Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Black Monday Fallout

Perhaps the scariest sight in all of Philadelphia...
Black Monday. The day after the NFL regular season ends.

It’s a wonderful day for fans, as talk of playoff scenarios (this team is in with a loss by this team, a loss or tie by both of these teams, and a win by this team….AAAAAHHHH!!!) is replaced by discussion of actual playoff matchups.

It’s not such a wonderful day for the coaches and personnel men whose offseason started a bit earlier than they had hoped. The NFL is perhaps the most severe example of the ‘win now’ attitude in sports. Even a short window of disappointment can serve to erase any and all previous success, and Black Monday is perhaps the best example of that.

Last season, John Fox and Eric Mangini were the two big casualties on Black Monday, amongst many others besides them. In many ways, the fallout from the 2012 edition of Black Monday is even more severe. While the coaching changes were all fairly predictable, and DEFINITELY necessary, the complete overhaul of two franchises could have far reaching effects that could alter the short term and long term landscape of the league. Let’s sort through the wreckage:

St. Louis Rams fire HC Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney

Here’s a pretty interesting quote from DE Chris Long:

''It's amazing how easily it all could have gone the other way and this would be a totally different meeting at the end of the year,'' Long said. ''And, maybe we are still playing. It's a fine line between being good and bad in the NFL, and we've learned that over the past couple of years here.''

Uh…what? No, Chris, when you lose 14 games, it is most definitively NOT a fine line between winning and losing. It’s just losing. A lot.

And really, losing is pretty much all the Rams have done with these two at the helm. In four years as GM, Devaney has posted a 12-52 record. In three years as head coach, Spagnuolo has posted a 10-38 record. And now, after another disastrous season, the Rams will be picking in the top two of the draft for the fourth time in five years. That reeks of organizational failure from the front office down to the field.

Ironically, these moves come just one year after the Rams made a six win improvement and lost a Week 17 game that would have won them the NFC West. Just one short season ago, this very same team was looked at as one of the most promising young teams in the NFL. This season, they’re the perfect portrait of a dumpster fire.

For Devaney, the failure has come in his inability to land enough talent through the draft. Apart from the top two picks and 2009 2nd rounder James Laurinaitis, the Rams have gotten very little return on their picks.  The early rounds have been especially disastrous, as only 2 of Devaney’s 13 second to fourth picks remain as starters.

For Spagnuolo, the failure is pretty much all-encompassing. Sure, injuries certainly didn’t help the situation, but they don’t excuse him from being a crappy coach. Even in their surprising 2010 season, Spagnuolo’s ill fated gameplans and bizarre decisions made him look extremely over his head as an NFL head coach. Think of a thinner and dumber Andy Reid, except without the winning. Basically, Norv Turner.

The most damning thing for Spags was his inability to develop the talent he had, especially Sam Bradford. Even with a healthy Bradford, the Rams were not competitive this season, and it is beyond me how they could not get a single win the NFC West despite having the most talented QB in the division.

The decision to move on from both Devaney and Spagnuolo is extremely well timed, as St. Louis will be in an excellent position to add plenty of talent around a QB who I still believe can be one of the best in the league. If they can get this one right, the Rams could very well embark on an extended run of success. With Jeff Fisher’s name being prominently mentioned, it certainly seems like they’re looking in the right places.

Buffalo Bills fire DC George Edwards and hire Dave Wannstedt

No surprise here, as Buffalo’s defense has ranked no better than 28th in Edwards’ two year tenure. Even during the Bills 5-1 start, the defense was giving up boatloads of points. Wannstedt had been serving as the team’s assistant head coach and, considering his previous coaching experience and expertise on the defensive side of the ball, his promotion comes as no surprise. On a related note, the Bills chose not to hire any additional talent to aid Wannstedt or his mustache.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fire HC Raheem Morris

Also no surprise after Tampa Bay put together one of the most inexplicably bad 10 game stretches in sports history. What is so ironic about the whole thing is that the Bucs are losing games mainly on defense despite their coach being a defensive guy! The Bucs have given up 34.9 PPG during their losing streak, and the fact that they have allowed 40+ points in three of their last four games clearly shows that they’ve given up on Morris. Honestly, the guy was completely over his head to begin with, having never even been a coordinator before landing the job. Think Tampa Bay wouldn’t like to have Jon Gruden right about now?

Philadelphia Eagles DON’T fire HC Andy Reid

While the 4-0 finish doesn’t get him off the hook for a disastrous season, it seems that it was enough to buy him another season as head coach. That’s good news for Eagles fans, as it would have been a huge overreaction to jettison Reid. In truth, not everything can be pinned on him. The shortened training camp is partly responsible for the slow start, the horrific offensive line is the responsibility of the front office, and the injury to Vick is a product the offensive line and bad luck. Clock management issues aside, Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and his record is proof of that. Unless they were assured of landing either Cowher or Gruden, firing him very well could have led to a Marty Schottenheimer-Norv Turner situation. How well did that work out for San Diego? Hey, speaking of Norv…

San Diego Chargers DON’T fire either HC Norv Turner or GM A.J. Smith

Several people are reporting that both Turner and Smith will be given an additional year thanks to the Chargers strong finish. In other news, communism will be given one last chance in Russia.

Seriously, how can this happen? The Norv Turner era has been an utter disaster for the Chargers, and they’re now coming off their second straight missed postseason despite clearly having the most talent in the division in both years. It’s possible that he will eventually be fired, but the fact that Dean Spanos is wavering on the decision is proof enough that the organization is totally irrational and dysfunctional. Both Turner and Smith, the guy responsible for stupidly replacing Schottenheimer with Norv, deserved to be Black Monday casualties as the Chargers are in need of a complete overhaul.

Indianapolis Colts fire Bill and Chris Polian

This is, without a doubt, the most important thing that happened on Black Monday. Bill Polian had been with the Colts since 1998 and had been at the helm of one of the most successful decade-plus runs in NFL history. He was responsible for drafting Peyton Manning, he was responsible for the brilliant Edgerrin James decision, he was responsible for one of the most successful runs of drafting in league history – basically, he was responsible for more than ten years of out-maneuvering the vast majority of the NFL. Now, after one bad season, he’s gone.

This decision strikes me as being the product of panic, pressure, and the need to find a scapegoat. Does Polian deserve criticism for a 14 loss season? Probably, yeah. While I’m not sure what people expected him to do after Manning’s injury, it’s not hard to question the decision to keep Curtis Painter as the backup. But even if the Colts had gone with Orlovsky all season, it most certainly would not have resulted in another AFC South title. And even if Polian had drafted just a bit better the last couple years – and I say “a bit” because the drafts weren’t nearly as disastrous as some have made them out to be – the Colts would have still fallen far short of the playoffs. And even if Polian had stupidly wasted money on retaining Clint Session and others this offseason, we would still be having the same conversation we are having today.

Still, I’ll play along. Let’s pretend that the 2-14 record is 100% Polian’s fault. He screwed up free agency, he screwed up the draft, he took a baseball bat to Manning’s neck in the offseason, and he passed on the always present opportunity to land a star QB just weeks before the season. (Are we seeing how ridiculous this line of thinking is?) Let’s pretend all this is true. Other than the obvious legal issues of breaking someone’s neck with a baseball bat, is that even enough to warrant Polian’s dismissal? Does one awful season erase all that he has accomplished in the past? Look at the win totals during Polian’s tenure and you tell me if you want this guy running your team:

1998 – 3 wins
1999 – 13 wins
2000 – 10 wins
2001 – 6 wins
2002 – 10 wins
2003 – 12 wins
2004 – 12 wins
2005 – 14 wins
2006 – 12 wins
2007 – 13 wins
2008 – 12 wins
2009 – 14 wins
2010 – 10 wins
2011 – 2 wins

I don’t know if you lost count amongst all the double digit win seasons, but Polian’s work produced nine straight double digit win seasons from 2002-2010. 143 wins, 8 division titles, 2 AFC championships, and 1 Super Bowl victory in 14 seasons.

Keep in mind that the Indianapolis Colts won just 88 games in the 14 years prior to Bill Polian. Keep in mind that the Indianapolis Colts won just one division championship prior to Bill Polian. Keep in mind that the Indianapolis Colts had never had a 10 win season prior to Bill Polian. And then keep in mind that Bill Polian was responsible for building the Buffalo Bills team that made four straight Super Bowls.

Long story short, guy knows what he is doing. Big time. Even if you want to heap all kinds of criticism on him for this season, you can’t escape his consistent excellence throughout the years. One bad season certainly does not warrant the dismissal of someone so gifted as Bill Polian, especially when that bad season has very little to do with him.

Of course, the common refrain from those in the Indianapolis area is that this has more to do with the deteriorating relationship between the Polians and Jim Irsay. Honestly, that would be the only thing more inexplicable than a performance based reasoning. Even if the Polians are as arrogant and unpleasant as reported…so what? As great as Irsay thinks it will be to work with people he likes, consistently putting out a Super Bowl contender year after year is even better. Himself being a successful businessman, I would expect Jim Irsay to know that. Unless there is a major skeleton in the closet that has yet to come out, the mere idea that this is the case should enrage Colts fans.

Regardless of the reasoning, the Colts have put themselves in an unnecessarily dire situation. They enter the offseason facing the most important draft since 1998 and having to answer the most important and difficult question since…well, maybe ever! All this, while willingly depriving themselves of one of the best talent evaluators and decision makers in football history. With Polian calling the shots, Colts fans could feel confident that an offseason full of opportunities would be capitalized on. Now, it seems likely that Colts fans can be confident of a roster gutting, starting with the face of the franchise himself.

I’m not sure who they will bring in to replace Polian, but I’m betting that he won’t do as good a job. Few people have. Just look at what the Bills turned into after he left. All I know is that Andrew Luck better be one heck of a QB, or the Colts could be prime contenders for the (Insert name of awesome college prospect) Sweepstakes on an annual basis.


  1. "Think of a thinner and dumber Andy Reid, except without the winning. Basically, Norv Turner."

    "In other news, communism will be given one last chance in Russia."

    "...he took a baseball bat to Manning’s neck in the offseason..."

    I love it!!!!