It Never Fails

I was asked recently just how long an owner should go with a head coach before knows it is time to send him packing. Since I have been critical of the tendency of owners to impetuously fire their coaches without thinking much beyond a knee jerk reaction, the question is a good one to address. There is little debate that the head coach is the key and certainly the most important person in an NFL franchise. While it is true that you can’t afford to have an inept guy calling the shots along the sideline for very long, it is also true that you should be sure you will be upgrading when you make a move. Rushing out the bad does not ensure you will ring in the good. I am always amused when a team cuts a kicker on Monday and then decides to bring in some replacements to try out! Sometimes I think owners treat their coaches like kickers.

We have just witnessed the annual NFL coach bloodletting with 7 guys cut loose so far. Through the years on the average about 1 in 4 jobs turns over every year. The average tenure of the misfortunate this year was about 3.5 years, although if you take out Gary Kubiak’s 8 years in Houston it is more like 2.5 years. No one has ever suggested that an NFL head coach has an easy job. Quite the contrary, and when you consider that in most cases he has inherited a mess or he wouldn’t have been hired in the first place, he has to be given some running room to get the team on the rails.

On the other hand, how much is too much? Mr. Kubiak was the epitome of mediocrity with the Texans for 6 years, and yet was given another 3 year contract, only because he wouldn’t take the 4 years offered to him. We will not discuss the 14 straight losses this year. As a close follower of the Texans, who watched the coach along the sidelines for all those years, it seemed apparent to me that six years in were certainly enough. Plenty of talent, no playoffs, and only one winning season to me said he should have gone then. Owner Bob McNair thought otherwise and was rewarded with two straight playoff appearances and an outstanding 12-4 record before the 2013 disaster. Despite the first six years of very average football, McNair obviously felt Gary had the team ready to excel. So, he signed his ho-hum coach to a big new contract. It looked like a good move for a little while anyway.

It is clear to me that any new coach needs at least three years and probably four to really get things going. I suppose there are exceptions, if you are a Jim Caldwell taking over a Super Bowl winner from Tony Dungy, you darn well should be good right away. Even in that case, when Peyton went down so did the franchise. Caldwell, who took the team to a 14-2 record, was quickly cashiered out. This year Mike Shanahan and Jim Schwartz were fired after 4 and 5 years respectively. In both cases it is tough to argue that those guys did not get a reasonable chance. Mike Munchak in Tennessee and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota had only 3 years or so to convince their owners they were on the right track. While I suppose a good case can be made for their dismissal, I wonder why those owners believe a replacement coach will do any better. Again, out with the bad, and in with?

And then we have the Browns and Buccaneers, who terminated Bud Chudzinski and Greg Shiano after one and two years respectively. The Browns are about to have their third coach in 4 years. Management in both cases is replete with incompetence. A year or two is simply not enough time to turn around those moribund programs. By jerking out those coaches they are clearly admitting how little sense it made to hire them in the first place. These bottom feeders never fail to amaze.

For more on NFL coaching The Perfect Pro Football Coach by Robert DeLuca is now available at the I Bookstore and most other national EBook booksellers.

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