Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The coaches they are a changin'

Well, we've already seen Eric Mangini (Jets), Rod Marinelli (Lions), Romeo Crennel (Browns), and Mike Shanahan (Broncos) get their walking papers. There are other coaches that shouldn't be resting easy today, including; Jim Haslett (Rams), Herm Edwards (Chiefs), Marvin Lewis (Bengals) and, while I don't expect it, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a change in New Orleans at the expense of Sean Payton or one in Dallas at the expense of Wade Phillips. We already know that there will be changes in Seattle, and while it would surprise me, I think Jacksonville might consider a change. That's at least ten potential coaching changes in the offing.

Little more than 30 percent of the league's coaches could be collecting unemployment before this year's free-agent class has a chance to hit the market. I want to take a moment to go through each of the above and address some of the issues...

I'm not going to address Seattle as Mike Holmgren is leaving of his own accord, so let's start with Mike Shanahan. I've always felt that Shanahan was one of the league's more overrated coaches. I will give him credit for creating and running an offensive scheme that could probably make me a 1000 yard rusher in the NFL - and I'm a broken down 38-year old with bad ankles. However, for all his offensive genius, he's regularly missed in his search for the heir apparent to John Elway (consider, Bill Belichick, traditionally considered a keen defensive mind, has already had two quarterbacks perform up to snuff after Drew Bledsoe, then the best quarterback in franchise history, went down. Shanahan is on his third since Elway, the last two are journeyman back-ups, and the jury is still out on the current one).

A lot of people are surprised by the Shanahan firing. I'm not. Since Elway's retirement, Shanahan has had ten seasons of which he only had four seasons of more than nine wins. In his four seasons with Elway he had only one that had fewer than 12 wins. Even with the one 8-8 season in 1995, Shanhan averaged 12 wins per season with Elway as his quarterback. Since Elway's retirement Shanahan has averaged 9 wins per season and eight per season for the last three.

The team was in command of its destiny until it lost four of its last six, including losses to the moribund division rival Raiders, and the struggling Bills. Two winnable games that would have made the final game against the Chargers moot.

In Kansas City, Herm Edwards' fate is held in the hands of whoever replaces long-time president Carl Peterson. If I were a betting man, I would say his days in KC are done. I like Edwards but feel he has some shortcomings as a head coach. He seems to make bad decisions in critical pressure situations, which is what lost him the job in New York. My guess is that he returns to a coordinator position.

In the Meadowlands Brett Favre was the coach-killer. Honestly, as little as I like Eric Mangini, that late season collapse should have signaled the end of Mike Tannenbaum who saddled Mangini with Favre.

The reasoning for dropping Mangini who had two winning seasons in his three years there was that Tannenbaum gave Mangini a revamped offensive line, a former MVP at signal caller, and a beast in the middle on defense - never mind that the collapse can almost wholly be laid at the feet of Favre, Tannenbaum's hand-picked savior of the franchise, or that the quarterback they cut in favor of Favre arguably had an MVP-type season, or that the beast of a nose-tackle wasn't fit enough to stay on the field and be effective in the fourth quarter.

So Mangini is looking for work. If he can't land a head coaching job, it should be interesting to see if anyone will take him on in some capacity. My guess is that Spygate burned a lot of bridges for him.

Rod Marinelli was the beneficiary of Matt Millen's handiwork finally coming to full fruition. Marinelli may or may not be a good coach, but getting stuck with Matt Millen's picks, it's hard to tell.

Crennel's undoing was having a locker room full of really talented guys that couldn't figure out what it took to win, and Jim Haslett - well, Haslett had a couple of issues working against him, not the least of which was that the Rams are just plain bad.

Also a problem for Haslett - the double standard in the application of the Rooney Rule.

Mid season the Rams wanted to give Haslett an incentive laden contract. If he met the incentives, he came back as head coach, if he didn't, then it was at the discretion of the Rams. The NFL decided, as Haslett was an interim head coach, that the provisions were in violation of the Rooney rule.

Here are my problems with that -

The spirit of the rule was that it open up interview opportunities for minority coaching candidates. The 49ers were allowed to sign their interim head coach, Mike Singletary, to an extension without having to interview anybody - so, in essence, Norm Chow, Romeo Crennel, and possibly soon to be unemployed Herm Edwards, and Marvin Lewis had no chance to interview for the HC position in San Francisco. Not to mention the obvious inequity in regards to the way the league handled two coaches in the exact same position based solely on the color of their skin.

Also, I fail to see how what the Rams did is significantly different to what the Cowboys did in signing their offensive coordinator to a contract stipulating that he becomes head coach when Wade Phillips leaves, or the fact that a similar contract exists in Seattle between the Seahawks and Jim Mora, Jr.

In essence, Haslett got screwed because the NFL decided to apply the Rooney Rule capriciously.

In Cincy I expect that Lewis will be gone after six turmoil-filled seasons during which he averaged fewer than seven wins per season, and broke the eight-win barrier only once. Hailed as a defensive guru, only once - this past season - were his defenses in Cincy ranked higher than 20th, and at 16th, they were barely in the top half of the league. The average rank for his defenses since getting the job - 23rd.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wrapping things up

It's been a Helluva season in the NFL this year.

Gonna start with my beloved Patriots.

They lost a lot this season. They lost their quarterback, their safety, their signal-calling-linebacking leader, their running back, and a slew of supporting characters. And, ultimately, they lost in their bid for a playoff spot.

I'm not going to complain about the Chargers making it. Teams play the hand they're dealt, and the AFC East was tough this season. The West wasn't. Complaining about the Chargers making it would be hypocritical and disingenuous of me, given the blasting I gave "Hammering" Hank Steinbrenner over his whining about the Dodgers making it, in spite of the Yankees having a better record.

The Pats had plenty of chances to take care of business during the season and fell short - they were blown out of the water by a high school formation being run by the Dolphins in September; they had a three point loss to the Colts with a chance to tie it up late, only to get a personal foul that killed a potential game tying or winning drive; the defense failed to stop Brett Favre on a third and fifteen in overtime.

Win anyone of those and the Pats aren't looking for help Sunday, they win the division outright.

I'm not going to spend anymore time on that. What I will dwell on are the positives.

The Patriots found a guy that has potential to be a franchise quarterback. They saw strong performances from defensive rookies Jonathan Wilhite and Jerrod Mayo. Mayo started strong and Wilhite finished strong. The team began generating a pass rush late in the season with increased playing time for Mike Wright, Jarvis Green, and LeKevin Smith. The team found their running game, rushing for 628 yards over their last three contests. Before the injury, Pierre Woods looked more solid than he had ever been, and Gary Guyton looked like a keeper.

A lot of this gets the team a lot younger on the defensive side of the ball, and gives them a lot of flexibility in regards to what they want to do on that side of the ball going into next season.

When I've really had an opportunity to digest the Patriots' season, I will go over how I see the team going for the rest of the league...

Crush and burn...

This season has been a long, strange trip in which we learned a lot about a lot of teams - we learned who had heart, who was heartless, who was horrible, and who just plain didn't have balls.

Let's start with those who crashed and burned...

The Cowboys, Jets, Broncos, Redskins, Bills, and Buccaneers all were thought to be locks for the playoffs, or to at the very least challenge for them, at one time or another during the season. At the beginning of the season all the pundits thought that the Cowboys were the most talented team in the NFC East. Six games into the season the Bills were thought to be a lock, running away from the the AFC East before crashing hard to earth; later the Jets were the best team in the division before Brett Favre became color blind, throwing more completions to the guys in the other jerseys than he did touchdowns. In one game the Buccaneers defense aged before our eyes and never recovered, the Broncos showed us they were ready to be sold to the glue factory and the to say the Redskins became one-dimensional once Clinton Portis was injured would be generous.

We learned that Tony Romo might be the most over-hyped quarterback in the NFL, that Brett Favre wasn't the answer, and that all of those teams were soft and lacked heart when it was needed most.

Props to the Detroit Lions who completed only the second perfect 16 game regular season - their record will live in infamy and as a standard against which football futility will be measured. The team has now lost 17 straight going back to last season, putting them nine games behind the Buccaneers 26 game losing streak spanning the 1976 and 77 seasons. Of course, the Bucs were an expansion team. The Lions just suck. Even if they win a game within the first nine next season to avoid tying or beating the Bucs mark of futility, all they have to do is lose the first game to have the distinction of being the only team to have a losing streak span three consecutive seasons.

Then there was the just plain bad - and that covered a lot of teams. The Browns were a mess, as were the Bengals, Jaguars, Raiders, Chiefs, Seahawks, and Rams. These teams struggled as much with injuries (Seahawks, Chiefs, Jags, Bengals, Browns) and bad coaching (Rams, Raiders), as they did with boneheaded front offices (Raiders, Browns).

Just above them were the teams that fought their way to mediocrity, or underachieved into the same - the 49ers, Bears, Packers, Saints and Texans all ended up there usually due to some shortcoming on the team such as the Packers and Saints poor defense, or the Bears erratic offense.

Later I will hit on the playoff teams and the recent baseball developments.