Be Careful When Firing Coaches

by John Furgele

 You’re an owner of an NFL football team.  You’re in select company.  There are only 32 of you in the free world.   It’s a great club to be in.  Your team is worth at least $750 million and that’s in small market Buffalo or Jacksonville.   The TV money is insane and the revenue streams grow each and every year.  The only concern you have is getting people to actually attend the games.  Because of increasing digital capability, the fans at the stadium are actually at a disadvantage as those at home have unlimited access to all the products that is the NFL.  But, the 32 people who own the teams, they’re smart and bright and they’ll figure it out and will do so soon.  

You just went through another bad season.  You had high hopes this year, but things fizzled, the wheels came off and all of sudden, the season was lost.   This is not the NBA, the NHL or MLB where a team can lollygag, then go on a 20 out of 25 bender and take command, make the playoffs and even win a championship.   It’s tough to start 0-4 (Pittsburgh) or 0-6 (NY Giants) and think the playoffs are realistic.  It’s tough to win four games in a row in the NFL, let alone ten in a row or ten of 12.  

It’s a bad season, so the fans want the coach fired at the least, in some places it’s the coach and the general manager.  As owner, you have to be careful.   You don’t want to be a knee-jerk guy who acts on emotion like most fans do.  On the other hand, the fans pay the bills.   They buy the tickets, they buy all the merchandise, even those ugly third or alternative jerseys that you only wear to extract money from your customers.   If you maintain status quo, you may lose some season ticket holders, if you react too quickly based on the above mentioned emotions, you may actually lose more games and more fans next fall. 

The Monday after the regular season ends is called Black Monday; it’s the day where you can usually count on at least four to six coaches being served their walking papers.  Is that fair?  Is that right?  Is that practical?  In some cases, it’s justified.  Mike Shanahan is a two time Super Bowl winning coach, and last year, led Washington to a 10-6 record, a division title and a playoff berth.  This year, he went 3-13.  Did he forget how to coach?  Of course not, but in today’s NFL, you have to get along with the star quarterback and once Shanahan failed to do that, the writing was on the wall. 

As for the other dismissals, the jury will be out as to whether these will be good moves or not so good ones.   The Cleveland Browns change coaches like you and I change underwear and where has that gotten them?  They still haven’t played in a Super Bowl and haven’t won the NFL Championship since 1964 when Jim Brown was breaking tackles.   The Cleveland Browns fired Bill Belichick and that was a year after he led them to an 11-5 record, something that most people forget.   He was accused of running Bernie Kosar out of town and even though he had that 11 win season, as soon as the fortunes turned, he was jettisoned for …….

The same goes for the let’s be fair woeful Detroit Lions.  Here was a team that was 7-5 and leading Philadelphia by eight points in the snow in the fourth quarter.  They lost that game then went into what can only be called a football coma, dropping their next three games to finish 7-9.  Sure, Jim Schwartz underachieved and truth be told, he is not a leader of men nor a great strategist, but will the next coach be better?   Is Wayne Fontes still living in the 313 area code?

The Pittsburgh Steelers never panic.   They started 0-4 and stayed cool.   They won eight of 12 and darn near squeezed into the playoffs.  Since 1969, they have had three coaches; Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.   They make sure the players know that no matter what goes on, you’ll go before the coach does.  Ask Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes if you’re not sure about that.  And, yes, since 1969, the Steelers have won six AFC Championships and five Super Bowls.  

 A few years ago, Marvin Lewis was accused of being too soft and the pundits predicted that he wouldn’t; make it as an NFL head coach.   Many wanted him out in Cincinnati, but you don’t hear that so much anymore.  Lewis once again has his Bengals in the playoffs and most think they have as much talent as any team in the AFC if not all of football.   Yes, Lewis has not won a playoff games, but getting there year in and year out is an accomplishment and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Ask the Buffalo Bills. 

Many New York Jets and New York Giants fans and media think it might be time for Rex Ryan and the aging Tom Coughlin to be dismissed, and three weeks ago, most thought Ryan was a goner, but Jets owner Woody Johnson made a wise decision and used good reasoning in doing so.  Ryan won eight games with a rookie quarterback and no quality wide receivers and rather than fire a coach, why not get him some more players?   With the Giants, why fire Coughlin?  Sure, the Giants have missed the playoffs four of the last five years but since 2007, they have won two Super Bowls, two more than the New England Patriots and two more than Peyton Manning.   In 2011, the Giants went 9-7 and won the Super Bowl; in 2012, they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.   Of course, the experts call the 2012 season disappointing, but the records were the same.  In 2011, the tiebreakers were in their favor, last year they were not.    You really can’t make this up. 

In 2012, the Chicago Bears went 10-6 and missed the playoffs.  They fired coach  Lovie Smith, the coach that took them to the Super Bowl in 2006. In 2013, they brought in Marc Trestman, the offensive guru who won two CFL Grey Cup titles with the Montreal Alouettes.  This year, they finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.  How did that work out Chicago? 

You’re the owner, you can do with your team as you see fit.   If you want to change coaches after 10-6 and 9-7 seasons go right ahead.   I can’t knock you for what you do any more than I can knock a successful salesperson who gets his/her numbers.   All you owners are wildly successful in business, so much so that you accumulated enough wealth to buy an NFL football team, which starts at $500 million and that’s being conservative.   Even though you drip of wealth, most of you have been able to successfully plead your case that the state build and pay for a stadium that hosts, at the most 12 NFL games per year.   Let’s commend for you that. 

So, if you want to switch coaches every year, two or three, go right ahead, owner of the Raiders.   Maybe you’ll catch lightning in a bottle once, but before long, you’ll fire that guy too.  It’s your team, your business, your toy.   But, don’t expect things to turn around in a flash just because you appeased the fans or yourself. 

 Consistency is the key, but you didn’t hear it from me. 

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