The measure of success for most NFL coaches is did they get their team into the postseason playoffs. This year the Minnesota Vikings had a regular season record of 10 wins and 6 loses, the exact same record as the Chicago Bears. Even though the Bears had the same numbers of wins, the Vikings made it the playoffs and the Bears didn’t. This was based on the Vikings winning one more division game than the Bears. The Bears season is over and so is coach Lovie Smith’s era when he was fired last Monday. How different the feeling is for Vikings coach Leslie Fraizer. He is being lauded for bringing his team back from a 3-13 record last season and getting his team to the playoffs this year.
What if the Vikings didn’t make the playoffs, how secure would Fraizer be? It is important to remember, the Vikings got into the playoffs with a field goal against the Green Bay Packers to win in the last minute of the last game of their regular season. That game could have easily gone the other way for the Vikings and Lovie and his Bears would be in the playoffs. If they had won would his job be any more secure?
The reason that everyone is giving for firing Coach Smith is that the team has missed the playoffs five times in the last six years, in spite of the fact that he took the team to the Super Bowl in 2006. Maybe the problem is expectations, with Fraizer coming off of a horrible season last year and Lovie having been to the Super Bowl already? But in a league purposely constructed to create “parity” with the better draft picks and the schedules benefiting the “weaker” teams aren’t we naturally going to see teams going up and down? I would suggest that the Bears six losses were to several of the BEST teams in the NFL this year – Green Bay twice, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Minnesota.
With all of the random chances in a football game or season, does firing a “winning” coach for losing one more game really make sense? Think of the randomness of when a player gets hurt. The Bears frequently lost some of their key players at critical times, Hester, Cutler, and Urlacher just to name a few. Add in some of the poor performances from key players and it is even more difficult to point out the team’s critical failures. In the few Bears games that I had watched, there were too many easy passes dropped by “able” receivers to blame just the coaches.
In the end the buck stops with the head coach, and for better or worse we give him credit or place blame far too easily. We all want to “win” and we won’t tolerate “failure.” We seek out the cause of “failure” and we expunge it from the system with the hope that we will replace it with success. Far too often we don’t find success through this process, only change. And this is why we are fools.
I am certain that Lovie will land well somewhere else in the league as a head coach; in fact ESPN already has him short listed for Jacksonville or maybe Buffalo. In this way, the NFL seems a lot like Silicon Valley startup where everyone wants the “big breakout success” but they also know that those breakouts are almost impossible to find. So as long as they don’t screw up too badly they will get another chance to lead somewhere else. And just maybe luck will follow them?
So as we consider who is successful and who is a failure we might want to remember, the Chicago Bears under coach Lovie Smith made it to the Super Bowl just six years ago, the last time the Vikings made it to a Super Bowl was in 1977 under coach Bud Grant.