You play to win the game: In defense of the Chiefs coach in limbo
After five seasons as Jets coach, Herm Edwards became Chiefs coach in 2006
This season Kansas City went 2-14 and set an NFL record for fewest sacks (10)
This year's Chiefs team also gave up the most yards in franchise history
I like Kansas City Chiefs coach-in-limbo Herm Edwards. This has caused great consternation among friends and readers, but there it is anyway ... I like him personally, I like him professionally, I like his energy, I like his enthusiasm for football and life, I like that he might at any time go off on a "You play to win the game," rant, I like the way players seem to play hard for him.
Of course, I don't really like the way he coaches actual football games ... and, as they say in Swingers, there's the rub. The Chiefs went 2-14 this year, and while Herm and the guys will talk about games the Chiefs should have won (both San Diego games, the Jets game, the Bucs game), that is the loser's lament, and the truth is they SHOULD have lost the Oakland game*.
*And surely would had the Raiders not been the Raiders and tried a bizarre fake field goal where the holder actually attempted to flip the ball between his legs to a sprinting Sebastian Janikowski -- well, as close to sprinting as Sebastian Janikowski can simulate. The ball was fumbled, of course, the Chiefs returned it for a touchdown, that's a 10-point swing and one of the many times I have watched a Raiders game and thought that if I was Al Davis I would fire somebody at halftime. Preferably myself.
Anyway, in the NFL, close losses don't mean a thing, and you are what your record says you are, and the Chiefs were an awful and poorly coached football team. Michael Rosenberg and I have had an ongoing debate all year about the Lions and Chiefs -- which team is worse -- and he sent along this great statistic:
The Chiefs had 10 sacks*, lowest total in NFL history. Rosey points out that is 17 percent of the sack total of the league leader, Dallas, and it's about one third of the league average. Worth noting: You probably remember that the Chiefs knocked Tom Brady out for the season, but Brady was NOT sacked on the play when he got hurt. In fact, he completed a long pass to Randy Moss (who fumbled).
*Here, for posterity, are the Chiefs' sacks for 2008 (and I do break out what I call the "legitimate" sacks -- these would be sacks where the quarterback drops back and, before he can find a receiver, is brought to the ground by a defender. The Chiefs had, by my calculations, four-and-a-half legit sacks all year):
Week 1: Matt Cassel sacked by lineman Alfonso Boone on attempted flea flicker.
Cassel sacked legit by linebacker Derrick Johnson
Week 4: Jay Cutler sacked legit by Johnson
Week 8: Brett Favre sacked legit by Tamba Hali -- first legitimate sack by a defensive lineman. And it's Week 8.
Week 10: Philip Rivers ran around the pocket for what seemed like an an hour, took off running and was was dragged to the ground about an inch and a half behind the line of scrimmage by touted first-round pick Glenn Dorsey. Minus-1. This is Dorsey's season total of sacks.
Rivers sacked legit by backup defensive end Ron Edwards.
Week 15: Rivers has ball knocked out of his hands as Hali was running by. That counts as a sack.
Rivers has ball knocked out of his hands AGAIN as Hali runs by. Counts as a sack again. If not for Phillip Rivers, the Chiefs would have ... well, been even worse.
Rivers running around again, all day to throw, finally takes off and is dragged down by just-picked-off-waiver defensive end Justin Babin. Minus-2.
Week 17: Ryan Fitzpatrick steps up in the pocket and is sacked semi-legit by Babin. That's the half-legit sack.
The Lions, meanwhile, had four interceptions this year, and that is an NFL record as well.* As Michael points out that is 15% of the league-leading total (Baltimore) and less than one-third the league average. The secondary had one interception and, best I can tell, 14 passes defensed all season. You wonder how much worse the Lions would have been had they not played any safeties at all.
*The Houston Oilers had three interceptions in 1982, but that, of course, was the strike season and only nine games. Before that you have to go back to the St. Louis Gunners of 1934 -- they only had three interceptions, but this was in part because they were only invited to play three games that season after the Cincinnati Reds were thrown out of the league.
Michael's point being: There are basically two ways to stop a passing attack. You get to the quarterback or you hound the receivers. The Chiefs may have been the worst in NFL history at one way, the Lions may have been the worst in NFL history the other way.
Anyway, back to Herm Edwards. I think he was probably underrated as a coach before he came to Kansas City. He did take the Jets to the playoffs three times in five years ... and these are the NEW YORK JETS. They had been to the playoffs once in nine seasons before Edwards took over. The coach who has taken more Jets team to the playoffs than any other? Herm Edwards.
But, it's fair to say that people in New York do not see Herm in the same light. My buddy Vackie and I have had a longstanding argument about Edwards' time with the Jets ... he believes that Herm inherited a good football team from the Bill Parcells era and underachieved with them. I see a team that Parcells himself coached to 8-8 in 1999, then Al Groh coached to 9-7 before getting the hell out, a team with 37-year old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback, a team that had finished in the bottom half in points the previous two seasons, a team with, at best, a mediocre defense.
Herm took that team to the playoffs in 2001. Then he inserted Chad Pennington into the lineup and took them back to the playoffs in 2002. The second year his Jets obliterated the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round before losing at Oakland. The Jets were brutal in 2003 -- lost their first four, never recovered -- but then they were back in the playoffs in 2004, won a playoff game and should have beaten Pittsburgh to go to the AFC Championship*.
*I do realize that the loss to Pittsburgh - in large part because of Herm's conservative nature -- is actually a strong argument AGAINST Herm Edwards' coaching ability. But I'm not really discussing his coaching ability as much as saying that, all in all, I think he did a good job in New York.
The Jets had all kinds of injury problems in 2005 and were awful. Herm was traded to Kansas City in a rather nasty little transaction that left a lot of people in New York ticked off and/or grateful. Herm left behind a team good enough to go 10-6 under Eric Mangini the next year. At the time, people in New York were saying that this proved how bad a coach Herm was -- look at what Eric Mangini was able to do with the boys! I think now you can argue pretty persuasively that Mangini can't coach a lick.
So Herm came to Kansas City, and what he did not know -- what was hard to know at the time -- is that he was entering a DREADFUL situation. The Chiefs were, in my mind, the worst kind of team for any new coach. They were bad but nobody knew it yet. The offensive line, which had been the best in football, was crumbling (and before Herm coached his first game, the brilliant left tackle Willie Roaf retired). Their best player for years, Priest Holmes, was out with a strange neck injury and nobody had any idea when or if he would come back (he did not that year). The quarterback, Trent Green, was old and just about finished and also about to get knocked unconscious for 10 minutes in his first game. The Chiefs' best wide receiver was 33-year-old Eddie Kennison, and their second-best receiver was someone named Samie Parker.
The defense was absolutely abysmal and had been for five years.
But the expectation level was high because the Chiefs had gone 10-6 the year before in Dick Vermeil's farewell tour, thanks in large part to the emergence of Larry Johnson and the last moments of brilliance for a great offensive line. With the offensive line crumbled, with his starting quarterback on the bench (and Damon Huard playing much of the time), with more or less the same defensive players who had finished 25th, 31st, 29th and 32nd in yards allowed the previous four years -- the Chiefs and Herm rode Larry Johnson* to a 9-7 record and lucked into the playoffs, where they were promptly humiliated by the Indianapolis Colts.
*And I mean the RODE Larry Johnson. He carried the ball 416 times, an NFL record.
In K.C., people felt like that team should have done so much more -- in general, Chiefs fans have never liked Herm Edwards. He does have a way of ticking off fans. Still, I remain convinced that it was the best coaching job of Herm's career.
The next year, everything fell apart. The Chiefs tried one more time to raise the ghosts and play with the ancient offensive line (now Hall of Fame guard Will Shields had retired as well), with Huard at quarterback, with old guys everywhere. The Chiefs started the year 4-3, then lost their last nine ... and it was pretty ugly those last nine. It wouldn't be exactly right to say that Herm lost the team. That team was lost from the start.
Then, the Chiefs announced that they were going to start over, go young, play a bunch of rookies, create havoc with their energy and enthusiasm and speed. Sure, they would make some mistakes. Sure, they would have to learn how to win. But this was the way to go -- the Chiefs had to go back to the beginning, regain their football soul. They traded away Jared Allen, the NFL sack leader in 2007. They drafted a bunch of kids, invited a bunch more to try out, and they went into the season with a whole bunch of players nobody ever heard of. It was a noble effort.
Unfortunately, it flopped miserably. I like Herm Edwards enough to believe he was never really given a fair shot in Kansas City ... he was handed a Krypton team*, and he tried to pull off one of those Instant Rebuilding deals where you throw a whole bunch of young players out there, add water, and hope it works out. He really tried.
*A Krypton Team: A team that refuses to admit it's about to blow up.
But it doesn't matter. The Chiefs went 2-14, and as the boys at Upon Further Review point out, there have been 13 coaches who have won two or fewer games in what was NOT their first season as coach.
1971: Harvey Johnson, Bills, 1-13. Fired.
*Bennett actually went 2-14 his first season too, and they kept him on. The second 2-14 was too much, apparently.
As you can see, 11 of the 13 were fired on the spot. One, John McKay, was retained out of respect for what he had done for the Bucs through the years. He was fired a year later.
And then there's the bizarre case of Detroit's Monte Clark. He went 2-14 in his second year, that was 1979. The UFR guys put the word "Success" next to his name, and indeed he coached another five seasons after his 2-14 year, so I know exactly what they mean. But I'm not sure that's precisely the right word. Clark and the Lions went 34-38-1 over those five seasons. The Lions did go to the playoffs twice (once in that crazy strike season -- they had a losing record and got obliterated by the Redskins in the playoff game). But I suspect few in Detroit look back with longing to the Monte Clark years.
Point is, you go 2-14 once you've had a year or two to work with your team, you are done. And I suspect Herm is done too. In a way I wish the Chiefs would just let him go now rather than make him wait through the interminable process of hiring a GM and then asking the GM what he wants to do and making it hard on everyone. I guess it's possible he could survive for one more year, especially if the GM process gets messy and delayed. I'm pretty sure that would not be good for anyone.
I still like Herm Edwards, as both a man and a football coach. I don't think he's a football genius, but I don't think there are many of those running around. I think he's a solid football guy who can and has built and coached playoff teams. I think he's a good person who inspires young people. I remain convinced that he's a coach who in the right situation (college football like Pete Carroll?) could be a big winner.
But this is not that situation. Sure, I see what's obvious. You can't go 2-14. You can't set an NFL record for fewest sacks. You can't give up more yards than any Chiefs team ever -- especially with the preposterous defenses the Chiefs have had the last few years. You can't go 2-14. You can't go into a year hoping that Brodie Croyle will be a franchise quarterback. You can't go into a year hoping that Brodie Croyle will stay healthy for a full game, much less a season. Also, you can't go 2-14.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and the author of joeposnanski.com.