Emmitt Thomas generated positive player response during his time as an interim head coach

Posted Dec 22, 2011

Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and Chiefs LB Demorrio Williams remember their time together on the 2007 Atlanta Falcons

Raiders head coach Hue Jackson has been through an in-season coaching change much like the Chiefs experienced last week with the dismissal of head coach Todd Haley.

Jackson actually worked for current Chiefs defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas when Thomas took over as Atlanta’s interim head coach for the final three games of the 2007 season. Chiefs LB Demorrio Williams was part of that team as well.

However, the circumstances of the coaching change in Atlanta were a bit different than in Kansas City.

“We had a coach quit on us mid-season,” Williams remembered.

The coach was current University of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino, who left the University of Louisville to coach the Falcons prior to the 2007 season.

Petrino brought in many of his own coaches and had influence on roster construction, but bailed after just 13 games at the helm to return to the college game. His abrupt resignation obviously didn’t sit well with many inside the organization.

Williams started all 16 games for the Falcons that season while Jackson served in his only year as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator.

“It’s different because, obviously, guys get used to hearing one voice for quite a while,” Jackson said of his experience with an in-season coaching change. “I think the head coach tries not to change the philosophy too much, but he has to do things the way he sees it and obviously Romeo Crennel has done that in Kansas City.

“He made a decision to move Kyle Orton as a starter at quarterback and I’m sure that Jim Zorn and Bill Muir are definitely running the offense without anyone else’s influence.”

In last week’s win over then-undefeated Green Bay, the Chiefs followed a pattern many struggling teams go through immediately after an in-season coaching change. They rallied.

Team motivation often becomes a big factor following an in-season head coaching dismissal, regardless of sport, and the Chiefs played with rejuvenated passion for Crennel.

 “We love Romeo,” Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali said. “He’s a, I mean I don’t know how to put it. He’s one of those coaches that’s been a coach in this league, he’s got five Super Bowls, with that type of résumé you want someone around that can help us get to the top.”

When picking an in-season replacement, the front office often goes for an experienced and respected figure to lead the team on a temporary basis.

Respect was one of the factors in play when Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt and GM Scott Pioli chose Crennel to guide the Chiefs for the final three games of this season. Williams remembers that being the case in Atlanta as well when Owner Arthur Blank and President Rich McKay chose Thomas to guide the Falcons following Petrino’s resignation.

“We just wanted to rally and win for him,” Williams remembered of Thomas’ time as Falcons interim head coach. “We only had a couple of games left and guys wanted to go out with a bang. A guy like Emmitt, who everybody has such respect for, guys just want to win when the organization gives him an interim job like that.”

Atlanta didn’t initially respond the way Kansas City did last weekend, posting a 1-2 record under Thomas, but the Falcons played better football down the stretch.

After losing Thomas’ debut to Tampa Bay 37-3, the Falcons pushed Arizona into overtime in Week 16 before defeating eventual NFC West Champion Seattle 44-41 in Week 17.

The Seahawks had already clinched the division and rested their starters in the second half, but Williams remembered Atlanta playing hard to the finish for Thomas.

“I think there is a new confidence that is there just naturally,” Jackson said. “Then I think that the players are trying to grab and hold on to each other as they continue to move forward.”

Some interim head coaches have been able to generate the response needed to take over head coaching jobs on a permanent basis. Current NFL head coaches Jason Garrett (Dallas) and Leslie Frazier (Minnesota) both started their head coaching tenures on an interim basis.

However, the majority of interim head coaches continue their coaching careers elsewhere following their stint as a temporary head coach.

“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “Regardless of what it is at the end of the day – whether it’s good, bad or ugly – players like consistency. I think everybody needs consistency in order to grow and get better. You have to work through the rough spots and the tough times as much as you can, but there’s no question that if you lose the ball club and the team isn’t listening, then you have to do what you have to do.”

Romeo Crennel has the players’ attention in Kansas City and his players are hoping that the Chiefs front office is taking notice.

Victories over Oakland and Denver in the final two games would certainly help their cause as well.

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