Monday, January 02, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

...because you just might get it.

It's an old saying, but it applies. No one is ever happy to see someone lose their job. Even if they had called for such an action to take place. Well, except for Donald Rumsfeld...whenever that happens.

The Packers fired Mike Sherman today. You probably heard about that. And it's the right move. I think I made that clear on December 20.

But it doesn't make me happy. I hate when good men lose their jobs, and I believe Mike Sherman is a good man. And I hate when my team has to fire their coach. The Packers fired Ray Rhodes in 1999, and I was livid. I didn't believe one (mediocre) year was good enough to judge a head coach over.

But then the stories came out. Guys running afoul of team rules, and nothing being done. Rhodes failing to rein in Brett Favre, who had his worst year since 1993. Poor on-field discipline, and the feeling that the team quit on the season during a late December game on national TV.

Sound familiar?

The mistakes Rhodes made were the same mistakes Sherman made, with the failure to instill solid on-field discipline and the failure to keep Favre under control being the most egregious crimes.

Now that Mike is gone, what to do?

Steve Mariucci? I would think that Thompson has to take a look at a guy like Mariucci, a West Coast offense guy who could come in and provide some stability for Favre (assuming that, as he approaches 37 next fall, Favre is looking for stability) and the offense. The question: Would Mariucci, who is due something like $10 million from the Lions after they fired him, want to coach again so soon? He'd be a good fit for a team that has a good number of veterans that wouldn't need any serious babysitting.

Jim Fassel? While he might want to change the offense a tad, it's hard to ignore his record with quarterbacks. After all, he got a team led by Kerry Collins into a Super Bowl before Collins finally reverted to previous form. Fassel could be a solid candidate for a number of openings, and Thompson may not think Fassel is worth the investment, which is likely to be pricey.

Jim Bates? Yes, he's nearing 60 years of age. But he doesn't look like it. Bates is a classic example of an old-school football coach. He runs around practice and probably gets more exercise than some of the players do. He's always teaching, and he's always trying to get his guys to play better. It's hard to argue against the idea that the defense got better as the season wore on, despite a number of injuries at linebacker and the presence of Mark Roman. I don't know if Bates would be a good fit as a head coach, but it's not the worst direction Thompson could go in. One worry I have is the message you get out of an organization that fires the head coach and hires from within, and that's that the organization is afraid of 1) change or 2) spending money.

Mike Tice? I just typed that. Yup. He'll get a second chance in this league, and one has to wonder how Tice could be such a terrible coach when he was able to rally his team on multiple occasions to get great play out of them while other teams would have quit under similar circumstances.

--> After a 3-10 start in his first year, Tice rallied the troops and got last-second wins over playoff contenders New Orleans and Miami in back-to-back weeks to key a 6-10 finish.

--> After Randy Moss walked off the field in Washington last year and the team backed into the playoffs, they were written off for dead heading into Green Bay for the Wild Card round. Tice got them to play hard, and they were rewarded with a resounding thumping of the division champion Packers.

--> Following a 2-5 start this season and a QB change due to injury, and all the turmoil surrounding this team, the Vikings finished 7-2 and nearly made the playoffs.

Someone did that. I don't know that it just happened. I think Tice can coach a little bit, but he was beaten down in Minnesota by disciplinary problems and a low budget (lowest-paid staff in the NFL thanks to Grampa Red the Car Dealer). Good assistant coaches, if you could find them on this budget, never would stay more than a year. And you don't win in this league without a great coaching staff...not just a great head coach. They understand that in Miami, where two or three assistants under Nick Saban cost more than Minnesota's entire staff of assistant coaches did for 2005. You can't be consistently competitive in a bare-bones operation.

With all that in mind, I think Tice is an assistant coach in 2006. The disciplinary problems in Minnesota could have been, in part, the result of the bare-bones staff (both coaching and front office). But they happened, and to a certain extent, those issues will follow Tice because he was the head coach.

Kirk Ferentz? With his son ready to graduate from Iowa, Ferentz might be ready to move on to the NFL. There's no question in my mind that he can coach, but can he put an NFL-caliber staff together? That's the question.

Brad Childress? Philly's offensive coordinator appears ready to move up. I don't know much about his work with the Eagles, as Andy Reid usually serves as primary play-caller. But that's not all that the coordinator does.

I don't know what Thompson will do. I also don't know what Favre will do. But I know that one shouldn't impact the other. If Favre wants to come back, he should come back. It's not like someone is going to look at Favre and want to change everything about the offense, especially when you consider how well Favre played, at times, despite all the skill players he lost during the season. And Thompson shouldn't let Favre dictate who coaches this team. If Favre wants to retire, wish him well, throw him a parade, and move on. The fans will follow you because that's what they do...even if they talk tough for a little while first.

A quick note on the Tice firing. I really don't have a problem with Zygi Wilf's decision. Or the timing. But I have a problem with the execution of his decision. No one's son should ever have to find out that Dad got fired through a press release handed to him by someone else. Before that press release was distributed, Tice needed to have time to gather his players and make them aware of this move, and Wilf needed to take the time to explain to the players the reasons for the move. The timing was such that Tice had to frantically call his wife on her cell phone so she wouldn't find out from the media first. That's not right - no matter what you think of the man or the job he did.

For Wilf's sake, I hope it's not a reflection on the kind of organization he will be running in Minnesota. Because if it is, they won't go far, no matter how much money Wilf spends on players, coaches, front office staff, or on repairs for the wooden boat outside team headquarters.

In the end, the right move was probably made, and Wilf now can hire a GM and pick the right coach for the job. Then it's time to spend some of that $25 million in cap space the Vikings enjoy and make sure the draft runs smoothly. Good luck.

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