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NFL continuity as an overrated concept

One of the most over-used and now cliche concepts for managing an NFL team is the adherence to continuity.

Great NFL teams preach continuity and practice what they preach, the common thinking goes. Those teams have men they trust at the top of their organizations and on their coaching staff and they stick with those guys come gray skies or blue. It is, the uninitiated contend, the most tested way to be successful.

And to put evidence behind their argument people who believe continuity is great point to the New England Patriots. The Patriots, you see, are a model of continuity. Since 2012 the Patriots and Green Bay Packers are one of only two NFL teams with the same head coach, same starting quarterback, same offensive coordinator and same defensive coordinator.

They are the New England Rock of Gibraltars.

Yeah, this is all quaint. But it is flawed.

I believe in NFL continuity but only when continuing down the same path is the right thing to do. I believe in NFL continuity when one is trying to continue something, you know, successful. I believe in continuity when one has total confidence the folks with which one is continuing are the best people you can get.

And that is why I dismiss the call for complete continuity within the Miami Dolphins.

Anyone who has read this space or my columns or follows me on twitter (you should follow if you don't already) knows I believe the Dolphins would be better served replacing defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. I'm not alone on this. Some people within multiple branches of the Dolphins organization share the same opinion.

But so far, head coach Joe Philbin, whose contract gives him authority over the composition of his coaching staff, does not agree. So far, Kevin Coyle is still the Dolphins defensive boss.


But here is my problem: What are the Dolphins looking to continue?

A continued inability to maximize the defensive talent on the roster? So we can expect more days of no solid plan for Dion Jordan? More days of Chris McCain showing great promise in the season opener and then becoming less functional on defense as the year moves forward?  More days of experimenting with linebackers who underperform while sitting linebackers who are better? (This happened, see Jelani Jenkins). More days of players (Jamar Taylor, Willie Davis, Jordan) not developing? More days of players (Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Karlos Dansby) leaving the team and performing better at their new stops than they did here? More days of players (Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Dansby again, Kevin Burnett) coming here and performing worse than they did at previous stops or here under previous coaches?

More days of a defense allowing more points every passing year?

I do not think that merits continuity.

I believe all those truths combined are reasons for dismissal even if one thinks continuity is wonderful. And I don't think it is wonderful for its own sake. I think continuity is over-rated.

Consider my arguments:

Would it have been better for the Dolphins to have continuity with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman last season over the hiring of Bill Lazor?

If you answered yes, you must immediately purchase and wear a dunce cap.

The Denver Broncos on Monday "mutually agreed" to part ways with head coach John Fox. The man had a 46-18 record in Denver. He coached four years and won four AFC West titles. He won one AFC Championship. He went to one Super Bowl.

But his team was eliminated in the first-round of the playoffs Sunday -- the second time that has happened in his four seasons -- and John Elway decided it was time to shift gears.

The continuity advocates must be apoplectic.

I do not criticize Elway because he realized that despite Fox's success the coach did not lift the team to its expected heights, particular at the end of seasons. That team was built to win a Super Bowl. And it didn't. Fox had run his course in Denver and failed to finish.


Remember, Elway is the man who had a highly paid starting quarterback in Kyle Orton. And when Orton wasn't winning in 2011, he was benched in favor of Tim Tebow. And even though Tebow rescued what was a losing team and helped the team go to the playoffs and win a playoff game, he got replaced the next offseason by Peyton Manning.

Elway does not accept continuity for the sake of merely reaching the same height over and over even if the last guy enjoyed some level of success. Elway apparently believes in being aggressive to reach higher.

Is it a gamble? No doubt.

But every NFL season is a gamble. There is no sure thing with change. But I remind you there definitely is no certainty with continuity, either.

About that continuity paradigm again ... yes, the Patriots have been staying the course. The Green Bay Packers also are a model of staying the course. Did either of those two teams stay the course when their outstanding starting quarterbacks could be replaced with younger, possibly better replacements?

No. They made bold changes.

The Super Bowl teams last year were Seattle and Denver -- teams that embrace change. I've outlined the Denver change. The Seahawks had a different defensive coordinator last year than the year before. They brought Percy Harvin in and sent him packing just as easily and indeed, let multiple good players go with no remorse.

One of the NFL's most improved teams this year? The Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones has juggled that coaching staff every season the past four years.

The Buffalo Bills went from six wins to nine wins this season -- and their defense got better with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

The Colts are in the AFC title game. They fired Jim Caldwell. He coached three years there. He had a .542 winning percentage. But he had one bad year without Peyton Manning in 2011 and he was gone. Three seasons. Good-bye. Oh, the Colts also got rid of Manning. And they got rid of Bill Polian who has built not one, not two, but three franchises into Super Bowl teams.

So the Colts cleaned house in 2012 after years and years of success -- continuity be damned.

Did I mention the Colts are in the AFC title game on Sunday?

Baltimore is considered a pillar of continuity. Except they fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in-season during a losing skid in 2012 ... and then went on to win the Super Bowl the same season. The team has had three offensive coordinators the past three years. This team sheds cornerstone players such as Ed Reed (not re-signed), Todd Heap, Anquan Boldin, Micheal Oher, Derrick Mason, and others, as if it was changing clothes. 

People that worship continuity typically run toward two cathedrals to give their little icon sanctuary.

1. They say perpetual losers are in constant flux. They point to teams such as Cleveland or Oakland. But they inexplicably make the leap that change is the reason for the losing rather than understanding that it's exactly the other way around.

It's the losing, my friends, that is the reason for the change.

I just showed you examples of how change has proven to be quite profitable for many good organizations. These organizations realize when you don't have the right people on board, you throw them over the side and look for other right people.

The problem comes when organizations either hire wrong people and A. do not change them or B. change them but hire more wrong people.

This is not a problem in change being wrong. This is an issue with wrong change being wrong, just as wrong continuity is wrong.

The other argument people use to favor continuity is pointing at the past where coaches or players or whomever struggled early on and then, given ample time, succeeded.

These people love to use Hall of Fame coaches Tom Landry and Chuck Noll as examples.

Landry began his head coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and compiled a 19-46 record his first five seasons. And, the narrative goes, Landry then blossomed because he was given enough time and his owner Clint Murchison Sr. allowed for continuity to take root.

What these folks do not say is Tom Landry took over an expansion franchise. The man was handed, well, nothing. He had to build from a dirt practice field on up. Comparing him to a coach handed an established mediocre team -- or in the Coyle case, a playoff-caliber defense -- is intellectually deceitful. 

Noll? He was 1-13 his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and, the continuity brigade argues, the ability of the Rooney ownership to stay the course with him paid off handsomely five years later when the Steelers started a dynastic run.

What folks leave out is Noll took over a team that had lost 40 games the previous four seasons. So no, he didn't immediately turn things around his first year. But he improved his second year, and his third year and his fourth year. He showed constant improvement. And seeing constant improvement breeds continued confidence things will stay pointed in the right direction.

That is not the case with the Dolphins defense and is actually the opposite of what we're seeing with a unit that has regressed.

By the way, the Steelers, a team known for continuity, just "parted ways" with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau, 77, made it very clear he is not retiring and is already on the radar in Arizona if Todd Bowles gets a head coaching job.

Two good coaches on the move.

So much for continuity for its own sake.