Monday, January 08, 2007

Decisions, Decisions

Just an uninformed observation, and then on to the NFL: Isn’t it ironic that, at a glance, the Bush’s administration plan for Iraqi economic stabilization entails what appears to be a $1 billion (?!) FDR-style, WPA-like plan to create jobs through a public works program. It’s ironic because the Bush administration has been trying to marginalize, if not undo, the impact of FDR’s Depression-era policies ever since it took office.

Now, on to more salient issues of the day (at least for us) …

Like all good mechanisms, the NFL represents the sum of its inter-related parts. Nothing operates in a vacuum. For Steelers’ fans, fond as we are of navel-gazing and (currently) agonizing over whether franchise management will select (as Head Coach Bill Cowher’s replacement) either Assistant Head Coach Russ Grimm or Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (or even a wild card outsider such as Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears), it’s interesting to note what happened in Atlanta over the weekend.

The Atlanta Falcons named the University of Louisville’s Bobby Petrino as the team’s new head coach. This is worth noting and bears watching on a number of levels:

1) First, it eliminates the Steelers’ Ken Whisenhunt as a candidate for the Falcons’ job, for which he was widely considered a front-runner for the following reasons: First and foremost, he’s a bright and seriously accomplished young coach who will get his shot this year at a head coaching position somewhere in the NFL. Additionally, because he attended Georgia Tech, and because he and his wife are from the Atlanta area, the Falcon’s job presumably would have been attractive to him, especially if the Steelers offered their head coaching position to another candidate.

2) Second, both Petrino and Whisenhunt last year reportedly were offered head coaching jobs in the NFL, or at least were serious candidates. Both declined their respective opportunities. Under Petrino, the University of Louisville has over the past few years and has correspondingly plowed enormous sums of money into it, including investments in a brand new stadium and other facilities, in addition to recruiting, staff, assistants and marketing. Keep in mind that based on Louisville’s gigundous offer last year to Petrino, it looked like Petrino had made the decision that Louisville was the place where he wanted to make his legacy as a lifelong, big-time college coach, which is not necessarily a bad legacy to have. No, sirreee, not at all ... if that’s what you want to do. Louisville’s contract with Petrino thus made it necessary for Atlanta to offer Petrino an even more sumptuous offer: $24 million over five years, plus lavish perks and (presumably) ancillary inducements such as decision-making freedom and the budgets to hire the assistants he wants and the free-agent talent (cap allowing) that he desires.

3) As for Whisenhunt, who declined the Oakland Raiders’ offer last year to become that moribund franchise's head coach, the speculation following that decision was that Bill Cowher had informed him of his own plans to resign following the 2006 season, opening the way for Whiz to become the de facto leading candidates as the Steelers’ head coach this off-season. That was (speculatively) one reason for him to decline the head coaching position in Oakland last off-season. The other reasons, not surprisingly, included the lack of talent in Oakland and, probably even more so, the penurious control-freak owner (Al Davis) and the small-minded management team that is stuck in a “Pride ‘n Poise” time warp that would seriously cramp any head coach’s ability to succeed in Oaktown. Thank you, Art Shell, for your efforts in 2006.

4) Now, a question: Why did Atlanta reach into the college ranks (historically risky) to hire its head coach instead of selecting somebody (Whisenhunt) more familiar with the ways of the NFL and who, incidentally, had his fingerprints all over the 2005 Super Bowl winner and orchestrated a top 10 offense in 2006? (yeah, we know, it’s hard to believe)? The answer: Michael Vick. It’s no secret Michael Vick is a coach killer. Hell, Jim Mora, Sr., the father of Vick’s most recent coach, Jim Mora, Jr., said it himself on the radio airwaves during the season. Vick has talent, and throughout his career, his head coaches have tried to harness and channel that talent. Give Jim Mora, Jr. credit: He tried to install a style of offense conducive to Vick’s talent. Mora fils seemed to be using as a model Hall of Famer Steve Young, who had many attributes similar to Michael Vick’s – both, left-handed, mobile quarterbacks who could potentially exploit the best attributes of the West Coast offense. Coincidentally, Jim Mora, Sr. coached Steve Young for a couple of years in the now long-defunct USFL, where Young could learn the West Coast offense without anybody paying much attention. Vick has had no such under-the-radar training ground. He has had to try learn the Mora system in the harsh, unforgiving spotlight of the NFL, and he has not had much success. Atlanta, however, has so much invested in Vick that the franchise is stuck with him. So, instead of trying to make Vick fit a “system,” it is bringing in Petrino to fit a system to Vick. Which system? Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls speculate that we can fully expect it to be one with which Petrino is extremely familiar: The spread-option offense perfected by Petrino’s rival, West Virginia University Head Coach Rich Rodriguez with QB Pat White, who like Vick is left-handed, passes adequately well -- sometimes -- and is an incredible running quarterback. Will it work in the NFL? Maybe, for a while, until opposing defenses figure it out. But it seems like Atlanta is willing to try one last-ditch attempt to salvage something of its disastrous draft-day trade of a few years ago when it sacrificed two draft picks -- which became QB Drew Brees, a front-runner for this year’s NFL MVP, and LaDanian Tomlinson, the actual winner of this year’s NFL MVP Award -- for the rights to select Vick with the first overall pick in that year’s NFL draft.

5) Which brings us back to the Steelers’ decision on a new head coach: Choices, choices; decisions, decisions. There are pros and cons, of course, to Messrs. Grimm, Whisenhunt, Rivera, et al. Just one observation: In last year’s coaching hierarchy (organizational chart), it was Russ Grimm who was Assistant Head Coach. This title made him second in line of command to Cowher, although as offensive line coach, he was presumably subservient to Whisenhunt’s role as offensive coordinator. Hmmm. Verry interesting, verr-ry interesting.


pau1ke11y said...

Is there any truth to the rumor that Mike Ditka is a candidate to be the head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

Thanks, Old Cleat (a/k/a "Mike Ditka") for raising this question. The answer is, "No."

Unless, that is, the Steelers plan to trade their entire 2007 draft for the rights to Ricky Williams, and then help Iron Mike build another in his chain of Mike Ditka's Steakhouses adjacent to Heinz Field.

Having said that, thanks for the comment!