Quarterback, Quarterback, Quarterback

by John Furgele

When it comes to buying real estate, the old axiom is location, location, location.  When it comes to NFL head coaches keeping their jobs, it comes down to quarterback, quarterback, quarterback.  Simply, if a coach has the quarterback, he can keep his job.  If not, so long and good luck.

Since Sunday, several coaches have lost their jobs, and most of them can be attributed to inconsistent, unsettled or downright poor play by the quarterbacks.  In Detroit, the Lions went 0-16, costing Rod Marrinelli his job.  The lack of wins alone did him in, but Buccaneer coach John McKay survived an 0-14 1976 season and a 0-12 start to the 1977 season, so there “might have ben hope for Marrinelli.”  But, with Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky, did Marrinelli really have a shot to win games?

In New York, the emotionless and drab Eric Mangini was let go by Jet owner Woody Johnson.  Once touted as the “Mangenius,” Mangini was done in by—-quarterback play.  In 2006, he had a healthy Chad Pennington and the Jets went 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs.  In 2007, Pennington was hurt, but Mangini decided that he couldn’t get to the next level with him, so he went with the strong armed  but in-over-his-head Kellen Clemens.  The result was a 4-12 campaign.  In 2008, Pennington was waived as the Jets brought in the savior Brett Favre, who wilted down the stretch in a 9-7 meltdown.  While Pennington was resurrecting Miami from 1-15 to 11-5, Favre was the captain of the Titanic.

In Cleveland, Romeo Crennel got a magic 2007 season from lightly touted Derek Anderson and even though the Browns missed the playoffs, they went 10-6 and had so much promise that network TV scheduled five prime time games for them in 2008.  Well, this year, Anderson came back down to earth, former number one pick Brady Quinn got hurt, and Crennel was forced to play Ken Dorsey, a nice college quarterback who couldn’t get the Browns into the end zone for nearly a month.   The result:  the firing of Crennel.

The Buffalo Bills have announced that Dick Jauron, who in his stewardship has guided the Bills to three consecutive 7-9 seasons, is coming back.  Western New York football fans may be outraged, and the Buffalo News, whose agenda is to see Jauron fired, says that keeping Jauron may lead to many not renewing their season tickets for the 2009 season.  Perhaps that may be true, but might the recession have something to do with this? 

Why did the Bills keep Jauron?  The answer is that they believe in the quarterback, Trent Edwards.  Because they do, they do not want Edwards to get a new coach and regress.  They think Edwards is on he verge of being a top tier NFL quarterback.  Of course, this remains to be seen, but if management believes that they have the right quarterback, they are more apt to let the coach stick around and see.  Detroit, New York and Cleveland have serious quarterback questions, so they have decided to go after both new quarterbacks and new coaches.  If Edwards fails, Jauron will be gone.

The wrinkle in the bedsheet is Denver, which after 14 seasons, fired Mike Shanahan.  Many thought Shanahan earned a free pass for life after leading the Broncos, who were 0-4 in the Super Bowl to two straight titles in 1997 and 1998.  And, unlike the above examples, the Broncos appear to have their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler.  But, Shanahan is suffering from “Joe Torre Syndrome.”  JTS is when you win early and then don’t win again.  Torre won four world titles in his first five years, then made the playoffs seven more times, but never won it all again.  Same for Shanahan.  He last won in 1998, but in the next nine seasons, he made the playoffs four more times, but only won one playoff game. 

And, why did he not win more?  Because, he didn’t have the quarterback.  In 1997 and 1998, he had the aging but still Hall of Famer in John Elway.  After Elway, he made the playoffs with Brian Griese and Jake “Snake” Plummer, both solid, but inconsistent quarterbacks.  You can win games with these guys, but you can’t win the BIG games with them. 

It appeared that with Cutler, Shanahan felt that he had “another Elway,” or someone close to another Elway, but Bronco management felt that the lack of playoff success and the meltdown over the final three games of 2008 was enough to let the genius go after 14 quality seasons. 

Lastly, is another perceived genius in Patriot headmaster Bill Belichick.  In Cleveland, he had one winning season when he had the guts to bench folk hero Bernie Kosar for Vinny Testaverde.  Browns fans seethed, but the result was an 11-5 season and a playoff apperance.  Testaverde eventually came back to earth and Belichick was canned. 

In New England, he was on the road to nowhere with Drew Bledsoe, but when Bledsoe got injured in week two of the 2001 season, Tom Brady fell on Belichick’s lap.  Brady became so good and the Pats won three Super Bowls, four AFC championships and earned the once loathed coach the title of legend. 

Like real estate is about location, coaching success is about the quarterback.  It’s the most important and worrisome position in all of professional sports.  If you have one, you have a shot to win every week, if you don’t you won’t.

The words “Have Quarterback, Will Travel,” have never been more accurate.

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