NFL

Ranking the NFL Coaches: Gary Kubiak and Long Coaching Tenures Without Trips to the Playoffs

My ranking of Gary Kubiak has garnered some criticism (screen grab from this chat after the jump), which is cool and all. I just happen to believe that coaches get a certain amount of time, and if they don’t have a breakthrough to the playoffs, it’s probably not happening long term. That doesn’t mean that the Texans can’t make the playoffs this year (of course they can, they have a very good offense) but I don’t see them getting where they want to ultimately go with Kubiak.

I’ve seen him make conservative decisions with an offensively skewed team that struggles on defense, the exact type of team that screams for aggressive decision-making at the end. I had already criticized him before for his bizarre decision at the end of a game. He also lucked out last year in the game at Washington that had over 900 passing yards and where defenses couldn’t stop anyone, when he chose to punt in overtime from Redskins’ territory. I mean that was a ludicrous decision that ended up working out when his defense predictably let the Redskins march the field but they missed the field goal. Sorry, you can’t coach my team if you get strikes like that against you.

But anyway, I put him where I did because not only do I think he’s way too conservative and lacks that killer instinct that you see with the great ones, but also because of the bottom line: he’s gone five years and no playoffs. I don’t get the criticism that I must put unknown coaches below him. Let’s see if I can put this in clear terms: I think he should have been fired.

Erego, I would take other unknown coaches ahead of him. What’s the difference between Pat Shurmur and Gary Kubiak? Shurmur is as hot an offensive coordinator coaching prospect as Kubiak was five years ago, except he hasn’t gone five years without any playoffs. Sometimes, the unknown is better than the known, if the known is established as mediocre. Most owners agree with that position, because it’s rare for a team to go more than four years without a playoff appearance with the same head coach. And very few of those coaches go on to do anything ever again as a head coach. When an owner fires an existing head coach who has not made the playoffs with someone who has never coached but is a promising coordinator, they are ranking the unproven guy ahead of the “proven” guy, just like I did.

How rare is it for a coach like Kubiak to be given a sixth season without ever reaching the playoffs? Only four other coaches since the merger have been allowed to come back for a sixth season after going five seasons without a playoff appearance. In chronological order:

  • Norm Van Brocklin (Atlanta, 1969-1974)– Van Brocklin took over for a relatively young Atlanta expansion team that was terrible. By year five of his tenure, he was showing signs of progress as the team went 9-5. They fell apart the next year, getting off to a 2-6 start, and Van Brocklin was fired after 8 games.
  • Bart Starr (Green Bay, 1975-1983)–Needless to say, Starr got the benefit of the doubt because he was a legend. He had only one winning season in his first five (8-7-1) and won 5 games in his fifth and sixth season. He made his only playoff appearance in 1982, in the strike-shortened season, and was fired after 9 seasons and 1 playoff appearance.
  • Jack Patera (Seattle, 1976-1982)– Patera was the initial coach for the expansion Seattle Seahawks. Seattle won 9 games in both the third and fourth years, but dropped to 4-12 in year 5. Patera went 6-10 in his sixth year, then started 0-2 in 1982 and the players went on strike, Patera was fired before they returned. The organization made its first ever playoff the next year in Chuck Knox’ first season.
  • Norv Turner (Washington, 1994-2000)– Turner had a winning record in years three and four before dropping to 6-10. Turner made the playoffs in year six, losing to Tampa in the semifinals. He was fired after 13 games in year seven.

I’m not exactly shaking in my boots that Kubiak is the next Bill Belichick or that he’s likely to be coaching longer than most others on that list.

[photo via Getty]

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