Being a Skins fan in the DMV, I’ve gotten to see the whole Donovan McNabb/Mike and Kyle Shanahan beef up close and personal all season. And what I see is the latest incarnation of a unique species of coach: Offensivus Intellectious Superior, otherwise known as the offensive genius. The species of coach is not unique to the NFL, but tends to do a lot more damage there (NBA coach Don Nelson, for all his crazy four swingmen and a point guard wackiness, has not given away championship or ruined careers like his NFL counterparts). Broken quarterbacks and squandered victories (some in championship situations) are left in their wake, along with confused fans and mockery from the local media. If your favorite team hires a member of this species of coach, you can do one of two things: 1) panic, or 2) hope for the best. That’s about it, really.
So how does a coach evolve into an offensive genius? There are a few easy steps. First, you have to create your Awesome Unstoppable Offense, capable of dropping 35 points at will (provided you have the right personnel). Just about every Awesome Unstoppable Offense consists of some wacky mix of multiple receiver sets and downfield routes. The running game, while not always ignored, is usually an after thought. Running is what you do in between Awesome Unstoppable passing plays. And sometimes it’s not even that; many running plays consist of short passes or screen passes to wide receivers. You never hear about anybody’s Awesome Unstoppable Rushing Offense. Why? Because running the ball is no fun.
Once you’ve created your Awesome Unstoppable Offense, the next step is to successfully implement it. This usually happens by getting a gig as an assistant coach on a team stacked with great players, or as a college head coach. Great NFL players can often make any system look good, so your system will look like the best thing ever in the hands of Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow or Joe Montana and Jerry Rice or Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk or John Elway and Terrell Davis. The numbers will pile up, as will the victories and maybe even some championships. And you will get a lot of the credit for coming up with your Awesome Unstoppable Offense that featured these guys. In college, wacky offenses can work wonders because the defense aren’t as well stocked with big, smart, fast guys as their NFL counterparts. (Try running the wishbone against an NFL defense). Even highly touted college defenses don’t have more than a few guys who are expected to go to the NFL, so your Awesome Offense can do it big against almost anybody.
Once you’ve done these two things, the next thing you do is cultivate and bask in the media attention. You will be hailed as the creator of the next big thing, the innovator of offense, and the guy to watch over the next few years. Rumors will pop up left and right about you moving up to be either the offensive coordinator somewhere (if you’re not one already), or as a head coach. Then when your market value is highest, or when you think your Hall of Famers are about to start falling off, you pounce. You find a bad team that you can build from scratch or a so-so team that you think you can work with…..yeah right, you pick the highest bidder and tell them what they want to hear. Then you can come in and work your magic! Of course, you won’t be working with Hall of Fame guys anymore, or with a built in advantage over college defensive players. Which means you’ll get some moments of high production but a whole lot of sucking. Which leads to our next step.
When things don’t work, you blame the players, often through leaks to the media about how stupid and/or lazy they are. You make vague comments about needing to improve your overall talent level, or about guys needing to step up their performance. And if you’ve stayed in good graces in the media, they’ll back you up completely. There will be stories written about how you just need the players to run your system. Of course if you’re prickly with them, they’ll trash you all day long and call you an egomanical tyrant. Either way you eventually get fired. So you sit out a for a year or so, until the phone rings with a call from an embattled head coach of a team that has trouble scoring, or an athletic director in trouble with his schools boosters/alumni. They beg you to come in and fix their offense, or take over their school’s team. You say yes, and the comeback begins.
The names change but the story doesn’t. Mike Martz, Al Saunders, June Jones, Steve Spurrier, and now the Shanahans.