Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Bloach N' Roll)

The Cleveland Browns hired Eric Mangini yesterday, a move I consider exceedingly smart. Mangini is a competent coach who'll bring a proven system to the shores of Lake Erie. He'll win games, and if Cleveland can settle on one quarterback and find the right mix of parts, he may someday win big. It's a really good fit.

Would Mangini have been a good fit in Denver? Did Pat Bowlen miss out on his coach with his very deliberate hiring process? It's hard to say, but as the Broncos embark on their first coaching search in a generation, I think finding the guy who's the best fit for the unique set of circumstances that exist in Denver is paramount. Too many pundits are focused on the star power, the side of the ball, the perceived salary demands, or the bloachiness of Bowlen's candidates.

What matters most is where our next coach's sweet spot is.

Before I even get started, I have to submit a doctor's note for my prolonged absence. I have the requisite excuses: the holidays, travel, my wife's pregnancy and insistence that we finish the nursery, a cold, several feet of Rocky Mountain powder that needed to be plowed, and most crucial a three-week KO of the internet service in my office (apparently a plow had wiped out a Qwest pedestal nearby).

None of this matters, of course, the world needs my shitty opinions like it needs more bad reality TV. But this particular storm of distraction came at the worst possible time. My NFL team completed the hugest collapse in the history of the sport--that's hard to do and I'm damn proud of them for pulling it off. It's kind of like the warm feeling a Lions fan must have these days. There have been plenty of awful teams, but only one can say it is the awfulest, the hands-down worst team of all time.

Then my Broncos canned Mike Shanahan, only the most successful coach they've ever had by many miles. I thought the move was rash and foolish, and that we the fans would soon feel a disproportionate amount of pain because of it. In the ensuing weeks, I've come to grips with the move and even embraced it. If you look at the Denver Broncos as an organized crime syndicate--and I know that many of you do--just remember that once in a while you need to whack a guy. Usually these are low-level soldiers, guys who get out of line or start dropping off a light envelope. Clipping them is just the cost of doing business. Every so often, though, the boss gets a little too comfortable. He feels invincible or complacent, gets sloppy, and the only way to fix the problem is to take him out in a flurry of bullets. It's for the good of the family long-term.

The person who crystallized the sanity of the firing was, ironically, my knocked-up grumpy wife. The day it happened I had dozens of hysterical conversations with stunned men, friends and strangers alike. When I spoke to the wife that evening, though, she asked me how many other coaches who oversaw The Biggest Collapse In NFL History would still have a job the next year. Excellent point, sweetie.

Make no mistake, I still think Shanahan is a phenomenal coach, and if he finds the right situation in the future he'll win another championship. But the key is finding that match, that ideal mixture of city, franchise, owner, GM, staff, quarterback and players that can get you to the top of the heap. You can win if one or two of those components is out of whack, but if too many handicaps are in place you're fucked. Shanahan's Achilles' heel was, of course, his eye for defensive talent. Drop him into a scenario with a capable GM and defensive system and you're in business.

Hell, look at Bill Parcells. He's arguably the greatest coach in the history of the game and he could not get the Cowboys out of the first round. He was hobbled by a maniac owner and a few nutcase players. OK, one nutcase, but TO's insanity is so batshit pervasive it can take down even the mighty Tuna.

And Parcells is the right starting point for getting back to my original theory--that the Broncos need to find the right coaching fit for their current team. Bill Parcells is the only guy that can excel in all three phases of coaching. I'm not talking about offense, defense and special teams, my friends. I'm referring to making a horrible team respectable, making a respectable team a contender, and turning a contender into a champion.

Let's look at a few of the coaching candidates out there, not just for the Broncos but for every team. And for the sake of argument let's temporarily ignore guys who've never had the big job, because no one really knows if Jason Garrett or Steve Spagnuolo are future Hall-of-Famers or future laundry attendants. Take, for instance, someone who's near and dear to all of our hearts: Marty Schottenheimer. Marty is a fucking fantastic coach. He can take a pile of shit and turn it into a house. Reggie White thinks he might have a little Oriental in him--I have no doubt that Marty could turn a television into a watch. If I ran the Lions, I'd hire Marty, and in three years I'd be in the playoffs. Detroit is not looking for a Super Bowl right now, they're looking for a guy who won't go 0-16, and Marty will never go 0-16.

Marty would never work in Denver, of course, because he plateaus at 10 or 11 wins and stalls in the playoffs. He's simple and predictable, which is great for making that horrible team respectable. But he cannot get you over the top.

Just like all a Lions fan wants is a few wins, your basic Kansas City fan simply wants a playoff victory. They may say it's all about the ring, but they're lying to your face. The next time the Chiefs actually win a playoff game expect a spike in cardiac arrest fatalities among the elderly in the greater KC area. They'll die happy, not caring what happens next.

Now Herm Edwards is capable of winning a playoff game, he did it with the Jets. I just don't think he's capable right now of constructing a team that could come anywhere near the postseason, which is a problem if your only goal is to win a playoff game. Were you to replace him with, say, Jim Fassel, the Chiefs would instantly become more professional. With a little luck they too could make the playoffs in a couple years and even win a game. But the press conferences would go from Mora-level entertainment to Belichick boring.

And, sure, if KC hired Bill Cohwer or Mike Shanahan they could make a run at a title, depending on who's running personnel. Problem with that is both of those coaches have enough pull to eliminate any independent oversight by a strong GM. So you end up with a similar situation to Shanny-in-Denver. Don't underestimate the luxury Cohwer had in Pittsburgh, where he grew as a coach at the end of the Rooney family/Tom Donahoe player pipeline. Deep down I think Bill Cohwer's about as good of a GM as I am, and I thought the Maurice Clarrett pick was brilliant and the Eddie Royal pick was a disaster.

So which former coach works in Denver? I say none of them, now that Mangini's gone. Brian Billick is a circus freak, and retreads like Dom Capers and Romeo Crennel are strictly coordinator material. I think the right route is to go young, cheap and inexperienced and hope to hit the lottery. I think bringing in someone who can gut and rebuild the defense is key, so long as they're willing to provide offensive structure to Jay Cutler and Jeremy Bates or whoever is running it. I'm definitely intrigued by Raheem Morris and Leslie Frazier, young guys who've been dismissed as Rooney-rule interviews but that I have a feeling can actually coach.

But my current favorite is Baltimore DC Rex Ryan. He's Buddy's less-mulleted, less-Raidery kid. He'll slash and burn the existing defensive depth chart and craft something effective. I don't know if that'll be a 3-4 or 4-3, although I do hold out hope that Jarvis Moss could find success as a rush OLB in a 3-4.

And if it doesn't work we do all this again in a couple years, like every other team in the NFL. The last time Bronco fans were in this boat we witnessed another offspring of a goofball coach (Bum Phillips' son Wade) fill the gap between two Bronco legends: Dan Reeves and Shanahan. If a guy like Rex Ryan simply kept the seat warm while Cutler continues his development, then hands off to a coach who can take the team over the top, so be it. At least we're not coming off 0-16.


bankmeister said...

The next time you craft a line like: "your basic Kansas City fan simply wants a playoff victory. They may say it's all about the ring, but they're lying to your face," I will be the guy driving the plow.

I will drive it all the way out from Kansas City, and I will not stop until your Qwest pedestals, finished nurseries, and even your self are laying in shambles amidst the fresh-plowed drifts.

old no. 7 said...

I knew you'd take exception to that, but only because your temper is more powerful than your ability to read.

I do not consider you a basic KC fan, sir. You have, over the years, shown a level of nuance and historical perspective lacking in many of your neighbors. I know you care about winning a championship.

Unfortunately, in my observation, the vast majority of your Chief-following brethren take a short-sighted loser viewpoint. I do not think that the average Chief fan, the fan that does not, for instance, write for this blog, truly cares about championship football. He merely wants to not suck.

bankmeister said...

And I knew that that would be your retort: that I am not "a basic KC fan." Therefore, take note that, although my temper is in fact powerful on a nationwide level, my ability to read challenges the breadth of my ire, and...words, words and more words; my own paragraph became too difficult to comprehend.

Cecil said...

I can't read.

Cecil said...

So I had someone read this to me. I'm in favor of Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris or Spagnuolo, although for whatever reason I think he's not gonna be the guy.

Rex Ryan is an eternal coordinator. He doesn't have the temperament to be a head man--witness his recent self-pimping in regards to his own potential candidacies around the league, where he all but called his fellow coaches a bunch of limp-wristed homos unfit for the gridiron. There's no way that Bowlen wants a guy who might get into a fistfight with his assistant on the sideline like his old man did.

And I know I said that if Stoops got the job, I'd lose all my hair--but what about Stoops? What if Oklahoma wins and he decides to come to Denver and take Pat's old Canadian cash? He's at least a competent manager, by all accounts, not a martinet like Saban or a weaselly douche like Petrino. Plus, he's got a defensive background; it's entirely possible that, were he to be hired, he'd keep the offensive machinery in place and go about fixing the back end.

Or not. But I'm about out of ideas.

The Lone Reader said...

Worst collapse in NFL history? I remember the Chiefs going 9-0 and losing in the first round of the playoffs. I remember the Raiders going to a Super Bowl in 2003 , and now they're one of the worst teams in the NFL over the past 5 years.

Worst ever? Give me a break. You Bronco fans are always so damn melodramatic.

Glad to get your rationalization on the firing. It was a dumb move, and the organization will suffer in the coming years. Cutler has likely platued, and removing Mikey isn't gonna help.

I understand that in times of doubt, a little boldness goes a long way. I just think you're mistaking rash for bold.

Time will tell. Ryan would be a nice fit. Hell, Herm may be looknin' for a job.



P.S. I don't know one Chiefs fan who doesn't want a Super Bowl. Quit your lil' digs, and enjoy watching Mikey lambaste y'all in the years to come.

Cecil said...

He's back! TLR is back. And he's back with...uh, more nonsense.

Here's the thing, my salmon-counting friend: no team in NFL history has led its division with three games to go and lost it. Thus, the historical aspect.

Now, sure, your 9-0 Chefs did choke away a good season, but they didn't lose a division lead with three games to go. It's tough, I realize, to separate these crazy "facts" from your desire to throw mud Denver way. Little digs, indeed.

As far as Cutler: plateaued? In his second full year as a starter? Where he threw for more than 4,500 yards with virtually no running game? The kid needs to tighten up in the red zone, but Jesus, man, I thought you knew something about football.

rustoleum said...

KC has an NFL team?

Cecil said...


The Lone Reader said...

Still not the greatest in NFL history. I mean, really, no one was even watching, man. The AFC West was a fucking joke. Why do you think the AFC East had good records.

Firing your coach was fuckin' idiotic. Now, I know what it's like to be a fan, and the need to rationalize these things.

I'm just stating the obvious. It was a knee-jerk, over-reaction. You all shouldn't have even had the division lead with the blown Ed Hercules call.

Quit the melodrama. It's okay to mad at your franchise. They flat out fucked-up. There aren't too many coaches out there who give Belicheat problems ... except Mikey S. He's good, man.

You're right, Cutler had some numbers. I'm just saying this is as good as it gets. I don't see him turnin' into the HOF QB you all want. He'll be lucky to get to an AFC Championship game.

Maybe he'll quit whining in crunch time as he gets older, but I really doubt it. His coach made him and his coach left.

It could really be a sad state for the Broncos in the coming two to five years. Hell, it's fine with me man. The worse our division is the better. That gives the NFLs worst defense a chance.



Cecil said...

Your logic is, as always, magnificent in its flexibility.