Queries on fired coaches, the Chiefs’ legitimacy and new lows in Cleveland

By Peter King
January 06, 2016

Elsewhere on our site today, I write at length about The MMQB’s annual awards. So this will be an abridged column, with only your email and no lead. Next week, we’ll return to more of a traditional column on top of the mailbag.

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WHAT WOULD HAVE SAVED TOMSULA?

Given the Niners’ depleted roster this year, how many games would Jim Tomsula have had to win to keep his job? The irony is, if he had won only three more games (and considering how close some games (like the Giants) were, that almost happened), he would have had an 8-8 season and should have been considered for Coach of the Year, given the talent level. Aside from losing multiple Pro Bowlers, Hall of Famers and a multitude of other starters, he also won games with a sixth-string running back.

—Scott C.

I don’t think the 49ers had any set number of games in mind that Tomsula had to win. It was more about the fact that the staff could not rescue Colin Kaepernick and could not overcome significant losses of players on defense to be a respectable unit. Mostly, I believe there was so little hope that any of that would change in 2016. It didn’t seem like a very difficult decision to me, even though this is hardly all Tomsula’s fault.

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THE ROOKIE WALL IS REAL

You mentioned that you never want to hear about rookies hitting the ‘rookie wall’ in their first year in the NFL because they essentially play the same amount of games and have the same season length in college as they do in the NFL. But you fail to mention how many of Alabama’s opponents are small schools that get paid to play Alabama and get blown out. Whereas in the NFL, Landon Collins is playing people every single week who are bigger, stronger, and more experienced than him. He may have played one or two guys like that during his whole senior season at Alabama. So, yes, the season length is very similar but the level of competition is not even close.

 —Kyle

You say Collins would have played one or two guys his whole final year at Alabama who were on his level of skill or talent? I would disagree vehemently. Let’s go back and check. Last season, Alabama had two of those gimme games: Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina. Maybe Southern Miss would qualify as a third one. But Landon Collins’ shoulder doesn’t know that the Florida Atlantic tight end is not going to play in the NFL when the tight end is coming across the middle and Landon Collins blows him up. When the Western Carolina pulling guard spears him on an end sweep, his back doesn’t know that the Western Carolina guard will be driving a truck in two years instead of playing in the NFL. Two games? Collins’ team played Ohio State last year. Alabama played Mississippi State when the Bulldogs were ranked No.1 in the country. They played five other games against Top 25 teams, so they played seven in all. Collins certainly plays a higher caliber of competition in the NFL than he played in college. But don’t tell me that a guy who plays an SEC schedule and then a New Year’s Day game against Ohio State isn’t playing against a large number of NFL-caliber players.

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COUGHLIN’S LEGACY

Are two Super Bowls enough to elevate a head coach who averaged 8.5 wins per season into the Hall of Fame?

—Stephen S.

I think statistics say a lot of different things. And I don’t think that any single simple statistic should be the final determining factor about whether anyone makes the Hall of Fame. I’ve had people say to me that Tom Flores deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he coached two Super Bowl championship teams. I don’t think two Super Bowls is enough singly for entry into Canton. You have to have a strong résumé aside from that. In Coughlin’s case, there will be several factors when he knocks on Canton’s door. One of the factors will be, as you say, that winning 170 games in 20 seasons (and that may change obviously if he takes another coaching job) does not make him a slam-dunk Hall of Fame coach. But the fact that he made an expansion team competitive almost immediately in Jacksonville matters. The fact that he coached two teams to Super Bowl victories is a factor. And the fact that he took those two teams from modest seasons on the road to make both Super Bowls and then to beat the mighty Belichick and the Patriots in both games, will also be a contributing factor. I always say when the subject of the Hall of Fame comes up, that it’s dangerous on the day someone retires to make a determination about his Hall of Fame candidacy. The day Kurt Warner left football, I remember the prevailing attitude. If you didn’t say that Warner was a slam dunk Hall of Famer, that you were some idiot who didn’t know anything about football. And now clearly people look at Warner and see the donut-hole in the middle of his career, between his St. Louis and Arizona Super Bowl appearances and think, “Hmmm.” Maybe we ought to consider what happened to Warner in those lost years. It will be the same with Coughlin. On the plus side will be beating Belichick twice in the Super Bowl. On the minus side: Making the playoffs once in his final seven years as Giants coach. So we will let some time pass and perhaps one more coaching stop pass  before determining whether Coughlin will make the Hall. My guess is that judgment day is at least six or seven years away.

ARE THE CHIEFS LEGIT?

So I see that you're pretty high on the Chiefs, but when I look at their 10-game winning streak, they only beat two teams with winning records—the Steelers and Broncos. The Steelers were without Big Ben and the Broncos game was when Manning was injured and threw four picks. Outside of that, I don't see any impressive wins. Do you think they are legit, or just benefited from an easy schedule down the stretch? I could see the Texans winning this one.

—Richard O.

Good question. As I pointed out the other day, Houston finished the season winning seven of its last nine and amazingly, allowed six points in five of those seven wins. The Texans pass rush will be very hard to block. But I guess when it comes to looking at a team’s schedule, I would say you can only play the teams that are on it. Is a 45-10 victory over the Lions less impressive because the Lions were playing poorly at the time? Is a 34-14 win at Baltimore unimpressive even though the Ravens beat Pittsburgh the following week? The Chiefs beat San Diego by a combined 43-6 in two games; doesn’t holding an NFL team to six points over eight quarters mean something? I get your point. But I guess what I would think is, winning 10 games in a row in the NFL is pretty impressive even though the schedule that KC played to get those 10 wins was unimpressive.

• HOW THE CHIEFS TURNED IT AROUND: Led by Alex Smith, K.C. is riding a 10-game winning streak into the postseason

ANOTHER CRAZY BROWNS STAT

In the past 12 years, Derek Anderson is the only Browns quarterback who has more wins in Cleveland than Ben Roethlisberger. Has that ever happened before? Where a single visiting team quarterback has more wins in a stadium, only playing there once a year, than a string of home quarterbacks?

—No name given

Here are the numbers:

Records of starting quarterbacks at Browns Stadium, 2004-2015 (min. five starts)

Derek Anderson: 10-7
Ben Roethlisberger: 9-2
Joe Flacco: 6-1
Colt McCoy: 4-8
Brandon Weeden: 4-7
Carson Palmer: 4-3
Brian Hoyer: 4-3
Charlie Frye: 3-8
Jeff Garcia: 3-3
Andy Dalton: 3-2
Trent Dilfer: 3-2
Brady Quinn: 1-5

I like stats, meaningful ones, as much as the next person. But that particular one doesn’t speak to the greatness of Roethlisberger as much as it speaks to how bad the Browns have been. I think I have exhausted my quota on how bad I can make the Browns look in my Monday column. And no, I don’t know if that has ever happened before, but if it did, the team would be an all-time bad one.

WILL MORE BROWNS REBEL?

Johnny Manziel’s latest issue with the Browns got me thinking—with the Browns’ well-documented incompetency, at what point should we start expecting more players to rebel their way out of Cleveland? Manziel may have done so unwittingly, but if players see it work (especially if he finds a soft landing), even if other teams might disapprove to an extent, more will follow. And really, can you blame them? A career in Cleveland equals a career watching the playoffs from home, and what team wants players who find that acceptable?

—Nathan

That’s a good question. I remember several times in my time covering the NFL when players try to talk or act themselves out of where they were. Carson Palmer comes to mind. He just retired rather than play for Cincinnati. Luckily for him, Oakland called the Bengals and made a trade so his career could be revived. Carson Palmer is stubborn, as is Bengals owner Mike Brown. That was a stalemate that could have lasted a long time. I don’t know whether this is going to help or hurt Manziel. But I do know that no team in its right mind would employ Manziel now for any real money. He is a time bomb. We don’t even know if he can play yet. And though I might like to have him on my team for an off-season and a training camp, I would not guarantee one dime for Manziel and every dollar that I would put in his contract above minimum salary would have to be linked to his sobriety. If he wasn’t willing to do that, he could play somewhere else.

CHIP KELLY EMPLOYMENT

You seem to put a lot of weight in the fact that Kelly and the Eagles beat the Patriots a few weeks ago as evidence why Kelly should’ve gotten another year. I find that position to be a huge red herring for a couple of reasons. First: The New England we’ve seen in the past five to six weeks isn’t anything near last year’s Super Bowl championship team. Second: The Eagles won the game because they scored three defensive/special teams touchdowns, which is not a sustainable model for consistent winning in the NFL. Would you still feel Kelly should’ve been given another season if the Eagles hadn’t won that game?

—Josh H.

I made it pretty clear in what I wrote that Jeffrey Lurie, in hiring Kelly in 2013, spoke of him as though he were a combination of Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick, an innovative, next-generation thinker. Then, just four months ago, Lurie described him in similar terms and said, “He is everything that we all thought when we interviewed him and more.” My only point is a simple one. Lurie loved Kelly when he hired him. Lurie loved Kelly at the start of his third year. Lurie gave Andy Reid 14 seasons to win a Super Bowl, and it never happened. Lurie pulled the plug on Kelly because he made some bad free-agency decisions? Short-sighted. You and me and most of Philadelphia will just have to agree to disagree on this one. I am on an island with only a few supporters here. Jeffrey Lurie has always been one of the most patient owners in the NFL. This was as close to knee-jerk as you can get.

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