of the game.


    Finally, as the regular season starts to wrap up and you are searching for more information on your team or favorite player, please feel free to comment under the article with a question. I’ll go to work and dig for you!

    (Photo of Brandon Staley: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

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