Commentary

Impatience spins the coaching carousel

Too early for MVP decision, rookie QB successes, Philly's late turnaround and more

Originally Published: January 6, 2012
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Three years ago, the NFL found itself in a similar position to where it is today. In the days following black Monday, teams scrambled to hire head coaches to replace the ones they fired.

Cleveland hired Eric Mangini, Denver tabbed Josh McDaniels, Indianapolis named Jim Caldwell, Kansas City hired Todd Haley and Oakland named Tom Cable. St. Louis hired Steve Spagnuolo, San Francisco tabbed Mike Singletary, Seattle named Jim Mora, Tampa Bay hired Raheem Morris, Detroit announced Jim Schwartz and the New York Jets hired Rex Ryan.

The coaching class of 2009 has hardly distinguished itself. Of the 11 men hired to be the answer a mere three years ago, only three remain on the job, and one of those, Caldwell, still is on shaky ground. Otherwise, NFL owners have treated head coaches as if they were as disposable as yesterday's newspaper.

Something is wrong here.

In a society that craves results now, in a world that demands excellence every day, head coaches rarely are allowed the time they need to grow into the job and master it. Reminders of it come every year at this time. Head coaches are fired, head coaches are hired and the coaching carousel spins without producing in the ways NFL owners had hoped.

Every NFL owner who recently changed head coaches, or still is considering it, also needs to study his sport's history.

Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry did not make the playoffs until his seventh season as a head coach and he didn't win his first NFL playoff game until his eighth season in Dallas. Today he would have been fired twice over.

Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll did not make the playoffs until his fourth season, after he had compiled a 12-30 record during his first three seasons in Pittsburgh. He never would have made it today.

Hall of Fame coach Don Shula didn't win a playoff game until his sixth season as a head coach in Baltimore, and went 0-2 in the postseason during his first five seasons. He probably would have been fired before getting the chance to become Shula.

The rare teams with continuity -- New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New Orleans, Philadelphia and the New York Giants -- are allowed to operate efficiently while taking advantage of competitors that are not. But the teams that give their head coaches time, patience and, of course, a quarterback are the ones that find themselves playing in this postseason.

In today's world, everyone loves eating the turkey, but no one wants to wait around for it to cook. They'd rather microwave it. Unfortunately, it's not as tasty or savory, much like the seasons some of these unstable NFL franchises continually experience.

Just last month, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he intends to hire a "young Don Shula." Doesn't every team.

The problem is, few do. Or maybe they actually do, but don't take the time to find out.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. MVP "debate": Lost in the debate about whether Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees is more deserving of NFL MVP are the questions about the award itself.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Morry GashAaron Rodgers has had a great regular season, but postseason performance should be taken into account when voting for awards.

Simply put, it doesn't work properly.

As it currently is constituted, it is a regular-season award, not a full-season award. It measures the most valuable player over 16 games, leaving out the three or four most significant games of the season. If an award is handed out for a season, it would mean more if a full body of work over a full season were taken into account. But for some reason, The Associated Press feels the need to collect the votes this week, before the most critical part of the season, which absolutely should be a part of any award to commemorate this past season.

What's the rush?

Let Rodgers and Brees and even Patriots quarterback Tom Brady battle until the season and the awards are decided. Let the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, whoever it is this season, separate himself this postseason to truly distinguish himself for the award.

Until then, the awards really are not what they say are. If the timing of the votes is not changed, then the names of the awards should be. Then they should be called exactly what they are, which is Regular Season Most Valuable Player, and the Regular Season Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

Better, and even easier, just wait. Wait until the full season is over. Let the players play the regular season. Let them play the postseason. Then let the voters vote on awards for the full season, not just the regular season. But to vote before then is to do a disservice to this season and this sport.

2. Surprise candidate: Here's a sentence that has not been written often before: Bengals president Mike Brown is deserving of the award for NFL Executive of the Year. No executive has done a better job than Brown, who took a Bengals team that finished 4-12 in 2010 and turned it into a 9-7 wild-card team this season. He did it by jettisoning wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafting A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, and transforming the team's roster and attitude.

But as good as the Bengals have been this season, Brown also has strengthened them for future seasons. Cincinnati owns Oakland's first-round pick this season and the Raiders' first- or second-round pick in the 2013 season. Any debate about postseason awards should include Brown, a worthy choice for executive of the year.

3. Pass happy: At the risk of sensationalizing Saturday night's Lions-Saints matchup, there never has been a playoff game with this type of aerial firepower. Think about it this way: In the first 91 NFL seasons, a quarterback threw for more than 5,000 yards in a season only twice. The two quarterbacks squaring off Saturday night, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and New Orleans' Drew Brees, each did it this season. Their 10,514 combined passing yards are 1,626 more than Brees and Peyton Manning combined to throw for in the same season when those two quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl during the 2009 season. Over his past five games, in a span that started with a loss to New Orleans, Stafford threw for an NFL-best 1,919 yards, including 520 Sunday against the defending champion Packers.

As hot as Stafford has been, Brees has been even hotter. This season Brees rewrote the NFL record book. He threw for a single-season record 5,476 yards, completed a single-season record 71.2 percent of his passes, completed an NFL-record 468 passes, an NFL-record 13 300-yard games, and an NFL-record seven straight games of at least 300 yards. Now Brees and Stafford get at least one more chance to air it out.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAndy Dalton could become the fifth rookie quarterback to win a playoff game.

4. Better than beginner's luck: It is only fitting that in a season in which rookie quarterbacks combined to win 23 games, the most in the Super Bowl era, two rookie quarterbacks will face each other in a playoff game for the first time in the Super Bowl era. Either Cincinnati's Andy Dalton or Houston's T.J. Yates will become the fifth rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era -- joining New York's Mark Sanchez, Baltimore's Joe Flacco, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Tampa Bay's Shaun King -- to win a playoff game. Rookie quarterbacks have reshaped the expectations placed on them, and remade the game.

It will continue Saturday afternoon in Houston, with the chance to shine even more light on the issue in the AFC divisional playoffs.

5. Measuring greatness: What Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton did this season is beyond impressive. No one thought he would play like this. He put together one of the top 10 rookie seasons in NFL history, maybe top five. But despite the claims of some, it is not the greatest rookie season in NFL history.

Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers scored 22 touchdowns -- 14 rushing, six receiving, two on returns -- in 14 games during his rookie season in 1965.

Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson scored 20 touchdowns, in addition to rushing for 1,808 yards and catching 51 passes for 404 more yards, during his rookie season in 1983.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss caught 17 touchdown passes in a year in which Minnesota went 15-1 during his rookie season in 1998.

New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the AP Defensive Player of the Year during his rookie season in 1981.

And Los Angeles Rams cornerback Dick "Night Train" Lane intercepted a still NFL-record 14 passes in only 12 games and returned two for touchdowns during his rookie season in 1952.

Today's society is in such a rush -- too much of a rush -- to proclaim a player or game as the greatest without taking time to compare and contrast it with some of the other players or games in sports history.

Newton's performance this season compared favorably with, but did not exceed, the most memorable rookie seasons in NFL history. What is fair to say is that no quarterback ever had the type of NFL rookie season that Newton did. He finished the 2011 season with the greatest rookie year an NFL quarterback ever has had, which is quite a statement. But it wasn't the greatest season an NFL rookie ever had.

6. Three for the road: Even though they would have to win three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, there is a reason to believe for the Falcons, Lions, Steelers and Bengals. Three wild-card teams have won the past six Super Bowls. The Steelers did it in 2005, the Giants did it in 2007 and the Packers did it last season.

It's not accidental, either. What typically happens is that winning wild-card teams build up some momentum during the postseason's first weekend that teams on a bye don't get. Winning wild-card teams find a rhythm that teams on a bye don't always find. And so even though the teams on a bye are well-rested and at home, wild-card teams have some advantages as well, as the playoffs have proved.

Of the four wild cards this season, the Steelers would figure to have the best chance to reach the Super Bowl. One front-office executive of a team on a bye said this week that he thought the Steelers were the AFC's most dangerous team.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastMatthew Stafford and the Lions are hoping to make their first Super Bowl appearance.

7. Two haves and two have-nots Interestingly enough, each of the four games this weekend will feature an NFL "have" or an NFL "have-not." The "have-nots" are the Texans and Lions, who along with the Browns and Jaguars are the only NFL franchises never to have reached the Super Bowl.

The Texans and Lions each get their chance to start their postseason push Saturday, when Houston hosts Cincinnati and Detroit plays at New Orleans.

The "haves" are the Giants and Steelers, both of whom play Sunday and both of whom will be looking to extend their storied traditions. This will be the Giants' 31st postseason appearance, one more than the Dallas Cowboys, and the most in NFL history. The Steelers have 33 playoff wins, tied for the most in NFL playoff history, along with an NFL-high six Super Bowl wins.

8. Predictable unpredictability: Once again, this season has proved that the NFL is like the warning that comes with mutual funds: Past performance is no guarantee of future success. For the 16th consecutive season, at least five teams qualified for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before, as Denver, Cincinnati, Houston, Detroit, the New York Giants and San Francisco made it.

At the start of the season, few would have thought that San Francisco would be the NFC's No. 2 seed and Denver would win the AFC West. But each year, there are results that few would have predicted. It's as predictable as it is unpredictable. It's not just teams that make the jump to the playoffs. It's teams that win the division, too. For the ninth consecutive year dating back to 2003, the NFL has seen a team vault from worst to first in the standings, with the Broncos continuing that streak this season, going from last in the AFC West in 2010 to first in 2011.

And count on this: It'll happen again next season, when teams that few people believe in will give their fans a reason to believe. It happens every year. Without fail.

9. Eagles to soar: Philadelphia is out of it to start off the year, but the Eagles are a team to watch in 2012. Philadelphia finished the season with the longest winning streak of any nonplayoff team, stringing together four straight victories over the final month of the season. Not only did the Eagles win those games, but they dominated their opponents, outscoring them 125-46. If the Eagles had squeaked into the playoffs, which they could have done simply by holding on to their lead and holding off the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the season, then Philadelphia would have been a formidable matchup for any team in the NFC playoffs.

But as it is, the Eagles now will have to regroup and re-arm, carrying the momentum they stockpiled at the end of this season into next season. Eagles fans are not overly happy that head coach Andy Reid will return. But chances are, Philadelphia will return to the postseason.

10. St. Louis building blocks Not hard to understand why the Rams fired their head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, and their general manager, Billy Devaney, this week. But the franchise's woes are hardly the fault of those two good men. The Rams' struggles go back and are glaring. Over the past five years, the Rams have won 15 games -- as many as the Green Bay Packers won this season.

During that five-year span, the Rams have been outscored by 922 points -- an average of more than 185 points per season for the past five seasons. Packers quarterback Matt Flynn threw for as many touchdown passes Sunday against Detroit (six) as Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw all season. The numbers are downright depressing for Rams fans.

But whoever gets hired in St. Louis has some great building blocks -- a franchise quarterback, the No. 2 overall pick, some smart and hardworking people in the organization -- even if the new head coach and general manager have a lot of work to do.

The Schef's specialties

• Game of the week: Lions at Saints. The football will be flying.

• Player of the week: Texans running back Arian Foster. With a rookie quarterback, Houston is going to need Foster to carry the ball and the day.

• Upset of the week: Falcons over Giants. Atlanta has the aerial attack to exploit the Giants' secondary.