(Dan Rooney photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Bill Belichick photo courtesy of the New England Patriots)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
The Pittsburgh Steelers hired Chuck Noll as their head coach in 1969. Twenty-three years later, the Rooney family hired Bill Cowher to replace Noll. Sixteen years later, Mike Tomlin was hired to replace Cowher.
Add it all up and that’s three head coaches over the last 46 years, and all won Super Bowls for the Steelers.
The Steelers are the most patient franchise in the NFL. And that patience has been rewarded.
Otherwise, patience is a lost virtue in today’s NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers fired Jim Tomsula as their head coach this week after just one season. The Tennessee Titans fired Ken Whisenhunt after 23 games. Cleveland Browns whacked Mike Pettine and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let Lovie Smith go, both after two seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles released Chip Kelly after three.
The Titans are now searching for their third head coach in the last five years. The Browns are searching for their fifth head coach in the last eight years. The Oakland Raiders have had nine head coaches since 2000, and the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins seven apiece.
So much for patience.
Once upon a time NFL teams were owned by sportsmen — the Halases, Hunts, Maras, Rooneys and Wilsons. There weren’t millions of dollars to be made from football. These men and their families owned the teams because they genuinely loved the sport.
But the billions of dollars paid out by the television networks over the years to broadcast games have transformed the NFL into the most popular sport in America. Now there is money to make from the ownership of an NFL franchise — millions upon millions of dollars from the TV contracts and the revenue streams that all the new stadiums generate.
So there’s a new breed of owner that’s taking over the league. They are businessmen first, sportsmen a very distant second.
To maximize your investment in an NFL team, you must win. When you don’t, the natural reaction of any businessman when his business is failing is to hold someone accountable. And that someone in NFL circles is the head coach.
The new breed of owners lacks the understanding that winning doesn’t happen overnight and that the task of a coach becomes complicated when he doesn’t have a franchise quarterback in place. So many of the new breed of owners want to win like Bob Kraft up in New England — but they don’t have Tom Brady taking the snaps on offense over the last 15 years like Kraft has had with the Patriots.
Tomsula can’t win with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, so he gets fired. Smith and Whisenhunt can’t win with rookie quarterbacks, so they get fired. Pettine can’t win with a journeyman quarterback, so he gets fired.
A Lamar Hunt, a Wellington Mara and a Dan Rooney understood football. They made ownership decisions based on what they saw on the field, not the bottom line of their business ledger. They understood that all 32 teams — or 12 or 14 or 26, depending on the size of the league at the time — could not win every season.
But the new breed of owner seems to believe his team should win every season. And there have been countless coaching casualties along the path of failure. In the last five years, there have now been 37 head coaching changes. Twenty-four of the 32 teams have changed head coaches in that time. The Steelers, by the way, have not been one of them.
Since 2000, there have been 117 coaching changes. Only one team has had the same coach for the last 16 years — the Patriots with Bill Belichick.
The other 31 owners did not have Tom Brady. They also didn’t have much patience.