Monday, February 7, 2011

Why the Super Bowl Pissed Me Off

If you are like the majority of Americans, you watched the Super Bowl last night.  And you might have found the game entertaining, and thought benignly that it was nice to see the Packers win... or perhaps you felt bad that Pittsburgh lost, but no biggie, since the Patriots weren't even in the game.

Well, if you enjoyed the game and want to keep that feeling, I strongly suggest you stop reading right now.  Because I'm pissed at the result, which once again underlined-and-bolded Bill Belichick's biggest blind spot and how it cost the team a trip to the big game -- again!  Read on if you want to know more; but be warned, your Corn Flakes might go down easier if you stop right now.

For those of you still reading, here's the crux of the issue.  Belichick continually puts his team at a competitive disadvantage because he flatly refuses to hire the best coaches available.  His habit of promoting from within the Patriots organization makes for a stale staff of in-bred mini-Bills, most of whom got the bulk of their NFL knowledge from Belichick himself.

And frankly, it's a little strange for an organization that works every angle to find the tiniest advantages.  Belichick saw a loophole in a league rule, so he videotaped other teams during games... and Spygate was born.  The Pats always defer when they win the coin toss because they think there is a crowd noise advantage to be had to start the third quarter.  Heck, twice in his career Belichick ordered his team to take an intentional safety, and won both times!

So for a team that leaves absolutely nothing to chance and no stone unturned in the drive to get better, it's downright weird that they won't bring in coaches from outside.  Especially when you consider the recent results:

1.  In the 2006 AFC Championship Game, defensive coordinator Dean Pees oversaw the biggest collapse in the history of that game, when his team blew an 18-point lead.  It was Pees' 1st year as a DC, and he had no NFL coaching experience outside of New England.  (Incidentally, his opposite number that day was Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore, who was in his 24th year as an OC, and had coached for five different NFL teams.)

2.  In the 2007 Super Bowl, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' charges scored their lowest total of the year (17 points), and were continually stymied and confused by a defense they'd torched for 38 points just a few weeks earlier.  It was only McDaniels' 3rd year as offensive coordinator, and he had no NFL coaching experience outside of the New England Patriots.

3.  In a 2009 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien "coached" Tom Brady to his worst playoff performance ever (4 turnovers and a 49.1 rating).  And the Patriots 14 points represented their second lowest output of the entire season.  O'Brien was in his 1st year as offensive coordinator and he had no NFL coaching experience outside of New England.

4.  And finally, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was overmatched in this year's playoff loss to the Jets.  After the game, his receivers openly talked about how they'd planned all week for one defense and didn't ever adjust to what the Jets defense did that day.  As mentioned, this was O'Brien's 2nd year as OC, and as you can guess by now, he had no NFL coaching experience outside of New England.

Sense a pattern here?

The overall lack of experience didn't catch up to the Pats during those regular seasons.  They won the division each year, with records of 12-4, 16-0, 10-6, and 14-2.  But when you get to the playoffs, you face the best of the best, and the margin for error and importance of getting every edge are both magnified.  And unfortunately, the Patriots played each of those games with Coordinators-in-Training who may or may not ever pan out as decent NFL coaches.

So why did the Super Bowl result make my blood boil?  And what does all this have have to do with the Patriots hiring practices?

Well, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers employ a defensive coordinator named Dom Capers... a man who on the Patriots staff in 2008.  The Pats hired him from outside the organization but inexplicably made him the defensive backs coach instead of defensive coordinator.  Unsurprisingly, when the Packers offered him the DC job in 2009, he jumped at the promotion -- a promotion to a position he should have had with the Patriots.

Capers' qualifications were unimpeachable; 6 years as a defensive coordinator, 7 years as a head coach, vast experience with different organizations, and one of the most respected defensive minds of his generation.  He even runs a 3-4, which is what the Patriots favor, so they wouldn't have needed wholesale changes in personnel.  But the Patriots decided to keep Pees instead.  They should have canned him and hired the best man for the job, Capers; but they sided with loyalty and the internal hire instead of coaching talent and the best hire.

Consider what Capers achieved in two years in Green Bay.  The year before he arrived they allowed 419 points, went 6-10, and there were rumors that the head coach might get fired.  Capers first year the defense made a remarkable turn around, allowing 297 points for a team that went 11-5 and made the playoffs.  This year they allowed just 240 points and won the Super Bowl.

The Patriots could have had him calling their defense this year, instead of unproven Coordinator-in-Training Matt Patricia.  In fact, they had Capers, but their reluctance to give him the defensive coordinator job he deserved left an opening for the Packers to pluck him away.

The sad fact for Patriots fans is that 3 of the last 4 Super Bowl Champions hired defensive coordinators from outside their organizations; which does not bode well for a team that only promotes from within.  The 2007 Giants brought in Steve Spagnola from Philadelphia, the 2009 Saints hired Gregg Williams off the street, and the 2010 Packers plucked Dom Capers from the New England staff.

So the competition has shown they are willing to go outside their organizations and hire the best available coaching talent, which leaves the Pats at a significant disadvantage in that area.  Of the 12 position coaches/coordinators on the current Patriots staff, only 3 have any experience with other NFL teams.  The other 9 coaches all got their start with the Patriots and learned at the knee of the same man -- Bill Belichick.

This will not likely ruin the franchise.  They drafted well the last two years to build a young nucleus of talent, they have a boat-load of picks the next two years, have most of their important players locked up long term, and went 14-2 despite the coaching inequity that showed up in the playoffs.  But an unwillingness to get the best talent can't possibly bolster their chances.

Every year that ends like this year, with a Coordinator-in-Training getting schooled in the playoffs, is another year of Tom Brady's career down the tubes.  Quarterback is the most important position in football, and the Pats should not hold themselves back in the effort to win more championships while #12 is still playing here.

Unlike some in the press, I don't think they should sign every free agent and trade all their draft picks to win it all in one year.  They tried that in 2008 and the year went up in smoke when Brady got injured in the first game.

But the Patriots should expect more playoff losses in the future until they admit the error of their ways and stop sabotaging themselves by hiring unproven coaches.  It's great to have a loyal staff, but you can't compete with the rest of the league if Belichick has to coach up players and coaches, and the chances are slim that all your Coordinators-in-Training will peak at the right time to win it all.

So I implore Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick to change course on this issue.  Unless they like watching the Super Bowl on their couches -- like the rest of us -- instead of on the field.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  0-0!