NFL owners, GMs should know that sometimes status quo isn't the way to go
Owners, GMs should go with their gut instinct when it comes to personnel moves
I learned long ago that the NFL can be a baffling place. Expecting coherency and pragmatism and a cohesion of thought will often leave you disappointed. It can be a strange world, this professional football, and the macro-level decisions being made around the league the past few days very much speak to this.
If you had told me two weeks ago that the Browns, Bengals, Broncos and Buccaneers were all going to keep their coaches, and the Bears were going to extend their novice general manager and the Jets were going to re-ante on their regime, but that the Lions and Raiders were going to blow up their coaching staffs within hours of the season ending, I would have been shocked. It would be like hitting on an eight-team parlay all 17 weeks of the NFL season. It would seem, well, irrational and implausible. I would have called it impossible.
But alas, in a post-truth world, it is very much reality.
When we spend the long, long offseason bemoaning the state of play, the quality of the product, the growing trend of coordinators being fired weeks into the season and coaches being on the hot seat before Halloween, well, recall these first few days of January. The seeds of the future unrest and discord are being sowed now in many cases, and the inevitable hand-wringing to come from ownership throughout the league by the end of September, it can be traced back to this point.
If an owner and general manager need to spend considerable time mulling over the need to change -- if their gut and instinct is to address significant problems right now before the combine, free agency, the draft and the annual winter roster overhaul -- then in many cases it's wise to follow it. Maintaining the status quo, and in some cases condoning or incentivizing below-average performance, tends to cause even bigger problems down the road. And while I have been among those chronicling the lack of a deep talent pool of head coaching candidates, which inherently increases the competition for those who truly stand out, that doesn't mean sitting on one's hands or pretending things really aren't that bad is the way to go, either.
This is supposed to be a meritocracy for the best and brightest; several of these franchises should have at least put up a fight.
"It's hard to believe what's going on in this league right now," one NFL decision maker I think very highly of said. "This league, so many of these owners, are just rewarding mediocrity, or worse, like it's an accomplishment to go 5-11 or 7-9."
Not all of these situations are the same, and I'm not here to say all of the above teams should have fired their coaches. I am not saying Jim Caldwell and Jack Del Rio, of the Lions and Raiders, are among the greatest minds in the game or are some unimpeachable leaders. And I can understand the desire of Jets ownership to stand behind Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan after a team many thought might flirt with Hue Jackson territory (more on surviving 0-16 later) was quite competitive until losing its starting quarterback.
But when you do the math, it's, um, fuzzy at best. It doesn't quite add up. One plus one does not equal two.
Consider: Del Rio and Caldwell each took moribund franchises to the playoffs a year ago despite major injuries to their starting quarterbacks. Caldwell just led the Lions to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1993-95. Del Rio was a finalist for Coach of the Year in 2016. Over the past two years, Del Rio is 25-23 and Caldwell is 36-28. So they are a combined 10 games over .500 the past two seasons.
As for the men who kept their jobs and/or just got extensions, over the past two seasons: Hue Jackson (Browns) is 1-31; Dirk Koetter (Bucs) is 14-18; Marvin Lewis (Bengals) is 13-18-1; Vance Joseph (Broncos) is 5-11 (in his rookie year as a head coach). Ryan Pace (Bears GM) is 14-34 on the job and 8-24 the past two years; Maccagnan and Bowles are 20-28 in all and 10-22 the past two years.
That's a combined record, the past two seasons, of 51-124-1. That's 73 games under .500, folks. That's failure, on any level, in any sport. I understand Mark Davis' lust for Jon Gruden -- which led to Del Rio's prompt ouster -- and I get Lions young GM Bob Quinn wanting to finally hire his own guy. I would just go back to what I wrote at the time he came on the job two years ago and advise him to get cracking on a new coaching regime right then and there, because it was always clear that outside of an unforeseen deep playoff run he and Caldwell were dating more than married.
All of this reminds me of two ago (I chronicled this on Bills gave Rex Ryan an extension (albeit a somewhat faux one) and extended GM Doug Whaley. The Colts tried to keep the band together with Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, extending them after a poor season. The Browns and Dolphins made promotions from within in their front offices (Sashi Brown and Chris Grier). The Chargers expected to fire Mike McCoy after that season, then reversed course. The Titans made interim head coach Mike Mularkey their permanent head coach. The Giants parted with Tom Coughlin but kept embattled GM Jerry Reese. The Saints mulled trading Sean Payton but ended up extending him.) when the
And for all of that, the Saints keeping it together with Payton has clearly paid off two years later, but the rest of it? Well, it's pretty ugly. And this isn't Monday morning quarterbacking; go back and read the column I wrote at the time.
Ryan didn't make it through the 2016 season and Whaley was fired immediately after the 2017 draft; neither was a surprise in the least. Reese was finally fired midway through the 2017 season, something the Giants almost never do. The Dolphins will enter 2018 with fannies on the hot seat and the Sashi Brown era in Cleveland was a total disaster with him fired before being allowed to experience, firsthand, the fruits of his labor and that 0-16 perfection. Grigson was fired after the 2016 season, and Pagano was a dead man walking for basically all of 2017. McCoy was fired immediately after the 2016 season. Mularkey was likely to be fired had the Titans not ended a losing skid Sunday to squeak into the playoffs; with Marcus Mariota regressing, some in the league believe a weak showing in the wild-card round could still lead to his ouster.
How did that work out two years ago, the last time this trend was all the rage? The only name from that entire last paragraph who is truly entrenched now is Payton; of course, he's also the only Super Bowl winner of that group and he is established in a way these other men have never been. And when it comes to the coaches and general managers these owners have opted to cling to this time around, well, I would venture there isn't a Payton in the bunch.
What has really happened these last few days is the clock has already been wound up on the 2019 offseason, and the 2018 hot seat is already being established. I guarantee you, of the Browns, Bucs, Bengals, Broncos and Bears, at least three of them will be making significant changes, perhaps all five. Marvin Lewis' two-year pact in Cincy essentially means he is coaching for his life again in 2018. Joseph, with an entirely new staff more or less beside offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and perhaps with a rookie quarterback, will be under fire. Unless Jameis Winston lifts Tampa to the playoffs next season, Koetter will be gone. If Pace's new hire can't make Mitch Trubisky begin to ascend in 2018, all eyes will be on Pace, extension or not.
And Jackson could be looking at a Dennis Allen/Joe Philbin September firing should the Browns still be looking for the first win after a quarter of the season. He absolutely has to win a game sometime early in that season, because it's already well established general manager John Dorsey is only living with him now because the owner mandated it.
So good luck with all of that. Godspeed, owners. May the football gods be with you. You're going to need all the luck you can get. Because the consultants who put so many of these candidates in place and the search firms who continue to bilk millions from so many of you should know better. And a year from now many of you will be right back where you were today, only this time you'll be letting people go in January. That is, of course, only if you haven't parted ways with them before then.
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