Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Is first-year success bad for a coach?

Heard an interesting conversation the other day on Sirius NFL Radio when the hosts (may have been Bob Poppa and Ross Tucker) were discussing first-year head coaches.

The discussion centered on how fans (and the media) perceive coaches and, if you are successful your first year on the job, do the expectations become unrealistic for years two, three and four?

They used Miami coach Tony Sparano as an example, who led the Dolphins to the playoffs his first year in 2008 by going 11-5 against a weak schedule. The Fins have been 7-9 each of the past two years, and now Sparano is an early season candidate for “coach on the hot seat” honors (thankfully we don’t have to worry about that nonsense this year in Cleveland).

So because the team had a good first year under Sparano, expectations were raised, perhaps unrealistically, which lead to increased pressure on Sparano.

The hosts talked about whether it would be better for a first-year coach, who is generally busy that first year cleaning out the former coach’s players, to have a poorer record the first year to keep fan expectations realistic, then build off that as they work to remake their team.

They weren’t advocating that as an official team strategy – no Suck for Luck campaign, for example – more of just a conversation to fill time while we all wait for the start of the regular season.

We thought it was interesting, though, because we seem to go through coaches here in Cleveland at a rather quick rate.

It’s pretty safe to say that we are all beyond ready for the Browns to start winning, so we’d hate to think of the team intentionally taking a step back this season. But we’re confident the team will bring its best each week.

It’s possible the Browns will finish with more wins than last year’s 5-11 team, simply because they play an easier schedule this year. Out are New England, the Jets, New Orleans and Atlanta. In are the NFC West.

But that’s not what we’re looking for. We don’t want a team that is competitive only when it has an easy schedule (think 2007), but one that can compete every year, no matter how the schedule shakes out (yes, we’re going to say it: think Pittsburgh. No matter what, you can always go into the season expecting the Steelers to win double digits and compete for a playoff spot).

The Browns need to continue working to build a system that will make the team competitive every year. While it would be great to see the team go 10-6 this year, that doesn’t help if they are 5-11 the next two years. We could live with 6-10 this year if that turns into 9-7 next season and 11-5 the year after that. We have to stop judging everything on a one-year basis.

We’re not sure yet how good the Browns will be this season, but we are sure of one thing: no matter what the final record is, fan expectations will be out of proportion to reality.

It’s what makes us all Browns fans, after all.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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2 thoughts on “Is first-year success bad for a coach?

  1. You got this exactly right. I think way too many fans view everything in the short term without giving real consideration to the long term. I would gladly take 6-10 this season if it was clear that we are truly building an organization that can win year to year. One of the toughest things about being a Browns fan is having to watch your two most hated rivals in Pittsburgh and Baltimore be two of the best organizations in football.

  2. I agree Mark. When you watch Pittsburgh and Baltimore you realize just how far the Browns have to go just to competitive within the division, let alone the league.

    If only they could play in the NFC West …

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