Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Son of the Return of Colonel Mortimer's NFL Rankings

What is the cornerstone of a successful football franchise?

My answer: the combination of stability and identity.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a Super Bowl appearance in each of the last four decades*, in their entire existence they’ve been owned by a member of the Rooney family (first Art, now son Dan), they've made only two coaching changes since 1969 and have branded their own style of play that emphasizes a strong defense capable of game changing turnovers, a tempo controlling grind-it-out running attack and error free management by the quarterback with the occasional “big chunk” producing pass play.

Let’s look at the other three teams that have recently won Super Bowls. Jim Irsay may forever live in infamy for his punk move when he relocated the team from Baltimore in the middle of the night, but he wisely hired Bill Polian as president after the 1998 season. Polian focused on player's character personnel and improving through the draft with limited free agency signings. He correctly chose Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf and Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams. The results? In ten years with Polian as president, the Colts have only missed the playoffs twice, one of those years being his (and Manning’s) first season, and won the Super Bowl in 2007.

After Robert Kraft became the owner of the New England Patriots, the team went from perennial losers to the current team of the decade, winning three Super Bowls and appearing in two others in his fourteen seasons. A look at the three coaches the team has had in that time span reveals their success: one Hall-of-Famer in Bill Parcell, one future Hall-of-Famer in Bill Bellicheck, and the one coach who didn’t really work out, Pete Carroll, became a premiere college coach.

Like the Steelers, the Giants have stayed owned by one family, the Maras, for decades. Also like the Steelers, they have made a strong defense and running attack their focus. The Giants are the only team to have won one Super Bowl in each of the last three decades.

Inversely, bad ownership and lack of identity and stability is the reason the Cincinnati Bengals could not parlay their impressive 2005 playoff campaign into long goal success and have not been over .500 since that season. It’s the reason the Detroit Lions haven’t won a play-off game since the first Iraq War. And it’s the reason the Arizona Cardinals are still considered suspicious despite their early season successes this year.

Of course I am working this around to the 49ers situation. John York has been an utter disaster as owner since inheriting the team following Eddie DeBartolo’s suspension (why Eddie, why?) in 2000. Firing Steve Mariucci after a division winning season in 2002 despite the coach's ability to turn the team around within two seasons after Steve Young was forced into retirement was the first sign that the York's would make negative changes to the culture of the franchise, Mariucci was obviously Eddie’s guy. The ensuing coaching search was aimless and the dart landed on Dennis Erickson, a college coach with a bad NFL track record. He led the team that went to the playoffs the year before to a 7-9 record with the same personnel, and then blew up the team with no plan, resulting in a 2-14 year and his firing. York then handed over full control to Mike Nolan, a man who had never been a head coach or general manager at any level, and kept him on after three more losing seasons. After being finally, mercifully fired last month (a move that a “good” owner would have made in the off-season) news came out that he had long ago last season lost the locker room and was considered a joke amongst his players. One of the most memorable sights of the Super Bowl winning 49ers team is Eddie DeBartolo giddily rejoicing and celebrating in the locker room with his players. York strikes me as someone not only unaware what is happening in his team’s locker room, but probably as someone who doesn’t even know where it is located.

Now his son Jed, aged 27 (meaning he was born during the 49ers first Super Bowl winning season) is being groomed to become the person responsible for operating the team as early as next season. I am, of course, suspicious of anyone with that last name, however, learning that he was the person that prompted the expedited firing of Nolan and the fact that things can’t get much worse (or can they?), perhaps a youth movement at the top could spur some results. Hell, it’s worth a try. I think he choose wisely in naming Mike Singletary the interim coach following Nolan’s dismal. Logic dictated passing the reigns to offensive coordinator Mike Martz who had head coaching experience, but Singletary has a more fiery personality and since this is his first time as a head coach, more to gain or lose. Thus far (I am not counting the first game versus the Seahawks because he had less than a week to prepare for it) I am seeing a team that is playing more disciplined, smarter and with greater passion than any Niner team since Jeff Garcia was lining up behind center. But after a lot of promise going nowhere, we have to see if this translates to results.

Jed will have a lot of decisions to make at the end of the year, obviously the coaching situation being top priority. A strong general manager or team president would be great, and the quarterback situation needs to be addressed. I like Shaun Hill, but ideally he’s a solid backup in the Frank Reich/Gary Kubiak vein, someone who can fill in for an injury or perhaps can start a season while grooming a rookie, but long term, he’s probably not the answer. JT O’Sullivan is also a worthy backup, but if the 49ers upgrade, would he be willing to be a number three now that he’s had some work as a starter? And as much I feel Alex Smith got a raw deal, at this point it’s for the best for him, the team and the fans if he moves on. So the decision needs to be made of upgrading the position via free agency or drafting someone like Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow with an early draft pick. I just hope we are not having this same conversation a year from now. I liken the 49ers under John York to a girlfriend who broke up with you but your still in love with. At some point if that love isn’t reciprocated it becomes time to move on….

*okay I flubbed the numbers a bit, they played in Super Bowl in January of 1980, but technically that was the 1979 season’s team.

And finally, what you came for, the rankings:

1. Tennessee Titans (9-0) (-): After 35 years without a team going undefeated in the regular season, could it happen in consecutive seasons?

2. New York Giants (8-1) (-): Currently 3-0 versus teams in the NFC East. Could accomplish one feat last year's Super Bowl winning squad didn't, win the division.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-2) (4): Anyone else get the feeling that Jake Delhomme made a bet with his drinking buddies that he could throw 4 interceptions, under 80 yards and complete only seven passes and still beat the Raiders.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) (3): 0-2 versus teams with a quarterback named Manning. Bad news, the Chargers just signed and named Coooper Manning their starter for next week's game.

5. Washington Redskins (6-3) (-): Snatching up a big name free agent like DeAngelo Hall is the kind of impulsive move that always seem to backfire on the Redskins.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) (7): I didn't mention him up top, but Malcolm Glazer who turned around one of the league's most forlorn franchise since taking over in 1995 and making them consistently competitive, belongs in any list of quality owners. I just wish he'd bring back the creamsicle uniforms.

7. New England Patriots (6-3) (10): A win over the New York Jets could help reinstate their AFC East alpha dog status.

8. Arizona Cardinals (6-3) (9): If the other teams in the NFC West continue their losing ways, they can clinch the division title by Thanksgiving by winning next two games.

9. Baltimore Ravens (6-3) (11): If they make the playoffs with a remaining schedule that includes contests against all the NFC East teams and the Steelers, they would've earned it.

10. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) (12): Matt Ryan just outplayed Drew Brees. The Falcons have doubled their win total from last season.

11. New York Jets (6-3) (13): Applying for placement in the NFC West, they've averaged 51 points in their wins over the Rams and Cardinals.

12. Chicago Bears (5-4): (8): Played undefeated Titans strong, especially considering Grossman started.

13. Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) (6): Are not beating teams with winning records very often, a pretty important necessity to making the post-season.

14. Indianapolis Colts (5-4) (16): Finally back to normal after lackluster start? Back to back impressive wins over the Patriots and Steelers.

15. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) (-): Romo will be back, but will there be any repercussions from the thumb injury?

16. Miami Dolphins (5-4) (18): The Falcons have won twice as many games as they did last year, the Dolphins have that beat, they have won five times as many games as they did last year.

17. Minnesota Vikings (5-4) (20): It's painful watching their defense bang up their competition, I can't fathom actually, you know, playing against them.

18. Buffalo Bills (5-4) (14): That 4-0 start seems light years away at this point.

19. Denver Broncos (5-4) (21): Am I the only one that thought Brandon Marshall might be whipping out something a little more, uh, controversial, than a glove from his pants?

20. Green Bay Packers (4-5) (17): After being pounded by the Vikings, quarterback Aaron Rodgers remarks "you know that sitting on the bench thing was a pretty good gig now I think of it"

21. San Diego Chargers (4-5) (22): Norv Turner wonders what it is about his team that makes all opponents go for game winning two point conversions attempts.

22. New Orleans Saints (4-5) (19): In too tough of a division to underachieve as much as they do.

23. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) (25): Beat up on Lions to make them feel good about themselves, which is kind of like a guy beating up a little girl to feel better about himself. Make that a mentally handicapped little girl.

24. Cleveland Browns (3-6) (23): While they ultimately didn't win, the Brady Quinn era got of to a good start.

25. Houston Texans (3-6) (24): Um, the Texans. Well they, and uh, there's...I got nothing.

26. Seattle Seahawks (2-7) (26): Seneca Wallace has filled in admirably for Hasselbeck the last three games despite the 1-2 record in that span.

27. San Francisco 49ers (2-7) (28): A valiant effort, but no excuses anyone, that last play call sucked.

28. St. Louis Rams (2-7) (27): The team was negotiating with interim coach Jim Hasslett about taking over the position full-time when the league informed them any offer would be penalized for not taking into account the Rooney rule. See Rams, affirmative action has it's privileges.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (1-8) (31): Their improved play over the last three weeks under Tyler Thigpen gets them a boost in the rankings, one week they might actually win one of these games.

30. Cincinnati Bengals (1-8) (-): Enjoyed their bye week or as Bengals players call it "the one week of the season we don't hurt either ourselves or our feelings"

31. Oakland Raiders (2-7) (29): Remember when I said that successful franchises maintain a level of stability, submitted as evidence, the Raiders: five coaches in five seasons.

32. Detroit Lions (0-9) (-): Culpepper yells at agent: "When you said you signed me to a contract with the Lions I thought you meant the British Columbia Lions of the CFL. You're fired!"


Mummbles said...

Cardinals #8? HA! The three teams they beat with winning records are all 5-4. I would rank them #15. I am not saying they are bad, they sure can pass the ball..but I will like to see them stop beating up on 9ers and Rams and see how they do against the Patriots, Eagles, Vikings, and Giants. Whom they will all be playing in the final games of their seson.

Colonel Mortimer said...

Well you can't control who is on your schedule, they did beat the Cowboys with Romo, and if they can't beat those 4 teams you mentioned, obviously they will drop. And don't be dissing the passing game, that was the Niner's bread and butter in the 80s and 90s, perhaps they are too high, but I am less suspicious of a Kurt Warner led team at this point then I am of a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco led team. Tune in next week...

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