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Musical Chairs

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

The Opening Ceremonies kick off the Winter Olympic Games tomorrow and there's plenty of Olympic commentary on the table. But let's wait until the Games get under way for all that. I've still got something to say about the NFL. The inspiration of the Steelers' Super Bowl victory last Sunday, for me, by far, was the loyalty of the team's management. They kept their once-star running back, Jerome Bettis, after his best days were seemingly behind him. They valued him enough to figure out a way to use 'The Bus' less frequently and squeeze the last drop of energy and desire out of his enormous frame. And the Rooney family's belief in their Coach, Bill Cowher, is unheard of in today's world of quick fixes. Cower started with Pittsburgh 14 years ago. He had some success, took the team to a Super Bowl once. But he had some down years, too. Losing seasons after which most coaches' heads roll. When Cower's tears rolled on Sunday, it was partly because he was grateful to the Rooney's for letting him continue to impart his football wisdom until he could piece all the winning elements together.

Now that the season is officially over, save for the ceremonious Pro Bowl this weekend, ten NFL coaches have left their posts. The head coach turn-over rate in the league has averaged 6.4 a season since 1990, but this year it's ten! That's more or less a third of all the head coaches, most of them dismissed for a poor record. Imagine any other profession whereby a third of the CEO's or presidents changed every year. What, for example, if a third of all university presidents were fired or left their posts every year? A ridiculous, ineffectual game of musical chairs ensues. The pool of individuals groomed and prepared to commandeer an NFL squad is limited. When a coach leaves Team X to go to Team Y, the former coach of Team Y heads to Team Z. And Teams A, B, and C are most likely only considering men who have had experience as head coach previously. It's a swirling swap meet that then becomes the ultimate chaotic six-degrees-of-separation. A new head coach scans the League for all his former cronies and works hard to lure them away from other teams, regardless of their contract obligations. Contracts seem utterly meaningless in this world. Mike Sherman, for instance, was fired from the Green Bay Packers at the end of this season. He had a year left on his contract and he will be compensated according to terms but the contract didn't guarantee him his job.

They might as well put all the fired head coaches in a big hall and sit them in a circle of folding chairs. Bring in all the offensive and defensive coordinators, and quarterback coaches of the league to fill out the rest of the chairs. Instruct them all that at the first beat of some fast-paced music, they will get up and start running around the circle with great gusto. When the music stops, grab the chair closest by. If you land in the Detroit Lions head coach chair, you must be Rod Marinelli, former defensive line coach for Tampa Bay, and you will quickly scan the room for former Buccaneers' colleagues to drag up to Detroit with you.

I prefer the Steelers method. Show faith in your coach. Stick with him, even in the rough times. He may have to deal with injured players, draft choices that didn't pan out, free agents who take off and chase bigger dollars elsewhere. But if you believe he knows what he's doing, he has a better chance of bringing you the Lombardi trophy than a new coach who needs some four to five years to instill his philosophy, develop a draft plan, gather his staff by robbing other teams, and get the machine well-oiled.

But the Steelers are an anomaly in this League. NFL owners pull a quick trigger. They panic and fire their coaches at the end of a losing season, forgetting that in trying to orchestrate an operation as large and complex as an NFL team, there is no logic to a quick fix.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

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