I enjoy analyzing the NFL with a focus on the coaches. My other two posts addressed coaches and based on what I've read, MHR as a whole puts a lot of importance into coaching and leadership. I know we have a lot of coaches at MHR and their insights into the game are a reason I keep coming back.
I enjoy studying and analyzing leadership and organizations. so I'm gonna try and provide some insight into the situations facing our opponents this year with respect to their coaching leadership. This is the dominant information I go off to pick winners for the year. While talent is a big factor, I never view it as the most important factor. The season is too long, there are too many emotional ups and downs, too many injuries, too much talent on every team, etc. that its the leadership that separates those that make the playoffs and those that do not (I will acknowledge that sometimes great players as leaders are good enough to overcome weak coaches). I'm not arguing that the best coach wins, only that he has the biggest impact. So lets consider rigorously, the impact of, what I call, the most important part of each team.
I will try and do an analysis for several teams. I will do SD first because I really think positive predictions of a big season for them ignore their coaching problems. I also think they are a prime example of why "coaching" has the biggest impact
I will focus on the HC, OC, and DC (Head Coach, Off Coord, Def Coord). For those teams that have a HC that calls one side of the ball, I will treat that coach like the HC and OC/DC together (ie. for SD I am focusing on N. Turner for HC & OC). For each coach, I will explore their coachability, defined as Xs & Os with a strong focus on intellectual capability, their emotional impact, defined as their ability to get their players to play focused and hard, and their leadership, defined as everything else (ie. communication skills, organization, etc.). Where applicable, I may provide insight into the front office to explain some of my analysis.
Within these areas of focus, I will address historical facts, present an analysis of these past facts and current events, and finally make some predictions.
This will lack some of the details of the quality I enjoy reading here at MHR, but I think it will give most something to consider.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: HC/OC- Norv Turner DC- Ron Rivera
Turner was called in to replace Schottenhiemer after SD lost to NE in the '06 playoffs. SD had arguably the most talented team with LT at the top of his game. The team lost both its OC and DC to head coaching positions. There was a lot of change amongst the leadership. Turner's record as a HC is well below .500 winning pct. To his great credit, he was the OC for the Dallas dynasty of the '90s; however, for unknown reasons, he was not retained as HC there after Johnson's departure. Few players that have played for him will say anything bad about him. He appears to be a well-liked personality. He coached for 7x years in Washington (.454), 2x yrs in Oakland (.281), and now 2x in SD (.593) (win pct.).
SD finished the 2006 team widely acclaimed as the most talented team in football. They were favorites to win the AFC Championship before an upset by NE. For the start of 2007, their team was still regarded as the one of the most talented teams in the AFC and NFL.
Ron Rivera played for eight years ('84-92) with the Chicago Bears including an '85 SB win. In '96, he was a quality control coach for the Bears under D. Wannstadt. In '99, he became a LBer coach for the Philly Eagles. A position he held until 2004. In 2004, he joined the Chicago Bears and new HC Lovie Smith. Rivera's influences can be traced to Buddy Ryan (who he played for; not sure how much that translates though), Jim Johnson, and Lovie Smith. His background is heavy on the 4-3. When hired in Chicago as DC, he most likely would have had his first experience working in the Tampa 2. After three years and a SB appearance, his services were not retained. From '03 to '05, the Bears D improved from bottom of the NFL to the top D. In 2006, the Bears D lost some of its dominance, but was still a top 5 Defense. Rivera spent '07-'08, as the ILB coach for the SD Defense of DC Ted Cottrell using a 3-4 scheme.
AJ Smith has been the GM for the SD team since 2003. He is well known and respected as the Director of Player Personnel during the Buffalo "Glory Years" from '93-'00 that resulted in several SB appearances. He is largely responsible for the firing of Schottenheimer and the hiring of the new coaches before 2007.
What do players on this team really think about the leaders of this organization? This is the critical question and one that will play out over the course of the year for SD. I think on some level what I will write here is in the minds of the players on this team.
First, Al Smith, while the GM (less of a leader on the team than the organization), has created an atmosphere at the very top that appears highly critical, unloyal, and arrogant. When you fire a successful coach, cross words with the star player, and constantly put yourself out front you send some strong messages to your organization about what/who is important. In that, you can weaken its foundation and its faith in itself which surely holds everything together.
Second, Norv Turner has never proved anything, but mediocre, over his now 11 years of HCing. His best season was 10-6 in '99 until he went 11-5 in '07 w/ SD(remember this team was 5-5 at the midway and incredibly talented though). How can anyone expect that Turner can possibly make a team play better than its talent?
Third, Ron Rivera while demonstrating skill has not proven his own consistency, nor his ability to skillfully transition from one scheme to another. The Chicago teams and his performance there deserve recognition, but how do you not get retained after going to the SB. I may give Lovie Smith too much credit, but I have to believe something is missing. What could that something be?
Well, I just can't envision someone like Rivera being the sharpest tool in the shed. He seems a player's coach (as a former hard-nosed player) and an emotional spark. I can only project that Rivera was not on the same page as L. Smith in communication or coacing/play-calling philosophy. This could very well have been because of L. Smith as it could have been b/c of Rivera, but why did Rivera only land an ILB coaching position after leaving. Surely a better position would open up for someone of his "perceived" quality, especially as other coaches would know the true value of such a coach from word of mouth.
One of the problems may have been that Rivera came from the Eagles where he would have developed a strong base in the J. Johnson 4-3 defense. L. Smith instituted a Tampa 2 in the 4-3. Now this would probably lead to some challenges if the coach doesn't grasp all the nuances and personnel qualities required to utilize one system over the other. I can only imagine that this change could have been a factor. If so, then what is the impact of going from a 4-3 J. Johnson to a Tampa 2 to a 3-4 (all within 4 yrs)? I guess this makes sense as to why he became an ILB coach with SD and took time to adjust.
However, if we're really good at something or an expert in one area, don't we try to keep that as a base to achieve success in our work? Why has Rivera constantly put himself in a position where he can't rely on what I would call the foundation of his football knowledge (the J. Johnson 4-3)? He must really be a dynamic, intuitive coach that quickly grasps the nuances of different schemes and can put it all together to create a successful defense. He seeks the change to develop himself, maybe? The first thing I would do as DC (if I was R. Rivera) is start hiring all my old coaches that are 4-3 guys and start breaking the foundations of this arguably, very successful SD defense. (Note: Rivera has brought in his chums for Dline-Johnson, LB-Williams, and DBs-Wilks from Chicago to SD)
Alright, enough sarcasm. Lets talk coachability, emotional impact, and leadership.
Coachability- Certainly Turner and Rivera have distinguished themselves in the NFL as assistants that were successful. They know their stuff, but in the evolving game of today, how sharp are these "football minds"? I give Turner a low B with room to go backwards and Rivera a high C with room to go upwards. The fact is the team seems prepared above avg, but lacks any special demonstration of Xs and Os/scheme dominance throughout the season. Rivera can prove better than I expect, while Turner may prove worse. The fact that Turner was an X/O genius in '95 means little now and may actually work against him if he doesn't have the intellectual capacity to evolve with the game.
Emotional Impact- Turner can't be above a C here. He does not appear to be much of an emotional leader... a nice guy maybe, but that doesn't really translate to emotional impact in football well. Rivera may be an A. As a former LB with the '85 Bear SB team, I gotta imagine he can inspire and push his guys. I think this is his area of specialty and what helped him help Chicago to the '06 SB.
Leadership- Anytime a team plays completely mediocre, when it has enormous potential, and turns it on late in the year, you have to acknowledge that leadership is weak. Why? Because SD has demonstrated for 3x years that it has a HIGH-top level of performance. In two of those three years, that top-level performance struggled to come out. This is what a coach is paid to do. In fact, it proved to only come out when the players recognized that everything was on the line (or on them). The talent is there and SD, THE PLAYERS, have proven it in the playoffs two years in a row. The studs and leaders on this team have pulled together to overcome teams, their coaches, and their own GM...yes, they have that much talent, but can only pull it off (when WE collapse or) when the leaders on the field start to take over. Here I reference: LT calling a team-only meeting in '07 with the team at 4-5 (they win 7 straight) and P. Rivers screaming a play at Turner late in the '08 Indy playoff win (can't place exact time this happened- anyone?). Lets remember that LT openly questioned Turner's staff in '07 as the team slid.
Oh yeah, AJ Smith....Leadership- F. By letting personality and ego become the center of how he does business, he has sent the wrong message to this team. While he may be able to pick players, he certainly cannot pick coaches. He has sent the message that coaching is incidental to victory and that his analysis of talent is the fundamental ingredient.
What's interesting is that no one wants to talk about the warts that are under the beautiful image of SD. The warts are all I see. Now I think I may be to heavy on SD's demise b/c as they are one of the most talented teams, they will certainly win their share of games.
This team is incapable of going above 9-7 though. In fact, what is more likely, is that all these warts explode this year and this team goes into the tank. This team rests on the talent in the D and the leadership and talent of Rivers/LT and a few others on O. In '07, this team was better prepared to win. They struggled and injuries did not come until late. Last year, they had injuries and really struggled. This year they are healthy, but older, and everyone seems to think they will be the "same 'ol" SD.
My favorite quote from Turner this year is along the lines of.......this year the players aren't counting on our talent, the players are going to go out and take it....What? This sounds like the problems have been in the execution department or on the player side. If you're coaching/saying this, the "smart" players have gotta be completely tuning you out. Why wouldn't they think they can? Every year, they still get it done in the playoffs.....carrying you. This brings me back to "What do the players on this team think about the leaders of this organization?"
The bottomline is that I predict at some point this season the players will visibly lose faith in the coaches and the front office. Putting all the pressure on the players can rally the team, but if the problems lie elsewhere then watchout. If anything starts to go wrong, then the *(^% is gonna fly.
When I look at talent, I can't help but see how good SD looks. In fact, I concede the division to them on talent. This of course, is why the MSM concedes the division to SD. To the MSM, looks matter and real insight and consideration of things that are important are secondary. But leadership and what I think will prove to be a lack of faith in the SD organization's leadership will bring this team down. Otherwise, all the things we, at MHR, and the copycat NFL believe matter- organizational leadership and coherency at the personnel/coaching/GM level........don't matter (or SD becomes an exception to the rule)
Well this year, the storm that has been CLEARLY buiding off the SD coast manifests itself as a hurricane.....and everyone realizes that coaches matter and the players can't do it all (or AJ Smith can't just b/c he picks 'em).
SD starts strong, but finishes 5-11.....Everyone gets fired, maybe Smith too......In even the best case scenario, SD collapses like Denver last year and loses the Division in the last game....either way, it ends in a storm of destruction.