SportsProf

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Once Burned, Twice Shy, Then What?

T.O. is in timeout, perhaps for the rest of the season. And, now that he's in his early 30's, he really has to wonder where his career is headed.

He couldn't get along with Steve Mariucci and Jeff Garcia in San Francisco. He once got suspended there. A star player burned his NFL team. Then he got traded.

A team very hungry for a Super Bowl championship and on the cusp of one got into the act. Its star QB lobbied his management to trade for this guy. So they did. After playing well his first year, he acted up in the off-season. He made a ton of noise in the off-season about dissatisfaction with his contract, got asked to leave training camp, refused to deal with local media, apparently got into a fistight with a former Eagles' player, said some things that he probably shouldn't have said and got suspended. The same star player burned his NFL team.

So what happends next to Terrell Owens? You may recall the plight of Jeff George, the all-world talent who played at two colleges and then never seemed to find a home with an NFL team. He washed out earlier than he otherwise would have because the tag "uncoachable" seems to be stuck to him the way one-time Raiders' CB Lester Hayes stuck to receivers in his day (literally and figuratively). George could have helped some QB-desperate teams over the past five years, but NFL personnel people passed, presumably because of the potential disharmony that George could have engendered in the locker room.

Now, T.O. has produced more on the gridiron than Jeff George, but he's also been as disruptive if not more disruptive. If you're a head coach who insists upon harmony and loyalty and selflessness, the odds are that you won't put up with T.O.'s act and the potential it has to torpedo your team. After all, if you ink T.O. to a deal you are teeing him up as your #1 or #2 receiver (in the latter case, only if your #1 is Marvin Harrison or Torry Holt). So, if he pulls his act on you and you have to kick him off the team, you'll have a whole at an important position. Given T.O.'s history of acting out, why would you want to take that risk?

Let's look at some of the coaches who have teams that could go from good to great in a hurry after this season. Joe Gibbs has won three Super Bowls, and Bill Parcells has won two. I don't see either of them gambling on T.O. I also doubt that Jon Gruden (whose dust-up with Keyshawn Johnson was enough for one coaching career), Jim Mora, Jr. or John Fox would take a chance either. Tom Coughlin in NY? While it would be tempting for the Giants to tweak the Eagles on the personnel front, I just don't see it happening. All of those teams have some good momentum going, and they wouldn't want to risk it with Owens.

Sorry, T.O., but your latest actions demonstrate that you don't have much understanding about the team concept. Work at a company with a backbone, and your boss would take you into the H.R. Department and write you up after your first episode. After your second one, especially with what's been reported on ESPN.com, you'd get walked out the door. Without severance.

The Eagles gambled two years ago when they traded for T.O. to give themselves some better threats on offense. The gamble paid off last season, when T.O. had a great year and then performed heroically in the Super Bowl. The team upgraded itself, and Owens did a great job.

The problem was, he couldn't sustain it. The explosiveness he showed on the field transformed itself to combustability off it. That was the risk -- and it manifested itself for all to see.

It seems like the T.O.-Eagles rift is irreparable and not one that former peacemakers Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins can solve. They were having trouble winning with T.O., and now they'll have great difficulty winning without him.

But sometimes character has to take over, and sometimes your organization has to suffer setbacks in order to advance. By jettisoning T.O., the Eagles will suffer in the short term, but in the long term they'll have a better chance of honoring their principles and achieving the goal of a championship. For, despite his talent, T.O. doesn't the leadership skills or the ability to follow sound leaders to help his team get there.

T.O.'s career is far from over. But it may be the day that front-office personnel decide than instead of T.O.'s being the missing piece for their championship, T.O. is missing enough of a piece to help take their teams to the top of the game. Instead of playing in playoff games, look for T.O. to help desperate also rans in places like Houston, Minnesota and New Orleans give their fans something to cheer for.

Assuming, of course, that he'll be happy in those football deserts.

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