I’ve been thinking of the annual merry-go-round of NFL head coaching changes.
As a new season approaches, you wonder which teams actually picked a new man who will actually be better than the one they let go.
The great hope is that they catch lightning-in-a bottle, the guy who turns around a losing franchise and creates a new culture of contending, winning, and at the very best, championship teams.
We’ve seen all kinds of new faces selected for various reasons. A team that is woeful on offense chooses a coach who’s specialty is running a flashy, productive attack.
An outfit that simply cannot stop their opponents from scoring at will, find the one who has stamped his reputation on being outright miserly on allowing points.
As far as these approaches are concerned, some work and some don’t.
From what I’ve seen, the the best kind of head man who comes to town is a leader, regardless of what side of the ball he has coached before.
When the New York Giants were one of the dominant teams in the late 50’s, they had only two assistant coaches. Now NFL clubs have at least 15.
The two assistants to burly head coach Jim Lee Howell, were named Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. Both were destined to become head coaches and Lombardi got his opportunity first. Landry a few years later became the first head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. But back to Vince Lombardi.
He inherited a Green Bay Packers group that had its worst year in history in 1958, winning only one game, losing 10, and playing to a tie in the other.
How fast did Lombardi turn around the program? Pretty fast.
He won his opening game over the Chicago Bears, and after posting a 3-5 mark, finished with a bang and wound up 7-5, the Packers first winning season in 12 seasons.
Green Bay would capture 5 world championships in seven years including the first two Super Bowls.
But I will never forget a game during Lombardi’s first year at the helm.
My father and I were in the stands at Yankee Stadium on November 1st, 1959 to see the new Packers against the Giants, who would go on to lose to the Baltimore Colts 31-16 in the NFL Championship Game in Baltimore.
The Giants were 4-1 going in, the Packers a surprising 3-2.
I have a pretty decent memory for past happenings in sports, but I looked up these facts to accurately paint the picture.
The thing I recall from that game was the final score, Giants 20, Packers 3, and the two of us agreeing that the Green Bay Packers were finally a football team.
They played a cohesive, and poised brand of football, that may have resulted in a defeat, but showed the makings of a club that was unquestionably headed in the right direction.
I saw it again in 1969, my second year covering sports on KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers had suffered through a disastrous 2-11-1 campaign the year before under Bill Austin, oddly enough one of the fine assistants to Lombardi in Green Bay.
But Austin’s abilities didn’t materialize as a head coach, and he was replaced by Chuck Noll.
This is where someone might jump in and declare “and the rest is history”.
But not so fast.
Noll began his career in Pittsburgh the same way Lombardi did in Packerland, winning his first game. The Steelers beat the favored Detroit Lions, and the consensus was, the lowly Steelers were on their way.
I recently ran into Dan Marino, the former Dolphin quarterback great, and he told me he was at that game as a youngster, not a long walk from his home near Three Rivers Stadium.
Unlike, Lombardi’s winning first season, Noll lost every game the rest of the way.
He finished 1-13, but don’t be fooled.
Despite the record, it was evident, Chuck Noll was going to find success. No one could really predict how spectacular it would be with four Super Bowl titles in a six-year span.
So you ask, how can you tell?
Well, it’s never a case of being a sure thing, but frankly, you can see for yourself, a kind of dedication and team performance, once again, poise and cohesion. Decisive and aggressive play. Sheer hustle all over the gridiron, from start to finish.
It may be apparent that the talent is not yet in place, but you get the feeling if this coach can
get his team to perform in this way, he will precisely know the kind of player to bring in, and ultimately win.
We saw it happen last season with the Chicago Bears. Matt Nagy, with what I feel has similar traits to those greats who came before him, transformed a 5-11 hapless group into a 12-4 division champion.
Nagy still has more to proven. But here’s a young coach who has a chance.
That’s the best we can say at this point.
Currently I am in the midst of my eighth year on the Miami Dolphins pre-season broadcasts.
The Dolphins head coaching story has been that of a revolving door.
Their player acquisitions have been largely, in my opinion, based on the wrong thing.
Paying big money to athletes looking for the big cash, but not delivering on their hype.
In other words, they really haven’t gone about building a football team.
But now I think they’ve gotten it right.
I realize how silly it is, to go out on this ridiculous limb.
In no way am I predicting success for the Dolphins this season. They could very well finish at the bottom of the AFC East.
A winning year would be a shock.
Miami hasn’t even finished training camp and they’ve played one pre-season game.
But I am seeing something I haven’t seen with the Dolphins. An early show of the kind of character, hustle and dedication that turn an NFL team into an NFL TEAM.
Again, the help-wanted sign is out for better players.
And the man who now leads them may just know the kind of player he wants.
The new head coach is Brian Flores.
He has spent the past 15 seasons under Bill Belichick, first as a scout, then in various coaching roles.
Working under the greatest head coach ever is no guarantee of success.
The fact is, when coaches have fled from the Belichick nest, they’ve failed.
Same with those who worked with Lombardi.
Many have tried to employ the same temperament as the head man.
But Brian Flores is not that way.
I believe the man is authentic. I can see the respect his players have for him. How tough he can be. How understanding he can be.
Flores is comfortable in his own skin.
His roster needs an upgrade. A considerable one.
I am not forecasting Super Bowls for the Flores and the Dolphins.
But there is something about the beginnings of this team that has the possibilities of developing into something special.
Not this year. That’s for sure.
But somewhere down the line. And not too far down that line.
It’s all about being a leader. X’s and O’s are fine.
But it’s the leaders who win and win big.
I’ve seen a few of them at the outset.
And I think there is a chance with this fellow in Miami.
LEADERSHIP • A WINNING ATTITUDE • INSPIRATION • TEAMWORK
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