Talks of Mike Shanahan coming to Washington circulated as soon as he was fired in Denver. Since Shanahan wanted to take the year off, Zorn was brought back clearly in lame-duck status. Now Zorn has been put out of his misery as he has been dangling in the wind, knowing his fate would be decided at the end of the season. However, the fundamental question still prevails, how come so many teams make mistakes in hiring coaches? What separates the successful coach from the unsuccessful one? Is there a common trait?
In 1996, I was commissioned to do a research project for a team in the league. I was to help that team formulate a criteria based on characteristics that I determined were essential to a successful coach. This ended up being the best project I was ever involved with in my career, even though the promise of being paid for the job never materialized (yes, I got stiffed), the work itself was more meaningful than the pay.
What I learned then, and still believe, holds true today: That a coach is a leader first and foremost, not a schemer, or a play designer, but a leader.
Oftentimes, teams are looking for a play-caller, or a defensive designer, but fail to understand the qualities needed to be a successful leader. Yes, most coaches have been in a leadership position before ascending to the head chair, but being a coordinator means being a manager and there is a huge difference between managing and leading. As Warren Bennis, the famous management guru, once said, "Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right."
Successful leaders must be able to have a comprehensive plan for the entire organization. They must be able to express that plan clearly and concisely. They must be able to build trust with the players. Finally, they must be able to admit a mistake, and be self-critical.
Every successful coach has been very good in at least three of the four areas. Anything less and failure will surely follow. So, if it is this simple, then why do so many teams make mistakes? As George Allen once said, "Evaluate the evaluator." The people doing the interviews are not always in tune to the ideas of leadership.
Zorn is a wonderful man, but when you examine his characteristics as it relates to leadership, he's more of a manager than a leader. Had Snyder understood the four principles, he would have never made this hire, but few in the league value leadership as a trait. Too many are looking for just a play-caller. So don't be surprised if some of the new hires are not up to the leadership challenge needed to succeed.
» Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson had a game for the ages as he proved to be Kyle Orton's favorite target Sunday, returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Along with running back Jamaal Charles and his record-breaking day for the team, they single-handily eliminated the Broncos from the playoffs.
NFC Fear Factor
» The Dallas Cowboys have saved their best all-around football for December and January this year. On Sunday, they registered their second straight shutout, this time against a very good Eagles offense. As is the case in the league, the next game after a win is always the most important. This week, the rematch with Philadelphia matters most.
» Where has Willis McGahee been all year? Yes, I know he has scored 14 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns, but his overall effort Sunday was outstanding and the Ravens needed every yard to beat the feisty Raiders. Baltimore has two backs who have averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry, which is amazing.
The Sunday funnies
» The New York Giants started the season 5-0 and ended the season dropping three of their last four games, allowing more than 40 points in each of those losses. There will be many changes happening in New York, some in coaching and some in player personnel. The Giants turned out to be too slow on defense to slow anyone down.
» All the talk in Denver this week will center on Brandon Marshall and what will happen to him this offseason. In reality, the collapse of the Broncos had more to do with their inability to defend the run, allowing 663 yards on the ground in their final three games. How can you win any game when you cannot stop the run?
» How bad are the Rams? They only scored 16 points in the first quarter all season and now hold the first pick in the draft. It will take more than two years to restock the talent base in St. Louis.
» Things are not happy down in Jacksonville, and the Jags' four-game losing streak to close out the season will not make anyone happier. Coach Jack Del Rio may have job security now, but he is officially on the hot seat for 2010. It might warm up in a few weeks, or it might be hot all offseason.
On the lookout
We know that Shanahan is a lock to be the Redskins' coach in 2010, but who will be the next wave of coaches?
Buffalo Bills: To me, the one name that makes the most sense is Brian Schottenheimer, the current offensive coordinator of the New York Jets and son of former Bills player Marty Schottenheimer. Marty and new Bills general manger Buddy Nix have a great relationship, which will help get Brian an interview. His work with the Jets might get him the job.
Cleveland Browns: The Browns almost surely will make a move with Eric Mangini now that Mike Holmgren is fully in charge of the football operations in Cleveland. It is very safe to assume that the next coach of the Browns will have ties to the West Coast offense and have a prior relationship with Holmgren. Marty Mornhinweg, the former Lions coach and current offensive coordinator of the Eagles, might be on that list of potential candidates.
Oakland Raiders: There is buzz going around NFL circles that Tom Cable will not be back as coach. Owner Al Davis normally takes a long time to make any decision, but if he opts to fire Cable, look for Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and former Giants coach Jim Fassel to be the two leading candidates.
Three-step dots ...
» The Rams own the top pick for the first time since the 1963 draft (when the team made Terry Baker the No. 1 overall choice). There might be some action from teams below trying to trade up to get Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh is the consensus choice to be the first pick, and his talent does match the price it will cost to take him there. ...
» Speaking of Pittsburgh, have you noticed that James Harrison has not been the same player all season? He finished with 10 sacks, but does not seem to cause as much pressure as he has in the past. He will be 32 in May. ...