Doug Marrone still hadn’t put his first season as an NFL head coach to bed, or himself, for that matter, last Sunday when he called Rob Chudzinski. They came through the college and NFL coaching ranks at about the same time and, although they never worked together, they were friends.
Chudzinski survived 16 games with the Browns, winning three of his first five games and losing 10 of his final 11, before becoming a statistic. He was one of six coaches kicked to the curb this year and the only one who was canned after his first season.
The inequity of his dismissal created quite a stir. His four quarterbacks were either injured or ineffective. Top running back Trent Richardson was traded. Their leading rusher was Willis McGahee, who was signed off the street during the season. He didn’t play the final three games and finished with a measly 2.7 yards per carry.
Chudzinski wasn’t the problem.
And firing him wasn’t the solution.
“It is a results-oriented business, and you have to win,” Marrone said at his season-ending news conference with the Bills. “It’s a sense of urgency all day long, 365 days a year. ... It’s a tough situation. And you just fight every day. I mean, you fight every day to get it right. You know, but we understand that. We chose it.”
Coaches often lose jobs when desperation levels exceed patience levels required for success, a combination all too familiar in Buffalo and Cleveland. Black Monday has a way of temporarily soothing owners and rejuvenating fan bases, but it’s rarely the answer to deeper, systemic flaws that are bigger causes of failure.
This is not to suggest Chudzinski would have turned around the Browns. Really, nobody knows for sure. Eighteen years ago in Cleveland, Bill Belichick started the season with a 3-1 record, lost 10 of his final 12 games and suffered the same fate. Looking back, it was ludicrous. At the time, nobody flinched.
Good coaches get whacked every year in the NFL, and six more were sent packing again this year. Sometimes, change for the sake of change is needed.
Andy Reid was in Philadelphia for 14 seasons. He made the playoffs nine times, reached five NFC title games and one Super Bowl before a 4-12 season in 2012 sent him to the firing line. He turned the 2-14 Chiefs into an 11-5 playoff team in one season. The Eagles won their division under Chip Kelly, the man who replaced Reid. Since 2000, when the Patriots sent a first-round draft pick to the Jets during Belichick’s messy departure from New York, there have been 136 coaching changes in the NFL. Ten teams have accounted for 67, or nearly half. The Raiders have had eight coaches. The Bills are among five teams that have had seven.
New England still has the Hoodie.
I’m not here to kiss his rings, but the Patriots have posted 14 consecutive winning seasons and reached the Super Bowl five times, winning three, since he was hired.
They have won 11 AFC East titles, including the past five. They have played 24 postseason games, and counting, since the Bills’ last playoff game.
What’s astonishing isn’t Belichick surviving 14 seasons, making him the longest-tenured coach in the NFL, but that he’s won so often for so long. The salary cap, revenue sharing and free agency were designed to level the playing field. In theory, the NFL should be a cyclical league. Rosters turn over. Stars leave for more money. Teams rebuild.
Most teams know the rise and fall of the NFL. Pittsburgh and the New York Giants have won two Super Bowls apiece since 2005. Both also have missed the playoffs four times each over the same period. The Ravens won the Super Bowl last year and failed to reach the postseason this year.
New England has refused to take its turn for the worse. You can point to Tom Brady as the core of their success, but it’s not all Brady. He missed the 2008 season, but the Pats finished 11-5 with Matt Cassel. Since he left, Cassel has a 22-32 record as a starter. Brady is 61-19 over the same span.
The Patriots win because they identify people who help them, from owner Robert Kraft to the beer vendors. They refuse to make excuses. They were ravaged by injuries this season but kept winning. Brady won with inferior receivers and the 26th-rated defense. They won six games by three points or less.
The biggest gripe involving New England is its failure to win a Super Bowl since 2004, as if the Patriots going 16-0 in 2007 didn’t matter because they lost to the Giants in the title game. What have they done for their fans lately? The Pats played in two conference title games and one Super Bowl in the past two years.
Arguments in recent weeks have raged on talk-show radio in Boston with hosts asking callers, if they could only choose one, would they rather have the best coach in the NFL or the best quarterback? Did Belichick make Brady or the other way around? Who deserves more credit? How would one do without the other?
In New England, having both passes for controversy.