Once upon a time, the NFL was a much more patient place to work.
At the 32-game mark of their first head coaching gigs, Tom Landry was 7-22-3, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh 8-24, Bill Parcells 12-19-1 and Bill Belichick 13-19.
They weren’t fired before game No. 33. They went on to win 17 Super Bowls, and counting. The first four are in the Hall of Fame while Belichick will join them some day when he gets tired of running laps around the rest of the league.
Fast forward to today’s NFL. A year ago, Vance Joseph finished his 32nd game at 11-21 as Broncos coach. He was fired and might never get another chance at a head coaching position.
A coaching staff was blown up. Joseph landed in Arizona as defensive coordinator while his assistants scrambled for new work and new places to live less than 24 months after unpacking in Denver.
So, you want to be a football coach, eh?
The tale of two former Vikings assistants on that 2018 Broncos staff shows the highs and lows of looking for the next coaching rock upon which to take a leap of faith.
Bill Musgrave, the offensive coordinator who held that same job with the Vikings from 2011-13, couldn’t find work. He’s out of the NFL for only the third fall since 1991, when he was a fourth-round pick out of Oregon.
Then there’s Joe Woods, Joseph’s defensive coordinator in 2017, when Denver ranked third defensively, and 2018, when that defense plummeted to 22nd.
From 2004, at age 34 and fresh out of the college coaching ranks at Western Michigan, until 2016, Woods was an NFL defensive backs coach with the Vikings (2006-13), Raiders (2014) and Broncos (2015-16).
When he needed a new job, it was a connection he made 15 years ago on the other side of the country that not only kept him employed but made him part of the surging energy that’s powered the 49ers to their first 4-0 start since 1990.
Back in 2004, when Bucs coach Jon Gruden hired Woods, he also had a bright young offensive quality control coach named Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is 10 years younger than Woods and was a gofer focused on the other side of the ball, yet the two still hit it off.
Fast forward a decade and a half. Needing a defensive backs coach this year, Shanahan, the 49ers’ head coach, turned to Woods.
“In addition to being a tremendous coach with a wealth of knowledge, Joe is a great person that we believe will bring the best out of our players,” Shanahan said. “Since we first worked together in Tampa, Joe has continued to gain invaluable experience in different schemes and coverages that will benefit our defense.”
Shanahan took it a step further, adding the title “passing game coordinator” to Woods’ duties and résumé. It’s a title never used before by the 49ers.
So far, so good for the likable longtime Vikings assistant. As the NFC’s only undefeated team, the 49ers head into Week 6 as the latest best team in a conference that’s had short-term kings of the hill in the Rams and Cowboys.
The 49ers rank No. 1 in opponent completion percentage (53.5) and No. 2 in pass defense (175.8 yds/g), opponent passer rating (62.8) and interceptions (seven).
With rookie defensive end Nick Bosa tormenting Baker Mayfield in Monday night’s 31-6 destruction of the not-ready-for-prime-time Browns, Woods was part of an operation that held Cleveland to 78 passing yards and one third-down conversion in 11 tries. Mayfield posted a 13.4 passer rating with two interceptions.
Talking about defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and his staff, Shanahan said, “They had a great plan tonight. I think they’ve had a great plan all year.”
The 49ers have started 4-0 three times. In 1990, it led to a trip to the NFC title game. In 1984, it led to winning Super Bowl XIX.
In other words, just nine months after being fired for the fourth time as an NFL assistant, old friend Joe Woods appears to be one of the fortunate ones to leave a loser and hitch himself to a winner.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org