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SPF T.I. Poll (Week 10): Ranking the Coaching Trees

1.  Tennessee Titans - The Titans remain a fantastic SPF story.  Their way of winning - brute force, matched by a will not to lose - has them as the NFL's only undefeated team for yet another week.

Despite people believing that QB Kerry Collins is merely a game manager, he showed he can still air it out against Chicago.  This is a very deep team who can beat you in multiple ways.

The Titans continue their upward move as a franchise.  The continuing story has been their quest to become the Midsouth's football standard.

The Jeff Fisher model is unique to him.  It focuses on defense - (A) having a good one and (B) having a multi-threat offense that can challenge one.

The Fisher coaching tree has yet to bear fruit outside of Tennessee yet.  Maybe he will have to win a Super Bowl for his assistants to get HC jobs.

That might happen sooner that we think.

2.  Miami Dolphins - This season has been nothing short of incredible.  No front office team has better shown how to turn around a moribund franchise than Bill Parcells and crew in Miami.  For all of those fans who never believed their team was as bad as they played on the field, the 2008 Dolphins support them.

Parcells has a few basic rules:

Because of their soft schedule down the stretch, the Dolphins should be fighting for the AFC East title.  We're not sure, but SPF doubts any 1-15 team has made the playoffs the very next season.

The 2008 season, once and for all, should end any doubts that Bill Parcells is the architect of winning in the modern NFL era.

With Bill Parcells as a franchise caretaker, your team is in the best possible hands.

3.  Indianapolis Colts - Like the Titans and Jeff Fisher, its hard to find a coaching tree with the Colts.  Of course, Tony Dungy does have a tree, but it has had mixed results.  While Lovie Smith has revitalized the Bears, Herm Edwards, and especially Rod Marinelli, have been embarrassments as HCs.

The problem with the Dungy tree is their disdain for offense.  It's almost like all of these guys would rather punt on first down and let the defense try to win than to take risks on offense.  That's what got Dungy fired in Tampa.

The Colts are different because Dungy inherited one of the best offensive players of this generation in QB Peyton Manning.  Dungy has won in Indy by staying out of Peyton's way and concentrating on making the defense sound enough to hold leads.

Dungy also brings a level of respect that keeps his team playing hard all season long.

Without veteran leadership like Manning, the Dungy tree of coaching struggles.

The Colts have been great in the last two weeks as they climb back into the top 3 of our Poll.  Winning against New England and Pittsburgh in back to back weeks shows that this team isn't ready to give up their place amongst the AFC elite.

4.  Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - These teams will all battle down the stretch for the NFC South crown.  It is likely that only the division winner will make the playoffs.

Atlanta comes from the Parcells tree through its strongest branch - the Belichick branch.  Bill Belichick was Bill Parcells' greatest pupil who began to teach his master new tricks, especially about how to build and maintain franchises during the salary cap era.  Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff ran Belichick's personnel department for 6 years prior to taking the GM job in Atlanta for the 2008 season.  His effect has been immediate and revelatory taking the Falcons from the dregs to playoff contention.

Like the Dolphins, Dimitroff's Falcons understood the value of key, foundational pieces needed to win.  He found them on the roster clearing out dead weight.  Then, he had great free agent siginings and a fantastic draft.

Owner Arthur Blank chose wisely when putting his disfunctional franchise in the hands of young Thomas Dimitroff

Carolina's John Fox has created his own lineage.  His most important stop was as DC for the Giants Super Bowl team under Jim Fassel.  He leveraged that gig into the Panther HC job. 

Fox is much like Jeff Fisher in that he has been able to take a little from everyone along his way up the coaching ladder.  He is defense first mixed with an offense that can challenge his opposition's defense.  Fox has taken the Panthers to new heights.  A division crown could solidify his long term security in Carolina.

2008 has been a great year for Fox because he went back to his own formula - a bruising defense with a great running game flavored by a quick strike passing attack. 

Last, but not least, is Tampa's Jon Gruden.  Gruden comes from the Mike Holgren/Bill Walsh WCO tree, a tree that has been dying as the QBs who can run it have slowly disappeared.  For that reason, Gruden usually relies on veteran (ie journeymen) QBs to run his teams.

The difference between Gruden and other WCOs guys is his DC Monte Kiffin.  Kiffin is part of the old Dungy regime in Tampa, and he is clearly the best defensive coach ever associated with the Dungy tree.  The consistent excellence of his defenses in Tampa have provided Gruden a cushion to develop and retool his offense after his Super Bowl win in 2003.

This year's Buc team still looks like it has a chance to make a Super Bowl run.  The coming weeks will tell the tale.

7.  Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins - Dallas and Washingotn are two teams mirror one another.  Both are historically significant franchises with great markets that expand regionally.  Both have multiple Super Bowls to their name.  Both also have owners who value marketing over anything else and have leveraged their franchises respective values to new heights.

The problem with both of these teams is that the marketing approach leaves them giving value to superstar players over systems.  Pro football has become more and more like college football where long term success is determined by having a winning system and finding player that plug into that system.  This has proven to be a superior choice versus adpating systems to fit your players.

These two teams have also benefitted from bringing in disciplined coaches (Parcells in Dallas and Joe Gibbs in Washington) who were able to right the ship before moving on.  That "discipline dividend" pays off for a while, but after that, both need to find long term leadership.

Of the two, Washington seems to be headed in the right direction.  Jim Zorn has done a magnificent job of keeping good line play (a Gibbs staple) and building around that.

In Dallas, Wade Phillips seems like a short timer with Jason Garrett standing over his shoulder.  Maybe its time to pull the plug on Wade.

Either way, Dallas and Washington somehow end up with the two worst actors in the NFL at the moment - Pacman Jones and DeAngelo Hall.  Jones is already suspended again, and Hall could upset the delicate balance Zorn has been creating all season.

Tom Benson's Saints are run like the Cowboys and the Redskins but without any of the SB glory.  Trading for the perpetually overrated, injury-prone, and team-killing Jeremy Shockey when the team desperately needed better defensive players, shows how poorly this franchise is run. 

Benson's Texas-sized ego already had the Saints moving to either San Antonio or Los Angeles before the NFL shut him down.  His approach to ownership has been the reason the Saint never seem able to sustain success.

In each owner's defense, their markets do like star power.  This is easier to guarantee than wins which are the hardest thing to come by in the NFL.  They know how to keep their fans interested.

Can these two, ahem, three marketing wizards create a true Super Bowl champ and not just a preseason favorite?  We shall see.

Yes, Jerry, a Redskins logo would look nice on this cricket bat.  Let's you and I market them around the world.  Don't say anything to Roger Goodell.  We don't want to share any of the sales revenue.  Maybe you can get a picture of you breaking it over Wade Phillps' head?  That would get some real sales numbers going!  What?  Tom Benson is calling?  Tell him I'm unavailable.

13.  Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, St Louis Rams - These teams are also part of a simliar grouping.  They are each in potentially great football markets with little to no history of success.  They also are, not coincidentally, frought with ownership issues.  Although each owner seems well-intentioned (many in Cincy might argue about Mike Brown), none seem to have grasped critical, important, and winning steps at the NFL level.

Each team has also placed trust in coaches that seem to have GM powers when little past history tells us that they are deserving of these powers.  In Houston and Jacksonville especially, the idea of either Gary Kubiak or Jack Del Rio running a franchise on their own seems ludicrious knowing each man's relatively narrow NFL history off the field.  Yet somehow, these two men have defacto control over personnel on their respective teams.  This has led to many, many questionable moves by both franchises.

Finally, scribes in their markets like Richard Justice and Mike Bianchi have begun to question how qualified Kubiak and Del Rio truly are.  Both are very likeable guys, but neither have resumes that scream "elite coach."

As two sister river cities, Rams and the Bengals are very close in circumstance.  Both have veteran teams with all kinds of talent, talent that showed playoff-caliber results within the last 5 years.  Both also have decent HCs in Jim Haslett and Marvin Lewis who often seem to be victims of bad circumstances, meaning poor ownership and front office support.

Both the Rams and the Bengals also suffer from severe chemistry issues that began with injury problems over the last few years.  The Parcells model says you never rebuild a team.  Instead, you retool it - keeping critical talent.  These two teams are each such a mess that it is hard to see if their vets are past their prime or just a healthy off season away from playoff contention.

It really doesn't matter.  The fans have little to no faith in any of these teams.  Without that faith and belief, these teams will suffer as afterthoughts in their respective markets.  Texas and Florida have rich college football histories, and the Cincinnati and St Louis regions have made huge recent strides as Missouri, Kentucky, Louisville, and Cincinnati (Bearcats, that is) have jumped into the BCS picture over the last few years.

Unlike Tennessee who has been growing their fan base, these four teams are falling farther and farther behind.

Someone pull out the shock paddles (ie call Arthur Blank and listen to him) before it's too late.

Jim Haslett staked his coaching future on Marc Bulger.  So far, the vet QB has let him down

related tags

Mercenary Territory,
Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,
North Carolina,

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