The Fortunes Of Two Football Coaches

The Philadelphia Eagles fired coach Doug Pederson notwithstanding the fact that he delivered the only Super Bowl Trophy in the team’s history.  The rupture in the relationship there appears to be multi-dimensional:

  • Last January, Pederson announced that his offensive coordinator would be back for another year; the next day, the Front Office fired the coordinator.  The Eagles went without an offensive coordinator last year dividing those duties between two “senior offensive assistants”.
  • Defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, has either retired or has merely decided to take a year’s leave of absence from coaching.  Pederson wanted to hire Cory Undlin as his replacement; Undlin has 1 year of experience as a defensive coordinator and it yielded extremely poor results.  That hiring was not going to happen.
  • The Eagles record since winning the Super Bowl has been a mediocre 22-25-1.  Moreover, in that time the team saw a dramatic regression in the performance of QB, Carson Wentz.
  • And then there was the “Nate Sudfeld Decision”…

The “explanation” for playing Nate Sudfeld in the 4th quarter of this year’s final game against the WTFs is that he had been with the team for 4 years and deserved a chance to play.  The game was meaningless to the Eagles – – but it was of critical importance to the WTFs and to the NY Giants and to the general integrity of the NFL.  So, the explanation that he “deserved a chance to play” was never going to fly – like an eagle or any other species of bird.

Patrick Mahomes got the day off in the final game of the regular season and that was more than “okay”; it was good common sense shown by Chiefs’ coach, Andy Reid.  That game meant nothing to the Chiefs; they would be the overall #1 seed in the playoffs win or lose.  That game meant nothing to the Chargers; they would miss the playoffs win or lose.  Everyone expected and accepted that the Chiefs would be playing the JV that day.

So, the Eagles now join the other six NFL teams that are seeking new head coaches.  The attractiveness of the Eagles’ job depends almost entirely on whether Carson Wentz is “fixable”.  He has a huge contract that will make him difficult to trade even to a team that is convinced that he is “fixable”.  If he is neither tradeable nor fixable, the Eagles are headed for a bad stretch over the next several  years.  Stay tuned…

Down at the collegiate level, the University of Michigan and Jim Harbaugh reached an agreement on a contract extension there; the extension runs through the end of the 2025 season.  Here is what is unusual about this contract extension:

  • Harbaugh had one year left on his current deal and that called for an $8M salary.
  • The new contract calls for him to earn $4M in 2021 with incentives that could get him back to the $8M level.
  • It will cost Michigan $4M to buy Harbaugh out this year but that figure goes down by $1M a year to the end of the deal.
  • It will cost Harbaugh $2M to buy himself out this year and that figure goes down by $500K a year to the end of the deal.

No matter how you look at it, Jim Harbaugh retained his job but took a massive pay cut in the process.  His “old deal” began in 2014 and was to end at the completion of next season; his “new deal” runs an extra 4 years but at about half the previous rate.  That does not happen frequently in the coaching profession; normally a coach in that situation is fired – – or at best he and the school “mutually agree to go in different directions.”

When Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, he was the conquering hero returning home to the place where he saw success on the field for the Wolverines.  He was the guy who would lead the team to previous heights – – then beyond them.  More than merely the “Buzz Lightyear of Michigan football” (“To infinity and beyond!”), Jim Harbaugh was “The Football Messiah” in Ann Arbor back in 2014.  Now, he is a coach who kept his job by taking a 50% pay cut…

The incentives in his contract – – if achieved – – would allow Harbaugh to be –  once again –  one of the highest paid coaches in the country.  So, let us look at what it would take to get him into the rarefied air of more than $8M a year:

  • Win the Big 10 title – – almost certainly meaning wins over Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State in the process.
  • Be selected for the CFP
  • Win the National Championship
  • Be named Coach of the Year.

Now, let me look at the recent fortunes of Michigan football in juxtaposition to that list of goals for the program:

  • The Wolverines are 11-10 in their last 21 games.
  • Jim Harbaugh is 0-5 against Ohio State
  • Michigan has lost its last 4 bowl games – – none of them even close to the stature of the CFP bowl games.

Nothing in those contract incentives is impossible.  Having lofty goals is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, my guess is that Harbaugh and the Michigan football program should be humming the tune of an old Frank Sinatra song:

“He’s got high hopes; he’s got high hopes

He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes…”

Finally, given the status of the Eagles’ fortunes and the Michigan football situation, it seems appropriate to close here with the definition of optimism provided by the journalist and writer, Ambrose Bierce:

Optimism:  The doctrine that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong.  It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………