Scramble for the Ball: Meltdown!
by Doug Farrar
Ahoy-hoy, Scrambalayas! Bill Barnwell has entrusted me with the Franchise while he takes this week to move from the East Coast ... to the West Coast ... down the Dixie highway back home (GAH!), and I'm proud to sub in.
When thinking about what to do with Scramble's esoteric format, I was prodded to remember my favorite coaching meltdowns by Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's recent flameout. The "meltdown" concept could certainly apply to players/positional units/teams, but that's well-covered on this site and many others. Instead, I wanted to share my Great Eight coaching rants/freakouts/braincramps, and see what your favorites might be. Fear not, though. Your Scramble favorites -- Best Bets, Loser League, and Keep Choppin' Wood -- are below the fold, and hopefully almost as entertaining as they are when Bill does them. Plus, Gil Thorp gets to the bottom of some Week 4 quarterback horribleness. Sound like fun? Let's go!
My eight favorite meltdowns, in reverse order:
Coach: Bill Callahan, Oakland Raiders
Date: November 30, 2003
Reason: The defending AFC Champions had just lost to the Denver Broncos, 22-8, and were held without a touchdown for the first time in three seasons. The Raiders were penalized 11 times for 89 yards and lost three fumbles.
Meltdown: "If we don't learn how not to beat ourselves, we won't win again, and we won't win for a long time," Callahan said in his postgame tantrum. "We've got to be the dumbest team in America in terms of playing the game. I'm highly critical because of the way we give games away -- we give 'em away! Period. It's embarrassing, and I represent that. And I apologize for that. If that's the best we can do, it's a sad product."
Result: That loss put Oakland at 3-9, and Callahan's outburst infuriated his players. Cornerback Charles Woodson, who couldn't stand Callahan anyway, later remarked, "I can't believe (a) grown man would call another man dumb." Offensive lineman Frank Middleton had this to say: "I'm not ever going to call my teammates dumb. Since you were a kid, your mama taught you not to call anyone dumb or stupid." After finishing 4-12 in his second season as the Raiders' head coach, and causing a near-mutiny among the team, Callahan was summarily dismissed.
Coach: Jim Mora the Younger, Atlanta Falcons
Date: December 14, 2006
Reason: Atlanta's coach publicly states, jokingly or not, that he'd give up the NFL for his alma mater.
Meltdown: During an appearance on Seattle radio station KJR, Mora said that he would "absolutely" leave the Falcons if the Washington head coaching job, then and currently held by Tyrone Willingham, was ever made available. Mora, a Washington alum, told host Dave Mahler and college roommate Hugh Millen that "if that job's open, you'll find me at the friggin' head of the line with my resume in my hand, ready to take that job ... If (Willingham) decides at some point that he's ready to move on and they want me, I will be there. I don't care if we're in the middle of a playoff run, I'm packing my stuff and coming back to Seattle. I'm dead serious, the further I get away from it the more I'm drawn to it ... As I'm sitting here, I'm looking at a Huskies helmet."
Since Mora was still under contract with the Falcons (as was Willingham with the Huskies), he had to engage in some spin control. "First and foremost, I'm sorry," Mora said in a statement the next day." Despite my off-the-cuff intentions, what I said was not appropriate for my players, the Falcons organization and our fans, and Tyrone Willingham. I got too relaxed with the radio talk show host who is a former college roommate, and I got carried away with the banter. I want every fan in Atlanta to know that my heart and passion are right here with the Falcons and winning our game this weekend."
Result: In three seasons with the Falcons, Mora went 11-5, then 8-8, then 7-9. The downslide, and Blank's unhappiness with his comments, led to Mora's firing on January 1, 2007. Mora became the Seahawks' secondary coach soon after. Of course, with what we now know about the Falcons (and what Mora himself must have at least suspected), the idea that he was joking doesn't hold quite as much weight.
Coach: Bill Belichick, New York Jets/New England Patriots
Date: January 4, 2000
Reason: Uncertainty leads Belichick from Jets to Pats, or, "I resign as the HC of the NYJ."
Meltdown: One day after being named the head coach of the New York Jets, Belichick resigned in what was one of the strangest and most awkward public statements any coach ever gave. This wasn't a meltdown; it was just strange. After bring handed the reins by Bill Parcells, Belichick balked and quit. "I just don't feel I can lead the Jets in the year 2000," he said. "I just know what I need to do. I just don't feel I can do it right now. It is not about the future, it is about the situation I am in now. I just can't do what I need to do here," he continued. "There are a lot of unanswered questions here. I have been concerned about it since (ex-owner) Leon Hess died (in May) ... I had no clear direction of where I am going in the organization."
Result: Belichick did, however, have an idea where he would go. The Patriots had fired Pete Carroll after a disastrous tenure, and New England gave up three draft picks, including a first in 2000, for his services. Belichick brought Scott Pioli on board and began creating the first (and now somewhat controversial) dynasty of the salary cap era.
Coach: Jerry Burns, Minnesota Vikings
Date: November 12, 1989
Reason: Minnesota offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker came under question in a post-game press conference after the Vikings beat the Rams, 23-21, by kicking seven field goals.
Meltdown: "It was one hell of a game. I mean, s***, for 23 bucks if you can get more excitement than that, hell, you're in the wrong operation. Let me say something. As long as I'm in this f****** job, Schnelker will be the offensive coach. There'll be no f****** question about that. I don't like to name names after a f****** ... after a f****** game, but we can't be responsible for the blocking, we can't be responsible for the f******* guys jumping offside, we can't be responsible for f****** ... We get down there, and it was a dumb play by Anderson. I love Anderson, but it was a dumb play when his shoe came off, hollerin' up the line to take a timeout. We had a trap play called, and his f****** shoe comes off! That ain't Bob Schnelker's fault! We had another trap play called and (unidentified -- Bennie?) picks up his f******* feet and he walks in. We've got the f******* pass to A.C. out there in the flat, and the ball's thrown low. That ain't Bob Schnelker's fault!"
Result: Burns coached the Vikings through the 1991 season, compiling a 52-43 record in six seasons. And I learned that it's very difficult to transcribe audio when you're incapacitated with laughter.
Coach: Herman Edwards, New York Jets
Date: October 30, 2002
Reason: Because, well, you PLAY to WIN the GAME!
Meltdown: When asked about his team's ability to win following a loss to the Browns and a 2-5 start in 2002, Herm got all eloquent. "This is what's great about sports. This is what the greatest thing about sports is. You play to win the game. Hello? You PLAY to WIN the GAME! You don't play it to just play it. That's the great thing about sports: You play to win, and I don't care if you don't have any wins. You go play to win. When you start tellin' me it doesn't matter, then retire. Get out! 'Cause it matters."
Result: The Jets finished 7-2 down the stretch, proving that they did, indeed, PLAY to WIN the ... ah, well, you know. They beat the Colts 41-0 in the wild card round before losing to the Raiders in the divisional frame.
Coach: Jim Mora, New Orleans Saints
Date: October 25, 1987
Reason: Because "coulda, woulda, shoulda" ain't good enough!
Meltdown: Mora the Elder is the Babe Ruth of meltdowns -- the king of Career Value -- and we knew we were in the presence of greatness from his second year in New Orleans. In 1987, the Saints lost a close game to the 49ers, falling to 3-3. Mora had this to say after the game: "The Saints ain't good enough. We're close, and close don't mean s***. I'm tired of coming close. I'm pissed off right now. You bet your ass I am. I'm sick of coulda, woulda, shoulda, coming close, if only."
Result: We're picking this one over his later "diddly-poo" speech in New Orleans because of the positive effects. The Saints ran off a nine-game winning streak, finishing with a 12-3 record, and the first winning season in the franchise's 20-year history. They lost to Jerry Burns' Vikings in the wild card round of the playoffs, ensuring great quotage either way.
Coach: Jim Mora, Indianapolis Colts
Date: November 25, 2001
Reason: Because "Playoffs" had never been a question before.
Meltdown: Different team, same result. After another loss to the 49ers (this one wasn't close), the all-time Mora Meltdown took place: "Let me start out saying this: Do NOT blame that game on the defense, OK? I don't care who you play, whether it's a high school team, a junior college team, a college team, much less an NFL team, when you turn the ball over five times ... you ain't gonna beat anybody. That was a disgraceful performance ... We gave it away. We gave them the frigging game. In my opinion, that sucked. You can't turn it over five times. Holy crap. I don't know who the hell we think we are when we do something like that ... We've thrown five interceptions returned for touchdowns. That might be a league record. And we've still got six games left, so there's no telling how many we'll have. I mean, it's absolutely pitiful to play like that ... Horrible. Just horrible. Horrible. Playoffs? Don't talk about playoffs! Are you kidding me? PLAYoffs? I'm just hoping we can win another game!"
Result: Indianapolis did somehow manage two more victories in the 2001 season, but their 6-10 record concluded Mora's estimable coaching career -- he was fired and replaced by Tony Dungy, whose even more estimable coaching career has been distinctly meltdown-free. Mora's retirement may have had connoisseurs of coaching freakouts concerned that such natural volcanic inclination would not be seen again.
Little did we know â€¦
Coach: Dennis Green, Arizona Cardinals
Date: October 16, 2006
Reason: Green's frustration following Arizona's Monday Night debacle against the Chicago Bears. The Cardinals were up 20-0 on the eventual NFC champs at halftime, but two fumble returns and a Devin Hester punt return for touchdowns in the second half allowed Da Bears to come back and beat Denny's Cards, 24-23. For fans of coaching meltdowns, what followed was pure bliss.
Meltdown: "We just ... the Bears are what we thought they were. They're what we thought they were. We played them in the preseason. Who the hell takes the third game of the preseason like it's bulls***? We played them in the third game, everyone played three quarters ... the BEARS ... are who we THOUGHT they WERE! THAT'S why we took the damn field! Now (bats microphone), if you want to crown them, then CROWN THEIR ASS! But they ARE who we THOUGHT they were! And we LET 'EM OFF THE HOOK!"
Result: Green's performance was a masterpiece, constantly rising in inflection and intensity. And the microphone bat was a very nice touch. The team seemed to respond, as well! After suffering through a 12-29 record in his first 2 1/2 years as head coach, Green watched his formerly horrid offensive line come together and his team go 4-3 down the stretch. It was too late for Green, who was fired after the 2006 season, but his postgame rant will be remembered as the standard by which all others are judged.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Barnwell expressed his disappointment in the lack of Loser League suckitude, and I now have the same issue. No negative points among skill players, despite so much craptacular play. How can this be?
Quarterbacks: For the second straight week. Marc Bulger is your Loser League field general. Bulger did turn a negative into a positive in Week 4, following last week's -1 with a fat 3. Quite a blow after racking up 15 in Week 1 and 18 in Week 2. If he's still on your team, punt! Matt Leinart's 5, the sixes posted by Philip Rivers and Donovan McNabb, and Trent Green's 7 fill out the Bottom Five.
Running Backs: Detroit's Tatum Bell heads this list with a 2, and a fashion faux pas. The "assless" look is so 1987, dude. What's next, Whitesnake? If Jerious Norwood's your handcuff, that 3 he put up against the Texans made it all too literal. Tied with 5 were Thomas Jones, Kenny Watson and Willie Parker.
Wide Receivers: To paraphrase the Minutemen, we have a six-way tie for last. Arnaz Battle, Reggie Brown, Keary Colbert, Nate Burleson, Nate Washington, and Drew Carter all finished with one point. What better endorsement can we have of David Carr than the presence of two Carolina receivers here?
Kickers: Lawrence Tynes of the G-Men is our Losingest Loser of the Week, and it was a missed extra point that got him there with a total of -2. St. Louis' Jeff Wilkins posted the other negative of the week, a -1, which just adds to the Rams' Vortex of Horror. I can tell you that it's to the point where fans of other NFC West teams are begging the Fates to stop kicking these guys in the unmentionables. Jason Hanson of the Lions hit Ground Zero after a blocked XP, but that happened in the fourth quarter of the Bears game, when his team put up five touchdowns in 14 minutes, so you have to factor in a certain amount of exhaustion. Kicking, after all, is a trying endeavor...
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1-2-0 last week, 5-6-1 overall
Arizona (-3.5) over ST. LOUIS
I know we've all been burned by that whole "This is Arizona's year" thing too many times, but really... The Rams are in total freefall, and there don't seem to be any mitigating factors. St. Louis' medical staff is working double time these days -- right tackle Adam Goldberg, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, defensive ends Leonard Little and James Hall, strong safety Corey Chavous, linebacker Raonall Smith all underwent medical tests after the 35-7 loss to Dallas, and we know for sure that Goldberg will be out for at least four weeks with a sprained left MCL. Steven Jackson is still out with that groin injury. Then, there's the small matter of Marc Bulger's ribs, and the fact that more and more people want Gus Frerotte to start. Those last six words should tell you all you need to know.
HOUSTON (5.5) over Miami
A few things to note about the Fins: Ronnie Brown outgained the rest of his offense 207 to 71 against the Raiders, but Oakland's front seven can't tackle anyone -- they're currently dead last in DVOA against the run. It's difficult to explain how badly Trent Green is playing right now. And whatever Miami's defense was supposed to do this season, they're not doing it. Meanwhile, the Texans are quietly improving on defense, especially against the run. Defenses will continue to exploit Green's inefficiency by stacking the line, clogging his throwing lanes, and enabling his propensity for hurling dead ducks that are batted at the line. As a result, Ronnie Brown is living on borrowed time.
Tampa Bay (10.0) over INDIANAPOLIS
Yes, this is the Colts at home, and no, FO never believes what we see from Tampa Bay anymore, but this Bucs defense is second in Defensive DAVE (third in DVOA), Jeff Garcia hasn't thrown an interception in four games, and the Michael Pittman/Earnest Graham combo that will replace Cadillac Williams can keep things going.
Keep Choppin' Wood
You'd think that Eagles left tackle Winston Justice would have the Week 4 KCW sewn up after allowing Osi Umenyiora to sack Donovan McNabb six times on Sunday night. However, it's worth mentioning that the second-year lineman was starting at left tackle for the first time this season -- William Thomas, Philly's regular starting left tackle, was hurt. Umenyiora is no slouch either, having picked up two sacks against Walter Jones in 2005, back when Walter Jones was Walter Jones and such things were extremely noteworthy. You could just as easily give half that KCW to the Eagles' coaching staff, who didn't give Justice any running back or tight end help on any of those sacks.
No, we have a more prominent villain this week, and his name is Norv. Alleged Coach Turner gets the Big Axe this week for his "play-calling" during the Chargers' red zone stand that began with 4:03 left in the game.
First, a little background. After Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson sacked Philip Rivers at the seven-minute mark, causing a fumble that cornerback Tyron Brackenridge took for a touchdown, Kansas City was up, 30-16. Norvalicious still had time on the clock, and a running back that ripped Kansas City's defense for 116 yards on 14 carries in the first half. You know what you'd do, but you're not Norv. If you're Norv, you run Tomlinson only six times in the second half as your quarterback and defense have a race to see who can fall apart faster.
The Chargers moved downfield, landing at the Kansas City five-yard line with 4:03 remaining. And then -- Norv became Norv Squared! On first-and-goal, Rivers threw far right out of bounds from the shotgun with Darren Sproles (?) on his right and Kansas City's back seven playing at and behind the goal line. Rivers was feeling the heat, but Sproles was open at about the 2. Where's LT? Who the heck knows? Second down, San Diego goes shotgun again, with Tomlinson back in and motioning from Rivers' right side to the far left wideout, leaving four receivers and an empty backfield. Nothing like eliminating your options.
Rivers threw left, over Malcom Floyd's head, feeling the heat again, and Patrick Surtain almost ended the game with an interception as LT hung at the 5-yard line like he was waiting for a bus. "Nuts to you, Surtain!" said our Norv. "I don't need your help to botch this potential comeback!" On third down, still at the five-yard line, the Chargers went with an offset left with Lorenzo Neal and Tomlinson in the backfield ... and O'Neal headed forward, while LT moved to the right flat. Of course, the formation was inconsequential, because Jared Allen got in Rivers' face and Rivers threw the floober that made it fourth-and goal.
And on that fourth-and goal, LaDanian Tomlinson, the 2006 MVP, the man who has scored more touchdowns in a single season than anyone else ...as employed as a blocking back while Rivers threw a lob to Buster Davis that was tipped away by safety Jarrad Page.
And THAT, my friends, is how you Keep Choppin' Wood. Sing along with Norv! "I'm a lumberjack, and I'm okay..."