We're approaching -- actually, it began this week -- the second most significant event on the NFL calendar, behind only the Super Bowl and ahead of the draft. It's called the firing and hiring season, and it began when the Los Angeles Rams dumped coach Jeff Fisher on Monday.
The problem for too many NFL teams, however, is that the firing part is easy and the hiring part is not. Too many teams show little or no imagination in their hires, and that's why they stink.
Such thinking already is evident in media suggestions the past few days that the Chicago Bears should bring in Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian to run their organization, and that the San Francisco 49ers should hire Mike Shanahan, their former offensive coordinator and coach of two Denver Super Bowl champions, to fix what ails them.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Polian was great in his time, putting together the Buffalo team that won four straight AFC titles, the Carolina expansion team that reached competitiveness in a hurry and the Indianapolis team that won a Super Bowl after choosing Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf in the draft.
But he's now 74 years old, has been out of NFL team management for five years, and has spoken admirably of Jay Cutler, the Bears quarterback, who despite great physical skills, never has shown he's more than a journeyman.
Shanahan, who followed Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren as the architect of the 49ers' offense and actually improved it, then brought the championship twice to Denver, has been out of the league for three years. He's 64 years old, flopped in his last coaching stop at Washington, and, it's worth noting has coached just one playoff victory in 18 years.
He would surely be a popular choice among the 49ers' fans and former players who remember the good days, but what the 49ers need, besides a coach, is to rebuild a front office that has allowed the team's personnel to decline to irreverence. That was not Shanahan's strength.
So, while Polian and Shanahan have great resumes, why would anyone think they are the men you want to rebuild a franchise going forward?
And that in a nutshell is the problem too many NFL franchises have: the inability to choose the next great thing, rather than the last great thing.
Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner, was laughed at nearly two decades ago when he hired Bill Belichick, who had flopped at Cleveland, as his coach. But Kraft saw something in Belichick, including his ability to learn and adapt after his initial failure. It's worth remembering there's a coach in the Hall of Fame, Bill Parcells, who never won a postseason game when he did not have Belichick on his staff.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was an unconventional pick as head coach because his background had been mostly coaching special teams. But as a head coach, he won a Super Bowl and has been in the playoffs almost every year.
Fans of teams hoping a great name from the past can revive them ought to study the Washington experiment. The Redskins brought back Joe Gibbs as their coach after an 11-year hiatus, but the magic that produced three Super Bowl champions simply was not there any longer.
What teams should be looking for are younger men with new ideas, preferably men who have been around enough to be exposed to more than one way of doing things.
Two years ago, the Bears hired Ryan Pace, who had worked for just one team (New Orleans) as their general manager. Pace never had to worry about finding a quarterback, for example, because he had Drew Brees with the Saints and a quarterback-friendly coach, Sean Payton.
Trent Baalke, the latest architect of the San Francisco disaster, had been a scout for the Jets and Redskins before landing with the 49ers. Just a guess, but if Belichick saw anything in Baalke, he would have taken him with him when he left the Jets to go to the Patriots. Instead, Baalke wound up in Washington working under Vinny Cerrato, who had failed previously as a San Francisco personnel boss.
That's not exactly nepotism, but it works about the same way.
Granted, there is no sure-fire way to find the next great coach or general manager.
The normal path is to look at the best teams, but Belichick has not done a good job of developing a coaching tree because he has his finger in so much of what the Patriots do that his assistants rarely have been able to develop.
Several of Belichick's assistant coaches have flopped as head coaches.
Meanwhile, Gibbs and the late Bill Walsh, another Hall of Fame coach, traced their lineage back to the late Hall of Famer Sid Gillman. The late Chuck Noll learned under the great Paul Brown. One difference was that, in those days of yore, coaching staffs were so small that assistants had to take on more responsibility than some do today.
Nonetheless, the job that Jim Bob Cooter has done with Matt Stafford in Detroit, or Kyle Shanahan (son of Mike) in Atlanta, seem certain to get them some looks as prospective head coaches, and if the 49ers, for example, want a Shanahan, maybe they ought to look at the one who used to run around the field shagging balls for his dad's players.
All we know with any certainty is there will be a lot of names floated in the weeks to come. The bad teams are often more interesting than the good ones, especially this time of year.
--Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.