BY JACK STERN A day after the conclusion of the NFL regular season, tons of head coaches are fired. For good reason, this day is commonly referred to as “Black Monday.” Typically a month after they’re let go, smiling, ambitious wide eyed eager beavers are brought in to take their place before being shown the door just a few years later. So goes the circle of life in professional football.
This time around, eight coaches – exactly a fourth of the league, were relieved of their duties from Hue Jackson’s firing at the mid-season mark to Black Monday. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that was the most head coaches fires after a season since 2008 when eleven were let go.
But the massive turnover occurring on a yearly basis speaks to a bigger problem at hand. Ownership groups are constantly changing coaching staffs, overall philosophy’s, and on-field personal to the point where there is almost no consistently within an organization. For a newly hired head coach – especially a less experienced one, this makes it particularly difficult to succeed.
Consider this: out of the seven coaches hired in 2016, just one – Super Bowl Champion Doug Peterson, remains. When going through the hiring process, seemingly none of the seven teams ownership groups had a distinct idea on: a) why their last head coach wasn’t successful b) what a new head coach would do to change things c) a clear vision on where they saw their organization in 10 years.
Rather than trying to diagnose the issue(s) in house, many owners decided to pin the blame squarely on the head coach and fire him. None of this is to say the coaches fired were devoid of blame (Chip Kelly, yes, I’m looking at you); but it does go to show the chain of blame in the league.
For an example, look no further than the situation this year with Steve Wilks in Arizona. Wilks became the latest casualty of the NFL’s version of one-and-done, spending a tumultuous season at the helm in Phoenix before being dismissed at year’s end. He was paired with a rookie quarterback first time offensive coordinator for over half the year, and most importantly a talent deprived roster. Yet rather than considering the circumstances behind their atrocious 3-13 record, GM Steve Kelm opted to go in another direction
Okay, I get it. This is a business judged by the win and loss column, not other “factors” (a.k.a. excuses). Still, it’s important to take a hard look at the root of a team’s struggles, instead of a pointing finger exclusively at the head coach.
In Arizona, Rosen was likely to struggle no-matter who the head coach was, and the front office didn’t get enough quality skill players to help him or enough talented players on either side of the ball. Additionally, six of their eight wins last year came by a less than a touchdown, meaning the tam was destined to lose a few more games in 2018. Obviously they probably could’ve had more than three wins, but that’s beyond the point. The front office gave very little room to grow to a rookie head coach that was greatly lacking the resources for success.
While they’re actively trying to improve the roster, giving a rookie head coach that little leeway from the start speaks to the dysfunction existing in NFL front offices. In most cases, front offices are taking a massive, calculated, risk that has the potential to backfire greatly when they fire a head coach and hire a new one. They aren’t certain about their decision, and nothing is guaranteed. The fit with a head coach and locker room could be worse than expected, the new sheriff could have trouble managing the coaches and players, and they could crumble under higher stakes.
Simply put, finding a new coach is a extra risky game of Russian roulette. There’s a excellent chance that organizations: don’t have a full list of who’ll be available/is interested in their vacancy, won’t get their first choice, and ultimately won’t upgrade the position when everything is said and done. Still, coaches league wide will face intense scrutiny based solely on their team’s success, as GM’s continue to try and hit the jackpot. Until someone finds a team’s magic formula for success, that game will keep on going.