Eagles HC Andy Reid's best coaching years seem to be behind him; Jason Garrett may be wondering if his will ever arrive.
After well over a decade as Philly coach, Andy Reid is in a place all
Friday headlines brought a major surprise to the sports world: After weeks of the media salivating over expected NFL coach firings, the first head on the guillotine actually came from the NBA in the form of Lakers head coach Mike Brown. So as of yet, no team has written off their season, even though there are still a couple teams with only one win. The real endangered coaches, however, are not the ones leading tomato cans like Kansas City's Romeo Crennel, but rather the underachievers. This Sunday features two people who are prominently featured as underachievers, the Eagles' Andy Reid and our very own Jason Garrett. Despite optimism on both sides in the preseason, in the past three years both teams seem to be in decline compared to their previous level of success. The rise of the Giants has cast doubt over both men's jobs. More rulings of whether to extinguish the flames, or torch the building and collect the insurance, will be coming later. This may be the first game this year when both coaches' careers are on the line going head to head.
Growing a coach from the inside
Jason Garrett's body language makes Cam Newton's look euphoric at times
Jerry Jones' choices for team skipper have always been unorthodox to say the least. For one thing, only two of the people who have held the position under him had any prior experience as an HC in the NFL, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips. The first coach, former Oklahoma State and U of Miami sensei Jimmy Johnson, was a major departure from Dallas' only coach until then, Tom Landry. The Cowboys under Johnson were no longer just the cerebral, strategy oriented team of Landry, but also earned their stripes using cunning, mind games, and trash talk.
Johnson's clashes with Jones were well-publicized, and he was canned with little ceremony following their Super Bowl XXVIII victory in 1993. Johnson would go on to a disappointing tenure with Miami in place of the retiring Don Shula, where he succeeded only in leading them to embarrassing playoff losses and alienating the aging Dan Marino.The successor was Barry Switzer, also a college import who had been just as controversial as Johnson while at the University of Oklahoma, who had resigned once his program was placed on probation in 1989. Switzer was able to manage the Cowboys back to two successful seasons an the Super Bowl XXX title.
The lawless atmosphere of the Cowboys in those years took a toll on their focus, and in 1996 and 1997 the team faltered in its pursuit of further success, while Switzer himself was once arrested for bringing a handgun to an airport. Chan Gailey, until then the offensive coordinator of Pittsburgh, was hired in his place, and succeeded in leading the Cowboys to two playoff appearances before being fired. The next coach, Dave Campo, dealt with thinning talent and depth at every position, and the departure of Troy Aikman. Jones changed direction and brought in Bill Parcells who rejuvenated the team before re-retiring and then Wade Phillips who had winning seasons prior to a disappointing 2010.
Jason Garrett is the third coach to earn his first command as a Cowboy (four if expansion coach Landry is counted), and so far he only has done better than Campo. His background suggests he is more of Landry than a JJ, due to his prep school upbringing (University School, my cousin's alma mater here in OH), and Princeton college career. There are numerous reasons for his stumbling, but I'll list only a few:
- Last year's poor pass coverage in the secondary leading to crushing losses against New York and Detroit.
- Bad late clock management as exhibited this season against New York and Atlanta. The most egregious was the decision to pass on third and fourth with one yard to go against the Giants.
- High incidence of turnovers, especially by Tony Romo.
- The lack of an intimidating home atmosphere. This can help road offenses maintain focus as they communicate easier. Compare this to the Seattle home atmosphere which engulfed Dallas in Week 2 and encouraged their own defense to play more physically and with swagger.
- Does anyone else think that Garrett lacks the imposing presence needed to wield power of one of the most valuable franchises in the world?
Torch or fire extinguisher?
Jason Garrett was plagued in 2011 by Romo's poor decisions and the lack of performance by the secondary that had been never been the strong point under Wade Phillips. The current defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, is more of a pass rush competent coach than he is with pass coverage, and that showed last year.
Those caveats are gone in 2012. Jones has too much confidence in his own personnel decisions, but the Cowboys' secondary has been a rock this year due to their investment in Brandon Carr and Mo Claiborne. If any part of the team has been lacking, it's the offense, which is run by Bill Callahan, but in which Garrett is intimately involved. The ruling this season, if the Cowboys miss the playoffs, will be entirely based on his own performance. And a loss today against an unhealthy Eagles team would only accelerate the erosion of Garrett's stability.
Decision: Torch; Garrett does not have the gumption to be an assertive foil to Jerry Jones. Even a playoff appearance would be a band-aid over a chest wound.
When does the rebuilding begin?
Nnamdi Asomugha was a good signing over a year ago for the Eagles, but they still haven't been the dominant defense they were cracked up to be.
Unlike Garrett, Andy Reid cannot point fingers at many other people involved in the recent disappointments; he's been in charge since 1999. Reid is by far the most successful coach in the the history of the organization, both in terms of tenure and consistent success. The team had suffered under his predecessors Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes. Kotite was famously filmed struggling to communicate using his headset.
For eleven years Reid's fortunes were tied to a quarterback he drafted and took a major gamble on, Donovan McNabb of Syracuse, suffering from huge media and fan criticism at the outset. The Eagles were an NFL powerhouse during the Reid McNabb era, reaching the playoffs nine out of fourteen years. But that has never stopped them from being the bullseye of Philly press criticism, as they lost four NFC Championship games, and faded in the Super Bowl against New England. The event that seriously compromised McNabb and Reid's stature in the city was their handling of the Terrell Owens feud in 2005 in the midst of McNabb's injury-shortened season. In an era when the quarterback has become more than ever the focus of attention in football, the Reid offense took this to its farthest extreme, as the Eagles relentlessly took to the air and neglected their ground game.
The end of the McNabb era in 2010 was thought to be a move in the right direction, because the Eagles had already adjusted his replacement Michael Vick the year before. Vick's tenure in Philly was a second chance personally, but collectively Philadelphia hasn't a single accomplishment to its name under him beside the 2010 NFC East divisional title.If anything, they were better during the McNabb era.
Torch or fire extinguisher?
Although Reid has learned to utilize the running game of LeSean McCoy since switching McNabb for Vick, he has totally missed his own blocking assignment: providing the pass protection to allow Vick's passing game to flourish. Coupled with Vick's atrocious ball protection (he is second on the list in fumbles, and is fifth in interceptions trailing among others our own Tony Romo), it's no wonder that the Reid era seems to be in its twilight. Firing Juan Castillo changed nothing as the Saints were never challenged last week during their aerial assault.
Decision: Torch; the boulder long ago has started to roll back down the mountain. Don't expect the same guy to roll it back up.
Maybe later this week there will be someone warranting the extinguisher.