Firing Day: Following up my previous speculation

As the NFL regular season ended yesterday, 20 teams began their offseason Monday morning. With so many franchises in disarray, I expected a large number of franchises to make moves regarding their coaching staffs and front office personnel. I outlined some changes I thought teams should make in my previous post, so let’s take a look at what’s happened today, how that correlates with what I suggested, and what this means for each team’s future.

Looking at these in the order in which I wrote about them two weeks ago:

1. Kansas City Chiefs

I wrote: “The Scott Pioli era has been an unmitigated disaster. … The Chiefs are 2-12 and Pioli has utterly failed to make them any better. They have more talent than a 2-12 team, but they have not appreciably added to that talent since Pioli became GM, and Romeo Crennel has not proven capable of getting any appreciable performance out of the talent they do have.”

What actually happened: Well, they were 2-12; now they’re 2-14. The Chiefs did dismiss Romeo Crennel almost immediately; however, owner Clark Hunt has yet to make any decision on Scott Pioli’s future. This is somewhat baffling, as Pioli has had four years to build on some pretty good inherited talent and has added almost nothing to the roster. Chiefs fan have been up in arms all year about Pioli’s continued employment, and with good reason. If Hunt retains him, this will not only set the team’s rebuilding back even further, but it really bodes ill for the franchise’s long-term prospects as long as Clark Hunt is running the show. A man who’s afraid to admit a mistake or to move on when the evidence suggests a project has failed is not a man who can succeed in any business.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

I wrote: “Gene Smith has committed nearly every GMing mistake imaginable” … “Most of these failures can be described as “bad process, bad result”. The roster has very little talent” … “Gene Smith has been so bad I didn’t even get to mention Mike Mularkey, because I have no idea if he’s been any good as a coach or not since his roster is so threadbare.”

What actually happened: Smith was fired today after the Jaguars finished 2-14. When ESPN, whose columnists typically softball coaches, GMs, and (especially) league employees, has a columnist describe your firing by saying the next guy “needs to be able to identify talent”, that’s a pretty damning indictment on the job you’ve done. (It’s like saying your next quarterback “needs to be able to throw the football”.) Smith was a guy who scouted small schools before becoming GM, and he fell in love with far too many small-school guys. (You can find gems from small schools, but on the whole, remember, there’s a reason these guys ended up there. You shouldn’t be building drafts around them.) Most damning of all: In four years of running the team, Smith didn’t acquire a single Pro Bowl player, either through drafting or free agency– and it wasn’t because anyone on the team was snubbed, either. “Failure to identify talent” is an appropriate description of his cause for dismissal.

Presumably the next GM will make the decision on Mike Mularkey, as well as the mess at QB. (No, adding Tim Tebow this offseason will not help the team win.)

3. Philadelphia Eagles

What I wrote: “Reid’s firing comes down to one thing: He won a power struggle with Joe Banner last year for more roster control. He has it, and now that roster is crap.” … “It’s just time to bring in someone who will rebuild the weak spots of the roster through the draft, rather than splashy free-agent signings. The first place to start would be the offensive line.”

What actually happened: Reid was unsurprisingly fired; before the season, owner Jeffrey Lurie said that a repeat of 2011’s 8-8 performance would not be good enough for Reid to keep his job. 4-12 says it all. It looks like GM Howie Roseman is safe; presumably, he’s going to see an increased role in decision-making, as the next head coach won’t have the kind of entrenched power Reid does. Every mock draft in the world is mocking Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel to the Eagles at #4, which would be a fine place to start rebuilding.

4. San Diego Chargers

What I wrote: “Owner Dean Spanos stubbornly stuck with head coach Norv Turner even when his teams grossly underperformed those of his predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer; he stubbornly stuck with GM A.J. Smith even as it was becoming clear that the team’s talent base was steadily eroding. Spanos can’t ignore what’s happened to the team anymore.”

What actually happened: Both Smith and Turner were relieved of their duties today. I have no idea what direction Spanos is looking to go with his next hire, but at least give him credit for finally making the right decision here. The team is in need of some serious rebuilding all around, probably starting with pass rushing and the offensive line. Given the relatively threadbare state of the roster, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see them deal Philip Rivers for a lot of picks and try to look at 2014 and beyond.

5. Carolina Panthers

What I wrote: “The only reason the Panthers don’t rank higher is because they’ve already made a big move this season, firing GM Marty Hurney midway through the year” … “Firing Hurney wasn’t enough. Ron Rivera may be a nice guy and a good defensive coordinator, but he’s been a disaster as a head coach in Carolina, making many obvious mistakes with in-game decisions.”

What really happened: Ron Rivera hasn’t been fired… yet. It seems like owner Jerry Richardson is going to give the new GM, whoever it may be, a chance to make the decision for himself. Jury’s out until we see who the new GM is and what direction he decides to take the team.  I think Rivera is likely gone, if for no other reason than this is a young team on the rise that could be a very appealing job for a number of elite coaches (Chip Kelly? Bill Cowher? Nick Saban?)

6. Cleveland Browns

What I wrote: “Another team that would rank higher if not for having already made a big move– when Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns a few months ago, he fairly quickly announced that Mike Holmgren would be leaving the team at the end of the year; he also hired the aforementioned Joe Banner as CEO.” …” Holmgren has not done a good job identifying talent, and that’s why he’s gone. Shurmur hasn’t done a good job coaching the talent he has, and that’s why he’ll be gone.”

What really happened: Pretty much exactly what I expected, although I forgot to note that Holmgren’s timetable for departure was actually accelerated, and he left the team in November. Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were fired. The Browns might be well-served trading their first-round pick to move down and pick up extra selections; they’re missing their second-rounder thanks to the last regime’s morally hazardous use of that pick in the supplemental draft on WR Josh Gordon. Which is too bad, because the second round would be a good place to find a young QB this year.

7. Arizona Cardinals

What I wrote: “The team’s inability to find competent solutions at quarterback or on the offensive line suggest anyone who thought those positions were adequately manned probably needs to go. That probably means GM Rod Graves is out of a job unless he successfully scapegoats [head coach Ken] Whisenhunt.”

What really happened: Graves did not successfully scapegoat Whisenhunt; both men lost their jobs. It’s hard to find a good starting QB in the NFL, but it’s also harder to justify keeping your job when even the most casual of fans can identify your team’s weaknesses, and you still don’t address them.

As I see it, the Cardinals can take two routes:

  1. Find a decent veteran QB as a stopgap while you develop a prospect; try to win now around the defense and the QB-to-Fitzgerald connection.
  2. Trade Fitzgerald for as many picks as you can get; start rebuilding at QB, OL, and safety (Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes are getting old); look to the future.

I don’t know which one is “right”, but the Cardinals have excellent young talent on defense at several positions, so if they go for a total rebuild, there’s a good chance the important guys (Patrick Peterson, Daryl Washington, Calais Campbell) are still around the next time the team is competitive. Maybe a team like Houston would be willing to part with some picks for Fitzgerald– an Andre Johnson-Fitz combination in the passing game might lift the Texans to the level of the elite teams (which their 1-3 finish this year conclusively proves they are not).

I also don’t know if ownership is willing to spend the money it takes to bring in winning management. The Bidwills have been notoriously cheap for their entire tenure. Hope springs eternal, I suppose, but we’ll see.

8. Buffalo Bills

What I wrote: “Chan Gailey is a creative offensive mind but a poor head coach. The Bills frequently look sloppy and unprepared” … “The team needs to hire a coach who can actually command the respect of his players, and the defense needs a guy who can get the most out of players like Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus. I think Nix can stay for now, but he needs to work on developing a franchise QB and finding a legitimate receiver besides Stevie Johnson.”

What actually happened: Gailey was fired this morning. I’ve actually been impressed with Buddy Nix’s GM work, considering I thought he was originally hired to Major League the team. He’s built a solid team in the trenches and has pretty decent talent at a number of other positions. If the cornerbacks start playing up to their draft position, they have a solid foundation there, too. (Unfortunately, it looks like Aaron Williams and Leodis McKelvin are basically busts there.) The team’s biggest needs are QB and #2 WR (or #1 WR, sliding Stevie Johnson into the #2 role) and Nix seems to be aware of such, at least. Time will tell whether he makes the right moves to fill the talent gaps and find a head coach who gets the team to play up to their talent level.

UPDATE: ESPN is reporting that owner Ralph Wilson, at age 94, is finally ceding day-to-day control of the franchise to CEO (and now President) Russ Brandon. Buddy Nix remains the GM, but the team will eventually “transition” to Doug Whaley in the role. I don’t know if that counts as Nix getting fired or simply phased out for someone younger, but I think the Bills did a decent job in the draft under Nix, and if Whaley is an internal promotion, hopefully he can continue to successfully add talent to the team. One more thing: Nix was apparently a big Chan Gailey fan and didn’t want to fire him, which seems like an obvious blind spot. Gailey has never been anything special as a head coach, getting fired from Dallas after two seasons and from Georgia Tech after six years of mediocrity (including a famous inability to get the ball to Calvin Johnson while he was there), before going 16-32 for Buffalo in three seasons. If you’re strongly attached to him, you probably aren’t properly evaluating coaches.

9. New York Jets

What I wrote: “Rex Ryan is not the problem. Rex Ryan’s stubbornness in sticking with Mark Sanchez is not the problem. I really believe this. The fact that Mark Sanchez is currently the best QB on the team’s roster is the problem. The fact that the Jets have been thin on draft picks in the Mike Tannenbaum era is the problem. The fact that those picks are occasionally used in wholly misguided ways is the problem.” … “I think of the two, Ryan brings more to the table. I would keep him and replace Tannenbaum with an executive who values his draft picks.”

What actually happened: Almost exactly this. Tannenbaum was fired and Ryan was retained, at least for the time being. No word as to who the front-runners are in the new GM search, but kudos to Woody Johnson for recognizing the problem. The Jets need to draft well to bulk up their roster depth.  They don’t have any significant talent at the offensive skill positions or at rushing the passer, and they’ve been plugging in past-their-prime veterans for far too long now because of their dearth of draft picks every year. The Jets have the #9 overall pick; they might take a QB, but if I were running the team, I might be inclined to trade down with a team who wants a QB so I can re-stock the entire roster. (There will be young QBs available later in the round, anyway.)

10. Detroit Lions

What I wrote: “Their collapse after last year’s playoff run has led to grumblings about head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew, but I’m on the fence on this one. On the one hand, they did turn a team that was 0-16 in 2008 into a playoff team three years later, and they did it while hamstrung with several huge rookie contracts under the old collective bargaining agreement. On the other hand, Mayhew has made some glaring draft mistakes” … “The other problem is that Jim Schwartz, while a bright coach, seems to have a discipline problem with both himself and his team.” … “I can’t decide if their performance is enough to merit replacing them.” … “On the whole, I’m inclined to give them one more year.”

What actually happened: Despite rumors that the Ford family was very unhappy with the culture surrounding the Lions, Jim Schwartz appears to be safe for now. Again, it’s a situation where what happened almost exactly reflects what I thought should happen. The team should bounce back next year, although I would watch them very carefully if I were the Fords– just winning a few games more isn’t enough; the penalties, mistakes, character problems, and overall sloppiness need to come down.

One caveat: The team was 4-10 when I wrote that and, I thought, better than their record, but they did seem to quit the last few weeks. Schwartz needs to instill some discipline in his team, or it’ll happen again, and then he will deservedly be fired.

Other teams to consider

Of the other six teams I listed, the only major move was made by the Titans, who fired COO (and former GM) Mike Reinfeldt after a 6-10 season in which the team was badly blown out in several games. I suppose this puts Mike Munchak on notice, but what the team really needs is a better process for acquiring talent. The trenches need to be rebuilt, and I still don’t think Jake Locker will ever be the answer at quarterback. His running ability is just enough to keep him from being worthless, but he is simply not an accurate passer. He wasn’t accurate in four years starting in college, and he isn’t accurate now. He’s another example of a team falling in love with looks over performance, and if that trend continues in the way the Titans draft even with Reinfeldt gone, then whoever’s responsible for those picks needs to go as well.

There was one big move I did not anticipate:

11. Chicago Bears

What I wrote: Nothing.

What actually happened: The team fired head coach Lovie Smith after nine seasons and a second straight year where a strong start gave way to the team hitting a 1-5 stretch, collapsing, and missing the playoffs. I was surprised by this, as I’d simply assumed Smith kept the team competitive enough that his job was safe, but the fact that he’d been hired by the previous GM as well as his inability to put together a decent offense, even with the talent added to the team, probably signaled his downfall. I don’t know what direction GM Phil Emery is leaning with the coaching search, but in my opinion he’s already a significantly better drafter than Jerry Angelo was, so if I were a Bears fan I’d have some confidence he’ll make a good decision.

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One response to “Firing Day: Following up my previous speculation

  1. Pingback: Welcome to the blog; sample some of our work | Zone Reads

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