Point men

Whenever there are NFL coaching openings, the hot candidates are assistants from winning teams. And if it's offense you want, you go looking for offensive assistants. That's why guys such as Josh McDaniels (Patriots), Jason Garrett (Cowboys) and Jim Caldwell (Colts) are being linked to the Ravens' coaching search. You could toss in Dallas' Tony Sparano, but if there's a favorite for the coaching job in Miami, where Bill Parcells is in charge now, I'm inclined to think that Sparano is Parcells' guy.

McDaniels is the most intriguing candidate because of his age, just 31, and the fact that he has been handed the keys to the sports car known as the New England offense by a guy who's not easy to win over, Bill Belichick. But that, McDaniels' detractors would say, is exactly why he's a little suspect.

With Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback Tom Brady pulling the trigger and an all-star receiving corps featuring Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth, who couldn't call the right plays?

But still, 589 points is a ton of points, and if McDaniels gets graded down for having such an enormously talented cast of characters, doesn't he get graded up for cobbling together an effective passing game in 2006 when Brady's targets were Reche Caldwell, aging Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney (in the playoffs) and an assortment of running backs and tight ends?

Jason Garrett is 10 years older than McDaniels but has even less experience running an offense. McDaniels has been the offensive coordinator in New England for two years and might have contributed to the play-calling in 2005. Garrett retired as an NFL player only after the 2004 season. He was the quarterbacks coach in Miami for two years, and this is his first shot as an offensive coordinator in Dallas.

However, Garrett gets high marks for keeping quarterback Tony Romo on track and developing tight end Jason Witten into a big-play threat while still getting the ball to wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Garrett and McDaniels share a certain pedigree: Both are the sons of career football men.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has more experience than Garrett and McDaniels combined. His background is more old-school, having coached in college for 20 years before making the jump to the NFL in 2001 with Tony Dungy's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Caldwell has been part of Dungy's staff in Indianapolis and now holds the position of assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach.

Caldwell helped mold Kerry Collins into a star quarterback as an assistant at Penn State. As coach at Wake Forest, he developed Rusty LaRue into a record-setting passer. Caldwell is the only one of the three offensive assistants with play-calling responsibilities this season who has head coaching experience.

Sparano called offensive plays for the Cowboys in 2006, a task handled by Garrett this season, and has been with Dallas for five years. He also was a head coach at Division II New Haven.


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