Three and out. That appears to be the official “unofficial” patience level of both fans and owners across the National Football League. In today’s professional football market it’s “put up or shut up” in accordance with “showing up” across the NFL. A very unscientific poll that I posted on Twitpolls.com this past week showed 60% of fans drawing the line at 3 years. A follow up poll looking for what fans wanted most out of their head coach was tied at playoff appearances or sighted improvement in their team. The overall win/loss record appeared to be inconsequential to their fanatical enthusiasm.
Monday Night Football – Lighting the fuse
This all stems from the San Diego Chargers blowing a 24-0 halftime lead to the Denver Broncos this past Monday night. Bronco fans reveled in the fact their team overcame such a monumental deficit and then took direct aim at their AFC West rival’s head coach Norv Turner. I was hit with questions on two different radio shows asking what I’d personally do with a head coach that had surrendered one of the all-time “chokes” in NFL history and that appeared to be in conflict with his star quarterback. Part of my reaction was based on similar emotions that Charger fans must have experienced on Tuesday morning, but the former General Manager in me was answering predominantly on my own internal clock that seemed to be saying, “It’s about time to make a change.”
My response in both instances was to get through the 2012 NFL Season and if San Diego was to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year, make a change.
But is that fair and consistent with how GM’s and owners have handled NFL Playoff futility in past? It got me to thinking if the pressures of professional football under a Collective Bargaining Agreement have changed this philosophy over the past two decades?
The list of ignominy
Here’s what I found just skimming over the coaching records of all 32 teams since 1992. The following coaches were allowed to break the 3 year mark without making the NFL Playoffs after their initial hiring;
- Dick Jauron, Buffalo (’06-’09)
- David Shula, Cincinnati (’92-’95)
- Romeo Crennel, Cleveland (’05-’08)
- Gary Kubiak, Houston (’06-’10)
- Dom Capers, Houston (’02-’05)
- Ted Marchibroda, Indianapolis (’92-’95) *Playoffs ‘95
- Dennis Erickson, Seattle (’95-’98)
- Sam Wyche, Tampa Bay (’92-’95)
- Jeff Fisher, Tennessee/Houston (’95-’98) *Playoffs ‘99
- Norv Turner, Washington (’94-’98) *Playoffs ‘99
Dick Jauron, Romeo Crennel, Dennis Erickson and Sam Wyche were all let go after 4 seasons with no playoff appearances. Ted Marchibroda left Indianapolis after making the playoffs in year 4 of his second stint as head coach of the Colts. David Shula was released by the Bengals after entering into his 5th season. It took Jeff Fisher 5 seasons to get the Oilers/Titans into the postseason and then he made a run as one of the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL throughout the CBA time frame. Current Texan’s head coach Gary Kubiak didn’t break into the playoff until last season, his 6th atop that organization.
I found a number of instances where early playoff appearances bought time down the road for coaches that struggled to find success. Those that made the playoffs in year one or two of their regime often found leniency from NFL owners when hitting three or more seasons of failing to reach the postseason.
But overall my gut feeling and the fans’ poll response appears to be the ceiling. In fact the CBA era has turned up the heat on the “hot seat” for most NFL head coaches. There are numerous examples of two season, and even “one and done” exits from the head coaching ranks.
The current situation
Four current NFL head coaches; BUF Chan Gailey, DAL Jason Garrett, MIN Leslie Frazier, and WAS Mike Shanahan are in their third year without a playoff run. ARZ Ken Whisenhunt, who took the Cardinals to the Super Bowl after 2008 and a return trip to the playoffs in 2009, has now entered his own possible 3 year drought.
Which brings us back to Norv Turner. Turner missed the playoffs 5 straight seasons in Washington before getting to the postseason in year 6. He was replaced midway through the following season, not even a year removed from a win over Detroit in the Wildcard and then falling to Tampa Bay in the Divisionals. After three consecutive runs from ’07-’09, Turner might be on his way to a three year skid (aka “three and out”).
What would you do if you were NFL owner (San Diego Chargers) Dean Spanos?