Today I want to focus on coaching and coaches in the NFL. We have gone through Black Monday; teams are interviewing new coaching candidates and the Raiders have signed Jon Gruden. So, let me begin with the general idea of Black Monday and coaching changes.
Firing a coach and/or a coaching staff may be a smart football decision, or it may also be nothing more than a PR-based temporizing move by a team to buy time with the fanbase who – more than likely – thinks that the players on the team are a lot better than they have shown on the field. Fans tend to over-value the players on their teams and somehow think that the coach(es) have impaired them from showing their greatness. Most of time, that thinking is delusional. All too often a new coach comes in with a new “philosophy” and a new staff and the results are not all that much better. In that circumstance, the team often fires the new coach(es) and moves on to an even newer coach to appease the fans because:
- It is easier to fire a bunch of coaches and to pay them off than to fire the 30-40 below average players on a losing team and to replace them all at once.
Therein lies the reason why Black Monday is an annual event in the NFL. Fans pay the freight for the NFL teams, so owners have to keep them from bailing out on the team. Fans always want to see the last move made by the team as the one that will “turn the corner” but their emotional attachment to the team prevents them from asking themselves critical questions such as:
- If the owner has failed to hire “the right coach(es)” the last couple of times the team stunk out the joint, why would anyone suspect he will get it right this time around?
I know; even the blind squirrel finds the nut occasionally…
That brings me to the Raiders and Jon Gruden. Even before he was officially signed, some media pundits wondered aloud how he would transition back to the sidelines after being in the broadcasting booth for a decade or so. Obviously, we will not know the answer to that question for a couple of years, but I do offer one precedent that should put a smile on the faces of Raiders’ fans:
- Dick Vermeil
In the early 1980s, Vermeil left the NFL coaching business citing “burnout” and took his talents to the broadcasting booth for about 15 years. He and Brent Mussberger did a ton of college football games over the years and then Vermeil went back to the NFL as the coach of the Rams where he “oversaw” “The Greatest Show on Turf” and won a Super Bowl. For Raiders’ fans, that mental image is lots better than “sugar plums dancing in their heads”.
Now, let me offer two cautionary precedents for Raiders’ fans to acknowledge lest they get way out ahead of themselves in their enthusiasm:
- Joe Gibbs won 3 Super Bowls in Washington and then resigned to take up NASCAR racing. His time with the Skins got him elected to the Hall of Fame. Then after being away a little more than a decade, he came back to the Skins for “Gibbs 2.0” and produced a record of 30-34 over 4 seasons.
- Art Shell coached the Raiders from 1989 to 1994; his record then was 54-38; the team made the playoffs 3 times in that period. Then in 2006, the Raiders brought him back after two down years under Norv Turner and Shell’s record then was 2-14. That performance was so bad, the Raiders sacked him after that one season to bring in – wait for it – Lane Kiffin.
I was in Ireland when the signing of Gruden was made official. There is some enthusiasm for American football there but there is no access to ESPN or anything like NFL Network there. I say that to acknowledge that my information about the details of all this is not what it would have been had I been home at the time. However, I do want to say something about the announced terms of “10 years and $100M”.
- If indeed, this is a 10-year deal with the entirety of that $100M guaranteed, then Jon Gruden’s agent deserves god-like status in the Universe of Agents. Or …
- Mark Davis is the biggest gambler since Amarillo Slim.
I am skeptical that Gruden will make $10M per year for the next 10 years no matter what. The NFL – and the agents who negotiate contracts with NFL teams – have perfected the art of what I call “The Ego Stroking Contract”. Lots of times a huge NFL deal is announced where the player is linked to an astronomical amount of money except:
- Only about half of that money is guaranteed
- Most of the “unguaranteed money” is back loaded into the last 2 years of the deal.
Is that the case with Gruden’s contract? Obviously, I have not seen the contract and never will. However, it would not surprise me to learn that it had a structure along these lines.
- Years 1-5 have salaries of $5M, $5M, $6M, $7M, $7M for a total of $30M. All of that is guaranteed money and there is probably some sort of bonus structure in there for winning the AFC Championship and/or the Super Bowl in any of those years.
- After Year 5, the Raiders can buy him out of the contract (that is management-speak for fire him) if they pay him $20M cold cash. That makes the total guaranteed money equal $50M.
- If he stays with the team after Year 5, the salary structure would be $14M per year for each of the 5 remaining seasons.
Any way you look at it, that is a very long contract for an NFL coach and a very lucrative one indeed. But I would be surprised if in fact Jon Gruden’s financial advisor(s) can mark down in India Ink an input of $10 per year for the next 10 years as a guaranteed revenue stream.
The final issue for the day is the supposed “rift” that exists among the three most visible figures associated with the New England Patriots – Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft. Once again, I cannot pretend to know what is going on inside that organization; what I can say is that some of the things that have transpired with that team over the past year or so does not seem to be aligned with “The Patriot Way”.
Chronologically, the first strange event was the trade of QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts at the start of the 2017 season for WR Philip Dorsett. This was strange for a lot of reasons to include:
- The Colts were desperate for a QB at the time. Andrew Luck’s shoulder had not healed, and the Colts knew that; Scott Tolzein was to be the starter and – as everyone saw right away in Week 1 – that was going to be a disaster. So, the Colts were over a barrel …
- The Pats got a WR they really did not need who appeared in 15 games for them this year and caught 12 passes for 194 yards and 0 TDs.
That is a meager return indeed for a player who was virtually certain to be a starting QB for the Colts somewhere in the 2017 season.
Making that trade even more of a head-scratcher is the fact that the “other backup QB” on the roster – Jimmy Garoppolo – was on the final year of his rookie contract and who had shown enough promise in a couple starts in 2016 to be highly coveted around the league. The Pats’ coaches had to know that AND they had to know the extent of this skills since they saw him in practice every day. At the time of the Brissett trade, they had to know that there was going to be a problem signing Garoppolo at the end of the 2017 season for two obvious reasons:
- He obviously would prefer to be with a team where he can be the starting QB instead of the backup QB and Tom Brady has said he wants to play until he is 45.
- Other teams would offer him big-time money and the Pats would be hard-pressed to match those offers because they already have lots of money committed to the QB position in Brady’s deal.
So, back in September, Bill Belichick made a deal to give away what would be his backup QB next year in the case that Garoppolo left for a player he did not need and did not use. That is not a typical Bill Belichick move…
That put the Pats in the situation where they traded Garoppolo at the trade deadline for a 2nd round pick in 2018. That was a situation where the Pats needed to make a deal to get something for him in lieu of nothing for him. My guess is that they made the deal with the Niners because the Pats only need to play the Niners once every 4 years and they knew/know that Garoppolo is going to become a formidable opponent. And if there is indeed a “rift” within the Pats’ organization, I think the trade of Garoppolo is the culmination.
The far more consistent move for Bill Belichick to have made in the time between the 2016 and 2017 seasons would have been:
- Go to Robert Kraft and tell him that 2017 has to be Tom Brady’s last year in New England because the team should not lose touch with Jimmy Garoppolo. Brady is 40 years old; he wants to play to 45 and he may even be able to do that. Nonetheless, Garoppolo is only 26 years old and is probably going to be an excellent QB for at least the next 10 years.
- Remember, Belichick is the guy who “ditched” the established Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tom Brady to launch Brady’s career. He saw the innate talent in Brady and he saw the age differential there. Now, in 2016/2017, I am supposed to believe he cannot see the same thing?
- Remember, Belichick is also the guy who gets rid of players nominally in their prime because they do not fit with what his vision is for the team – such as Ty Law and Richard Seymour. The common narrative is that Belichick gets rid of players a year before their expiration date instead of a year after their expiration date. However, nothing like that seems to have happened here…
So, how did it happen that Bill Belichick suddenly changed his view on how to build and structure a winning football team? I certainly do not know how or why, but I will say that one potential way for this to happen is that Belichick has not changed his views, but that Robert Kraft would not go along with any scenario wherein this would be Tom Brady’s last season with the Pats unless it was Brady’s decision to retire that caused the separation. That might explain the reported “rift”. Other than that, I got nuthin…
One last comment here… For a brief moment, there was some thought that Belichick might leave the Pats and wind up coaching the Giants next year. If that were to occur, there would be 3 NFL teams cheering and 1 NFL team left in a very worried state:
- The 3 cheering teams would be the 3 “other teams” in the AFC East. The Bills, Dolphins and Jets would be happy not to have to continue to chase a Bill Belichick directed Pats’ team every year.
- The worried team would be the Skins. If Belichick took over the Giants, that would put the Skins in a division with Belichick in NY, Carson Wentz in Philly and the Prescott/Elliott tandem in Dallas.
Finally, since I spent a lot of time talking about coaches today, here is a comment from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald regarding the hiring of Scott Frost to return to Nebraska as their head football coach:
“How much interest is there in the Husker program now that Scott Frost has been hired? A crowd of 92,000 is expected. That’s just at the next Big Red Breakfast.
“Frost has been named Home Depot coach of the year [at UCF for 2017]. That’s the award where the trophy is placed atop a really high shelf.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………