It’s not too hard to figure out the reason there are “haves” and “have-nots” in the NFL: Players. You can talk all the scheme, coaching, personnel people you want but in the end, on the field, it comes down to players.
And good ones.
A couple of years ago, the Miami Dolphins had the first pick in the NFL draft, meaning they had the worst record in the league. They took a starting offensive lineman, singed some free-agents and the next year went 11-5.
It was a quick fix, but the players in place had some success en-route to the playoffs. Tom Coughlin has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. In both seasons he was about to be fired halfway through the year. But his players stepped up, they developed a pass rush with just the front four, got hot on offense behind a running game and Eli Manning and went on to a championship. Why? The players started to play. Coughlin didn’t change his style; he didn’t start running different plays. He just had the players who were capable of making something happen.
While Coughlin was here in Jacksonville the Jaguars had championship capable teams about half of the time. Guys like Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Kennan McCardell, Kyle Brady and Clyde Simmons were top-flight players. Any team would have wanted them. But when things went sour for Coughlin, those careers were either over or near an end, meaning success was hard to come by.
It’s a running joke that when a player or coach leaves the Jaguars they have some kind of instant success. Former Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter is a good example. He’s a run-of-the-mill assistant who didn’t find success as a head coach in college but is hoping for a shot at the top job in the NFL. With the Jaguars he had virtually no success because of a lack of production at the quarterback position. Put him in Atlanta with Matt Ryan and all of the sudden he’s a world beater. Jack Del Rio’s success in Denver as their defensive coordinator has a lot to do with Peyton Manning being their quarterback and Champ Bailey running their defense.
Through the history of the league, coaches have been romanticized as big time leaders, field generals directing their troops in battle. NFL Films does a good job at creating that myth. But when you look at the great coaches in the league’s past, it’ a culture of success that they created that lead to wins. Vince Lombardi told his players, “We’ll chase perfection, knowing we won’t catch it but along the way, we’ll achieve greatness.” Tom Landry put together Hall of Fame players on defense and finally won championships with Roger Staubach at quarterback. Bill Walsh created a scheme, but It took Joe Montana and company to implement it.
Coaches create an atmosphere of success.
Players win games.