Best coaches offer consistency, predictabilityPosted: Friday November 15, 2002 10:56 PM
By Bob Harris, Special to CNNSI.com
We're all aware of the basic premise here: As the owner and general manager of a Fantasy Football team, you sit down each year and try to assemble the most productive group of offensive skill players possible.
Of course, we all have a pretty good idea -- or at least we think we do -- of the kind of players necessary to field a successful entry. We like nothing better than creating our projections, cheatsheets and draft lists. We study players, teams, systems, statistics and schedules in order to gain an edge of the opposition.
But I often wonder just if the time and energy we put into our analysis is really all that helpful, or if it's just a part of the process we perform because we enjoy it?
Maybe so. But I still have a hard time basing my draft primarily on past -- and projected future -- statistics, presumed strength of schedule and other intangibles that tend to remain in constant states of flux. Why?
Because they're so unpredictable. I prefer predictable.
Which is why I like coaches.
That's right; I'm talking about the guys who will be pulling my players' respective strings on a daily basis. I'll never have any input when game plans are devised; I'll never call a play or determine playing time. What I can do, however, is get a good feel for how various coaches operate and how their style and approach to the game will affect my players.
The good news? NFL coaches are predictable. Very predictable. Much more so than projected statistics and other more subjective criteria. Better yet, it really doesn't matter if we like or agree with their way of doing business, as long as we know it.
With that said, I'll try to illustrate my theory by taking a look at a handful of current NFL head coach, coordinators and assistants, and analyzing their work from a Fantasy perspective.
Mike Martz, Head Coach, St. Louis Rams: What's not to like? The Rams scored 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons with Martz calling the shots. No team had even scored 500 points in back-to-back seasons before Martz came to St. Louis in 1999 as offensive coordinator, and then succeeding Dick Vermeil as head coach in 2000. The Rams are 42-13 over those three seasons, with two Super Bowl appearances, two division titles and three playoff berths.
So how does he do it?
Martz is a master when it comes to creating mismatches that put his players in position to make big plays. Whether that means getting Marshall Faulk isolated against a linebacker or forcing opposing secondaries to use single coverage on Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Or as St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Jim Thomas once wrote: "Martz tries to use every inch of the field, both vertically and horizontally, to spread the defense out and give his corps of skill players more room to run.
"Martz thinks outside the box. He doesn't worry about a run-pass balance or using the run to set up the pass. He likes to keep opposing defenses on their heels with an attack-mode offense, and he obviously is in love with the forward pass. He doesn't play like he is afraid to lose like so many coaches in the NFL. "
And I like that.
Norv Turner, Offensive Coordinator, Miami Dolphins: A disciple of John Robinson, Ernie Zampese and Jimmy Johnson, Turner believes his best offenses have featured several players catching at least 30 passes and the outside receivers averaging at least 16 yards per catch.
But Turner's scheme relies first and foremost on an effective and relentless rushing attack best powered by true NFL feature back -- much like the guy he has now in Ricky Williams.
And if you're not sure how knowing more about Norv might have helped you on draft day, I'll offer a brief history lesson.
What does it take to line up as Norv's tailback? Let's take a look at the role played by the last four men to hold that job under Turner: Emmitt Smith, Terry Allen, Stephen Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Let's look at the numbers:
Smith ran for 4,762 yards, caught 165 passes and scored 42 touchdowns in three seasons under Turner.
Allen posted 2,662 yards and scored 31 touchdowns during two healthy seasons working under Turner in Washington.
Davis racked up 2,723 yards and scored 28 TDs in two seasons under Turner.
And with Turner calling the shots in San Diego last year, Tomlinson ran for 1,236 yards and hauled in 59 passes -- both tops among all NFL rookies -- while ranking third in the NFL with 339 carries. The first-round pick also ran the ball a league-high 22 times with the Chargers facing third-and-1 situations.
And that's why I ranked Williams as my No. 4 Fantasy running back heading into the 2002 season.
Marty Schottenheimer, Head Coach, San Diego Chargers: Woooooo!! I love Marty Ball! What's that? You say Schottenheimer's "run-and-play defense" philosophy a little boring.
Sure. I suppose it could be, unless you happen to be a LaDainian Tomlinson owner.
But what I like most about Schottenheimer is his immutable nature. Marty ain't gonna change. Ever.
Marty does what he does. His coordinators and assistants do what he does. And ultimately, his players do what he does. Or they're gone.
One last note here. Schottenheimer has built an excellent staff in San Diego, headed up by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron -- a Norv Turner disciple. But perhaps the most important move he made was hiring former Cowboy offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who works in that same capacity for the Chargers.
Look no further than the disarray up front in Dallas. Compare and contrast that with the overachieving and surprisingly effective unit Houck built during camp.
Then say wow.
Mike McCarthy, Offensive Coordinator, New Orleans Saints: The Saints have piled up 290 points so far this year, averaging an impressive 32.2 points per game. In addition to leading the NFL in scoring, New Orleans can break the franchise scoring record of 422 points (set in 1987) by putting up 132 points over the remaining seven games this year -- a feat they can accomplish by averaging just over 18 points per week.
Sure, the '87 Saints played only 15 games because of a players' strike, but the current squad is on pace to finish with 512 points. With 35 touchdowns so far, the Saints are also well on their way to breaking the club's touchdown record of 46 established in 1979 and equaled in 1987 and '89.
And where are all these points coming from?
They're coming in large part from McCarthy creating mismatches that maximize the unique individual talents and abilities of his personnel.
Kevin Gilbride, Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills: In naming him Best Assistant Coach at the halfway point of the season, SportsLine.com senior writer Pete Prisco noted that Gilbride might not have won many people over as a head coach, but he is one of the best play-callers in the league.
So far, the fact that Gilbride likes to have his teams run out of multiple receiver sets rather than multiple back sets has yet to keep any of them from enjoying the benefits that come from running a balanced offensive attack.
The Steelers, for example, ranked fourth and 10th during his two-year stint in Pittsburgh. And during the eight seasons he's served as an offensive coordinator, Gilbride's offenses have finished the year in question ranked third -- or higher -- in total offense five different times.
However, his schemes have a tendency to get very complex, often employing multiple options for receivers to choose from every time the ball is snapped. Unfortunately, that level of complexity often makes it difficult for everybody to learn their assignments -- a problem that probably explains the "personality clashes" Gilbride has become known for.
The good news?
Drew Bledsoe loves Gilbride and the two men have established an excellent rapport and both have a thorough understanding of what they need to do to succeed given their individual talents.
Mike Mularkey, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers: In naming him Coach Of The Week on Monday, Sports Illustrated's Peter King noted that against a good Falcons defense, the Steelers rolled up 645 yards in five quarters. That's almost enough offense for two good games.
That's what Mularkey does. He puts players in positions to excel rather than in situations they're not capable of handling.
Another thing Mularkey, who learned to coach under Sam Wyche, does extremely well, is using different personnel to run some of the same plays -- a tactic that keeps defenses off balance.
We've looked at a half dozen NFL coaches, each unique in his own special way. However, they all have one characteristic in common: They're remarkably consistent when it comes to how they do their job. That consistency leads to the kind of predictability that just might put your Fantasy team over the top.