Beware of the big-name coach
Why teams can't buy winners; Week 14 breakdown
Posted: Monday December 10, 2007 3:32AM; Updated: Monday December 10, 2007 2:31PM
NEW YORK -- "And the legend grows,'' Eddie George said just after 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the NBC studios, staring up at the nine-television wall the crew members of NBC's Football Night in America fixate on every Sunday during the NFL season.
The legend of Tony Romo, he meant. George, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was in town for Saturday night's Tebowfest and stayed over to visit with his good buddy Jerome Bettis and to see how our show is put together. He saw a little drama -- the 16-yard Romo-to-Jason Witten touchdown that saved the Cowboys' bacon in a 28-27 win at Detroit, the Chargers rebounding from a 17-3 deficit with 10 minutes left at Tennessee to win in overtime and the Giants nearly clinching a playoff berth despite New York running back Brandon Jacobs trying desperately to give the Eagles a chance -- in an otherwise pedestrian Week 14 Sunday of football.
The story of the day might be the Patriots re-establishing their mojo in crushing one of their last obstacles to perfection ... and how fresh they might be heading into the last 19 days of their regular season. I'll get to that, and to the headlines of the day, in a few paragraphs. But I want to lead with a cautionary tale for the owners -- you know who you are, Wayne Huizenga and others -- thinking about their coaches of the future.
It's getting to be that time of year ... and I don't mean cheery. I mean coaching hot-seat time, and, ultimately, the firing time. Every owner will deny he's thinking of making a change, but be realistic. There are coaching changes every year -- 17 after the 2005 and '06 seasons combined. We could have a decent amount of firing this year as well.
I'd like to see owners stop looking for the miracle cure when they pick a coach. I've got proof it doesn't work. Since 2000, by my count, NFL teams have hired seven big-money geniuses (average salary per year: $4.3 million) to take their teams to the promised land.
The Magnificent Seven: Nick Saban (Miami), Steve Spurrier (Washington), Dick Vermeil (Kansas City), Dennis Green (Arizona), Bill Parcells (Dallas), Joe Gibbs (Washington) and Bobby Petrino (Atlanta). They have coached a combined 21 years with those teams. Playoff appearances in those 21 years: 4. (It's mathematically possible to be five this year, if the 6-7 Redskins run the table and get some help.)
Playoff wins in those 21 years: 1. Championship Game appearances: 0. Super Bowl appearances: 0. Gibbs won the playoff game with Washington, 17-10 over Tampa Bay in January 2006. Parcells made the playoffs in two of his four Dallas seasons. Vermeil had the other playoff season, a one-and-done job in 2003 with the Chiefs. One playoff win by the geniuses in 21 years.
I'll get to the moral of the story here in a moment, but one last bit of they're-not-who-we-thought-they-were data to make my point. The records of each coach with the team that hired him to turn the program around, including playoffs:
There's something more important than a $4 million coach -- a quarterback. Vermeil had a chance every year because he had Trent Green. Parcells milked Drew Bledsoe for a while, then gave the team a bright future by putting Romo in the lineup in 2006, his fourth and final year as coach. The Cowboys are glad he made the switch and are benefiting from it now.
Saban never had a quarterback, and Green didn't have one until Matt Leinart was drafted in the coach's last year, 2006. Spurrier had a bunch of Shane Matthewses. Gibbs picked Jason Campbell in 2005 and waited too long to play him. Gibbs won't get the full benefit of the brightness of Campbell's future, obviously, because he may be in his last year. Petrino got jobbed by Michael Vick's dog fighting conviction, and he'll pick a quarterback of the future, most likely, high in the 2008 draft.
Coaches can't do it without quarterbacks. What was Bill Belichick like before he put Tom Brady in the starting lineup early in 2001? A lot less of a genius. Look at the recently hired coaches who have succeeded. Mike McCarthy is 19-10 in two years coaching Green Bay -- Brett Favre's resurgence has helped. Sean Payton got to the NFC title game last year, thanks largely to Drew Brees. Mike Tomlin's Steelers are 9-4 in his rookie coaching season, with a big assist to Ben Roethlisberger. Romeo Crennel was a lock for the unemployment line 'til Derek Anderson started throwing strikes all over the field for Cleveland this fall.
The moral of the story? Patience, a good personnel staff and a quarterback. I said on NBC last night that Huizenga does not want to fire Cam Cameron, 0-13 as a rookie head coach. The owner shouldn't fire his head coach. He should give Cameron and GM Randy Mueller at least another year to put their program into place. If Huizenga doesn't, what does that say about the hiring process that brought Cameron to south Florida last winter?
Yes, John Beck looks like anything but the Dolphins' quarterback of the future. But look at the early-career resume of Phil Simms with the Giants and John Elway with Denver. It would be polite to say they struggled early in New York and Denver. Really, they stunk. But they hung around long enough to get a hard shell and some experience, and they became two of the best quarterbacks of their era, obviously.
A month ago, Brad Childress looked like he might be in over his head, and Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was overmatched. Minnesota fans were thinking, "Hmmm. Donovan McNabb sure will look good in purple next year.''
The Vikes have gone on a 4-0 run since, with Jackson leading a run-heavy offense averaging 35 points a game -- while completing a Brady-like 74 percent of his throws. Patience, people. Patience. So avoid the star system in the coaching office. Don't go looking for an Urban Meyer to save your offense, or a Parcells to drag out of retirement again to put the fear of God in your undisciplined team. Doesn't work.