The Armchair Quarterback's Guide To Wildcard Weekend

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Aug 15, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski against the Detroit Lions at FirstEnergy Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

The Armchair Quarterback’s Take Of The Week

Some Head Coaches Are Set Up To Fail

This week is full of conflicting emotions depending on which NFL team you follow. Some fans are excited and looking forward to an upcoming playoff game (more on them in the game predictions section). Meanwhile, many fans are facing the end of their favorite team’s season and the change that comes with it. Even amongst the teams that didn’t make the playoffs there are a wide range in emotions. Some teams showed promise and their fans are excited about the future, feeling they are a few moves away from becoming a winner. Other teams are in need of a major overhaul. Several teams started their offseason overhaul by firing their head coach on “Black Monday”, a day known around the league for widespread terminations.

While some of these firings may have brought joy and new hope to the fans of those teams it’s important to remember that these coaches are responsible for an entire staff and that most of those men have families. These families now face uncertain futures. Best case, they have to pack up their families and relocate to a new city. That means leaving behind schools, friends, and the home they had come to know. Worst case, they now face unemployment right after the holidays.

The world of coaching is a cut throat business. It’s impossible for every team in the league to have a winning record and make the playoffs. Someone has to lose games every season and in the “win now” culture of the NFL, if you are one of the teams that lost more games than you won you may just find yourself out of a job.

Obviously, coaches have some control of their own destiny. Good coaches have proven that they can produce winners and find success at different stops along their coaching journey. However, coaches can also be victims (or beneficiaries) of their environment. Some coaches are set up for success. They come into a stable environment with stable ownership, a healthy GM situation, talent on the roster, and the all important QB already in place. Other coaches are set up to fail. Their ownership either won’t spend the money to field a competitive roster, is overly meddlesome in the day to day affairs of the team, or don’t provide a healthy division of power within the organization. There is often conflict in who has control of the roster. Many coaches are also expected to come in and have immediate success despite rosters that are devoid of talent. A coach without a viable starting QB on his roster is especially vulnerable.

You don’t have to go outside of the AFC North to find perfect examples of both of these situations. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a model of winning and stability for generations. They have great ownership, a stable and successful front office, and consequently have only had three head coaches dating all the way back to 1969. That’s three head coaches in 45 seasons. That means they’ve only averaged a new head coach every 15 years over that span. That’s unheard of in this day and age. Now go to their division rival Cleveland Browns and you will see the exact opposite. Dating back to when the “new” Browns came back to Cleveland in 1999 they have already had six head coaches (seven, if you count interim head coach Terry Robiskie in 2004). Even without Robiskie, that’s still a new head coach every 2.5 years. The last three Browns coaches have been gone in two seasons or less (Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, and Rob Chudzinski).

First off, that kind of constant change and instability in an organization is going to breed failure, regardless of who the coach is. New coaching staffs mean new schemes and play books. It takes time for players to get comfortable with those types of changes. Plus, new coaching staffs almost always want to bring in players that fit their system, which leads to increased roster turnover. When there is as much turnover as Cleveland has had in the past 5-6 years it’s impossible to compete with a team that has had the same system and core players in place over that same time span. The team is operating at a disadvantage before the ball is even snapped. Plus, when an organization develops that reputation it becomes harder and harder to get the top coaching candidates to even consider coming to that team.

What coach in their right mind would pick Cleveland over another organization knowing that the past three head coaches didn’t get more than two seasons to turn around a team that has been consistently losing since they returned to the NFL 15 years ago?

I have absolutely no idea if Rob Chudzinski is a good coach or not. What I do know is that he was set up to fail in Cleveland. You combine that kind of constant turnover of both the roster and the coaching staff and then give him a combination of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, and Brian Hoyer at QB and expect him to turn a team that was a combined 19-45 in the four seasons prior to his arrival into a winner in one season?!?! That’s insanity.

Ask yourself this, if Mike Tomlin and Rob Chudzinski swapped roles and Tomlin was asked to do what Chudzinski was in Cleveland this season and Chudzinski was given a stable organization, roster, and Ben Roethlisberger at QB would their teams results have been much different?

I’m not saying I think Chudzinski is as good of coach as Tomlin, I honestly have no idea. I do believe 100% that Tomlin inherited a situation where he was set up to succeed and Chudzinski was set up to fail.

Not every head coach that has been fired this offseason is in the same situation. Mike Shanahan clearly couldn’t get along with his owner and QB so something had to be done. Gary Kubiak was having his worst season in his eighth year with the team. Every situation is different, but all too often coaches and their staffs are fired without being given a fair shot. In fact, all too often the coaches are paying the price for the situation that the person firing them actually created. Look at owners like Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones. Their teams are a direct reflection of their approach as owners.

As a Kansas City Chiefs fan I have witnessed first hand what fixing the problems in the front office can do. Yes, Andy Reid is a far superior coach to Romeo Crennel. However, the Chiefs turnaround is about a lot more than Reid. The entire organization went under a remodel this past offseason. Clark Hunt had been an absentee owner who let former GM Scott Pioli have complete control of the team. Pioli ruled like a dictator. He clashed with head coach Todd Haley and eventually replaced him with the much more submissive Romeo Crennel. The team had no leadership and when you throw in a QB situation that consisted of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn you get yourself a 2-14 team despite having six pro bowlers on the roster. Hunt decided enough was enough. He went out and got the best head coach on the market in Reid. Then he hired a quality personnel man in John Dorsey that was friends with Reid and could work together harmoniously. He revised the chain of command so that both men report to directly to him so there would be no power struggle within the organization. Then the Chiefs went out and traded for Alex Smith to play QB. While Smith isn’t spectacular, he has brought stability to the position.

In one offseason the Chiefs brought stability to the entire organization. They recognized that the entire operation needed an overhaul. It was bigger than just needing a new coach or a new QB. By fixing how the front office operates and stabilizing the QB situation the Chiefs gave an already proven head coach an environment where he could succeed. Now the Chiefs are 11-5 and in the playoffs and Andy Reid is a candidate for coach of the year. Reid is a great coach, but he wouldn’t have had this same success if the Chiefs hadn’t set him up for it. If Reid was in Cleveland this season, do you think they would be 11-5 and in the playoffs?

I don’t, because coaching talent is only part of the whole picture. You need a stable and healthy organization in order to win in the NFL.

That is what the teams with coaching openings should be striving for. Not just hiring a flashy name as the coach and hoping that he can succeed under the exact same circumstances where all the previous coaches have failed, but creating a new environment where a coach has a better chance of succeeding.

In my opinion, there are no coaches or players that can win on their own. In today’s NFL you have to have a winning organization in order to have prolonged success. Until losing teams acknowledge that fact and are willing to look in the mirror they are bound to keep making the same mistakes and thus subjecting their loyal fans to the same poor results on the field.

Now onto the game predictions for Wildcard Weekend……

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