A TALE OF TWO PATHS
The boos rained down from the New Meadowlands Stadium. Trailing 3-0 to Washington in the second quarter and facing a 2nd and 10 from their own 3-yard line, the Giants lined up in a tight formation with 3 running backs behind QB Jake Fromm. The young QB took the handoff and ran up the center’s rear end for a 1-yard gain.
Then, on 3rd and 9, they did it again. The fans, in a fury, expressed their ire at what can only be described as a total clown show, despite head coach Joe Judge’s recent assertion that they weren’t. Judge would say after the game that he wanted to give his punter more room to kick, a damning thing to say about the (sad) state of his offense. Certainly nothing I have ever seen in my 35+ years of watching football.
The Giants went on to lose to the reeling Football Team 22-7, ending their season at 4-13. In their final 8 games, the Giants scored more than 10 points just once.
A few hours later and some 1270 miles south, the Miami Dolphins’ defense was lining up on the New England Patriots’ 3-yard line with 0:03 left in the game and the Dolphins leading by 3. After a quick series of runs and laterals, Sam Eguavoen picked off a pitch in the end zone to end the game - and Dolphins’ 2021 season - on a positive and emphatic note.
At 9-8 (the first time in almost 20 years that the Dolphins finished with back-to-back winning seasons) and having just swept the playoff bound Patriots and their GOAT head coach to cap an 8-1 run in the second half of the season, there was a ton of reason for optimism in South Florida heading into the offseason.
ONE IS NOT LIKE THE REST
With these two franchises looking as different as night and day, the question seemed to be whether 2 years was too quickly to pull the trigger on Judge, not to mention whether GM Dave Gettelman would continue to be a Teflon Don amongst the ranks of those deserving to be fired.
Instead, as fans opened up Twitter with their Monday morning coffee, a different decision had been made: Flores was out.
The decision by Stephen Ross to sack his coach was one met with extreme displeasure among the national media. Several players also expressed their surprise at the move. The reaction on Twitter seemed to be one of shock, albeit with fans on both sides arguing about its fairness.
Judge survived Black Monday. By just a day, as he was finally sacked on Tuesday after extended meetings by the Giants’ front office, but somehow Flores was out first.
And it wasn’t just Judge and Flores - several other coaches met their demise. Matt Nagy, Vic Fangio, and Mike Zimmer were also shown the door.
It’s too not hard to understand why. Denver hadn’t had a winning record since 2016, the year after their Super Bowl run. Chicago hadn’t since 2016 as well, despite stealing a wild card last year before getting hammered by the Saints. Nagy’s playcalling and quarterback management was extremely poor, especially this season. Minnesota had made the playoffs under Zimmer three times in 8 seasons, but ended a second straight losing season while performing below what their overall level of talent would indicate.
The Bears’ and Broncos’ offenses were extremely poor, the latter of which likely kept the Broncos from a strong chance at a wild card berth.
And that’s the only thing that I see in common with the Dolphins: an underperforming offense. That’s hard to argue against.
But the rest of it - for me, the Dolphins are the odd duck of these teams in terms of performance and direction. You can’t deny the Dolphins’ players played hard for Flores and gave it their all. You can definitely wonder elsewhere - i.e., Chicago and New York.
Also, all of the aforementioned teams either were in the playoffs, or not terribly removed from them when Flores took over in 2019. Conversely, the Dolphins were a complete and total train wreck. 0-16 was bounded about among talking heads. One of the worst teams ever. Then, in miraculous fashion, the team won 5 games that season. The following year, they won 10 games and were a bad break from a playoff spot. This year, they lost a playoff spot by half a game.
In other words, they’ve moved in the right direction from where they started three years ago, which is the polar opposite of the remaining teams now looking for a head coach. And that abrupt cutoff makes me very nervous.
EVERYTHING TO LOSE
When you’re at the bottom, it’s really easy to make a move, to speak the obvious. What the heck else to you have to lose by trying something? Given the New York Giants, literally anything would have been better than the slop that was taking place on the field on Sundays. The Bears’ offensive play calling was atrocious, and Nagy’s wishy-washy commitment to Justin Fields was strange.
But the Dolphins just finished up an incredible 8-1 run after an admittedly dismal start to the season. Miami wasn’t quite able to make the playoffs, but don’t think that means they weren’t - or aren’t - good enough to get there. They know what they have to get better at: the offensive side of the ball (repeat this ten times fast). Flores’ track record with assistants was admittedly poor, but hasn’t this level of improvement bought him a chance to work on getting better at improving, rather than blowing the whole thing up? Some might say no, but I say yes.
WHO IS OUT THERE THAT COULD BE BETTER? WHAT’S THE PLAN?
Here’s my thing...yes, you don’t know how good someone is until you give them a chance, so it’s hard to know who really could be better. But it’s a massive risk taking a chance on someone with no head coaching experience. It worked out (in my opinion) with Flores, but it’s failed plenty of times across the league over the past decade.
Could it be that Brian Daboll could help Miami find a level of offensive success that’s kept them back for years? Yeah, maybe, but it’s awfully easy to look good when you’ve got a legit superstar like Josh Allen leading your offense. How good is he with player management? (a thing the Dolphins’ brass is apparently pointing towards for moving on from Flores) Can he get the most out of his players? Can he get them to play hard? Maybe, but it’s a complete unknown. Same questions for Niners’ OC Mike McDaniel (who doesn’t even call plays in SF).
As far as experienced candidates, Vance Joseph and Dan Quinn both failed spectacularly in Denver and Atlanta, respectively, although the latter was a first down away from winning a title before the franchise landed in a downward spiral of gradual failure on his watch.
Will the new head coach have any say in personnel decisions, and if not, for that matter, why do we trust Chris Grier to handle that going forward? Flores had a strong say in draft picks, and a significant number have not panned out, especially on the offensive side of the ball. And there’s been head scratchers like taking Noah Igbinoghene over a long-needed high-end running back a couple of years ago.
But why isn’t this issue falling as much on Grier’s shoulders? The guy who actually made the picks? Why is he getting a complete pass (which he absolutely is by keeping his job) here for the failings of an offense - especially an offensive line - that kept this team from the postseason?
If it’s truly just about communication within the building for Flores, then...well...it had better have been BAAAAAAD. There have been tons of coaches that have been abrasive or warrant eggshell-resistant shoes in the building. Belichick’s cold, all-business environment has been well-documented. Bill Parcells was a you-know-what buster. There are plenty of other examples. You find a way to figure it out and live together.
Several stories are coming out this week on the blogosphere involving Flores. I don’t know if any of them are true, because no one is sticking up for them saying they’re true. As such, I don’t have any reason to believe them.
What I do believe is that Flores was a capable coach who was turning the franchise in the right direction. After the repeated failures over the last 20+ years, that was a HARD thing to find. It’s my sincere hope that Ross and company have a plan, because if they don’t, they just set this franchise back in a major way. Again.
And make no mistake, one man’s trash definitely is another man’s treasure. The Bears moved quickly to bring in Flores for an interview, and I suspect he will garner more significant interest in short order.
When the other guys at the party are lining up to dance with your ex, maybe the problem was you and not her.