It’s a dangerous game of Coaching Roulette, this NFL. Patience is at an all-time low because of the money and machines. And the public appetite for short bursts of sports chaos (think trade deadlines and the first two days of March Madness) have made “Black Monday” something of a morbid holiday. But this “game” is hindering The Game.
The Money. Every NFL head coach makes at least $3.5M (Andrew Luck’s base salary), and half the league makes more than $5M (Eric Berry’s base). This is a healthy salary for any corporate manager, and comes with high expectations of production. It’s around the same annual compensation as “Papa John” Schnatter, the CEO who discusses toppings with great glee alongside Peyton Manning. In other words, NFL coaches aren’t afforded the luxury of putting rotting anchovies or eColi pepporoni on their pies.
The Machines. Technology has only hastened the time frame we demand better pizza and more breadsticks. Every layer of criticism can now be bounced through social media, the blogosphere, on sports radio, and in viral video form. Jim Tomsula’s phantom fart became its own national discussion topic. Coaches simply aren’t afforded a quiet place to do work anymore.
It’s led to a never-ending sideways skid for some organizations, like losing control of your car on black ice. In Cleveland, this will be the sixth head coach since 2008. In that span every other team in the division has had the same guy. The Dolphins were once the model of consistency. Different decade, same head coach. Don Shula was on the sideline for a quarter century. The aqua and orange will have seven different head coaches in the last ten years alone. Browns and Dolphins fans weep.
This is not to say there aren’t obvious times a change must be made. In New York, Tom Coughlin has run a sputtering ship for far too long. The Giants have missed the playoffs six of the last seven years, and every season has been a severe case of deja vu. Garbage defensive play, late-game meltdowns, head-scratching clock management, and 6-10 or 7-9 final records. The time had come inside the Giants walls to wish General Coughlin a happy retirement.
But was pulling the trigger on Chip Kelly a savvy move or just ownership’s queasiness to criticism? Undoubtedly, Chip made a number of bone-headed personnel moves. But Jeff Lurie was the one who handed him all that control at this time last year. If the owner didn’t have the stomach for Kelly’s dictatorship, why did he facilitate the dictator’s rise to the throne?
In San Francisco, the owner and GM wanted a vetriloquist dummy to sit on their laps, then coach the team on Sundays. Did Trent Baalke and Jed York think they were getting something other than an unpolished, un-corporate, coaching grinder? Tomsula is as easy to identify as the plummer under your sink. He’s not a smooth-talking CEO like Sean Payton. He’s no hard ass leader of a locker room like Mike Tomlin. The bosses are now surprised that a rookie head coach with an aging, injury-riddled roster and no quarterback in arguably the league’s toughest division would be better than 5-11?
It shows owners and GMs have fickle tastes just like fans, and are far too sensitive about those fans’ screams. Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer were once the dynamic duo Jimmy Haslem needed. Two years later they are apparently fools. Stephen Ross thought enough of Dennis Hickey to make him the GM 24 months ago. Today he’s out of work, and Mike Tannenbaum has pushed everyone out so that he could lead the charge. Ken Wisenhunt got exactly 20 games to prove his worth in Nashville. Carrie Underwood takes more time to produce an album.
Making changes at the top is now like Tinder. Everyone’s swiping left after two dates. Five of the fired head coaches sit in the bottom half of the league’s salaries. Four of those men had salaries in the bottom seven. You get what you pay for in the volatile world of NFL coaching. That often just means billionaires and power brokers making changes on their own personal whims, the fuel behind Black Monday.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.