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Chalk Talk Discussion: The Fragile Ecosystem that is a NFL Franchise

One of many experimental iterations ...

KDawg

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In life, you can throw teams together to perform minute tasks, such as cleaning up friend's yard, jump starting a vehicle, going door to door to sell cookies. You can even throw together a group of kids to play a game of pickup football in the backyard with relative ease. However, running a competitve football organization at any level of football is slightly more complicated. In a post a few days ago, I noted that maintaining a football team is akin to keeping an elaborate salt water aquarium set up running appropriately. Your pH must be on track, your live rock must be cured appropriately, you must make sure your cycles are appropriate and you can't mix certain species of fish with others for fear of eating each other or disease.

A football team is an extremely delicate system. When people use the term "football team" they often imagine players and coaches in uniform standing on a green field marching a football up and down the field. However, that is just the final product and production piece of a football team. The real identity of a team is forged during the offseason and during each and every day at the office.

If there is a perceived lack of respect between players and coaches, a team can and will nose dive extremely quickly. This isn't the old days of sport where your coach was essentially your God to never be questioned. Society has evolved, for better or worse, and the ways of yesteryear don't work as they used to. Players are more sensitive than ever (in general sense). Players no longer want to fight for their coaches respect, many feel they've already earned the right to be respected. There are still throwback players, to be sure. London Fletcher being a prime example. But I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of players don't feel public scrutiny is the method that needs to be utilized to reach them. I agree with them in a way. Coaches must use some tact with today's athletes. But athletes also need to understand that they must be held accountable for their own mistakes and actions. The moment someone rocks the ship, equilibrium is deeply effected and winning becomes a much more difficult task.

When that happens, though, people react different. Some fans call for the coaches heads. Some say the players need to be responsible. Some sit in between. But for the sake of conversation, let's talk about team building. It's not as easy as saying, "Alright, well, the 3-4 tanked so let's just shift on over to the 4-3!" or saying, "The zone blocking scheme stinks, I want old school Redskin football (which was actually zone, by the way ;)) let's go to angle blocking!"

The ecosystem is too fragile to just move on. First off, is the way a team approaches its own players. The Eagles see a kid with talent and they lock him up. Even if they are in year two of a rookie deal, they pay their own to stay with the team. When a player is drafted by the Eagles they know that if they prove their worth they will get extended and welcomed.

The Patriots cut ties with older veterans who demand too much money. Why did your Mike Vrabels and Tedy Bruschi's stick while your Ty Law's didn't? Simple: A cost/effectiveness ratio. Vrabel and Bruschi didn't want much money and were a better choice than the alternatives, so they stayed. Ty Law would have cost the team entirely too much money for his effectiveness, in the Patriot's eyes, so they cut ties.

The Ravens want first right of refusal. Newsome sits down with the players and says, "Look, we think you should be allowed to go get what you're worth. Test the free agency waters. The only thing we ask is that you allow us to match any deal that you're offered, and we're going to assume that being a Raven is important to you and you'll sign if we match". The players love the Raven model. They either get paid big bucks to go elsewhere, or they resign with a team that has grown together over the years.

I'm not going to say which I prefer, it's not important to the context of the conversation. But all three of the models I listed look to achieve balance. So acquiring the players necessary is a big part of things, and they all have a plan. But once players are acquired, they still have to fit together.

There has been a ground swell of people who would like to see Chip Kelly take his high octane Oregon offense to D.C. and RG3. Here's the premise of that offense:

Speed kills. Extreme conditioning matters. Sacrifice size in the name of speed and out athlete the opposition

To be fair, Chip Kelly has a brilliant football mind and could probably run any number of systems, but a team who brought Kelly in would undoubtedly be hanging their hat on the hope that the "Duck" offense would make their team dangerous. And it's likely it would leave a lasting mark on the NFL for a period of time until other teams figure out the finer nuances. Speed can kill in the NFL, RG3 is a prime example. However, look at the Raiders. They always value "fast" players. They haven't fielded a competitve squad in quite some time.

In order to run the high octane "Duck" offense, teams would need to mold their roster to a high octane roster. Smaller, shiftier guys. Which means they'd have to build their defense, at least in part, to match that tempo. At a clinic a few years ago, Oregon's defensive line coach spoke and he said that the first few practices in Oregon he thought Kelly was crazy. The offense wants to run a play once every 15 seconds. He said the defense had to get smaller and more athletic to accomplish being able to defend them. Therein lies a problem... Do you mold your defense to give your offense a quality look in practice, which is invaluable to an offense... Or do you mold your defense to stop other NFL teams (which is the purpose of a defense, is it not?) at the expense of giving your offensive football team a good look. It's quite a trade off. But now your scout offense is also effected. Facing a bruising back this week? You likely don't have many guys who can play that "role" in practice because you have a team of LeMichael James and Varners.

That's part of the ecosystem. You must find balance. Both in what your opponents do and what you do. You must have a plan. You must execute trades and drafts and free agent signings. Draft day trades may look like they are born out of no where, but I'm willing to put money on the fact that those trades are spoken about weeks in advance. There always needs to be a plan, and everyone, including your own team must be constantly evaluated.

The director of pro personnel has a job to rank EVERY player in the league by position. Including his own. When free agency rolls around, if an upgrade is available, they know it. It's run in a similar fashion to a draft board. At the same time, the director of college scouting is compiling a list of pretty much every prospect, and who fits and who doesn't. They also have to try to find comparisons to current pros in order to figure out a ceiling or a floor. Then all of the information goes back to your GM, who has to compile it and make complex decisions all the while trying to plug holes, fill the team for the future, dealing with contract disputes, etc.

In season, teams aren't quick to sign free agents with no familiarity to the system. It's too hard to bring a guy in from another system in mid season and get them acclimated quickly enough. That's why you often see guys who were cut brought back. They have some familiarity. And occasionally you'll see guys brought in with a background in a similar system to what you run.

Now factor in having a coaching turnover in any way, on either side of the ball. You now have guys meant for one system trying to play in a new system that doesn't necessarily fit their strengths. Which means a learning curve and a building curve. That's why teams tend to stick with "tradition" when hiring new coaches. Pittsburgh has remained a 3-4 team for years, and Mike Tomlin was smart enough to resist the urge to change from a 3-4 team to the 4-3, which is what his background was in.

It's all part of the ecosystem. It's fragile. And the slightest change can throw a team into a catastrophic death cycle. I've read some, at least in my opinion, very good thoughts and analysis on matters from coaching changes, to scheme changes, to why a coach should be kept around or not. I've also read some fairly ill informed rhetoric compiled out of haste, which was the mistake of the early years in the Dan Snyder era.

Keep in mind how fragile a football ecosystem is :)
 

Goaldeje

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As always, excellent write up.

This is how I see things playing out. I figure replacing the Defensive Coordinator will not upset this ecosystem enough to outbalance the benefit we would get from a new coach. Therefore, I suspect Shanny will cal Haz. My guess (and that's all it is) is that Snyder is deeply unhappy with how this season has gone, and is wondering why the effing Colts are in the playoff hunt while his shiny new toy hasn't amounted to an improved record at all.

I would hypothesize that Snyder has made his displeasure to Shanny known on some level, and has told Shanny he needs to make changes.

Now, continuing the theme from the board this week, courtesy of Omni and others, if Shanahan promotes Slowik, I actually don't think most casual fans know enough about him to be upset. He isn't a name at all, and in that case given he is also (sort of) homegrown, many casual fans might be happy with that signing. Morris is also a possibility, given he is a bigger name.

Either of those moves will seal Shanny's fate, imo. At that point, we will be doomed to mediocre defenses, and it will just be a matter of time.

If, however, Shanny elects to do with KDawg and others have suggested, and actually interview candidates and try to find a good selection based on this ecosystem, there may be hope for the old guy yet.

I think right now there is a 99% chance Haz is gone this off season. Who Shanahan replaces him with will tell us a lot.
 

KDawg

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The Haslett thing really will show us if Shanahan is capable of leading us in the right direction or not. If he elects to keep him on board and show loyalty, that's great. As long as Haslett and the defense play better and pull their weight. If they don't, Shanahan has dug his own grave.

If he replaces Haslett and hires a guy who is innovative, intelligent and has a vision and allows that man to run the defense as they see fit with very little interference (I say very little because in reality the head coach has to oversee everything. That's their job. It needs to be that way) then he has seen the light and there is hope.
 

servumtuum

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While doing some digging around I came across a piece on ESPN written right after Shanahan was fired as the Broncos HC that contained a coule of interesting paragraphs about Shanahan and DCs.

In Denver, Shanahan ran everything and as things went downhill, he relieved defensive coordinators -- Greg Robinson, Ray Rhodes, Larry Coyer and Jim Bates -- in almost revolving-door fashion.

It's not clear how it contributed to his firing, but the Rocky Mountain News reported on Tuesday night that Bowlen asked Shanahan to make another change at defensive coordinator -- this time cutting loose Bob Slowik. Shanahan reportedly refused. He had said after Sunday's loss that he would not fire another defensive coordinator.

This year, as the defense floundered, it became obvious it wasn't just a coaching problem. It was an issue of talent on the field, and in Denver, the buck stopped with Shanahan.
Link to entire article: http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3800768

Granted, this doesn't make any sort of "prediction" or anything about what he's likely to do vis-à-vis Haslett but it seems he has gone through this scenario before and it turned out badly for him at the end so that may be a factor in trying to estimate what he might do here.

BTW, KDawg-excellent piece, I agree.
 

McD5

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Fear of disruption can't keep a team from seeing reality, or from moving forward. Continuity, under a flawed system, is never the correct answer. And sometimes, the fastest way forward is to acknowledge that you are way off course.

Shanahan is overseeing the worst defense in the last 50 years here. Think about that for a minute--50 years.

He had some of the worst drafts in history in the early-to-mid 2000s. He lost his last job because of his poor decisions.

What we're seeing right now isn't unusual for Shanny.....it's become his norm. And that's the problem. You don't embrace failure like that. You don't accept it. You don't sit back with the worst defense in the last 50 years, and act like things are okay, or that we are on the right track.

Unless you are going to totally strip him of the power to pick his own assistant coaches, you have to send him packing. This just isn't cutting it.
 

Rymanofthenorth

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"The Broncos' defense gave up 448 points, third worst in the NFL, including 112 during the three-game collapse at the end. It was ranked 29th in yards allowed and tied for last in the NFL with a minus-17 turnover margin."

wow sounds familiar. suddenly the thread I bumped looks even more amusing
 

KDawg

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Fear of disruption can't keep a team from seeing reality, or from moving forward. Continuity, under a flawed system, is never the correct answer. And sometimes, the fastest way forward is to acknowledge that you are way off course.

Shanahan is overseeing the worst defense in the last 50 years here. Think about that for a minute--50 years.

He had some of the worst drafts in history in the early-to-mid 2000s. He lost his last job because of his poor decisions.

What we're seeing right now isn't unusual for Shanny.....it's become his norm. And that's the problem. You don't embrace failure like that. You don't accept it. You don't sit back with the worst defense in the last 50 years, and act like things are okay, or that we are on the right track.

Unless you are going to totally strip him of the power to pick his own assistant coaches, you have to send him packing. This just isn't cutting it.

I think the overall tone of the OP and my general position is lost on you.

I don't support Haslett staying around, and keeping Shanahan around would be contingent on a couple of factors: 1) Replacing Haslett with a defensive coordinator with a plan and a vision and being able to run the scheme he feels is necessary to win football games, 2) Admitting his mistake with forcing the team into a defense that it wasn't ready to transition towards.

The message of the OP was never, "you can't do anything with Shanahan" but rather a message of how difficult it is to transition, and why the constant state of transition for the Redskins has been a major hurdle for achieving success. No one is given the opportunity to really build a team, because we upheave it for many years.

My contention wasn't necessarily that Shanahan is the guy that needs to start that consistency. It was we need to find it. I think Shanahan could be that guy, provided he follows through with finding a new defensive coordinator and he allows that defensive coordinator to pick his own staff (which would also mean Shanahan would have to be prepared to part with Slowik).
 

Goaldeje

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Well said KDawg. Therein may lie the rub. If Shanahan chooses a new D Coordinator, but doesn't allow him to pick his new staff, I think that tells us an awful lot about Shanahan. Plenty of good name coaches will probably not agree to terms here if that is the deal, which could leave us with Slowik as DC by default.

This off season will tell us a lot.
 

McD5

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I think the overall tone of the OP and my general position is lost on you.

).
With all due respect, and I mean this sincerely, nothing you just wrote is above me, or has been lost on me.

You didn't just shed light on the NFL to anyone reading this, nor did you take anyone by surprise.

I enjoyed the piece. You obviously put some time into it. It's a coming-of-age piece for you, and it shows some maturity. I applaud that. It may br the best thing I have ever seen from you. With that said.......

I currently manage 143 people. I hire them. I fire them. The Redskins are no different than any other operating business.

I know you are enamored by the NFL.....we all are. But tough business decisions are made everyday, all across the country. The NFL is no different.

You believe that we should castrate Shanahan, and that maybe he will perform. I believe that he has a track record of poor decisions and terrible defense....and that it won't be corrected within two years.

Honestly, I'd rather hire you than Haslett right now. With you, I at least believe that you would study the best systems, and would implement them within three years.

No argument here my friend, please save that nonsense for the other site.
 

KDawg

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I didn't say the concepts were lost on you, I said the pointin conjunction with how I feel about the situation was.

I never take shots at people, and that wasn't my intent.
 

McD5

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I didn't say the concepts were lost on you, I said the point was.

I never take shots at people, and that wasn't my intent.
My apologies then. I feel like you have taken an unnecessary shot or two at me in the past, and honestly for no reason.

Here is the bottom line. Shanny isn't great at defense. Now I'm not carrying a pitchfork; I'm just a businessman, and a rabid Skins fan like you.:cheers:

I call him into the office tomorrow. I express my concerns. If he supports the defensive staff without any realistic, tangible reason, then he is done.

Shanny is being paid 7 million a season?

7 mill/52 weeks is $134,000 a week. Now put yourself into Dan's shoes. The worst defense in 50 years?

Do you really believe he is worth $134,000 this week, and every other week?

Personally, I believe you show more humility, intelligence, and a willingness to learn.

No knee-jerk reaction here, my friend.

I've seen enough. That's just my opinion...I understand others feel differently.
 

KDawg

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My apologies then. I feel like you have taken an unnecessary shot or two at me in the past, and honestly for no reason.
I doubt it. It's not the way I do things.

Here is the bottom line. Shanny isn't great at defense. Now I'm not carrying a pitchfork
Wouldn't blame you if you were ;)

Do you really believe he is worth $134,000 this week, and every other week?
No. Right now I don't think he's worth $20/hr :chug3:
 

McD5

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:cheers: Carry on. I apologize if we had a lack of communication.

And it's good to see you here.
 

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