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SB Sunday Reflections on the SPF Season: Teams Fell Short; Dungy & Gruden Gone

Posted: Feb 01, 2009

As the Footprint wakes to a Sunday featuring the 43rd Super Bowl hosted by one of our great Swampland cities, it gives us a chance to reflect on the past SPF season.  Although five of our 13 SPF teams made the playoffs, none made any noise since they all were "one and done."


Disappointment began in the final regular season weekend as Tampa Bay and Dallas lost games that would have won them a playoff spot.  Considerning that final regular season games like this serve as de facto playoff games, this brings our total to 7 for 7 in the "one and done" department.

As we look past today's game to another season ahead, more of our teams than not are struggling with the same core issues that have undermined the long term success of the NFL in our football-hungry region.


This issue remains the NFL's largest problem because the league fails to realize that their history in the Footprint is short and its support is shallow.  The dominant identity of college football has many distinct advantages from longstanding university allegiances, iconic coaches, direct connections to high school football through recruiting, and decades of history.

Meddling Owners for SPF's Elite 3

Only the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and Miami Dolphins have the historical bodies of work to rival the best college teams, but even the three of them have big challenges moving forward.  The Cowboys (Jerry Jones) and the Redskins (Daniel Snyder) have marketer-owners who try to sell every last scrap of value to fans and corporate partners.  Both have sold the history of their franchise alongside countless big money free agents, but neither have won Super Bowls with this method.

(Yes, we know Jones has won Super Bowls as the owner of the Cowboys, but most acknowledge that those were won with the help of Jimmy Johnson as his coach/de facto GM.  Synder has won nothing in DC except for the yearly Forbes NFL team valuation prize.)

Since Stephen Ross completed the majority purchase of the Dolphins, he becomes the third of three "marketing-oriented" owners amongst these elite three franchises.  SPF has been critical of Wayne Huizenga in the past, but he certainly was not an owner like Jones or Snyder.  He stayed out of the way of his football people - almost to a fault until he found Bill Parcells, the current head honcho of the Dolphins football operations.

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald sees changes afoot with Ross taking over from Huizenga, as shown in this recent column showing potential friction points between Ross and Parcells:

Ross sees things differently than Huizenga. He believes the Dolphins should be as much about entertainment as winning football games. He understands the show is on the field, but believes that still leaves room for sideshows elsewhere.

Ross likes the NBA approach where the game is an event and the celebrities come out to see it and be seen. That is the reason Ross invited friend Jon Bon Jovi, the rock star, to attend Sunday's game.

Bon Jovi was part of the Ross sideline entourage before the game. And Dwyane Wade was there, also, as a guest of the future Dolphins owner.

So Ross believes in star power and having his team in the spotlight. Parcells believes in staying in the shadows and winning with no-names that make their living playing behind masks.

This is just one man's opinion (albeit an opinion of someone who covers the Dolphins for a living), but Ross himself seems to back Salguero up when he said recently, "[f]or the price I paid, I want to increase the revenues. With time, I'll be able to put my imprint on the team.''  The only revenues he can increase are those made through marketing like Jones and Snyder which has Ross sounding a lot more like them than Huizenga. 

Parcells may have committed to 2009, but SPF doesn't expect him to remain long after.  Here's what Parcells said about his future with the Dolphins beyond next season,

''I'm going to be with Miami until I feel that the team is in position and [general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano] have enough experience that they can handle it.''

Considering that the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 and won the AFC East under Parcells, Ireland, and Sparano, we don't think Parcells will stay after next season.  His repuation as a turnaround artist is at its apex.  He will look for another challenge with a less "involved" owner.  Remember, Parcells bolted from the Cowboys taking Ireland and Sparano with him.  The Dolphins made the playoffs this season.  The Cowboys did not.

The Cowboys, Redskins, and Dolphins remain elite SPF teams, but their collective owners may not have them in the Super Bowl any time soon. 

SPF Recommendations for:

Dallas Cowboys - Jones needs less "yes men" in his front office and coaching staff,

Washington Redskins - Synder needs to give Jim Zorn another year so that QB Jason Campbell can finally have some stability, and

Miami Dolphins - Ross needs to stay out of Parcells way for at least a year and hopes he stay long enough to win a Super Bowl.

Coaching Changes for Two Rising SPF Teams (and One on the Decline)

This season has seen two legendary SPF coaches move on.  Tony Dungy retired up in Indy, while Jon Gruden got the axe in Tampa Bay.  Losing both of these men hurts the resonance of SPF teams in our college football region.

Tony Dungy remains a critical figure in NFL history.  His ascendance as a quiet man who connected to his players on a personal level and helped them to win, put two SPF franchises on a Super Bowl path after years of struggle.  In the process, he paved the way for several African-Americans to become head coaches.

Gruden was the man who finished Tony Dungy's job in Tampa bringing that team its first Super Bowl win.  Gruden, whose father was a Bucs assistant during the team's formative years, also brought a sense of history that further connected the Bucs to their town and their state.  Gruden became a life-sized personality with his grimacing face and tough-guy press conferences.

In the end, Dungy and Gruden might mean more to history than either did to their franchises immediate future.  Both were seen as underachievers since and before their lone Super Bowl wins.  These perceptions probably played some role in Dungy's retirement and a huge role in Gruden's firing.

Strangely, both were replaced by African-American who are first time NFL head coaches - Jim Caldwell and Raheem Morris, now of Indy and Tampa, respectively.  Both carry on Dungy's legacy while Gruden's own legacy appears to be still undetermined.


The Rams are a lesser story.  They lost their Super Bowl coach a few years back when Mike Martz was fired.  However, Scott Linehan was supposed to keep the good from Martz (highly effective offense) and get rid of the bad (boom or bust risk taking).  Now, the Rams are looking at coach #3 post-Martz, former Giant DC Steve Spaguolo.  This is a major change from the high-flying Martz years that have defined the franchise thus far.

The Rams are becoming a dire SPF situation because the team is for sale.  There is more of a chance than ever that the Rams could end up back in Los Angeles.  Spagnuolo better be able to tweak what the Rams have on their roster and make them a winner.  A long rebuilding process could doom the long term life of the Rams in St Louis.

Still, the loss of these two men makes it that much harder for SPF teams to build their identity and grow their value in the Footprint.  The Colts still have Peyton Manning, but the Bucs could be in for a rough patch if youthful energy of Raheem Morris doesn't equate to wins on the field.

SPF Recommendations for:

Indianapolis Colts - Stay out of Peyton's way.  At worst, the Colts are the Packers during Favre's older years - no Super Bowl wins, but tons of exciting football from a future Hall of Famer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Gruden was the team's identity.  Raheem Morris may become that one day, but Morris needs more talent on the field.  It's time for the Glazer family to start spending some of the $40+ million in cap space that Gruden left for them on his way out the door.

St Louis Rams - Owner Chip Rosenbloom needs to try and win now.  There is still enough veteran talent on offense, and the young defense should respond to Spaguolo's blitz-happy system.  Finally, hope that these wins bring a local buyer to the table in 2009.

Achieving True Regional Support

Our final seven SPF teams fall into the catch all.  Some have bigger markets (Houston and Atlanta) than other (Jacksonville), but all need to find the broader regional support that most of our top college teams enjoy.

SPF Recommendations for:

Tennessee Titans - Win a Super Bowl.  It's that simple at this point.  The Titans recent rise coincided with transition at UT, the state of Tennessee's present football power.  The Titans can do in Tennessee what Dallas did in Texas and most of the western half of the Footprint by winning a Super Bowl.

Carolina Panthers - Win a Super Bowl.  Just like Tennessee, the Panthers are poised, and their regional base is ready.  The Carolinas are embracing football like never before and the Redskins continue to give their old time base a reason to seek out a new team to root for.  Despite their playoff flame out against the Cardinals, the Panthers can still win it all next year.

New Orleans Saints - Make Drew Brees your face.  Brees has been a loyal Saint from day one while Reggie Bush got all the glory.  Bush looks more and more like situational player at the pro level with each passing season.  Brees looks like he'll be in the NFL record books by the end of his career.  They might start with a tour of Louisiana with Brees and Archie Manning.

Atlanta Falcons -
Keep up the good work from 2008, quickly resolve Vick's NFL future once he gets out of jail, and market this team outside of Atlanta.  Look to the Atlanta Braves and realize that any Atlanta pro team has a chance to be a regional power.

Cincinnati Bengals - Like St Louis, the Bengals should have enough talent on their current roster to make another playoff push.  Send Ocho Cinco away and give Carson Palmer another shot.  Like Jax and Houston, the fans need to know that its playoffs of bust for Palmer and head coach Marvin Lewis.  As Kentucky's football interest grows, the Bengals should also continue to build their fan base south of the Ohio River.

Jacksonville Jaguars & Houston Texans - Make it clear that your current leadership must make the playoffs in 2009, or changes will come.  Both of these teams have coaches and QBs who records and personas elicit yawns from passionate football fans.  Since both of these teams are in the AFC South, chances are either the Kubiak/Matt Schaub or the Jack Del Rio/David Garrard tandem should be looking for work come this time next year.


Will 2009 be the final year for these three?

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michaelbuffalo says...

Great article. Win a Super Bowl? Good advice for my Panthers. Maybe next year! GO PANTHERS!!

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