The Third Half: Don't Look at the Coach

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The Third Half: Don't Look at the Coach
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It seems about this time each year we start to see the same thing on ESPN’s SportsCenter every time we turn it on. A handful of head football coaches in the NFL and NCAA are on the "hot seat" and it’s only mid-season. Their teams are often winless or playing well below expectations.

Sometimes, the owners or players speak out against the coach in the media. Often, it’s the coaches that get the blame, and rightfully so. They get paid the big bucks to manage their teams, call the plays, and make sure everything runs smoothly come game day.

But sometimes, a bad team is anything but a coach’s fault. Take this year’s "hot seat" coaches, the Tennessee Titans’ Jeff Fisher and the Washington Redskins’ Jim Zorn. Both teams are off to pathetic starts and recently the Redskins’ ownership released Zorn from his play-calling duties. The next week, a Monday Night Football matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Redskins couldn’t move the ball downfield and ultimately lost 27-17. Play-calling, huh?

The ‘Skins have bigger problems than coaching ... they’ve got mediocre players at best. Taking a look in Nashville, Jeff Fisher’s Titans have been looking worse than most NCAA FCS teams.

Their 59-0 loss to the New England Patriots in the snow cemented their place as the cellar dwellers of the NFL in 2009. Surprisingly, their bad start comes after a magical 13-3 season in which veteran quarterback Kerry Collins led the team to the playoffs. In Tennessee, it’s the same roster but a different year. Does that make it the coach’s fault?

What really separates a good coach from a poor one? If I coached the New England Patriots, we’d probably still win 10-12 games. Would that make me a good coach? Honestly, why put so much stock in coaching methods when it’s the players that execute plays and win the games on the field? While college football is much different than the NFL, should we expect the same things from coaches across the board? College coaches can mentor and foster players as they mature during their college years. Conversely, NFL coaches seem to be more like designated baby-sitters with big salaries managing ego-maniacs.

Should we really hold coaches responsible for the play of their teams? While we’ve established a difference between NFL and college football coaches, it’s also notable that they both get paid much more than the average blue-collar salary in America. So in a way, you really can’t blame the media for uber-analysis of their winning percentages and dramatic storylines.

The one puzzling thing about head coaches is the fact they act as a half-puppet for those above them while carrying around the head boss mentality. Take Jeff Fisher’s case again. Fisher is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL, leading his team for 15 consecutive years, yet Titans’ owner Bud Adams declares to the media he wants backup quarterback Vince Young inserted into the lineup after Tennessee’s slow start.

What options does Fisher have? He calls the shots (or did), but has to feel the sting of getting his toes stepped on. "Head" coach? Not anymore. He’s more like the team administrative assistant who fills out the roster card.

Professional and college sports are big businesses, but maybe we shouldn’t pay as much attention to the leadership of a team as we do the actual stock. Should we expect great coaching miracles from lowly teams such as the Detroit Lions (0-16 in 2008)? Plainly put, no. Their roster isn’t worth $5. Should upper management expect miracles to happen when they pay a man $1 million? Yes. it's part of their job. And so for someone who is looking for the ultimate juxtaposition job, coaching football would be at the top of the list.

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