Aside from Stevie Wonder, I’m not easily impressed by anyone. Tonight I was impressed. I was impressed by a guy who I already respected as one of the smarter men in football, but I did not anticipate that I would hear from him as many statements that I consider unequivocally correct as I ultimately did. I am pleased to know that Clark Hunt has considered this individual for the vacant GM spot in Kansas City, but unfortunately he does not appear to be the frontrunner.
I am speaking of Floyd Reese. Floyd gave an interview on ESPN Radio tonight concerning the playoffs and the state of the NFL in general. He thoughtfully, intelligently, and even cleverly gave his opinions on everything from Plaxico Burress to play clocks, and not once did he say anything I could disagree with to any degree.
That, along with the suggestion of a friend, got me to thinking about what I would ask Floyd Reese or Scott Pioli if I had the chance to pick either man’s brain for 30 minutes. I’m not going to get that opportunity any time soon, so here are the seven questions I hope Clark Hunt is asking, along with the answers I hope he’s receiving:
QUESTION: Do you believe a team’s long term success is predicated more by their drafts or by free agency, and how does that inform your balance between the two?
CORRECT ANSWER: A team that does not draft well may experience short term success, but long term success is predicated mostly through the draft. Younger players are hungrier, more coachable, and more willing to put forth additional effort to ensure they’ll still be playing the following week. Letting a team get old or intentionally stocking up on high demand veterans will bloat the payroll, which leads to salary cap hell. Furthermore, there are very few bargains in free agency–players tend to get their fair worth (or more). Teams that get old are also more prone to retirement en masse as well as an increased propensity for injury, and they often find when the starters disappear that the cupboard is bare.
Having said that, while the core of a team should be built through the draft, eschewing the upper echelon of the free agent pool is a dire mistake. Young teams need proven playmakers as well as veteran leadership. Even good young players are often not clutch players, and a team without clutch playmakers will consistently lose tough games, particularly the ones in January.
A big part of that equation is keeping key players in house. When a team’s best young players are allowed to walk after their rookie contracts expire, the tone that is established is that the team’s management is not committed to long term success. It also demonstrates to other young players (as well as incoming vets) that loyalty is not at a premium in the franchise, and the degree of loyalty a player perceives will be reflected in the loyalty that player shows the team.
QUESTION: What is your response to a player whose extracurricular activities prove to be a distraction, or who demonstrates a propensity for getting in trouble with the law?
CORRECT ANSWER: Football players are given a large sum of money at a point in their lives when they are least likely to be able to handle it correctly. Mistakes are bound to be made, and some degree of leniency should be shown depending on the nature of the incident. Those who find themselves unable to conform to acceptable standards of behavior, however, should find themselves facing substantial fines, suspensions, restructuring of contracts to include behavior and/or performance clauses, and outright termination. Regardless of physical prowess, having a cancer in the locker room will demoralize the team and lessen their ability to perform to their full potential.
QUESTION: Is it necessary for an incoming GM and head coach to rebuild the roster and send away most of the previous regime’s players?
CORRECT ANSWER: Absolutely not. If a player is performing to a high level, it should not matter who brought him in. Eliminating players simply because they’re not your players is a surefire way to kill chemistry, and once that environment is created it’s hard to convince any player that his job is safe.
QUESTION: How are football games won?
CORRECT ANSWER: In the trenches. A team that yields sacks and stuffs the run on defense while preventing sacks and stuffs on offense will win more games than they lose. Teams with exceptional linemen on both sides of the ball can survive and even thrive with average skill position players. The reverse is seldom true.
QUESTION: Should a playbook be designed around players or vice versa?
CORRECT ANSWER: Both. When drafting players or pursuing veterans it pays to target players whose skill sets complement the current scheme. By the same token, it’s important to design the actual playbook around the strengths of the individual players. This also applies to key backups as well as injury replacements–designing plays to demonstrate their strengths as well as compensate for their weaknesses is paramount. Expecting a player to be able to execute the same plays with the same degree of success as another player of the same position for whom the play was designed isn’t likely to yield positive results. Fit the players to the scheme, but also fit the playbook to the players.
QUESTION: Is breaking the bank to make a one or two-year run at a championship a good idea?
CORRECT ANSWER: Never. It doesn’t work.
QUESTION: When is it time to part ways with a coach?
CORRECT ANSWER: After two consecutive losing seasons, unless those seasons follow several winning seasons and the team is in a natural rebuilding state. Alternatively, after any season with fewer than four wins. Even bad teams should have at least 4-6 wins if properly coached. Also, if the team consistently makes it to the playoffs but cannot win playoff games.
Most importantly, however, is this: it’s time to part ways with a coach if he has lost the confidence of the players and can no longer inspire them to give their best effort. It takes far too long to replenish a locker room of nonbelievers, and even as the nonbelievers are being replaced, their incoming replacements will likely be swayed to the same belief by others who remain. A team that does not believe is a team that does not achieve.
So there you are, Clark. Ask these questions and take the guy that answers them closest to this. As long as he doesn’t toss around terms like Hooter’s waitress, plausible deniability, or Dick Jauron, that’s your man. Give him a blank check and let him right this ship before it sinks.