Do you remember the words to Chubby Checker’s Limbo Rock? “How low can you go?” New General Manager Scott Pioli has Chiefs fans wondering exactly that. They’re left heartbroken each time another team hires a new coach or coordinator, as if each of those guys was the last decent candidate on earth for whatever position he was hired into.
It doesn’t matter that the names they’re lamenting are names wholly unfamiliar to most of them only a month ago. These guys weren’t on most fans’ short lists. They weren’t even on the long lists. They weren’t on any list at all. I’ll buy that a fair number of fans knew of Rex Ryan before this postseason largely due to his bloodline, which is NFL royalty. Some might even know Jim Schwartz as the guy who loaned us Gunther Cunningham for five years. But if an average fan were to say to me they knew the name ‘Steve Spagnuolo’ prior to this December, I’d call bullshit. Most of us (myself included) just don’t occupy a lot of mental space with the names of coordinators, assistants, and position coaches for the other 31 teams.
Case in point: Who was Baltimore’s offensive line coach this year? I don’t know, but I’ll bet he was good. Who was Detroit’s defensive coordinator this year? I don’t know, but I’ll bet he was pretty bad.
(Actually I’m lying–Baltimore’s OL coach is KC’s old OL coach, John Matsko. He mentored Willie Roaf, Adam Timmerman, Kyle Turley, Tony Boselli, Roman Oben, and Scott Gragg early in their respective careers, but wasn’t worth keeping around here.)
No, the short list for fans as a whole was like this: Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer, and Not Herm Edwards. The list was dictated entirely by the names we fans already know. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but there’s a lesson to be learned: not getting one particular coach or player to come here isn’t the end of the world. There are plenty of other guys who want the job, including me. How low can you go?
So all of that got me thinking about how prospective coaches come into the spotlight. I’ve broken it down into six types of candidates:
1. The Retired Genius: Their names are brought up as early as midseason if the team is doing very poorly. Their demands are unreasonable (escape clauses, one-year waitlist, etc.) but they know how to coach better than just about anybody. A few years of separation from the game has given them a fresh perspective, and when they come back for seconds they’re an even bigger force to be reckoned with. Examples: Bill Parcells, Bill Cowher.
2. The Hidden Coordinator: Coordinators who aren’t household names, but have been quietly running successful operations for years, sometimes decades. They start getting looks around the end of December/beginning of January, depending on how much exposure their current team gets in the playoffs. Nobody knows their names, but everyone claims they do. Examples: Mike Tomlin, Ken Whisenhunt.
3. The Redeemed Hero: Guys who have been out of the game so long that many fans have forgotten their missteps and transgressions. Most attract a vocal minority who remember more of the bad than the good, and want desparately to tell you just how bad it really was when ______ was in ______ back in ______ . Examples: pre-Washington Marty Schottenheimer, pre-St. Louis Dick Vermeil.
4. The Redemptive Hero: Guys who are working to rebuild a recently tarnished reputation. Usually spoken of as a last resort when all else has failed. Example: Dick Jauron, whose penance for screwing up is to be moved to a colder city with harsher winters. Unfortunately for Dick, we don’t have a franchise in Wasilla just yet; ergo, Buffalo is the end of the line.
5. College All-Stars. Their names get tossed around early too, but most are dismissed as lacking the tools to translate to the NFL. Again, they can serve as a last resort. Or a carefully calculated risk. Examples: Nick Saban, Bob Stoops.
6. Pete Carroll. Examples: Pete Carroll.
So when I hear from fans that we’re doomed because we didn’t land Spagnuolo, Schwartz, or Ryan, I have a hard time going along with the premise. To date, there has not been a football team in the modern era that could not field a full complement of coaches and players due to lack of interest. Contrary to popular belief, those three weren’t our only options. Todd Haley (a classic Hidden Coordinator–don’t bother trying to tell me you already knew about him) is the flavor of the week, and after the Super Bowl there might be another.
I don’t have an insider source at Arrowhead, but my gut feeling is this: Scott Pioli plans to have a head coach next year. I know that’s going out on the limb, but I really think that, given his career thus far, he probably thinks it’s important to have a head coach. Again, I don’t have an inside source, but my gut tells me that the new head coach will probably be a guy. He’ll probably have somewhere between 1 and 40 years experience. Pioli will likely give him an office, and in that office there’ll probably be a paper shredder with a quarter-full basket containing the entirety of the Herm Edwards offensive playbook. That extra room could come in handy though, just in case the new coach comes across an old Greg Robinson blitz scheme.