Commentary

Replacements don't always work out

Updated: September 19, 2011, 3:07 PM ET
By Patrick Dorsey | Page 2

Elvis GrbacAP Photo/Nick WassWhile with the Baltimore Ravens, quarterback Elvis Grbac was getting wrapped up a lot.

After months of speculating, fighting, tweeting, interviewing, more speculating, guessing, joking, roasting and #winning, it's finally here:

"Two and a Half Men," post-Charlie Sheen, debuts Monday night. In his place, of course: Ashton Kutcher.

How will the switch go? That's for time and TV viewers to decide. But one thing's for sure: Kutcher is the next big replacement, the latest in a long line of high-profile ousters that brought in lots of attention -- and a mixed bag of results that ranged from very good to very bad to something in the middle:

BAD

Baltimore Ravens: Elvis Grbac replaces Trent Dilfer

Reporter: You just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?

Dilfer: "I'm going to the waiver wire!"

Yep, Dilfer's reward was a free pass elsewhere, as Grbac -- coming off a 4,000-yard, 28-touchdown season with the Chiefs -- was brought in to make the champion team's O as good as its D. Grbac himself claimed it was "time that a quarterback comes in here and provides leadership, a go-to guy, a vertical passing game." He added: "This is a great team. I can make it better."

The result? The enigmatic Grbac threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2001, the Ravens were beaten by Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and the former "Sexiest Athlete" never played again after refusing to take a paycut.

Tennessee football: Lane Kiffin replaces Phillip Fulmer

Fulmer pretty much embodied Tennessee. He played there. Served as an assistant for more than a decade. And in 1992, he took over the program and eventually won a national title.

But things started slipping in the mid-2000s, especially during a 2005 in which the Volunteers were ranked third in the preseason -- then went 5-6. The coach mustered two more solid years, but a 5-7 2008 spelled his end in an awkward midseason dismissal.

Enter Kiffin, a former hotshot USC coordinator whose tenure as Raiders head coach ended … oddly. Turned out that wasn't just Al Davis' fault, as the Volunteers' 7-6 season featured plenty of Kiffin oddities. Namely: Falsely accusing Florida of recruiting violations, badmouthing one of his own recruit's high schools and ultimately darting back to USC after one season. Now Tennessee is 8-8 under new coach Derek Dooley, including 6-7 a year ago.

Michigan football: Rich Rodriguez replaces Lloyd Carr

Was Carr pushed out? That's debatable. Negative opinion certainly was swirling around Ann Arbor in 2007 -- Ohio State had won six of seven meetings -- but the 1997 national champion's retirement announcement made no mention of bitterness.

Really, it was the aftermath that went poorly. Flirtations with former player/LSU coach Les Miles fell through, and instead the spread-minded coach from West Virginia was brought in to get the Wolverines back on the Buckeyes' level.

That might be the case this year, but more for Ohio State-slipping reasons than Michigan resurging. Rodriguez won just eight games total his first two years, got caught up in some practice-related controversy and ultimately was fired after just one winning season -- and replaced by small-school veteran Brady Hoke.

"The Tonight Show": Jay Leno replaces Conan O'Brien who replaced Jay Leno

Remember this one? No, things did not go smoothly at NBC after it promised late-late star Conan the "Tonight Show" slot five years in advance.

A recap, for those who somehow missed the drama: Leno didn't want out. So NBC added a new Leno show in front of Conan's, and the network struggled. Conan lasted just seven months at "Tonight," agreed to a buyout, and eventually took his red-headed talents to TBS.

And now … it's not quite the same. Long the late-nite ratings giant, Leno saw a run of record-low ratings -- he even fell behind constant No. 2 Letterman for a time -- while Conan's also haven't wowed execs despite his devoted #TeamCoco fan base (and hilarious sidekick Andy Richter, if we may say so ourselves).

Chicago Bulls: Tim Floyd replaces Phil Jackson

Despite six titles in eight years, the Zen master couldn't calm the nerves of contentious general manager Jerry Krause, who along with chairman Jerry Reinsdorf arranged for Jackson to leave after the 1997-98 season ("arranged" might be generous; author David Halberstam's book "Playing for Keeps" describes a slightly more profane order from Krause).

So with Jackson out, Michael Jordan retiring again and Scottie Pippen off to Houston, the NBA's latest greatest dynasty was replaced by college coach Floyd and … not a good roster. Now, it's hard to blame Floyd for the franchise's failings, but facts are facts: the Bulls won 13, 17 and 15 games in three full seasons under Floyd, and didn't top .500 until 2004-05, with Floyd long gone and the Derrick Rose era still a few seasons away.

"Major League": Omar Epps replaces Wesley Snipes

Long before horror legend Tony Todd got tabbed as the next Willie Mays Hayes, young Epps replaced Snipes for the sequel because of money demands.

No offense to Epps -- who went on to star in the well-liked "Love & Basketball" -- but a new actor in an old role rarely ends well. And the critics certainly weren't fans of the movie as a whole.

MIXED

Dallas Cowboys: Jimmy Johnson replaces Tom Landry

Tom Landry was fired. Yes, for the young ones out there, the legendary Landry was told to leave. Granted, the man in the hat hadn't posted a winning season in four years, and new owner Jerry Jones rode in like a, well, cowboy and told the old man to take off. Still, this was not popular -- and might inform some lingering Jerry Jones resentment.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Jamie Squire/AllsportDo you consider Barry Switzer to be a success as Dallas Cowboys coach?

Even so, the Cowboys soared pretty quickly under new hire/former University of Miami head man Johnson. Yes, there was that 1-15 first season. But things got better once the Aikman-Smith-Irvin troika was formed, and by 1992 Dallas was on its way to back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

Now, about that other time Jones forced a champion coach out …

Dallas Cowboys: Barry Switzer replaces Jimmy Johnson

Popular or not, Landry was 64 and coming off those losing seasons. Johnson? He was fi -- er -- resigned right after winning a Super Bowl, replaced by another former hotshot college coach in Switzer (Oklahoma). Strange? Some sure thought so.

Switzer succeeded right away, winning 12 games in each of his first two years and claiming the Super Bowl in his second season. But even that dissolved, as two years later Switzer left his post (although under slightly less frosty circumstances). The Cowboys? They've won one playoff game since -- under five coaches.

"CBS Evening News": Katie Couric replaces Dan Rather

Officially, the much-respected Rather resigned as the network's lead anchor, saying "it was time." But it came in the wake of Rather's controversial "60 Minutes" story on George W. Bush's National Guard service, and Rather ultimately sued the network for $70 million (the suit was later dismissed).

Months after Rather left, with Bob Schieffer serving as interim anchor, CBS tabbed former "Today" host Couric as his successor. Seen as a pioneering (and therefore surprising) choice, it produced mixed results -- Couric & Co. won awards, but also produced rollercoaster ratings -- and ended after just five years (Couric left for ABC, while Scott Pelley took over in June).

Florida State football: Jimbo Fisher replaces Bobby Bowden

Coach-in-waiting agreements can get pretty tricky, as Florida State found out after placing that label on then-offensive coordinator Fisher following the 2007 season.

It seemed reasonable enough at the time; Bobby Bowden was nearing the end of his career, and the Seminoles wanted continuity. But things got messy after a poor start in 2009, with board of trustees chairman Jim Smith calling for Bowden to leave and Bowden ultimately obliging (against his will).

Now? It looks good -- but not yet great -- under Fisher. Florida State entered the weekend ranked fifth, but couldn't quite reestablish dominance against No. 1 Oklahoma. And even had that happened, it will be hard for anyone to live up to the lovable legend (not that Fisher won't be trying).

GOOD

Indianapolis Colts: Edgerrin James replaces Marshall Faulk

In a development long forgotten before this year, the Colts after 1998 were rebuilding, coming off a 3-13 season with a rookie quarterback named -- oh, you know his name. So when Faulk declined to renegotiate his contract, he was sent to the equally lowly Rams for second- and fifth-round picks.

Oops? Kind of. On one hand, James -- surprisingly drafted ahead of Ricky Williams -- led the NFL in rushing his first two years, and finished with more than 12,000 career yards. But he never carried Indy to the Super Bowl (the Colts won the year after he left), while Faulk grabbed a title immediately upon arrival in St. Louis and set the NFL's yards-from-scrimmage record that season. He also became perhaps the best fantasy back ever, and a Hall of Famer.

Metallica: Kirk Hammett replaces Dave Mustaine

In 1981, drummer Lars Ulrich and singer/guitar player James Hetfield needed a lead guy for this new thing called Metallica. So they grabbed uber-talented local Mustaine -- but the rest was not history (well it is, but not in a "happily ever after" way).

As the story goes, they just didn't fit. "There was just too much personality," Mustaine once said (warning: lots of profanity on that link). "It was like having three Dr. Frankensteins in one band." Ultimately it led to a feud, then a real fight, then Mustaine's firing. Hammett was tabbed soon after, and has been there since.

Hard to say who won. Metallica went beyond metal and broke into the hard rock mainstream, becoming one of the world's biggest acts. But Mustaine formed Megadeth -- which might just be the better band. There was some post-firing bitterness there, but it since has dissipated and both groups helped make up (alongside Anthrax and Slayer) the recent Big 4 shows. In the end: metal won.

[+] EnlargeTBD
oe Robbins/Getty ImagesAt the beginning Packers preferred Brett Favre. And their allegiance switched to Aaron Rodgers.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard replaces Jim Thome

In 2004, power-hitting phenom Howard bashed 46 home runs across Double- and Triple-A -- before his September call-up. His reward in 2005: A trip back to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, thanks in part to the presence of masher/fellow first baseman Thome.

What to do? Trade Thome to make room? Turns out Philly got a (slightly morbid) gift in the form of a Thome injury, making way for Howard's Rookie of the Year season and a Thome move to the White Sox.

Quickly Howard endeared himself to Philly fans, even winning the 2006 NL MVP (behind 58 home runs). But the slugger has his detractors (especially in the stats community), and Thome himself had a resurgence before reaching 600 career home runs this year. One thing's undeniable, though: Those '08 Phillies grabbed their first World Series title in 28 years, and Howard played a part.

Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers replaces Brett Favre

Did you know: Brett Favre has flirted with retirement multiple times in his career? Oh, you did. And you probably know this, too: Few suffered the will-he-or-won't-he drama more than the Packers' front office, which after 2007 was ready to hand off the QB position to heir obvious Rodgers.

Not pleased, Favre threatened to crash camp unless he was released. The quarterback got his wish, landed with the Jets, started strong on the field, but eventually … yeah, turns out it wasn't so great. Still, Favre did post a Fountain of Youth year with the Packers' top rival in 2009 …

… which would have been devastating had Rodgers not turned into one of the league's elite QBs, ultimately leading Green Bay to last year's Super Bowl title.

New England Patriots: Tom Brady replaces Drew Bledsoe

"Wally Pipped"? Sorry, traditionalists, but the term should be "Drew Bledsoed." Because once upon about 10 years ago, the former No. 1 overall pick was rolling along as the Patriots' QB -- until a Mo Lewis tackle changed the NFL.

With Bledsoe out, the second-year Brady entered, went 11-3 as a starter, and led the Patriots to an improbable Super Bowl win. Sold, New England in 2002 went with the young guy ahead of its former franchise QB -- hardly controversial, but still potentially dangerous given that Brady was just a sixth-round pick two years earlier. And remember: The previous Super Bowl champion ditched its starting QB the following year.

Wethinks this one worked out a little better.

The result? We're still waiting.

Tiger Woods' caddie: Bryon Bell (maybe?) replaces Steve Williams who replaced Mike "Fluff" Cowan

No Tiger Woods jokes here; we're playing this one straight (as opposed to a Tiger Woods tee shot -- zing! OK, no more). Seems that Bell, a longtime friend of Woods, is temporarily on the job (whenever Woods plays, that is). Woods has said he'll pick a replacement, but for now that's TBD.

When it happens, the new bag toter might have trouble matching the success -- and camera-snatching prowess -- of New Zealander Williams, who took over for the unceremoniously dismissed "Fluff" (for discussing his salary? seeking fame?) back in 1999 … before himself being unceremoniously dismissed earlier this year (we all know how that turned out).

Page 2 editors Lynn Hoppes, Thomas Neumann and Dave Wilson contributed to this piece.

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