Maybe it is Sam Rutigliano's fault, but it seems that every coach gets too conservative when playoff games are on the line.
In 1980, Rutigliano chose to go for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in frozen Cleveland Municipal Stadium, in what we lovingly refer to as ‘Red Right 88'. Mike Davis intercepted the pass in the end zone, and we will never know if Don Cockroft would have been able to kick the short field goal under terrible conditions.
Several years later, after Sam was fired, he was asked what advice he would give his successor, Marty Schottenheimer. Sam replied, ‘Kick the field goal'.
Unfortunately for Marty, he continued to heed that advice as recently as a couple of weeks ago, when he played for a long field goal by a rookie kicker---and he couldn't close the deal. And it carried on to current Pittsburgh Steeler coach Bill Cowher, who played on that 1980 team. Cowher was faced with a fourth and goal at the New England 2 yard line on Sunday, early in the fourth quarter with his team down by 14 points. Against the great New England defense, he chose to go for the easy field goal, to bring his team within eleven points. This was a fatal mistake for the Steelers.
To follow Cowher's logic, a lot of things would have to happen for his team to pull off the win at home. Let's begin by giving the upside to going for the touchdown. If they score, they are just seven points behind, meaning a touchdown would tie the game. Even if the Patriots scored sometime in the rest of the game, the Steelers would have to score two more times, which is what Cowher was asking them to do anyway, by kicking a field goal. And if they don't score, New England gets the ball on the two, and even without creating a turnover, the Steelers should get the ball back near mid-field, still down by two scores.
For Cowher's strategy to work, the Steelers would have to prevent New England from scoring in the remaining 12 minutes of the game. In addition, the Steelers would have to score two TDs to win the game, or, more likely, score a field goal and a TD plus a two-point conversion (from the 2 yard line, which scared Cowher off in the first place) just to tie the game.
Going with Cowher's logic, for Pittsburgh to win based on the situation at the beginning of the fourth quarter, they would have to do the following: Connect on that field goal on fourth and two; prevent New England from scoring in any way the rest of the game; score another field goal and touchdown, with a 2-point conversion to tie; and then score first in Overtime. All of those things were not going to happen.
By going for a touchdown from the two yard line, they would only have to score a touchdown to take it to overtime, or a TD and field goal to win in regulation.
Cowher hasn't taken enough heat for that decision, but it ranks right up there with the prevent defense that the Browns tried to use during Denver's Drive.
He should be secure enough in his job to go ‘against the book' in a situation like that. Playing against a Bill Belichick-coached team, on the brink of its third Super Bowl title in three years, is not covered in the book, and Cowher should have known that.
With the Browns obviously waiting until the Super Bowl is over before announcing the hiring of Romeo Crennel as head coach, there has been plenty of time to think about it.
Most of you would agree that there won't be dancing in the streets no matter who would have been hired, unlike the almost unanimous approval of the hiring of Butch Davis in 2001.
In a year when only three coaching vacancies existed (Cleveland, San Francisco and Miami), Nick Saban was able to take advantage of a short list of potential qualified candidates.
It is interesting to note that none of the three head coaching appointees had previous NFL head coaching experience. That doesn't mean the ‘old boy network' is dead. It will probably rear its ugly head again next year, when several veteran coaches, who were on the hot seat this year, will probably be released from their jobs.
Next year I expect more than three openings, and they more than likely will be filled from the ranks of previous head coaches, as the pickings, at least this year, from the assistant coaching pool, are rather thin.