Monday, November 22, 2010

  The National Football League: Coaching is Key

There was a plethora of exciting NFL games over the weekend. We had the classic Brady vs. Manning matchup that lived up to the hype, big hits with the Eagles and Giants squaring off, and Brett Favre playing in his last meaningful game against his former Packers team. As great as these games were, no NFL game was more telling of the kind of league we have than the Raiders/Steelers game. I know, the game was a 35-3 domination where the Steelers were in control of every facet of the game. I realize that they rendered one of the leagues premier running attacks to non-existent. I understand that without all of the Steelers penalties the score would have been even more lopsided. On a scale of excitement, this game couldn't hold the attention of a hermit crab. However, this game optimizes the NFL in every way. I will explain.

The NFL, more than any other sports league is a coaching league and it was most evident with this Steelers/Raiders game. Let's rewind two weeks. The Raiders had just rallied to an overtime win against the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. At (5-4), the Raiders already had as many wins as they did all of last year. Everyone was proclaiming that the "Raider Mystic" was back. Then they have a bye week and get an extra week to prepare for the Steeler's. All the while, the Steelers come off a very emotionally draining loss on Sunday Night Football to the New England Patriots. Raiders Coach Tom Cable gets an extra week to prepare and not only does Coach Mike Tomlin's team win, but at no point during the 60 minutes was it even a game.

It all comes down to preparation. Mike Tomlin is 13-6 after a loss. He knows how to win after his team just suffered a defeat. Everyone was jumping on the Raiders band wagon last week. I didn't buy into the hype. Why? Because their front office isn't stable. You want to see a stable environment, look at the New England Patriots. Coach Belichick and owner Robert Craft have been as stable an organization as they come. Belichick is 15-4 after a bye week. Andy Reid is a perfect 12-0 after a bye week. Coincidence? The NFL is a coaching league.

Mike Tomlin is one of the top five coaches in the league because what defines you as a leader is how you respond in crisis. Tomlin responds after crisis with a 13-6 record. The numbers don't lie. Andy Reid and Bill Belichick are money when they get two weeks to prepare. Look at the two coaches that have been fired in recent weeks. First Cowboys coach Wade "made-of-cookie dough" Phillips. Today, Brad "can't control the locker-room" Childress was also sent packing. Phillips this season was (2-5) following a loss, while Childress was (1-3). The NFL has plenty of parody and adversity, its the nature of the game. The successful coaches are the ones who can go back to the drawing board and make the necessary adjustments to win the following week and after a bye. The NFL has 16 games, which means losing one game is always crisis mode. It's pivotal to respond positively the following week. This is why I'm not a buyer of the Raiders. I'm sorry Raider nation. You've won some games but the management from the owner down through the coach is unstable. You have the owner over paying for players and proclaiming JaMarcus Russell as the franchise's savior. He was released faster than you can say "Purple Drank".

Then there's Tom Cable's incident allegedly breaking the jaw of one of his coaches. Give me the management and coaches who are professional and handle adversity well. Look at the last decade of the NFL. The top franchises: Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, Colts. What do they have in common? The answer is strong leadership from the top to the bottom. The Patriots and the Eagles will get rid of a player when their 30. They want young, fresh players. They don't give 30 year old running backs five year deals. When production falls, the organization moves on. That's what a good business does and the NFL is a business after all. If a top salesperson at a company for ten years starts to have big drops consistently, a good company will get rid of him or her in for a newer model.

The Washington Redskins are a prime example of what not to do. The owner, Daniel Snyder spends $100 million on a fat, undisciplined defensive lineman who doesn't even want to play in their style of defense. The NFL is not a star league and its not a sexy league. You pay $100 million to Kobe Bryant because he brings championships and fans to the seats. It's a face league. One player can do that in the NBA, but the NFL is different. It takes everyone fulfilling their roles and great coaching to win consistently. So, I just don't buy the Raiders and Sunday against the Steelers just affirmed my feelings. It's not that the Raiders lost, but how they lost. They are known for their running attack and had two weeks to prepare. But when they faced an Elite coach in Mike Tomlin, they couldn't run the ball for their lives.

The NFL is a coaching league. Baseball and basketball is a players league. Joe Girardi takes over for Joe Torre and wins a title. He won because of the players they got in the off-season: C.C Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. Now he helped, but the players put the team over the hump. Skippers in baseball aren't as important as NFL coaches. You can win a world series title with great pitching and have an average manager, but try winning in the NFL with a great quarterback and an average head coach. It's being tried right now with the San Diego Chargers. You better be a smart and disciplined coach if you want to win in the NFL.

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