Players, not coaches, win games

As Ted Thompson continues his search for a new coach in Green Bay, Steve Lawrence makes a case for how a new coach here, or with any team for that matter, is not as important as you might think.

Who's going to replace Mike Sherman? Who knows, and, really, what does it matter?

Aside from air-traffic controller at the South Pole, is there a more overrated job than professional football coach?

Sure, Vince Lombardi is a legend. Bill Parcells has taken two franchises to Super Bowls. Bill Belichick, by golly, not only can walk on water, but he can do it while wearing a gnarly old sweatshirt.

Coaches like Lombardi and Parcells, however, are the exceptions rather than the rules.

This just in: Players win games. Coaches can help, but it's up to the players. If you don't have players, you don't win games, regardless of whether your coach is Belichick or Bela Lugosi.

Want proof?

How about Mike Tice? The Vikings fired Tice last week. Yes, Tice's coaching acumen has been a matter of some, well, OK, lots of debate. Packers fans would prefer Tice coached the Vikings forever. But with Randy Moss deported to Oakland, Daunte Culpepper out for the season with a devastating knee injury and one sultry scandal, Tice raised the Vikings from the abyss and kept them in playoff contention until the final week of the season. Heck, Tice was mentioned as a coach-of-the-year candidate until the Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention.

Need more proof?

How about Mike Shanahan? He was nearly promoted to sainthood while guiding John Elway and the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowl wins. Then the Broncos stumbled, and Shanahan started this season on the hot seat. Well, lookie here. The Broncos finished 13-3 and loom as major Super Bowl contenders.

Heck, look at Belichick. Here's a guy who got run out of Cleveland after going 36-44 in five seasons. Suddenly, after returning to Parcells' staff with the New York Jets, Belichick got smart. He's 63-33 in six seasons in New England, and that's not including a 9-0 postseason record heading into this weekend's games.

The list goes on and on. Mike Martz was a genius in St. Louis when the Rams were winning. Now, he's looking for work.

George Seifert left San Francisco as the coach with the highest winning percentage in NFL history. He went to Carolina and lost a bunch of games.

Jon Gruden was a good coach in Oakland and a genius in winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers stunk up the league for a couple years and, like Shanahan, he started this season on the hot seat. Gruden got smart again, however, as he led the Bucs to the NFC South title.

Anyone think Andy Reid suddenly got stupid in Philadelphia?

Is Steve Mariucci an idiot after bombing in Detroit?

Stripped of his personnel duties, did Mike Holmgren use that extra free time to draw superior X's and O's to lead Seattle to a 13-3 record?

For the ultimate example, how about Joe Paterno at Penn State? Paterno was a coaching legend who many Penn State fans wanted to see fired after the Nittany Lions stumbled on hard times. Paterno was too old, they said. The game had passed him by. Well, if not for a last-second loss at Michigan, Penn State would have finished the regular season with an 11-0 record, and the BCS would have become a BCMess again.

Which, finally, leads us to Sherman. In his first five seasons, he had amassed a staggering 53-27 record. This year, the Packers fell apart, going 4-12 and tying the franchise record for losses in a season. Was Sherman smart during his first five seasons, and if so, how did he become so stupid, so fast?

The answer is, Sherman never was smart. Nor was he ever stupid. Sherman won because he had great players. Sherman lost this season because many of those great players left via free agency, got old or got hurt.

The man who will replace Sherman, whether it's Sean Payton or Jim Bates, doesn't matter nearly as much as the moves made by general manager Ted Thompson and the cumulative work done by the scouting department.

If Thompson hits on a few draft picks and plugs some holes with the $15 million or so available under the salary cap, and if Brett Favre returns and Javon Walker is healthy, the Packers will be a far cry from 4-12 at this time next year.

And that coach, regardless of who he is, will look pretty darned smart. Especially compared to Sherman.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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