Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How Long Is Too Long?: The Cases of Mike Shanahan & Joe Torre

Sure, they don’t remind you of one another. Mike Shanahan, a gruff, standoffish, football coach and self-proclaimed offensive genius. Somebody I would hate to have in my family. Joe Torre a/k/a St. Joe, player’s manager, calm, green-tea drinking, all-around great guy—somebody you would be proud to have in your family.

Both finished the 1990s with championships in their respective leagues and were at the top. From there, both went downhill.

For Torre, who last won a World Series in 2000 against the Mets, his decline came with the aging/retirement of the ‘90s core—Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, David Cone, El Duque to name a few. Most importantly, key cogs in the bullpen, such as Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Ramiro Mendoza, who in my opinion are why the Yankees won 4 out of 5 from 1996-2000, either left the team or became injured. As these important relievers left the Bronx, Torre’s bullpen management skills were exposed and overworked relievers kept the Yankees from winning #27. This despite having the highest payroll in MLB for the whole decade. Following the loss of their third straight ALDS in 2007, Torre, after 12 full seasons in the Bronx, was arguably forced out of the organization.

With his contract up, The Yankees offered Torre a one-year deal with a $5,000,000 base pay and $1,000,000 bonuses to be paid for each of three benchmarks the team reached: winning the ALDS; winning the ALCS; and winning the World Series. Also, if the Yankees made it to the World Series, Joe Torre would pick up an option for a new contract for the following year. The contract, despite the pay cut, would still have kept Torre as the highest paid manager in the game. Understandably, the Yankees saw these incentives necessary to instill a fire in Torre. They thought he was complacent, too much of a player’s manager and that he failed to push their talented stars to attain their optimal performance levels. Torre’s strong sense of pride saw this offer as a personal affront and he rejected the Yanks’ offer, leaving for sunny La La Land Dodgers.

Mike Shanahan was hired by the Broncos in 1995 to replace Puppet Extraordinaire Wade Phillips. Shanahan, who led the vaunted 49ers offense consisting of Steve Young, Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Ricky “I Won’t Bore You With a Hackneyed Chris Berman Nickname” Watters took over a pretty talented team in Denver led by NFL QB legend John Elway. Shanahan led Elway and the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, during which time the Broncos set a then-record for victories in two seasons. He was the last coach to win two consecutive titles until New England's Bill Belichick did it during the 2003 and 2004 NFL seasons. Between 1996-1998, the Broncos set the NFL record for victories by going 46–10 over a three-year span.

After their Super Bowl victory in 1998, Mike Shanahan only won 1 other playoff game again, due in part to the retirement of Elway and career-ending injury of Terrell Davis. Despite being able to make any running back a 1,000 yard rusher, including the aforementioned Davis, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns and Tatum Bell, Shanahan, director of player personnel, could never assemble a quality defense.

The past 3 seasons, defensive coordinators were fired due to their ineptitude. In these 3 seasons, the Broncos went 24-24 and failed to make the playoffs. In somewhat of a surprise, Shanahan was canned. He had only 2 losing seasons and finished his career as the Broncos all-time winning head coach with a record of 138-86 (.615). Presumably, Denver owner Pat Bowlen wanted Shanahan to give up control of player personnel so that somebody could come in and revamp the defense. Shanahan, a prideful man, probably refused and the two got into an argument resulting in his ouster.

12 and 14 years are way too long for a manager/coach to remain with the same team. After a while, things get stagnant and that drive to win it all disappears with past success, a fat contract and control over the roster. Sort of like that tenured professor who does not keep up with current management practices or current law, these coaches do not keep up with the evolution of the game.

In my opinion, 10 years should be the cutoff point, especially if there are no championships won in the past 5 years. John Wooden and Joe McCarthy are exceptions to this because they continuously won championships and the time of their last championship served as a "tolling period."

Below are examples of coaches who I believe should be relieved of their duties based on tenure and championship droughts. While the idea of firing some of these coaches may be preposterous, you need to remember that organizations are more than 1 individual.

Jeff Fisher, Head Coach Tennessee Titans—His career achievement is that he came within 1 yard of winning a Super Bowl. Will not be fired because of the current economy and Titans are a small market team.

Andy Reid, Head Coach Philadelphia Eagles—Lost 3 consecutive NFC championships and a Super Bowl. Too conservative and his sons legal troubles have distracted him. He may be relieved of his duties if Philly loses.

Bobby Bowden, Head Coach Florida State—Last national championship in 1999. 79 years old. No motivation for players, no discipline. Anybody could recruit for FSU and be a better game coach. Let Jimbo Fisher have his chance.

Joe Paterno, Head Coach Penn State Nittany Lions--Last national championship in 1986. Age 82. We love ya Joe Pa, but don’t you have grandchildren?

Recently Forced Out: Phillip Fulmer--Head Coach University of Tennessee Football. Last championship in 1998; Tom O'Brien--no championships in 10 years at Boston College (ousted in 2006.)

A Few More Years: Ron Gardenhire--Manager Minnesota Twins, Tom Izzo--BBall Coach Michigan State, Mike Krzyzewski--BBall Coach Duke, Charlie Weis--FB Coach Notre Dame, Al Skinner--BBall Coach Boston College

1 comment:

  1. Very similar career arcs, but very different personalities. I agree that there is a shelf life on coaches' effectiveness but sometimes organization's loyalties can stand in the way of what's best for the team.

    Great stuff man.