Black Monday: Follow the quarterbacks

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
2:15
PM ET
The sexy number circulating during Black Monday was 111. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's how many coaches that 31 NFL teams have employed during the tenure of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who wrapped up his 14th regular season Sunday by claiming the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed.

Belichick, of course, lost 13 of his first 18 games with the Patriots before quarterback Tom Brady ascended to the starting job early in the 2001 season. Their coinciding success is a reminder that coaching tenures are usually linked to the performance of the quarterback.

The mere promise of good quarterback play earns a coach the benefit of the doubt, in many cases compensating for other pocks. A quarterback mess, or even the backslide of a long-term starter, typically spurs change.

As of early Monday morning, six franchises had fired their head coach in recent weeks. Four of them -- the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- figure to have new quarterbacks in 2014. The downfall of the other two coaches could be traced at least in part to poor quarterback play. Robert Griffin III's regression sent the Washington Redskins tumbling to a 3-13 season, while Matthew Stafford's second-half collapse was one of the primary reasons the Detroit Lions lost six of their final seven games.

All six coaches had other problems, but if Matt Schaub hadn't slumped badly this season, chances are Gary Kubiak would still be the Texans' coach. If Greg Schiano could have found a way to make it work with quarterback Josh Freeman, he likely would be heading for a third season with the Bucs. Were it not for Stafford's slump, Lions coach Jim Schwartz would likely be preparing for a playoff game Monday instead of cleaning out his office.

Hot-seat rumors have followed two other quarterback-thin coaches as well. If Jake Locker had remained healthy this season, coach Mike Munchak's situation might not be as tenuous as it appears. And if Dennis Allen hadn't flipped between Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn and Matt McGloin, his horizons would be brighter.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers haven't considered the possibility of firing coach Mike Tomlin, who has missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Why? Among other reasons, the Steelers always have a chance to win with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

To be fair, poor quarterback play is usually a shared responsibility. In some cases, coaches aren't given much to work with. The Vikings' Leslie Frazier is the most notable example. And sometimes, a quarterback fails despite the best efforts of his supporting cast. My own opinion, after watching the Lions closely over the past few years, is that Stafford should shoulder significant blame for his slump given the weapons the team provided him. Those who blame Schwartz's offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, are ignoring Linehan's long history in developing young quarterbacks elsewhere.

"It's a quarterback-driven league," Frazier said Sunday, "and if you don't have that position functioning the way you need to, I don't care what you need to do in the other areas of your team, you're going to be fighting uphill."

In the old days -- say, back in 2008 -- we used to think that the best way to project coaching changes was to "follow the money." Teams that owed their coaches big severance packages rarely wanted to pay them. In today's cash-rich league, where the Browns and Lions alone will be paying their former coaches a combined $22 million over the next two years, the credo is different: "Follow the quarterback."

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