A Little Perspective On Fans & Coaches
The above lecture delivered by then New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora is among my all-time favorite sports rants, many of which also feature Mora. Was it a self-serving way of defending himself against his critics? Of course it was. But there’s also a fundamental element of truth in it that underscores the divergent points of view when it comes to the way fans and coaches respectively perceive their teams.
I’m reminded of Mora’s tirade every time I see the ‘Fire-the-Coach’ tribe emerge from its cave. I particularly thought of it this week in the wake of Green Bay’s disappointing playoff loss in San Francisco. The Packers’ dismal performance against 49ers’ irrepressible young quarterback Colin Kaepernick had many fans calling for the head of Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers on a silver platter.
It’s not difficult to fathom why people were so disgusted, of course. Green Bay certainly appeared to get caught with its pants down the way they were hemorrhaging yards against the 49ers ‘read option’ attack. Post-game comments from Charles Woodson and B.J. Raji also served to fuel the angst. That combination was enough to inspire the proverbial torch & pitchfork mob to demand the immediate dismissal of Capers along with the scrapping of the 3-4 defensive concept. Some even seemed to take issue with head coach Mike McCarthy that he didn’t show up at his season-ending press conference to announce Capers’ firing.
We, as sports fans, tend to be reactionary, responding to the most recent stimulus. Given their passion, Packers’ fans in particular can be prone to this condition. We all have preconceived notions about coaches or players and are inclined to give more weight to factors that support those ideas. Too often we make the assumption that teams can simply snap their fingers and correct whatever defects seem to be apparent at the time. I can even think of a couple of franchise owners that operate their teams in a similar fantasy football-like fashion.
Things can get a little more complicated in the real world. Coaches and administrators have to take into account aspects to which fans generally aren’t privy. They have to balance things such as salary-cap ramifications; not only who is available but ‘when’, and not just how a player fits into a scheme but also a locker room. Even once they identify what needs to be done, there may be mitigating circumstances that prevent them from doing so, which means that they’re sometimes left to make the best of a bad situation. It can be instructive to remember that there are 32 teams in the National Football League competing with each other, both on and off the field, to accomplish the same goal.
With regard to the Packers, McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson have to look at the bigger picture. The Packers went from dead last in virtually every statistical defensive category in 2011 to 11th in the league in both total and scoring defense in 2012, despite playing a number of rookies and being down to their 3rd and even 4th options at certain positions due to injuries. That’s a significant improvement that has to be factored into any discussion about Capers’ future in Green Bay. Even against San Francisco, which had all hands on deck, they remained in the game into the 3rd quarter even though the defense had been on the field for most of the first half partly because of turnovers on offense and special teams. It seems to me that the Packers’ problems on defense are at least as much a matter of personnel as they are of the defensive scheme. As such, fans’ ire would more accurately be directed at Thompson than at Capers.
The roster of a pro football team is always a fluid thing. The Packers clearly have needs to address on both sides of the ball. It would be naive to think that Thompson and McCarthy aren’t more acutely aware of the Packers’ deficiencies than even the most engaged of fans. Their jobs, rather than just our entertainment, ultimately depend on it. But it would be imprudent to make wholesale changes largely based on a few games against a particular team or teams. That’s an emotional luxury that professionals can’t afford. Change just for change’s sake is counterproductive; changes mostly to appease a fan base are even worse. The predominant reason the Packers have been successful for the last two decades is precisely that their administration doesn’t think and, more importantly, make decisions as fans.
The NFL, now more than ever, is set up to prevent dynasties. In any given year, a team has to rely on a certain amount of good fortune in the way of health and schedule to ascend to a championship. Keep in mind that San Francisco had to struggle for a number of years just to put themselves in the position that they’re in. And if they lose today or even in two weeks, chances are their fans will be just as frustrated as we are right now. At the end of the season, only one team walks away happy. Personally, I would rather root for for a team like the Packers that has a puncher’s chance every year than sell out for a title that may never come to fruition.