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The Law of Diminishing Returns and NFL Head Coaches


The Law of Diminishing Returns refers to how the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected. For example...

If Nike decided to name me president of their company for one day, its a safe bet that I couldn't go in there and mess anything up. However, let Nike make me the president for real. I could probably go in there and keep things running for a decent period of time, still not messing anything up. Over the course of time, maybe over a 2-3 year period however...man, I'd have Nike making me custom Langston University Air Force One's, giving money to the UNCF, and making decisions on a whim because I'm the president. Nike's stock would start to tumble, and total anarchy and chaos would ensue.

Why? Because I'm not ready to be president of Nike. I don't have the experience to do it. (Give me 5-10 years though Mr. Phil Knight, I'll be ready then. Wink.) There are many head coaches in the NFL where this same philosophy applies, and its time for these coaches, general managers, and owners to be called for their wrongdoings.

There's something I've noticed about coaches who come into new organizations and the team seems revitalized. They get to hear a new voice and they're motivated to a higher level. Time and time again you'll get a new coach on a team with maligned superstars and the team overachieves. Look at the Dallas Cowboys as an example...

Barry Switzer, 1997: 6-10
Chan Gailey, 1998: 10-6

Dave Campo, 2002: 5-11
Bill Parcells, 2003: 10-6

Bill Parcells, 2006: 9-7
Wade Phillips, 2007: 13-3

In every case, the new head coach was able to improve the team's win total by 4 victories. So were they able to sustain that success? Let's look at the following year's record for each coach.

Chan Gailey, 1998: 10-6
Chan Gailey, 1999: 8-8

Bill Parcells, 2003: 10-6
Bill Parcells, 2004: 6-10

Wade Phillips, 2007: 13-3
Wade Phillips, 2008: 9-7

Parcells and Phillips both missed the playoffs the following season, and Gailey's 1999 Cowboys made the playoffs as the wild card in an anemic NFC conference. The point is this, a coach's grasp of his organization and and taking control of his regime takes time. Usually 3-4 years or so. Most coaches can come in and make some tweaks here and there and make things better for the short term.

Wade Phillips stepped into a Dallas Cowboys team that was infinitely on the rise. Parcells put that organization on his shoulders and molded them in his image. He found him his quarterback for the future (Tony Romo), he found him his running back to be his version of Keith Byars (Marion Barber), and he had found himself his version of Lawrence Taylor (DeMarcus Ware). He even had his diamond in the rough (Miles Austin, #14 edition). He had his Parcells' guys on the team in Terry and Aaron Glenn, no relation. The team was on the collective uptick and was STOCKED with a ton of draft picks.

One problem. Jerry Jones felt the need to add a superstar wide receiver. Bill Parcells didn't want him. You all know who he is...Terrell Owens. Terrell Owens signed, and a year later Parcells walked away.

Tangent: Kenny shed light to this last night for me, but understand who was all on this coaching staff while Parcells was there.

Quarterbacks Coach/Offensive Coordinator - Sean Payton (Saints HC)
Offensive Line/Running-Game Coordinator - Tony Sparano (Dolphins HC)
Wide Receivers Coach - Todd Haley (Chiefs HC)
Defensive Coordinator - Mike Zimmer (Bengals defensive coordinator, 2011 HC target)

By this time in 2011, all four of those men will be head coaches in the NFL. End tangent.


Parcells was building a machine, and an owners' pride and ego got in the way and ruined everything. Wade Phillips was never meant to be the head coach of that organization, its not his fault...he's just not the man for that job. In the subsequent years the Cowboys have diminished into the team we see today. Over the last 4 years the Cowboys have become undisciplined, have lacked in the fundamentals, and have tried to build a team with veteran names instead of players who fit their system. Now the Cowboys are 1-6.

This also applies to the San Diego Chargers. We all remember the rise of the Chargers back in 2002 as Marty Schottenheimer was installed as the head coach. Took a 5-win team in 2001 to an 8-win team in 2002. By 2006, Marty Ball was a 14-win team and a ferocious defense who only fell in an untimely demise of bad luck and the sheer conservativeness of Schottenheimer.

So in 2007, the "Lord of No Rings" aka AJ Smith decides we need to change it up. They hire Norv Turner. His record before joining the Chargers? 58-82.

So you go from a coach in Schottenheimer who coached up a team with a franchise QB (Rivers), franchise RB (Tomlinson), franchise WR (V. Jackson), franchise WR (Gates), and a defense that was filled with young talent and finished as the 7th-best defense in the league.

The "Lord of No Rings" ego got in the way again. He did a great job of picking the personnel of this team, but then felt that he needed to change the coach. Let me say this...I might not be able to be the president of Nike, but even I could coach that team. Norv Turner was handed this juggernaut and has kept the machine rolling, to a degree. The Chargers are by far the flattest team in the NFL year in and year out at the beginning of the season. Check the first 8 games of each of the last 4 seasons for Turner...

2007: 4-4
2008: 3-5
2009: 5-3 (after 5 games SD was 2-3)
2010: 3-5

That's just plain unacceptable.

This isn't new phenomenon. I think that you have to be realistic of what you're getting from your team, your head coach, your general manager, and your owner. Someone has to have the foresight and understanding that either you're building something great or your just treading water. Ask Denver Broncos fans how they feel about Josh McDaniels and if they see a positive future moving forward. (After the Broncos 6-2 start in 2009, the Broncos are just 4-12 in their last 16 games. Yikes.)

With all that being said, there are some head coaches and teams who have reversed their trends and their future looks mighty bright. Here's three examples, and look what they have in common:


Tampa Bay (5-2) - All hail Raheem Morris, who after a 3-13 debacle of a season some folks thought that he was not the man for the job. However, they have young talent all across the board and a quarterback who's a leader in Josh Freeman. They play hard every week and their team believes. Remember this thought.

Kansas City (5-2) - All hail Todd Haley, who after a 4-12 debacle of a season some folks thought that he was not the man for the job. However, they have young talent all across the board and a quarterback who's a leader in Matt Cassel. They play hard every week and their team believes. Remember this thought again...

St. Louis (4-4) - All hail Steve Spagnuolo, who after a 1-15 debacle of a season some folks thought that he was not the man for the job. However, they have young talent all across the board and a quarterback who's a leader in Slingin' Sammy Bradford. They play hard every week and their team believes. Sound familiar?

Look, these things take time. Your team is either moving forward or falling to the back of the pack. The Law of Diminishing Returns is a dangerous thing, because you might not recognize that your team is in that funk...however, when the shit hits the fan, its all bad.

-Ed.
www.edthesportsfan.comP.S. As a reminder, checkout the livest sports talk (and hopefully on the radio soon) show around, "The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show" as we are live Wednesday's at 9pm Eastern at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edthesportsfan! Download our podcasts if you missed the live show as well!

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