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Saturday, September 05, 2009

When in Doubt, Fire Your Offensive Coordinator in a Hurry

There could be two schools of thought on the pre-season firings of Chan Gailey, Jeff Jagodozinski and Turk Schonert, the offensive coordinators of the Chiefs, Bucs and Bills, respectively.

The first is that their head coaches are decisive men; they see that they've made mistakes, and they worked quickly to correct them by firing their offensive coordinators and showing a willingness to go into a grueling season with an understaffed (and perhaps under-experienced) group of coaches to run the offense.

The second is that they're not all that secure or patient, that they're not good at judging who their assistant coaches should be, so they are gambling, took a stab, tried to do something, perhaps if only to mask the fact that they blundered badly in picking the particular coach in the first place. By doing so, they might be misreading how bad their coordinators really were and could be compounding the initial blunder by leaving a gap in their organization bigger than the problem that the now-fired coordinator created.

Of course, we're not close enough to the situation to know whether these three coordinators failed miserably, don't fit in with the head coach, or whether the head coach is shifting blame from himself to a key coordinator. But it's curious that there have been three such firings in a league where more time is spent on personnel decisions than perhaps any other and where more goof-ups seemingly get made than in any other too (you can read an academic study of the NFL draft which demonstrated last year how badly teams have erred using the early picks in the first round of the NFL draft). You would have thought that the head coaches would have picked their coordinators carefully and would have made their changes before the first organized team activity took place after the season ended, as opposed to within a few weeks (in the case of Gailey) or days (in the case of Jagodozinski and Schonert) of the final cutdown day (which is today).

Management faces tough decisions when key people at the top are struggling. On the one hand, you don't want to let a bad situation fester. After all, the person in the position could do more damage by remaining, and morale could sink if the top leaders fail to address a bad situation in the ranks. On the other hand, you should have a solid pyramid of performers underneath your top deputies so that if a top deputy were to depart or falter, you'll have someone to replace him. All of this holds true, of course, if the problem really was with the coordinator and not the head coach. The lateness of the firings seems to suggest -- at least in two instances -- that rookie head coaches made poor decisions early on (at least as to compatability) and to a degree are either being very decisive or are panicking. Few are that close to the situation to tell. The Buffalo situation is more puzzling because Dick Jauron has been a head coach for a while.

It's hard to believe that the Chiefs, Bucs or Bills will have good seasons with all of the turmoil. Major changes like this should occur after the regular season, so that there is plenty of time to plan a new offense, and not right before the season and after much or all of training camp has concluded. Even if these head coaches thought they had little choice, the decisions they found themselves making don't bode well for this season -- for their teams or themselves.


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