Normally I recap last week’s game, but because of the holidays all I can remember from last Sunday is bad play calls, incomplete passes and disgust, which makes the Broncos game blend in with most of the Browns’ other games this season. So I’m going to use this space this week to talk about one of the stupidest things that sports talk radio hosts say, and I’ve heard it said several times this week on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan.
“Let’s just hope the players don’t quit on the coach.”
Pat Shurmur will probably be fired after the Steelers game this Sunday. Everyone in Cleveland knows it. I’ve heard a few of The Fan anchors wonder openly if the players will quit on Shurmur. Anyone who has played competitive sports at the high school level—or higher—knows the answer is, “No, you turd burglar.”
Players don’t play for their coaches. Taking money out of the equation, in general, athletes play sports for the following three reasons:
1.) They like winning—each play and each game
2.) They take pride in doing something well
3.) They like their teammates
I played high school football and not once before, during or after a play as an offensive lineman did I think about my coach. Here’s what I did think, “On the second hut, I have to pull behind the center and kick out the defensive end so the tailback has a hole.” I never thought, “We’re 3-6 this year. I bet the athletics director is going to fire our coach. Maybe I’ll kick out the defensive end. Maybe I won’t.” On the field, you think about what you have to do. There isn’t time to think about the coach.
Sports announcers suffer from the delusion that EVERYTHING they notice matters, and perhaps they must because it gives them more to talk about. In reality, all that sports really comes down to is preparation, strategy and execution, but most talk radio hosts don’t put in the time at the practice facility to see the preparation, they don’t talk to the coaches about the strategy and many—Bernie Kosar is an exception—aren’t savvy enough to properly assess the execution. So they focus on the thing that’s easier form them to see and comprehend: the personalities.
Pat Shurmur will be fired, and that must matter on some level, they think, because people matter. People do matter, but not in a way that gets talked about much.
You know when this current Browns’ season was lost? I figured it out this week while talking to my brother Dan. It was lost when the Browns drafted a rifle-armed quarterback who was used to a no-huddle, shotgun spread and put him in the West Coast offense. The decision not to conform the offense to its key player’s strengths limited the potential of both this offense and its quarterback. Dan pointed this out: Brandon Weeden probably played about as well as anyone could expect in this antiquated, predictable scheme. It’s not Shurmur’s firing that will affect the Browns against the Steelers this week, it’s his continued presence and commitment to putting a round peg in a square hole. That’s a conversation I’d like to hear on The Fan—how seasons are won and lost in June, like this one was. Shurmur’s personality mattered greatly.
When a sports radio talk show host says something like, “Let’s hope the players don’t quit on the coach,” whether he knows it or not, he says quite a bit about how he thinks the world works, and it makes him look naive. He thinks we live in a world in which workers would sabotage their own paychecks because the CEO does not have faith in a key manager. This line of thinking implies that people are motivated, for the most part, by leadership.
As anyone who has ever worked in an organization knows, this is laughable. A manager can be inspiring—or a complete dunce—but if you’re a professional—like, say, a professional football player—you’re not going to jeopardize your own salary because you don’t know who your boss will be next week. The sports radio host who hopes the players don’t quit believes we live in a world in which productivity, motivation and excellence come from the top down. Not only is that NOT how any healthy workplace works, it’s an insult to the people who do the work in an organization because it implies that they draw their strength from some all-knowing leader in middle management.
Let’s hope the Browns don’t quit on the coach? This coach put his key offensive player in a box all season, and the team still played strong. He stood on the sidelines all season with his “Where did I park my car?” face. The entire roster is auditioning for the next head coach, whoever he may be. Why the hell would they quit now?
What am I supposed to do now, spend Sunday afternoon communicating with my family?!
From my brother Brian’s place in Pittsburgh, I was going to be clutching a Terrible Towel with one hand and exchanging high-fives with his wife Heather and about 10 other people with the other hand. This was going to happen every time the Browns played like the Browns (and worse, when the Browns played like the Browns With a Third-String Starting Quarterback Whose Parents Actually Named Him Thaddeus). The Christmas holiday week was going to end with joy and merriment and an AFC playoff berth. Brian and I would have spent the dinner hour and most of next week talking ourselves into a convoluted way Pittsburgh could advance to the Super Bowl.
This would have all happened had the Steelers won last week, 13-10, instead of losing by the same score.
Instead, I’ll be casually glancing at the game on TV while simultaneously trying to locate my son’s Red Japanese Destroyer. Thanks to crappy offense and horrible decisions made by the Steelers last week against the Bengals, and one great gift decision made by Santa Claus, I will not spend the afternoon sitting on the edge of my seat. Instead, I will spend it placing red and white pegs on the edge of an Electronic Battleship board. (Thanks for not coaching, Mike Tomlin!)
Plain and simple, the Steelers blew it. I still don’t think they blow. I might be wrong, but it doesn’t matter anymore.
I don’t want to dwell on the Steelers/Bengals debacle (several sharp and blunt objects are located around this house), but just to recap: Cincinnati coach and professional-horrible-decision-maker Marvin Lewis, after earlier going for it on fourth-and-22 and failing, decided to try a 56-yard field goal in windy Heinz Field with their injury replacement kicker. This was despite the fact that his team was playing excellent defense and he Bengals could have pinned Pittsburgh inside the 10. Everyone in Pittsburgh breathed a sigh of relief when the kick never had a chance.
So Tomlin, evidently not remembering how Pittsburgh lost earlier this season to Tennessee, and evidently not remembering what Lewis had done just three minutes before, decided to throw up all over himself. He sent Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham to try a 53-yarder that he missed, surprising exactly zero people in the greater Pittsburgh area.
A lot of my friends thought we should have punted in that situation, essentially sending a home division game into overtime (good chance to win). That would have been fine, but I think the better move would have been to go for it on fourth-and-4, putting trust in Big Ben to make a play. If it works, any subsequent field goal try gets closer (potentially much closer) and the Bengals have no time to respond. We probably win, 13-10. If the fourth-down play doesn’t work, at least Cincinnati has to travel farther than they do if Pittsburgh misses the field goal.
As my brother points out, the Steelers haven’t played a solid game since beating the Giants in the middle of the season. (Ugh. He’s right.)
Call me nuts, but I still believe there’s not much difference between the 2012 Steelers and the team that won Super Bowl XLIII. The talent level is comparable. But this year’s team failed miserably in close games all year. In games decided by three points or fewer, the Steelers were 3-5. And in games decided by a touchdown or less they were 5-7. In 2010, the year the Steelers lost the Super Bowl to Green Bay, they were 3-1 in games decided by three points or fewer and 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Sunday’s game against the Browns will be our first meaningless game since 2006. (After I find my son’s Red Japanese Destroyer, don’t think I won’t be gunning for his Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat! You can’t hide for long, Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat!)
(Shoot me now.)
This entire season exemplifies the razor-thin line between Really Good and Medicore in the NFL. And, Joe, this should give you reason for hope! If everything falls into place for the Browns in 2013, if all those close losses reverse themselves next year, I honestly think Cleveland could get all the way to 6-10. (Don’t give up hope, Joe! Just ignore that constantly deflating feeling!)
Actually, I’m right there with you today. I wish the Steelers/Browns game meant something. It doesn’t, so I’m off to sink ships.
Or maybe I’ll just ask Tomlin to play for me, so my son has a significantly better chance to win.