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Mike Shanahan is out as the coach of the Denver Broncos. Wow. That was unexpected. I looked around the league and made a mental list of the coaches I expected to get fired. Rod Marinelli. Romeo Crennel. Tom Cable. Wade Phillips. Herman Edwards. Two names I did not expect to see were Eric Mangini and Mike Shanahan.
Not so much Mangini, as I had heard the chatter about him and a firing, especially as the Jets flamed out once again this season.
I was all set to write up a little piece about how I think that teams are frequently too hasty in making coaching changes. How these changes are often within three or four years of the coaches tenure, and how this is not enough time to properly evaluate a coach. After all, it took Chuck Noll six seasons to win his first Super Bowl. For Bill Parcells, it was four seasons. For Bill Walsh, it was three seasons. Ditto for Vince Lombardi.
Then there are coaches like Bill Cowher, who won his Super Bowl in his 14th season. And then there are coaches like Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves, Chuck Knox and Bud Grant, who all won more than 150 games, but never won a Super Bowl. Reeves and Grant account for six Super Bowl losses.
The point, if you're still reading, is that these coaches all had one thing going for them. Consistency and continuity. There were good years, and there were down years. Even Cowher, the coaching candidate du jour, had three losing seasons in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Some owners would have fired Cowher after that third losing season. And then what? No Super Bowl win five years later.
I'm not arguing that Crennel, Marinelli and Mangini didn't contribute to their own downfall by fielding middling to outright crappy teams. But I am saying that given the length/status of player contracts, and owner preferences, a coach could come in and be stuck with some players that he doesn't want. It was pretty well established that Parcells didn't want anything to do with Terrell Owens, but he had to deal with TO in order to coach the Cowboys. It's interesting to note that the Cowboys have gone downhill since Parcells left. Coincidence? Probably. It's too bad TO wasn't cut loose instead. I'd wonder if we'd be seeing Dallas collapses like we've seen these past couple of years.
I think it's something of a disservice to the fans and players to fire a coach after three seasons. Noll's first three seasons: 1-13, 5-9 and 6-8. Today, he might have been fired mid season. Tom Landry started out 0-11-1, 4-9-1, 5-8-1, 4-10, 5-8-1 and 7-7 (I guess he knew there were ties in the NFL, huh?). I think he may not have lasted through that second season in today's NFL. Even Jimmy Johnson had some tough times: 1-15, 7-9 and 11-5. Not so bad in year three, but I'll bet those first two are forgettable for Cowboy fans.
Not every coach starts out a winner like Cowher (11-5, 9-7 and 12-4), Lombardi (7-5, 8-4 and 11-3) and Don Shula (8-6, 12-2 and 10-3). As often as a coach has a brilliant run his first three seasons, a coach will have a totally wretched run in his first three.
What coaches would you rather have coaching your team? Noll, Landry and Johnson? Or Cowher, Lombardi and Shula? Hard to argue with either list, right? That's a lot of Super Bowls right there. And they all got there in different time frames.
And then there's Mike Shanahan. He coached 14 seasons, and won his first of two Super Bowls in his fifth season - his third with Denver. His teams won 10 or more games seven times, and his teams finished first or second 11 times. You'd think after 14 years, 146 wins and two Super Bowl wins, he'd have been safe. Obviously not.
Don't get me wrong. I can't stand Denver, and I am glad to see Shanahan and his arrogance taken down a peg. But, to me, it doesn't add up.
Somehow, Norv Turner, Herman Edwards, Dick Jauron, Mike McCarthy and John Gruden are still coaching. And Andy Reid is under fire in Philadelphia. Tom Coughlin was nearly run out of New York last year. I've heard Marvin Lewis and Jack Del Rio's names come up in the "will he be fired" guessing game. It's nuts.
Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher in Tennessee, looms large these days. His team lost the Super Bowl in his sixth season. In 15 seasons, he's had six seasons of 10 or more wins, four 8-8 seasons and two 7-9 seasons. His overall record is 128-102 for a .557 percentage. Nothing special here, right? But he's having a great year isn't he?
By comparison, Cowher had a .623 winning percentage, Walsh had a .609 winning percentage, Bud Grant had a .622 percentage and Schottenheimer had a .612 percentage.
Parcells (.570), Noll (.566) and Fisher all have lower win percentages than Shanahan (.598).
I find it hard to believe that Shanahan will not be coaching again in 2009, assuming he wants that. Maybe he'll follow Cowher's lead and take some time off.
So what's the answer? I'll be damned if I know. But I do think that all coaches should be given at least five years to determine whether or not they can make a team a viable contender. I just don't think that three years is anywhere near enough time.
Oh - and I also must give props to the 49ers. I am no fan of theirs by any stretch, but their decision to retain Mike Singletary draws applause from me. This has to be one of - if not THE - smartest coaching moves in many years. I look forward to seeing what happens with this team next year. Good one, San Francisco!