Bench the players and keep the coaches

Sunday is about the games. Pontificating can be done on Saturdays, not while the games are being played. Nothing supersedes the games.

With that, several National Football League issues are being discussed this week.

First up is the quest for immortality and history.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only team to go unbeaten and untied for an entire season including the playoffs. They finished a perfect 17-0.

This year the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints both reached 13-0.

(The Colts have since gone to 14-0 while the Saints play today.)

The issue is one of rest vs rust. The Saints have not clinched home field yet, but the Colts had done so with 3 weeks to play.

So what does a team do?

First let’s change the equation slightly. Let’s say the team has clinched home field, but have lost a game. They can be 12-1 or 13-1. In this case, the choice is simple.

(Grabbing a bullhorn): Bench Everybody.

This is the biggest no-brainer in football. You sit your stars down, give them clipboards and headsets, and hide their helmets if need be. There is no way you risk an injury in meaningless games.

The notion of rust is nonsense. College players go an entire month between their last game and their bowl game. It is the job of the coaching staff to get the players prepared.

It does not hurt the integrity of the game for players to rest their starters. It also gives backups a chance to get vital playing time so that if they are needed in the playoffs, they will have had some reps.

People love to point to the 2005 Colts, who rested starters and then got knocked around at home to Pittsburgh. This argument is weak. The Colts did start 13-0 but knocked around at home by San Diego in the regular season with their starters. Also, Pittsburgh knocked out several teams on the road in the playoffs.

A better example would be the 2004 Eagles. They started 13-1, clinched home field, and Andy Reid rested everybody. They lost the final two regular season games. It did not matter, as they reached the Super Bowl and nearly won it.

Bench the players, and get everyone healthy.

Yet when the team is unbeaten, everything changes. History does matter. The problem is that emotion has to be taken out of the equation. The goal is not to be the best team ever. It is to be the best team in the one calendar year the team is playing. History is for barflys to debate.

The goal in the NFL is to win Super Bowl rings. If a 9-7 team can win it all, they are every bit as much a champion as a 15-1 team.

Yet winning is about being the best. The 2007 Patriots did not lose the Super Bowl from exhaustion. They simply faced a tough defense and a resilient group, including a once in a lifetime reception on a guy’s helmet.

If the team has a chance to go 16-0, they really face incredible pressure to do it. It is less simple to bench everybody. If the team has already lost, sit them all. If they are unbeaten, let them go for perfection.

One columnist wrote a column that is good overall, but it has one line that makes me ill. This columnist simply takes things too far. He says it in parentheses, but it still bothers me from an integrity standpoint.

“(And if losing to one team knocks a more dangerous potential opponent out of the playoff picture, that’s okay too, as long as your purpose is to help yourself.)”

This is not ok. Playing backups is not the same as throwing a game. The best example of this is the 1976 Oakland Raiders. In 1974 and 1975, the Raiders lost to the Steelers in the AFC Title Game. The Steelers collected the rings. In 1976, the Steelers began 1-4. They then caught fire and won 9 straight to finish 10-4. The Raiders were 12-1, and had locked up home field. They were playing the Bengals on Monday Night Football. If the Bengals won, they were in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh was out. If the Bengals lost, the reverse was the case. Pundits suggested that the Raiders would purposely lose to avoid Pittsburgh.

This enraged Coach John Madden and his players. The Raiders had a reputation for dirty play, but that was to win. They never cheated the game itself. Madden and the Raiders went out and dismantled Cincinnati, knocking them home for the year. As the game wund down, the fans chanted “We want Pittsburgh.” In the 1976 AFC Title Game the Raiders beat up the Steelers and then won the Super Bowl.

This made the 1976 Raiders true champions, with no questions swirling. Questions swirling can be found in the 1995 Cowboys, who were lucky enough to face the Packers and not the 49ers. The 2006 Colts did it the hard way, beating New England.

Bench the players, but fight to win with your backups. Anybody not trying his best is dishonoring the game and should sit down.

This brings us to JaMarcus Russell.

It was one thing for Russell to be benched for the backup. Bruce Gradkowski is now on injured reserve, and Russell is sitting in favor of 3rd stringer Charlie Frye. The team has even picked up JP Losman, who failed with the Bills but won a championship in the United Football League with the Las Vegas Locomotives, coached by Jim Fassell.

This is big. This is an earthquake in the land of the Silver and Black.

Either Al Davis gave the order, or Tom Cable made the decision and Davis backed him. Either way this is positive. It all comes down to passion.

Al Davis, whether one loves or hates him, is football obsessed. The Raiders are his life. Those that want to rake him over the coals for drafting Russell should read the media columns at that time. Everybody believed in Russell. I certainly did. He was the only logical choice. Quarterbacks are always a gamble, but a necessary one.

In 1999 Donovan McNabb was a winner and Akili Smith was a bust. The year earlier gave us Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The Chargers got lucky with Philip Rivers only after failing with Leaf, missing out on Eli Manning, and getting rid of Drew Brees. Manning has a ring and Brees is closer to getting one than Rivers. Al Davis would have been insane to not draft Russell.

As for Tom Cable, he clearly has passion. Yes he has off the field issues, but the players have rallied around him. When Gradkowski was in there the team was much improved. Cable wants to keep his own job, and he inherited Russell. He is fighting.

Russell has never fought. He held out, showed up late and overweight, and was considered lazy in practice. Gradkowski was screaming at guys in the huddle, and backing it up. Russell was benched for playing badly, but being behind Charlie Frye is a message that either he shows he cares, or he is done. There is no room in football or anywhere else in life for those who will do anything less than go all out all the time.

Russell is not the biggest quarterback bust in NFL history. Leaf was worse, because the Chargers gave up draft picks in addition. Yet while the Raiders have not won lately, sitting Russell shows to me that the team wants to win. Tom Cable deserves a full season without Russell. As for Russell, he can still come back. Vince Young and Alex Smith came back. Yet until he shapes up physically and from an attitude standpoint, he sits.

This brings us to the coaches. Every year teams want to fire coaches. This is usually also insane. Blowing up a program does not make sense unless there is no room for improvement.

The article has 8 coaches on the hot seat, and does not include Jim Schwartz of the Lions or Steve Spagnuolo of the Rams. Both of these coaches inherited dreadful teams. Surprisingly, Jim Mora Jr. of the Seahawks is not on the list. He should be on the hot seat.

In my mind only two coaches can be fired with justification. Raheem Morris inherited a 9-7 Buccaneers team that has won only one game this year. Yes the Bucs lost 4 straight to end things last year, but Jon Gruden won much more than he lost. This brings me to a rule.

Never ever fire a coach after a winning season. Never. Yes, teams underachieve. The 1994 Raiders went 9-7 and Art Shell was fired in a move that Davis still considers one of his biggest mistakes. I would add not giving Shell more time his second go round. Wade Phillips is fighting for his coaching life in Dallas. This is crazy. Underachieving teams should be given time to fix things. Dallas went 13-3 a couple of years ago.

Coaches that have had good seasons should be allowed to have bad seasons. Bill Cowher of the Steelers was allowed to have his bad seasons. So was Jeff Fisher of the Titans. Continuity is good for organizations. The Bengals are now being rewarded by sticking it out with Marvin Lewis.

This is why firing Jon Fox of the Panthers or Jack Del Rio of the Jaguars (not on the list) makes no sense. They have both had 12-4 seasons. Lovie Smith went 13-3 and reached a Super Bowl, as did Fox. The Bears are injury wracked on defense. Firing any of these guys is nuts.

The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer after going 14-2. Norvelous Norv Turner has them winning, but they are not going 14-2. Winning seasons means the coach stays.

Jim Zorn and Gary Kubiak of the Redskins and Texans are fielding competitive teams. The players are fighting hard.

You fire the coach only when you see that the team is clearly headed in the wrong direction. The only two teams that can say that are the Bucs and the Cleveland Browns. Eric Mangini has seen the team regress, as was the case with the Jets when he coached them.

Yes, if you have a chance to get a superstar like a Mike Holmgren or Bill Cowher or you do it, but remember that they had tough seasons as well. The Sainted Bill Parcells is 5 for 5 with reclamation projects, but he had awful losing seasons as well in the beginning, going 3-12-1 with the Giants and 1-11 to start with the Patriots in the respective first seasons.

Speculation has Mike Shanahan replacing Jim Zorn, Bill Cowher replacing Jon Fox, and even Jim Fassell replacing tom Cable (Fassell coached JP Losman in the UFL). I love jim Fassell, and have wanted him to coach the Raiders for some time. Yet unless you can get a superstar, leave things alone.

Also, give the coaches more power. Bill Parcells has said that you can’t be expected to bake the cake if they don’t let you buy the groceries. Let the coaches have the time to get rid of the players that hurt the team, and draft better players.

Bill Cowher was given 15 years to win a Super Bowl. He came so close so many times, and the Rooneys understood that he was worth the wait. Give a coach 5 years. As long as the team slowly improves, give them the time.

Peyton Manning may look like a coach on the field, but he took his orders from Tony Dungy and now Jim Caldwell. That is how it should work.

Keep the coaches, and let them decide when to bench the players, for good or bad reasons.


Indianapolis Colts      @      Jacksonville Jaguars

(Colts by     6.5, they win but fail to cover)

Dallas Cowboys      @      New Orleans Saints

(Saints by    7, they cover)

Cleveland  Browns    @      Kansas City Chiefs

(Browns by    2, upset special, Chiefs win outright)

Atlanta Falcons      @      N.Y. Jets

(Jets by    6, they cover)

Miami Dolphins      @      Tennessee Titans

(Titans by    3, they cover)

San Francisco 49ers      @      Philadelphia Eagles

(Eagles by    8.5, they cover)

New England Patriots     @      Buffalo Bills

(Patriots by    7, they win but fail to cover)

Arizona Cardinals      @      Detroit Lions

(Cardinals by    11.5, they win but fail to cover)

Green Bay Packers      @      Pittsburgh Steelers

(Steelers by    1, they cover)

Chicago  Bears    @      Baltimore Ravens

(Ravens by    10, they cover)

Houston Texans     @      St. Louis Rams

(Texans by    10, they win but fail to cover)

Oakland  Raiders    @      Denver Broncos

(Broncos by   13, they win but fail to cover)

Cincinnati Bengals      @      San Diego Chargers

(Chargers by    6.5, they win but fail to cover)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers     @      Seattle Seahawks

(Seahawks by    7, they cover)

Minnesota Vikings     @      Carolina Panthers

(Vikings by    7, they win but fail to cover)

N.Y. Giants      @      Washington Redskins

(Giants  by  3, they cover)


One Response to “Bench the players and keep the coaches”

  1. The Colts bench everyone at the end of every season and have come into a lot of playoffs rusty and overrested. I say play everyone a little, sort of the way you would play early in preseason.


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