Out in the cold
Preparing to play in the Super Bowl sounds stressful enough, but if you ask me, the players on the Giants and Patriots have it easy. Try being a member of, say, the Atlanta Falcons or Miami Dolphins, two teams that didn't come close to making the playoffs and surely will undergo wholesale roster changes as they welcome their third new coach in as many years.
At least most of the Pats and Giants know they will have jobs next season. Why make wholesale roster changes on a team that reaches the Super Bowl? But the great majority of Falcons and Dolphins (and to a lesser degree the players under new regimes in Baltimore and Washington) don't have any such luxury as their very livelihood hangs in the balance.
Miami has hired
What is it like to go through one regime change, let alone having a third head coach in three years? For the team's best 10 to 15 players, it represents a minor annoyance from their comfort zone regarding style and scheme and the possibility that they may be dealt elsewhere in a trade. For everybody else on the roster, a small hole has formed in the pit of their stomach and will continue to grow until they retain some level of job security by making the roster in September. Even then they will not feel safe.
Change is the only constant in the NFL. I should know. My first three years in the league my head coach was dismissed at the end of the season.
In every instance, I was eventually let go. It wasn't always immediate, but it always ended the same way. "Thanks, Ross, for everything you've done," they would say, "but we are going to go in another direction."
This is not the rambling of a bitter player disappointed by getting released three times in my first five years in the league. This is a realistic look at what many of the 120-odd men on the rosters of the Falcons and Dolphins can expect over the next year or two. Truth be told, I don't blame those head coaches who gave me the ax. It is human nature to want to acquire someone that you are already familiar with or will have extreme loyalty to you because of the fact that you have given them a spot on your roster.
The players in Miami and Atlanta are well aware that they may reach the same fate that I did over the next year and a half. Parcells' track record indicates that many of the guys on the Dolphins roster might want to hold off on buying a residence in Miami. Fewer than 10 percent of the Dallas Cowboys who were on the roster for 2002 survived the Parcells cleansing. Offensive line stalwarts
The Dolphins, coming off a 1-15 season, may feel an even deeper and quicker purge. You may want to be on a month-to-month lease down in Miami if you are anybody other than
The Falcons are perhaps equally angst-ridden given the fact that they don't even know who their head coach will be. Even if the coach does retain their services, players have to adjust to an entirely different system and language. Every coach has his own terminology and the players are the ones who must adjust, not him. It's akin to learning a foreign language -- numbers and letters take on entirely new meaning.
And that's just the playbook end of things. Most coaches have a prototype that they are looking for at certain positions and will either mold the already existing players to fit or find an alternative elsewhere who meshes in nicely. The Falcons' offensive line was, along with the Denver Broncos, among the lightest in the league during the Mora tenure in which zone-blocking whiz
Enter Petrino, whose offensive line philosophy can best be explained as "bigger is better." Players who had spent years dieting to fit into the Gibbs scheme were told in no uncertain terms to bulk up if they wanted to remain in Atlanta. Any person with even a minute knowledge of offensive line play could have foretold that Atlanta was doomed the moment Petrino justified the acquisition of 370-pound guard
Now that Petrino is gone and a new coach has yet to be named, players such as
Even after a coach is hired and a schematic and strategic plan is implemented, there will be no rest among the weary for the Dolphins and Falcons. The front offices will scour the free-agent market to see if there are any spots that can be upgraded. Odds are some Cowboys and Patriots will eventually find themselves in the Deep South to reunite with Parcells and new Falcons GM
So while many of the Giants and Patriots get ready for the biggest game of their lives, the Falcons and Dolphins begin what is certain to be several months of perpetual insecurity.