On January 16, 2008, the Miami Dolphins hired Tony Sparano. In his first three years as head coach, the Dolphins were no worse than 7-9. Tony Sparano was not fired in any of his first three years. Then, in 2011, the Dolphins started out 0-7 on their way to a 6-10 finish; Tony Sparano was fired in 2011.
On January 17, 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Raheem Morris. In his second season – after a rocky rookie campaign – the Bucs won 10 games and narrowly missed the playoffs. Then, in 2011, the Bucs lost their final 10 games on their way to a 4-12 finish; Raheem Morris was fired the day after New Year’s.
On January 17, 2009, the St. Louis Rams hired Steve Spagnuolo. After going 1-15 in his rookie season, the Rams improved to 7-9 as they drafted their quarterback of the future in Sam Bradford. Then, in 2011, after a massive amount of crippling injuries, the Rams took a huge step back and finished 2-14; Steve Spagnuolo (hired on the same day as Raheem Morris) was fired on the same day as Raheem Morris.
On December 23, 1997, the Indianapolis Colts hired Bill Polian to be their president and general manager. The Colts reached the playoffs in 11 of Polian’s 13 seasons at the helm before 2011, winning the AFC Championship twice and the Super Bowl once. Then, in 2011, the Colts were the worst team in football, finishing 2-14; Bill Polian has since been fired.
There are worse things than finishing 7-9 as a football team. Hell, Dennis Erickson made his CAREER coaching 7-9 football teams! Finishing worse than 7-9 generally gets you fired. Finishing AT 7-9 is certainly a disappointment, but it also affords a fan base a little bit of hope for the following year. 7-9 isn’t THAT far from 9-7, and 9-7 has the distinct possibility of getting you in the Playoffs (or, at least, making your season interesting to the final week).
Of all the firings I mentioned above (and those that I didn’t, like Jack Del Rio, Todd Haley, and soon-to-be Jim Caldwell), I believe the most shocking was that of Spags for the Rams. Most would say Polian, and to a point I would agree, but that strikes me as one of those firings where you’re just looking for some fresh blood. It’s not necessarily a reflection of Polian’s abilities or sudden lack thereof; it’s actually more of a beautiful symmetry. He came in with the number 1 pick, his first season was a 3-13 dud, then the Colts dominated forever, then Manning was lost for 2011, his final season was a 2-14 dud, and then he was fired (having left the team pretty much as he found it – except one Lombardi Trophy richer – with the number 1 pick going to the guy who replaces him).
Spags, on the other hand, kinda got a raw deal. You could argue that Sparano should’ve done more with what he had (you could also argue that he was The Big Tuna’s guy, and The Big Tuna isn’t a Dolphin anymore). You could argue that Morris was a reach, being as young and inexperienced as he was (having not even been a coordinator in the Pros before he was hired as the head coach). Meanwhile, Spags WAS a coordinator, for a Super Bowl winning Giants team. He was brought in to toughen up a Rams defense that was one of the worst in the league. He was also brought in to reverse the culture of losing that had cemented itself. He came in, went 1-15 (doing a remarkable job to even win ONE game with that horrendous team he inherited), and with the number one pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, selected Sam Bradford from Oklahoma.
This was supposed to be it. The beginning of the big turnaround in St. Louis. They weathered the rocky 1-15 season, they got their premium franchise quarterback, and they were doing things smartly by building through the draft. The Rams were rewarded by improving six games in finishing 7-9 (one game at Qwest Field away from the playoffs).
And with that 7-9 finish: hope. Optimism. Expectations.
What happened to the Rams in 2011 was nothing short of an absolute disaster. Injuries at seemingly every key position. Injuries for a team without the depth to compensate. Remember, this 2-14 Rams team wasn’t all that different than 2009’s 1-15 team. You can’t build Rome in a fucking day! That 7-9 team needed just about everything to go right for them to finish 7-9; health primary among them.
Spags wasn’t fired after his first season, because that’s just idiotic. He wasn’t fired after his 7-9 season because there was improvement on the field. Spags WAS fired after his 2-14 season, because 2-14 is a terrible record. I guarantee, if the Rams finished 7-9 in 2011, they would not be looking for a new head coach right now.
So, yeah, 7-9 is kinda pisspoor because it means the Seahawks aren’t in the playoffs, and it also means the Seahawks don’t have a Top 10 pick to try and get into the playoffs sooner. But, at least the Seahawks aren’t out there trying to court Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, or Bill Cowher out of retirement. At least we have a little stability at our most important positions. The Rams can’t say that. Hell, the Rams haven’t had stability since Mike Martz! They’re on their fifth head coach since they fired Martz in 2005!
I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it: your organization won’t be worth a damn if you’re constantly firing your head coaches and general managers every 2 years. Take it from the Mariners if you don’t believe me.