2002...
TGS SPECIAL REPORT...BRANCHES OF THE BELICHICK TREE
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


We at TGS have forever been fascinated by the influence the most winning of coaches can have on others; more specifically, their “disciples” who are often hired by teams looking to replicate the success of those high-profile mentors. We have also been keen to another phenomenon related to a handful of legendary coaches who have spawned many other mimics looking to replicate their considerable accomplishments.

Often, if a successful coach has a specific, or even peculiar, trait, the imitators will often focus upon those peripheral characteristics and mistakenly craft their styles around that particular quirk, or perceived style-point. We can’t estimate how many coaching wannabes, at all levels, tried (and failed) to channel the great Vince Lombardi, simply by basing their approach around the hollering and verbal intimidation tactics were a trademark of the former Packer mentor.

There was a lot more to Lombardi, however, than mere hollering; he was a stickler for fundamentals, while also demanding attention to detail and unwavering commitment, not to mention owning a shrewd strategic sense developed from his years (many of them serving as the NY Giants’ offensive coordinator in the ‘50s under Jim Lee Howell) as an assistant coach prior to accepting the Green Bay job. And those qualities, while not as publicized as his intimidating persona, were no less influential in his success.

Even then, however, Lombardi was not everyone’s cup of tea. Although he molded a team of players and personalties in Green Bay that could respond to his methods, Lombardi’s tactics were not necessarily transferrable. In his excellent 1989 book, Out of Bounds, the great Jim Brown, while providing the proper respect due Lombardi, also knew he (and many other players) probably couldn’t function properly under such an intense glare.

“I couldn’t see myself playing for Lombardi,” Brown said. “Unlike Paul (Brown), Lombardi was a hollerer and a name caller. I don’t respond to that. I would have done one of two things--totally withdrawn, or gotten right in Lombardi’s face--and neither would have been good for the team.”

All would-be coaching imitators would be wise to heed Brown’s observations. Which would also apply to all of the Bob Knight basketball coaching imitators who believe that by borrowing Knight’s ability to berate players and officials (and throw an occasional chair) that they, too, can amass more than 900 coaching wins.

Somewhat similarly, we have to wonder if one of the modern NFL’s most-successful coaches, New England’s Bill Belichick, has indirectly polluted his template with some peculiarities so associated with his persona, yet so unique in tandem with his other qualities. It’s a fact that most of Belichick’s coaching and administrative disciples have failed elsewhere because they haven’t been able to distance themselves from some of the most overbearing Belichick personality traits, of which a self-assured demeanor, bordering on arrogance, is part of the equation. As are the noted psychological games that Belichick has played throughout his career.

Whereas Belichick can get away with the mind games and power trips, however (three Super Bowl wins offer a coach certain privileges), those same tactics have often boomeranged on teams that Belichick’s disciples inherited, as they tend to alienate established leaders. There might have been no better example than Josh McDaniels, Belichick’s once and also current o.c. who also failed spectacularly in his head coaching chance with Denver. Young Josh’s sloppy handling of interactions with QB Jay Cutler quickly poisoned that relationship and resulted in a fast dissolution, while other Broncos quickly landed on the wrong side of McDaniels’ naughty-nice list. Before long, Josh had turned the roster inside-out and soon had the team in shambles, and was dismissed before his second season was complete.

Indeed, those sort of tortured interpersonal characteristics have also marked regimes of other Belichick disciples such as Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis, and front office exec Scott Pioli, the current GM of the Chiefs whose clandestine operation would make the CIA proud. Kansas City is also coached by another branch from the Belichick tree, Romeo Crennel, who, though never accused of playing the mind games associated with Belichick or many of his disciples (indeed, Crennel is considered a player’s coach), has also been no more successful in his solo acts away from New England (including an earlier failed HC stint with the Browns) than have McDaniels, Weis, Mangini, or Crennel’s current boss Pioli.

(One exception to the failures of the Belichick coaching tree could be new Penn State HC Bill O’Brien, Belichick’s former o.c. who has done such a good job keeping the Nittany Lions afloat this year that some in Happy Valley expect he could be due for a return to the NFL...and soon.)

Mention of Crennel, however, brings us to another subject worthy of discussion as the 2012 NFL campaign moves into its second half. As usual, numerous coaches are in the crosshairs and sitting on hot seats of varying degrees. Besides Crennel, following is a look at some of the coaches who appear to be in the deepest hot water as we move into mid-November.

Norv Turner, San Diego...Word from Charger-land is that Norv is suddenly in an extremely tenuous position and could have even walked the plank last week had the Bolts lost to the Chiefs on Thursday night. But San Diego has underachieved for years, and Turner always seems to survive...what has happened lately to put team prexy Dean Spanos’ finger on the eject button? Sources say the Spanos’ sole motivation is money (which doesn’t make them alone among NFL ownership), a main reason Turner has stayed in the fold so long...he doesn’t cost as much as most other NFL coaches. The Spanoses, however, would like to get a new stadium built in San Diego, and are looking at securing at least some public funding (never an easy task in California) for the venture. And local sentiment is said to be waning on any such project, partly because the fan base has become disillusioned with the Bolts’ continuing underachievement, which many link to Turner’s ongoing presence. Spanos has finally taken note, also aware that the Chargers were looking at more than 10,000 unsold seats before last week’s game vs. the Chiefs, with corporate sponsors stepping in at the last minute to buy the tickets and prevent a local blackout, which would have been the first for a Thursday night game since the NFL Network began televising those in 2006. The thought goes that Spanos, sensing his team could miss the playoffs again, might believe he has a better chance at rallying public support for a stadium if he were proactive and dumped Turner. Stay tuned.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia...This punch has been telegraphed better than one of George Foreman’s roundhouse rights directed at Muhammad Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle, as owner Jeffrey Lurie put Reid on notice in the offseason while also moving out longtime front office exec Joe Banner (who has since resurfaced in Cleveland). Meanwhile, Reid has recently jettisoned d.c. Juan Castillo after continuing underachievement by the Birds’ stop unit. Now QB Michael Vick is reportedly next in the sight, with rumors of his potential benching running rampant on 610 WIP. On the field, Philly was wobbling at 3-4 prior to Monday vs. the Saints, and sources say there is no way Reid survives another playoff-less season. If the Birds drop from the postseaon chase by December, some believe Lurie pulls the ripcord before the season concludes.

Jason Garrett, Dallas...Any coach employed by Jerry Jones always walks a tightrope. But sources don’t know how much further ’ol Jer will go with Garrett (or QB Tony Romo, for that matter) if the Cowboys fall out of the playoff chase. A possible upcoming scenario to watch involves Sean Payton, the currently suspended Saints HC who might become a "free agent" in the offseason and could have great appeal to Jones, considering Payton was on Bill Parcells' Cowboys staff before taking the Saints job. More on this potential storyline as it develops early in winter.

Rex Ryan, NY Jets...Rex has laid a lot of trip wires within a Jets roster that often seems on the brink of dysfunction. The Tim Tebow experiment has thus far proven to be mostly a distraction (it certainly hasn’t spurred QB Mark Sanchez to great heights), but the Jets have plenty of other concerns on their roster. Still, Ryan’s bluster makes him an easy target if the Jets sink further below .500 and again out of the playoff race.

Mike Shanahan, Washington...The Shan, in trouble? The rumors are beginning to swirl inside and around the Beltway that owner Dan Snyder is growing impatient, and he didn’t hire Shanahan to miss the playoffs three years running. The Shan might have bought himself a little extra time with rookie QB Robert Griffin III, but sources warn that the notoriously short-fused Snyder could make a move if the Skins finish out of the money...rookie QB or not.

Others to watch: Chan Gailey, Buffalo; Pat Shurmur, Cleveland.


Return To Home Page