A Roll of the Dice

They say that when change comes to an organization, "all bets are off the table." What we are seeing in Kansas City is not only are all bets off the table, convention is, also.

This seems to be a trend around the National Football League. Lately, owners have rolled the dice in head coach selection, picking first-time head coaches. Some teams have had extremely good luck in making that choice, and others not so much. One person who believes in that idea is Bill Parcells.

When Parcells took over as Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Miami Dolphins, he hired Tony Sparano as head coach. Sparano's only previous head coaching experience came at the University of New Haven, from 1994 to 1998. He came into the league with the Cleveland Browns in 1999 and in 2003 was hired by Parcells as an offensive assistant with the Dallas Cowboys.

We know the Dolphins won their division last year, finishing 11-5 and losing their first playoff game. This was after a 1-15 season in 2007 with Cam Cameron as head coach. One year turnarounds are extremely rare, but not unprecedented. However, both Sparano and Cameron had been offensive assistants/coordinators prior to becoming head coaches, and both had success, so it's difficult to figure why one was successful and the other wasn't.

The difference may have come with the front office and ownership. Wayne Huizenga hired a more effective football man to take charge of operations (Parcells), who, in turn, went back to his relationships and hired people he knew and was comfortable working with (Sparano). The result was obvious.

The opposite was true for the Detroit Lions recently. Former general manager Matt Millen hired Rod Marinelli, a career defensive assistant, as head coach of the Lions in 2006. After winning just 10 games in three years, Millen and Marinelli were both dumped. In this instance it's easy to see the front office was the main issue.

Weak leadership and ineffective decision making can easily be pointed to as the reason the Lions fell so low. Ownership needed to be involved and engaged. While there was some improvement in year two of Marinelli's tenure, the execution of the plan, if there was one, probably wasn't properly evaluated. Talent at all levels has to be identified and then developed as almost a natural resource in order to nail down the winning formula. Without effective support and the necessary tools to make the team better, the result becomes a spectacle.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, didn't suffer from as profound a leadership vacuum as the Lions did. Instead, leadership had lost touch with the fans and the game. I believe Herm Edwards did as much as he was capable of doing, but I'm not sure Herm had all the answers either. The assistant coaches, especially on the defensive side of the ball, (particularly Gunther Cunningham) relied too heavily on antiquated and ineffective defensive schemes. The Chiefs didn't have the correct personnel to execute the "Tampa Two" zone defense. The line was porous and non-penetrating, and the linebackers were also generally ineffective. A sporadic secondary was the only relative bright spot. With all that taken into consideration, who was at fault?

That's the leadership issue. If you are good at diagnosing game plans and adjusting personnel and schemes on the fly, you will usually have success. Coaches with that ability either in assistant positions or head coaching positions are coveted league-wide. Realistically, once those precious few were snapped up, they typically enjoyed long term success and were well paid for it, in the old style of NFL thinking.

Apparently one or two seasons of success now qualifies you for head coaching positions. It used to be that you had to really prove yourself as an assistant, but all of this ties to the Bill Parcells coaching and management tree. Most of the individuals who have had recent success as either head coaches or assistants have all blossomed from branches of the Parcells tree. This is the root of some of the decisions being made by ownership across the NFL. Parcells has developed an amazing coaching pedigree. He produced multiple championships and his coaching progeny have followed suit.

This all hopefully bodes well for the Kansas City Chiefs. We know Scott Pioli is Parcells' son-in-law. We know that Todd Haley was on Parcells' Dallas staff and was with Pioli at the Jets. We're also pretty sure that Pioli has picked Parcells' brain for some excellent advice, with any luck. We're confident a good bit of Parcells has rubbed off on Haley. We also know that a good bit of Bill Belichick has rubbed off on Scott Pioli.

To be sure that we have a good grasp on the intent of the football administration at One Arrowhead Drive, we'll have to continually evaluate the decisions and direction that we can determine with the limited information being divulged. I'm not a betting man, but I can definitely tell when poker is being played. Will the gamble pay off?

The results will be evident come August and September.

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