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Ex-NFL GM Pioli On Texas A&M’s Manziel: “I Would Not Draft Him”

gfx - they said itIn the middle of a lengthy delay during last night’s Seattle/San Francisco NFL game, former general manager Scott Pioli was asked by NBC’s Dan Patrick for his opinion on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.  The ex-Chiefs and Patriots front office man was given Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — who’s been very successful — as a possible comparison:

 

“You’ve got one player who has a great deal of maturity, and you have another guy who everyone is concerned about with his maturity level…

(His position plays a role) because this is going to be the leader of your football team, the leader of your franchise; probably the face of your franchise.  The last thing you want to do is put someone in that position with those issues that’s going to be representing your club.”

 

Asked point blank if he would draft Manziel, Pioli said: “Today?  I would not draft him.  What I would be doing is spending my time finding out and chasing the ghosts of the issues that he has.”

Pioli’s record in Kansas City can be thrashed, but his time in New England was pretty darned solid.  His response shows just how careful GMs might be when it comes to drafting players with any kinds of issues in the aftermath of Aaron Hernandez’s troubles.  (For the record, Hernandez was drafted by New England after Pioli had left for Kansas City.)

Interestingly, saintly Tony Dungy sorta/kinda agreed with Pioli: “I think he’s a special player.  I think he makes other guys around him better.  He excites his team.  I like Johnny Manziel.  Scott Pioli mentioned the off the field thing… that is what you have to figure out.  He’s right.  You don’t want the leader of your franchise, the face, to have questions off the field, but I like him as a player.”

Ex-player Rodney Harrison took a different stance: “He’s a top five pick… If you have an opportunity to draft him, he’s such a special player and he’s so rare, you have to draft him.”

We’ll likely find out next spring just which NFL franchises are A-OK with signing Johnny Football.  A redshirt sophomore, Manziel is expected to bolt to the pro ranks at first chance.  If he keeps his head down and his nose clean for the next half-year, it might go a long way toward erasing some NFL execs fears about him.

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Mariucci Doesn’t Deny Interest In Arkansas

Arkansas’ Jeff Long has shown in the past that he knows how to make a splash (targeting and hiring Bobby Petrino for football and Mike Anderson for basketball).  For that reason, the fact that a couple of pro coaches’ names were tossed out on the internet/grapevine over the weekend might make some amount of sense.

The site CoachingSearch.com claimed Sunday that sources had told writer Pete Roussel that ex-NFL head coach “Steve Mariucci is interested in the Arkansas head coaching job.”  Also, “Yet another source tells me that New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be willing to talk if contacted by Long.”

Mariucci was tracked down by the better-known Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and according to the ex-49ers and ex-Lions top man, the report was news to him:

“I just had a few phone calls from my son and few friends asking what’s going on and to be honest I hadn’t heard about (the report).  It comes as a complete surprise to me.”

That said, “Mooch” — who once coached California for a season prior to his NFL stints and who is now working for NFL Network — didn’t rule the Razorbacks’ job out… or in:

“It has to be the right situation.  I haven’t ruled (coaching again) out.  I enjoy what I do now.  If something that comes up that makes sense, but I’ve had no contact with Arkansas.”

Or it could be that like — say — Jon Gruden and his agent, Mariucci and his reps just like hearing the coach’s name tossed about in connection with high-profile jobs.

The McDaniels rumor seems a bit more far-fetched.  McDaniels just returned to his old post as New England’s offensive coordinator after the Super Bowl, replacing Bill O’Brien who departed to become Penn State’s head coach.  He just had a big hand in luring receiver Brandon Lloyd — who he’d worked with in Denver and St. Louis — to Foxborough.

His only head coaching experience came with the Broncos, lasted less than two years, and left his name somewhat tarnished.  Like another ex-Belichick assistant named Charlie Weis, McDaniels was viewed as being a pain in the rear without delivering Belichickian results on the field.  Many believe he returned to New England as some sort of unnamed coach-in-waiting for the Patriots.

Mariucci is basically a total free agent when it comes to coaching so if we had to pick him or McDaniels as being the most believable unbelievable rumor, we’d go with the former.  But we think both are longshots.

Now back to Long for a second.  Not only has he shown that he can make a splash, but he’s also proven that he doesn’t worry about people disliking him for raiding another team for their coach at a bad time (taking Petrino from the Atlanta Falcons midseason, for example).  And that brings us to UAB head coach and ex-Arkansas O-coordinator Garrick McGee, current Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville, and current South Florida head coach Skip Holtz.  All have been rumored as possibilities to pull up stakes and move to Fayetteville this spring.

Holtz denied interest in the job last week.  Tuberville would most assuredly love to get out of Lubbock while the getting’s good — and don’t think he wouldn’t enjoy taking the job of a former assistant who once tried to snake his Auburn gig — but he doesn’t seem to be the kind of “wow” hire that Long needs to make.  Remember, the AD’s job could be on the line depending on his hire.

At some point — once all the sex and phone records talk ends in the Petrino scandal — someone’s going to ask how Petrino was able to bend the school’s rules and quickly hire his mistress into a job in a department belonging to Long.  Wait, we just did ask that didn’t we?

Again, how did Petrino manage to speed up the hiring process and put his honey in a job right under Long’s nose.  If Long was giving him that much autonomy, he wound up getting burned because of it.

Long needs to please the fanbase or else some will turn on him if the UA program starts to backslide a bit.  (Deny it all you like, Hog fans, but that’s how the business works.  If UA starts to lose, more folks will claim that Long overreacted with Petrino and it’ll happen long before any cock crows three times.)

Tuberville and Holtz aren’t going to excite Razorback fans.  Mariucci and McDaniels might.

But McGee — who’s been at UAB for just about four months — might please some Arkansas fans who want this season saved and want the school’s recruiting efforts shored up quickly.  On Saturday, McGee told Al.com that he wasn’t going to directly comment on the Arkansas situation saying only:

“I really enjoy the job that I have.  I trust the kids, I think they have bought into what I’m thinking about.  My family loves the city and I’m not interested in talking about me or my employment with any other university.”

Meanwhile, more than one source in Fayetteville has told us that it’s looking less and less like McGee will be Long’s rapid-fire solution.  Readers of this site know that this writer is of the opinion that Arkansas should tab an interim coach for 2012 and spend the next eight months looking for the absolute perfect fit for it’s head coaching position.

After all, if the school grabs someone who would be willing to walk out on his current school post-spring, wouldn’t that require bringing someone who will have just proven to be rather untrustworthy?  Personally, I’d be a bit concerned about hiring someone who’d just bailed on his last program at the worst possible time.

Of course, that didn’t stop Long from hiring Petrino.  Nor did Petrino’s reputation for back-stabbing ex-bosses — Louisville’s Tom Jurich, Auburn’s Tuberville, and the Falcons’ Arthur Blank.

New Arkansas linebackers coach and assistant head coach Taver Johnson has been handling the interim gig in Fayetteville during spring drills.  Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino — Bobby’s brother — and new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes are also possibilities for the interim spot this fall.

Over the weekend, we heard the name of running backs coach Tim Horton kicked around as a possibility quite a bit, too.

If Mariucci is available and interested it would could be a clean, big-name hire for Long (with no clue at all of how he would get along with the UA staff or players he’d inherit for the fall).  If not Mariucci, we still believe the school will go the interim route and we’ll put our money on Horton for the moment.

But our feelings could change by dusk.  Stay tuned.

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Griese Says UF Won’t Be A Quick Fix

There’s a lot of hope in Gainesville these days that Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis can turn things around quickly (from last year’s 5-loss campaign).  Former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Brian Griese doesn’t see that happening:


“This is not going to be a quick fix.  This is going to be a transition.  Charlie Weis brings in a pro-style system but he has spread-style athletes.  Two running backs: 5-8, 180 pounds, that’s not a pro running back.  Those guys are very talented on the outside but that’s not a way to make a living in the SEC running the football.  John Brantley’s gonna have a lot of pressure on him next year to throw the football almost exclusively.”


As we have noted previously, we expect Weis to take some pressure off of Brantley by using Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey as he used smaller backs and receivers with the Patriots and Chiefs of the NFL.  During Tom Brady’s first year as New England’s starter — and during last season with the Matt Cassell of Kansas City — Weis used trick, gimmick and gadget plays to keep defenses off balance.

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Expect Weis To Break Brantley In Slowly… As He Did Brady

Just two years ago, CBS analyst Gary Danielson — one of the best in the business, by the way — ranked John Brantley among the top five quarterbacks in the SEC.  That was while Brantley was still serving as Tim Tebow’s backup.

Needless to say, Brantley failed to live up to the hype last season.  Part of the blame for that disappointment should go to a coaching staff that couldn’t or wouldn’t adjust its offense as it had years earlier for Chris Leak.  Part of the blame should also go to a set of skill players who fell just as short of their recruiting rankings as Brantley did.  And a chunk of the blame goes on the QB himself.

With quarterback wiz Charlie Weis now in Gainesville, one of the questions I’ve been asked most by radio hosts across the South is: “Will Weis fix Brantley?”

My answer: “Yes.  Eventually.” 

But for those expecting Weis to use Brantley as he used Brady Quinn back in 2005 at Notre Dame, you might be disappointed.

Weis loves the passing game and when he arrived in South Bend he immediately started slinging the ball around the hallowed ground of Notre Dame Stadium.  Quinn threw 97 more passes in his junior year under Weis than he did in his sophomore year under Ty Willingham.

All told, Weis called on Quinn to throw the ball 450 times over the course of Notre Dame’s 12-game season.  That’s a whopping 37.5 attempts per game.  But Quinn already had two years of starts under his belt by that point.  He’d already thrown 685 passes in his career before Weis got his hands on him.  In other words, Quinn could handle more weight being put on his strong right shoulder.

Florida’s new offensive coordinator didn’t inherit that kind of experienced signal-caller in Gainesville.  Brantley’s lone season as a starter resulted in just 329 pass attempts, five losses, numerous boos, and a career’s worth of bad memories.  Now he’s having to learn a new system (albeit one that should be much better suited to his skills).

Weis’ Irish teams usually attempted around 450 passes per season.  The exception was 2007 when Notre Dame was breaking in a new starter in Jimmy Clausen.  Toss in a Clausen injury and Weis’ team threw only 389 passes that season, far off the coach’s usual pace.

For an even better example of what we at MrSEC.com expect Weis to do with Brantley this fall, we suggest you think of Tom Brady.  No, not 2010 NFL MVP Tom Brady, but 2001 backup-turned-starter Tom Brady.

People forget that Brady was for the most part a clutch caretaker during New England’s first Super Bowl run.  He didn’t carry the Patriots’ offense as he has the past few seasons in Foxboro.  Instead, he managed it and — when necessary — he pulled off some late-game magic.

By the numbers, Brady threw 500 passes in the 17 games he started in 2001 (29.4 attempts per start or about eight fewer per game than Quinn in his first year under Weis).  Brady threw 25 or fewer passes in six games that year.  But four of those six under-25-attempt games came in his first seven starts.  In his final 10 starts of the year, Brady threw fewer than 25 passes only twice. 

Unlike with the experienced Quinn at Notre Dame, Weis took his time to break-in the less experienced Brady at New England.

Something else to consider: Like Florida, New England lacked a workhorse back in 2001.  The Patriots of that season relied on trick plays — end-arounds, reverses, double-reverses, flea-flickers, and direct snaps to backs — to keep defenses on their toes and off of Brady.

Patriot wide receivers Troy Brown and David Patten combined for 16 rushing attempts that season.  That might seem like a small number to Florida fans used to seeing Urban Meyer’s spread offense, but for 2001 professional football, Weis was using over-the-top gimmickry.


At this point, no one knows what exactly to expect from Weis’ first Florida offense or his quarterback, but here’s guessing Florida’s ’11 offense will look somewhat similar to New England’s ’01 offense:


1.  A safe passing game that doesn’t call on the quarterback to have to carry the team in the early weeks.

2.  A running back by rotation.

3.  And numerous gimmick plays utilizing the team’s speedsters (Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey) to keep defenses off balance.


Obviously, if the Gators find themselves behind in games, Weis will have to let his QB put the ball in the air more often.  But if the Gator defense lives up to expectations, we look for Weis to gradually break Brantley into the offense just as he did with Brady a decade ago. 

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It’s All Up To Mallett Now

Last week I wrote on this site and said on various radio stations across the Southeast that Ryan Mallett a) reminded me of Drew Bledsoe and b) would likely be a steal for someone in the draft if his head’s screwed on tightly.  Little did I know Mallett would wind up on Bledsoe’s old team, which also happens to be the one team in sports that I pull for above all others.

And personally I’m happy with New England’s decision to use a third-round pick on the former Arkansas quarterback.  His talent — aside from a very slow pair of feet — should’ve landed him a top 15 type of contract.  Instead, the Patriots got him with a pick they pilfered from Minnesota in last Fall’s surprisingly shrewd Randy Moss deal.  There’s really no potential downside for the Patriots. 

As for Mallett, while the folks back in the Natural State continue to focus on the negative press he’s getting, the QB has his future in his own hands now.  He’s landed in a place where he can carry the clipboard and back up a future Hall of Famer.  He can learn and study and develop and — perhaps — grow up without the pressure associated with being a team’s starter.

If Mallett walks the straight and narrow he should be able to parlay his big arm and his knowledge of the game into a solid professional career.  Think Aaron Rodgers.  The reigning Super Bowl sat behind Hall of Famer Brett Favre patiently for three seasons.  He worked, he studied, he grew.  He didn’t complain.  And he didn’t flake out.  Eventually, he got his own chance to shine.

If Mallett doesn’t keep his nose clean — pun intended — then he could go down in NFL annals as a cross between Ryan Leaf and a 6-foot-7 Eminem.  If he is the first guy out of the film room and the first guy off the practice field every day, he’s more likely to be Kevin O’Connell than Rodgers.

Who’s O’Connell?  He’s the last “heir apparent” to Tom Brady the Pats drafted with a third round pick.  The tall, stout, record-setting quarterback (sound familiar?) from San Diego State was drafted in 2008… and waived in 2009.

Harry King of ArkansasNews.com correctly states the following about New England’s latest third-round QB pick:


Immediately and officially, (Mallett’s) competition to back up Brady includes Brian Hoyer and Jonathan Crompton.  Unofficially, his competition is himself.


Exactly.

Patriots coach and football czar Bill Belichick is already a fan of Mallett’s.  So the quarterback starts his career with a clean slate.  If he keeps it clean and follows the Rodgers’ plan, his draft fall might not be such a bad thing in the long run. 

But if all the long-rumored issues turn out to be more than just rumored issues, he might someday realize that he’s have been better off staying in Fayetteville to do some more growing up.

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