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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
When things just go badly, four factors influence rebuilding

By Floyd Reese
ESPN.com

Although no one in football ever wants to admit it, if you've been around long enough you've run into a season that just goes bad.

Whether it is because of team's performance, injuries, youth, age, coaching, or personnel, it just eventually happens. Grandiose plans for playoffs, championships, and Super Bowls are now gone and there might be as many as four games still remaining on the schedule. Plan A becomes Plan B, but what is Plan B? No one plans for losing.

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Several very important issues have to be considered. Keep in mind that the job of a decision-maker is to protect the health and short-term and long-term production of the franchise. The key issue to be considered is a "change of goals."

Just because you're out of the playoffs does not necessarily mean you quit trying to win every game. Every season we see teams that win their final few games and use that momentum at the beginning of the next year.

If the decision is to change goals, then we start to hear terms like "planning for the future," "just needs to play," and "youth movement." The way I see it, there are four issues that have the most impact on this decision:

1. Ownership:


Does the ownership want to wash its hands of the present season? Is it ready for a "youth movement?" Does it want a new coach or GM? Does it understand why the season was so poor? Is it willing to give the present group one more try or does it want a fresh start? Ownership's opinion is the most important.

2. Composition of the team:

In spite of what anyone wants or thinks a franchise should do, the composition of the team is the single largest determining factor.

•  A young, talented team: In 2006, the Titans were by far one of the youngest teams in the NFL. A veteran quarterback, Kerry Collins, was playing and we started a miserable 0-5. Kerry's backup was rookie Vince Young.

We inserted Young and we narrowly missed the playoffs while winning 8 of the remaining 11 games. The Titans are an example of a young team with a young quarterback that should make the playoffs this season and for years to come. Another example of a team rallying around a young starter might be seen in Minnesota this season.

Brian Billick
Brian Billick's Baltimore Ravens are an example of a solid team that's fallen on hard times this season.

•  A solid team that has endured injuries, bad luck, poor coaching, or poor performance: This type of team should continue on the straight and narrow because a lot of people have had very little time to prove themselves. The backup player filling in for an injured starter must prove he can step up and still win. A struggling coach must prove he can lead his team to a championship and show the poor season had to do with issues outside of his control. The player playing poorly needs to show he is not too old, has not lost a step, has successfully come off an injury or that he can fit into a new system. Examples this season might be Washington and Baltimore.

•  An old team, or a team with salary cap problems, or both: This example is in need of complete change. There is no long-term solution to this dilemma. Cut your losses and start over. This is the "youth movement" scenario. We all can probably think of a team or two that fits this situation.

3. Job security:

A proven coach or GM should have the luxury of working his way through this problem. He is a proven winner, he will do what is best for the team, and he has the confidence of the players, press, and public. He can play younger players without anyone suspecting he is looking to the future.

However, coaches on either end of the experience spectrum might be forced to stay the course. A young coach must prove he can win, and an experienced, troubled coach must prove he can continue to win.

4. Fans:

Like it or not, if an NFL team can't sell tickets, there will not be a team.

Fans can support a young team that, while it is not winning as much as they would like, does show improvement and has a future. Fans can live with a team destroyed by injuries. Fans cannot swallow poor performance, poor coaching, or poor personnel. Why continue supporting a team that cannot or won't win?

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes to ESPN.com.