Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Thompson: Look For The Best Coach, Not The Anti-Sherman

increasing sense of micromanaging will generally put your job in jeopardy. It is questionable as to whether or not GM Ted Thompson was being genuine in his efforts to give Sherman a fair chance, or to field a winning team, but as a result, the crosshairs will now shift to the man who will be the most tenured man-in-charge within one year: a new head coach combined with a new team president means Ted Thompson will bear the brunt of any future failings.

Some coaches have been mentioned, and perhaps, Thompson only threw away four cards, keeping his ace in the hole, defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who revitalized the defense with fundamentals and emotion this past season. Fan response (and even Thompson) has indicated that the "anti-Sherman" traits are desired for our new head coach: a fiery, emotional coach with that extra spark. Bates would fit the bill, but with Thompson's constant assertation that it is time to "go in a new direction", it seems unusual that he would then award the head coaching job in-house.

Thompson, to his credit, has asserted repeatedly that he is going into this process with an open mind, and without any pre-concieved notions as to who he wants or any specific traits he wants in a new head coach, other than having "that extra spark". This means, also, that we're hopeful he's a good judge of talent, both of players and of the man he chooses to lead them. Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan have become villified lately for their role in promoting Mike Sherman to the dual role of head coach and general manager in 2001, a move that some interpret as accelerating Sherman's love for control, like giving a free bar to an alcoholic. Thompson now must take accountability, one of his favorite words, for choosing the man and players that will replace the man who brought us three division championships.

My biggest fear, however, is trying to find the anti-Sherman, as it has been decided the cerebral, planned, charts-and-graphs approach to coaching is what needs changing. However, we've been down this road before. When Ray Rhodes was relinquished of his coaching duties after an 8-8 season, Bob Harlan and Ron Wolf gave in to looking for the "Anti-Rhodes"...someone to counter the laid-back lackof planning and discipline that Ray became notorious for.

Who did we get as the "Anti-Rhodes"? Mike Sherman.

Perhaps one of Sherman's greatest faults was surrounding himself with folks he knew would agree with him, particularly at the coordinator positions. Ed Donatell, Bob Slowik, and Tom Rossley all seemed to be cogs in the machine, extensions of Sherman's managing style, yes-men who followed his style of sticking to the game plan, regardless of circumstances; of side-stepping widely around Brett Favre, when he desperately needed little more than some frank guidance and direction; and allowing Sherman to run the show, right or wrong.

The best late move Sherman made was hiring Jim Bates as his defensive coordinator, a man very different from himself. One can just picture meetings of the top brass, in which Sherman was used to being the only voice heard, now to hear a gruff voice giving his opinions too. But the contrast provided balance to the defense this season, something desperately needed. The intellectual, organized practice-it-like-its-written-down mantra of the head coach now had its counter: a fiery, emotional, practice-it-like-you-play-it leadership in its defensive coordinator.

Two pair.

What if Tom Rossley was let go, and a similar personality to Bates was brought in to run the offense emphasizing accountability, execution, flexibility, and willingness to tell Brett Favre to make the safe read, not the big play?

Full House? Could be. We'll never know.

But that idea of balance is what should be looked at today. In the 1990's, Mike Holmgren had that balance in his staffing. He, the head coach, was the ego, the id of the team. Fritz Shurmur was the heart, the spirit of the team. Sherm Lewis the intellecutal x's and o's guy. That balance proved to be worthy of winning a Super Bowl.

If Jim Bates is made head coach, he will want structured, accountable guys at his coordinators, taking on the needs of players that his emotional rah-rah side doesn't reach. It's like any relationship: opposites attract because all seek balance. When the weights are tipped too much to one side, as it was during the past several seasons under Sherman's tenure, you can't make the equations balance every time.

In whomever we look to lead this team, though, it is important that Ted Thompson realizes this is now his most critical decision he will make in his career. Ron Wolf made two very risky moves his first year as general manager in 1992: no, not firing Lindy Infante, but trading a first-round pick for a third-string quarterback, and sending a second-round pick for an offensive coordinator a team didn't want to lose. Had either of those moves not paid off, Wolf would never have achieved the cult status he enjoyed.

Thompson now has his Favre/Holmgren to find, or risk finding his first decision, firing Sherman, to be the biggest mistake.

Hopefully, he tries to find the best balance of coaches to run this team, because the "anti-Sherman" isn't going to be any more successful than Sherman was as the "anti-Rhodes".

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