Success Isn't Just About Hiring A New Coach

A number of teams decided to change coaching staffs recently. Some of them are on the right track while others, certainly are not. Len Pasquarelli takes a look at two success stories.

There is a reason, it seems, that Missouri is nicknamed the "Show-Me State," and the head coaches from both of the NFL teams located there are certainly showin' 'em in their second seasons in the league.

One season after finishing dead-last in the AFC West, and winning only four games - a third straight campaign with four or fewer victories - the Kansas City Chiefs have won their first division title. The St. Louis Rams can take the NFC West - a dubious accomplishment, given the overall blight of the division, but an extraordinary feat, nonetheless - with a victory at Seattle next Sunday afternoon. And it would come only a year after the Rams won but one game and finished with the NFL's worst record, which allowed them to select No. 1 pick and franchise savior Sam Bradford.

It would mark the first time since '03 that both Missouri franchises were in the playoffs together and the first time since that same season that the Chiefs and Rams were each division champions.

What Todd Haley of the Chiefs and the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo have wrought with their respective franchises is remarkable. And they have promulgated the reversals in a little bit different ways, Spagnuolo by basically sticking with his system and his beliefs, Haley by retaining his core values, but swapping out coordinators, bringing in Charlie Weis to run the offense and Romeo Crennel to oversee the defense.

Todd Haley refuses Josh McDaniels' handshake
Give credit to both men for knowing what their teams needed and following through with their reclamation plans.

There have been other Lazarus Acts, certainly, in recent NFL history. But what Haley and Spagnuolo have accomplished in 2010 is notable.

Before the teams played Sunday - the Chiefs routing dispassionate Tennessee, 34-14, and the Rams coming back to defeat the disappointing 49ers, 25-17 - one league personnel man told The Sports Xchange the Missouri Makeovers were "excellent." And he said it, from a press box and just an hour before his own team was to play a game with playoff implications, with no small degree of admiration.

Rightly so.

It's not as if the tag team of Haley and general manager Scott Pioli has restored the glory days of the Chiefs. Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney haven't yet made the fans at the Edward Jones Dome forget the Greatest Show on Turf. But they have brought a bit of heart back the heartland, and for that they are to be commended.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz
Some NFL observers might suggest such dual reversals of fortune were predictable, that first-time head coaches historically fare better in their second seasons. Find Josh McDaniels in the local unemployment line and tell him that. There were, The Sports Xchange pointed out a few weeks ago, 84 first-time head coaches in the league 1970-2008, who last a full second season. And the results are actually split right down the middle: Seventy-six won more game in the second year than in the first. Seventy-six won fewer. And eight won exactly the same.

For the seven men who were first-time coaches in 2009, this second season has been pretty rewarding.

Of the group, only McDaniels isn't around anymore.

In 2009, the seven coaches had an aggregate 41-71 record. With one more week to play in 2010, the seven have posted a cumulative record of 53-49, and that's counting McDaniels' 3-9 mark. Five of the seven, including Spagnuolo and Haley, of course, have more victories than they registered in '09. Besides McDaniels, the only first-time coach from 2009 who will fall shy of his rookie win total is Jim Caldwell of Indianapolis, and he can still win a second straight AFC South crown with a victory next week.

Haley, Spagnuolo, Raheem Morris of Tampa Bay and Detroit's Jim Schwartz all won twice as many games (or more) than in 2009.

Haley and Coach Blowhard of the New York Jets have already registered double-digit victory campaigns. Caldwell can cashier his 10th win against Tennessee next week. Morris' bunch in Tampa Bay might not live up to his boast as the "best team in the NFC," but 10 wins won't be a bad consolation prize for a franchise that's turned the pirate ship around and is headed in the right direction.

The two coaches in the "Show-Me State" have demonstrated they know what they are doing. But they aren't the only second-year coaches to do so.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for The Sports Xchange.


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