The end of another thrilling NFL season is almost upon us. While coaches and players are playing for a coveted playoff place, others are potentially playing for their jobs. Former college rivals Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll can’t seem to do much wrong at the moment in the NFC West but could we have forseen the meteoric rise of these two coaches in the NFL?
Okay, two seasons ago the Seahawks did win the NFC West, but can we really use the word ‘win’ when referring to this accomplishment? The Seahawks finished the season with a 7-9 record, the worst record to ever qualify for the playoffs. Although their defeats outnumbered their victories, if you beat your competition then I supposes that will suffice. Maybe over time Pete Carroll has made a significant positive impact on his team, but while there has been a colossal improvement in performances since that 2010 season, they have in fact finished in a worse position in the NFC West this time around. The obvious difference when comparing these two seasons is of course the competition. I am of course talking about the 49ers. The 49ers have also improved tremendously and it is evident from the following video just how much can change in the space of two seasons.
The first thing you notice is the difference in personnel. 49ers legend Mike Singletary is at the helm, a certain Alex Smith is starting at quarterback and I’m sure some of you are wondering ‘who is David Carr?’
The second and most crucial aspect to note from this video is the response from the fans. Fans of any sports team can be a fickle bunch but the contrast in emotions from then to now is monumental. Even the commentators whose job it is to give an unbiased account of proceedings are clearly in the middle of criticising the 49ers in this clip.
The coaching staff and players may make the on-field decisions but NFL teams are essentially volatile businesses operating in a very competitive market. When the customers aren’t happy changes need to be made. Owners are therefore rarely satisfied with mediocre seasons and want immediate results. This often leads to a conflict of interests and even if a coach succeeds in getting a considerable number of wins under his belt, if these wins are followed by a series of defeats then a coach’s job is in jeopardy. That’s the way it is in the NFL today.
In 2010 Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers guided his team to 10 regular season wins, a 7 game turnaround from the previous season. Despite the Bucs regularly enjoying victories, only a year after being a ‘Coach of the year’ candidate, Morris was sacked after a run of successive defeats. Did Morris suddenly become an awful coach? Or was there a conflict of interests like I mentioned previously?
Interestingly, on the day Morris was sacked Bucs GM Mark Dominik splashed out on acquiring big money free agents such as Vincent Jackson formerly of the Chargers and Eric Wright who had previously been drafted by the Browns. Here was a GM who was striving to bring in experienced players, and a head coach who in 2011 started more rookies than any winning team since the NFL/AFL merger. It’s not really surprising that things went downhill so quickly.
In 2012 the Bucs find themselves in a similar situation. Halfway through the season the Bucs were on the verge of the playoffs but once again the head coach, now Greg Schiano, is in serious of heading into the off-season jobless.
Teams can change, but ultimately success in the NFL will always be dependent on how your competitors have changed also. We initially looked at the NFC West where both the Seahawks and 49ers have made dramatic improvements over the past two seasons, but inevitably for teams to win others have to lose. This brings us on to the Eagles and the Jets;
When coaches have been embedded into an organisation for more than just a few seasons it may be harder for teams to let them go, but for Andy Reid and Rex Ryan of the Eagles and Jets respectively, there is a distinct possibility that they could be departing from their respective clubs at the end of the current season, only 2 seasons after playoff appearances. Two seasons is a long time in the NFL, so while directors of the franchises have had continued faith in the two struggling coaches, fans aren’t so forgiving, especially when its the Jets and Eagles that are involved.
It can often come down to just a few games. Teams such as the Cowboys and Panthers can end up resolving early season struggles, but some teams like the Bears, Giants and Steelers can go the other way, causing concern for both fans and GMs. Probably the most startling of turnarounds has been with the Arizona Cardinals. 4 games into the season and the Cardinals were unbeaten with one of the league’s most feared defences. Fast forward to week 14 and Ken Whisenhunt is forced to apologise for his team’s demolition to the high-flying Seahawks and it doesn’t look like Whisenhunt’s job as head coach can be salvaged before the end of the season.
Week 17 will confirm what the finished playoff picture will look like and some more names may be written into the record books, but for every ecstatic fan there will be one full of dread and disappointment. As we have discovered time and time again, is is almost impossible to predict what will happen in the next couple of seasons but what is for certain is that this weekend’s games will have a massive impact on every single team.
…and here is a photo for those who didn’t get a chance to marvel at Daryl Johnston’s outstanding choice of attire last Sunday