Coaching in the NFL is hazardous to your health. Long hours, high stress, enormous pressure, minimal job security, players with bigger egos and fatter paychecks than yours — it’s no wonder the job turnover is so high. Most are taking over where a change in culture is needed and expected. It’s not easy to walk into a locker room, start singing a new song and expect everyone to join in immediately. It may take a while to strike the right notes, find common ground and establish open lines of communication. And it can take even longer to convince the team to buy in.
Winning makes the road a lot smoother, though. The league’s new crop of head coaches (both first-time and recycled coaches) is 5-2 after the first weekend. In the Bay Area, the deep South and western New York, you can already recognize the metamorphosis.
Who IS Jim Tomsula? It was a popular refrain during the offseason. The coach promoted from within the 49ers’ ranks to replace alpha male Jim Harbaugh certainly wasn’t a household name. But the front office was comfortable with the former defensive line coach, maybe because he’s the opposite of his predecessor. Tomsula is described as genuine, caring and likable. The guys in the locker room call him a “player’s coach” who covers all the bases in preparation. He’s not out to make waves or attract attention.
And Tomsula is old-school on the field: his game plan revolves around a tough, physical defense and a strong ground game. Both were featured in a victory over the Vikings Monday night. The Niners pressured Teddy Bridgewater, sacking him five times, and clogged up the middle to neutralize Adrian Peterson. The offensive line set the perfect zone blocks to spring their own top running back, Carlos Hyde, over and over again. Sure, the game was ugly in stretches, but a former D-line coach doesn’t mind winning that way. Just maybe, a touch of Tomsula is exactly what the Bay Area needs.
Rookie head coach Dan Quinn was a candidate for multiple job openings before he settled on the Falcons. Like Tomsula, Quinn comes from the defensive side of the ball; but his style was no mystery after two seasons running a Seattle D showcased in back-to-back Super Bowls. His defenses are aggressive, always gunning for big plays and turnovers. Atlanta’s young, inexperienced personnel will compensate for any lack of talent with intensity and effort. Just like their new boss, they’re learning on the job.
What Dan Quinn may lack in first-hand knowledge, he makes up for with passion and enthusiasm, both of which are contagious in the locker room. The first half against Philadelphia Monday night couldn’t have gone much better: short Eagles possessions with multiple licks on Sam Bradford, along with the season’s first takeaway, helped the Falcons build a double-digit lead. While the second half wasn’t as easy, the team sealed the win with a dramatic interception. Quinn also preaches how they have to finish; and once they did, he smiled broadly and said they “let it rip.” Buckle up, Atlanta. You could be in for a wild ride.
Out in Buffalo, Rex Ryan already has the massive Bills’ fanbase eating out of his hand. His charisma, sarcastic one-liners, and outrageous antics make him the star attraction wherever he goes. He’s bold and brash, and he runs interference for his locker room by creating the headlines himself. Ryan doesn’t run a tight ship, giving his players freedom to be who they are. He’s also fiercely loyal, and puts his whole heart and soul into the job. Rex turns into a cheerleader on the sidelines, jumping around like a kid to celebrate the big moments.
We saw plenty of that giddiness against the Colts on Sunday, thanks to a suffocating defense that collected three turnovers, an effective ground game, and some explosive playmakers that include an unproven quarterback. Leave it to Rex to hand Tyrod Taylor his first ever NFL start… at wide receiver… BEFORE he took over under center. Buffalo had many of the pieces already in place, but the team needed a leader and an identity. While Rex’s act may rub media and opposing fans the wrong way, his players love him. They would run through a wall for him. They believe he can lead them to the promised land, and they’re fueled by that faith on the field. A Rex Ryan team will never give up or quit, no matter the circumstances. And if he can guide the Bills to their first playoff win in two decades, the city of Buffalo may build a statue of him outside the stadium and elect him mayor.
Of course, we’re only one week into the new season, but wins are the best way to get everyone belting out a new tune.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.