By Peter King
December 13, 2011

It's clear the Colt McCoy hit by James Harrison was the final brick in the wall for the NFL. Harrison was suspended for one game today -- though I disagree with the ruling; more about that later -- and the league made it clear the suspension was for the accumulation of illegal hits, not just this one.

In the NFL's statement, Harrison is tidily shot at sunrise with the facts of his history. Five illegal hits on quarterbacks in three seasons. Two additional fines for unnecessary roughness, including the hit on Mohammed Massaquoi across the middle last year. Six fines in a two-year span. And this line from the 2011 League Policies from Players: Players who were fined for violations in 2009 or 2010, and whose fines were either partially or fully upheld, will be considered second and/or repeat offenders under this policy.''

There's no question the league felt it couldn't practice business as usual with Harrison. Money was not a meaningful deterrent. It's also clear, going forward, that Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau have to practice a different form of coaching with Harrison. They have to stress with this great football player that if he doesn't begin aiming lower on his hits -- and on this hit, he clearly could have and should have aimed lower on McCoy -- his career is going to be constantly interrupted by fines and suspensions. He'll be miserable. The Steelers will be miserable. He simply has to change. The league's not going to.

That said, I urge you to watch the play again. If you're a defensive player and your job is to tackle the ball-carrier, who appears to be in the process of running and not passing, you have to wonder what a defensive player can do in this case. McCoy took five full strides as a runner with the ball tucked under his arm. Just before contact, he pulled the ball out and threw it. By that time, Harrison was already coiling to strike.

He should have aimed lower. We know that. But the fact is, until a split-second before Harrison knew that McCoy was going to throw the ball, he was a runner, with the protection of a running back; that means that he could have been hit in the helmet. I'm just not a big fan of suspending a guy on such a borderline play.


The news Monday that Tony Sparano and Todd Haley wouldn't coach the Dolphins and Chiefs, respectively, in 2012 wasn't really newsy; you could see each firing coming a mile away. It was interesting, though, that they weren't allowed to finish the season. That shows how untenable the situation had become in both Miami and Kansas City. A few thoughts on both, then your mail:

Miami. I was all-in on how well the Dolphins were playing -- until Sunday's walloping by the Eagles. But I never thought Sparano should stay. He was all but cooked last year when he went 7-9 for the second straight year and started 0-7 this year. Just as you should get credit for winning four of five, as the Dolphins did this year, so should you own 0-7.

Now, as for where the Dolphins go: The word on the NFL street is owner Steve Ross is interested in former Chiefs president Carl Peterson as franchise czar. I like Peterson, but I'm not sure why he'd be considered the football guy for the organization, other than a business relationship he has with Ross. His Chiefs didn't win a playoff game for the last 15 years of his tenure, and he's been out of the NFL for three full seasons.

I find it curious, too, that Jeff Ireland survives, for the time being, as the GM. I expect Ross or Peterson, through Ireland, to make a call to Bill Cowher first. Be careful what you wish for, however. When a coach has been off the sideline for five full seasons, it's doubtful he comes back with the same edge. I do believe Cowher could be the exception. We'll see. Certainly Jeff Fisher will come into play here, too, after his one-year hiatus.

Kansas City. Consider this a lesson learned by GM Scott Pioli, who despite not knowing Haley very well, hired him as his first coach in Kansas City. I'm not saying Pioli has to hire someone with Patriot roots, or Belichick roots (Josh McDaniels, Kirk Ferentz), or that he has to hire a sycophant. Remember, Pioli and Belichick had set-to's, but they worked well together because they respected each other and Pioli wasn't afraid to tell Belichick when he thought he was making a big mistake. Read the Michael Holley book War Room and you'll see how different Pioli and good pal Thomas Dimitroff of the Falcons are, yet they worked seamlessly together. Point is, Pioli will hire someone out of the box perhaps -- but only after a more thorough vetting than he gave Haley.

Two other points: Haley hadn't lost the team; that's clear. But to so blindly support backup quarterback Tyler Palko when he played so poorly, instead of playing Ricky Stanzi in New Jersey the other day ... I don't get it. Especially down 28-0 in the second quarter. What's the point?

And Pioli deserves his share of the wreckage, particularly for the poor backup quarterback situation, the struggles of the offensive line and his so-so drafts. Want the profile of the next coach? Think disciplined, even-keeled and even-handed, controlled on the sidelines, smart, works well with others. I could see a coach out of left field here.

Now on with your email:

YOU"VE GOT A POINT. "Granted that small market teams have an inherent financial disadvantage compared to the likes of Dallas, New York, etc., however, it seems to me the ability of the Packers to issue stock as a way to raise money for anything via stock offering is grossly unfair to all other teams.

Sure one could argue any other team is free to bring in additional inventors but the result would be dilution of value to current investors. This is not the case with the new shares offered by Green Bay. Anything Green Bay does not have to finance or take out of operational revenue is money that can be used for football operations. I understand the public ownership thing being grandfathered in, but the issuance of new stock should be forbidden unless all teams can raise cash that way."-- David, Marietta Georgia.

I agree, with one caveat. I think it would be difficult for most, if not all teams to generate much money in a stock sale unless they do something such as the Packers do to generate interest in stock sales. All stockholders are invited to attend the annual meeting and listen to club officials discuss the state of the team. For many stockholders, that's worth spending $250. It makes them feel like a part of the team. Now, many stockholders have no intention of doing this and only buy the stock so they can put it in a nice frame and stick it on a wall. But I simply don't think that many teams would be able to generate the kind of interest Green Bay would.

THE LEAGUE SHOULD FOLLOW UP. "Did you get any feedback from the league on the Bengals' study? I would think that the NFLPA's charter would dictate that they would follow up on this study. I think the league and the union have a moral obligation to protect the health, wealth and welfare of it's players. If these kids are giving up 5, 10, 20 years of their lives, shouldn't they be aware of it?"-- Steve Evans, Royal Oak, Michigan

I got no feedback from the league. I didn't expect to hear from the league. But I do expect the NFLPA to push harder to study players' long-term health, because I can tell you current players have become more and more interested in this topic since the spate of serious head injuries has become commonplace in the league.

MAKE SURE YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WROTE. "Great piece on the '86 Bengals, but I've got to call you out here. 44% of those '86 Bengals you talked to have recurring head injuries. James Harrison has been fined at least $120,000 in his career for hits to the head.

And, yet, you say that you "don't blame Harrison"? What gives? Nothing serious is being done to address the head injury problem and you're enabling with comments like that.

If the league was serious about reducing the effects of long-term head trauma to players, they'd ban all intentional helmet-to-helmet hits, suspend guys for the big hits and strip teams with repeat violators of draft picks. Instead, everyone's OK with 4 or 5 out of every 10 former NFL players walking around with migraines and suicidal thoughts. What's it going to take to change the culture? Somebody getting killed?"-- Tim Peter, Long Valley, NJ

Tim, what I said in Monday's column was, "I do not blame Harrison for thinking McCoy was a runner," and also, "I do blame him for where he aimed and where he hit him." So let's get that right. If you read what I wrote about Harrison, the simple point was that he needs to begin aiming lower than the head. That is unmistakable. I understand the rush to judgment on Harrison, and, as I wrote in the top of this column, his history of discipline violations with the league certainly meant something here. I just think you have to watch that play, particularly in regular speed, the way Harrison saw it, and then make a judgment about the hit.

I UNDERSTAND. "Mr. King, I must say that I am really tired of hearing about Tebow. If AP plays in the game against them, if Novak makes one of his missed field goals, and if Cutler started yesterday you can take away those three wins and the "magical" 4th quarter comebacks by Tebow would not even be a story. They would then be 5-8 which I believe would be a more realistic measurement of the overall strength of their team. The Broncos have had extraordinary luck with opposing teams injuries and bonehead plays by opposing teams players more than magic by Tebow. Sorry."-- J. Solomon, San Diego

The reason you're hearing a lot about Tebow is because of three things. One, we have become an NFL-crazed society. All media outlets, and ESPN in particular, are ratcheting up the hours and the volume on everything NFL. So, if there's a big story in the NFL, you're going to get hit over the head with it. Two, Tebow is one of the most interesting stories I've seen in the 27 years I've covered the NFL. Three, it's impossible to ignore, when it happens over and over and over again, the fact that Tebow inherited a 1-4 team and has won seven of eight, with five of the wins coming in late, dramatic fashion. So, we're going to keep covering Tim Tebow. Sorry.

WE WILL AGREE TO DISAGREE. "Hmmm - Eli is elite and Tony isn't based on two throws in the fourth quarter of one game. And of course you apologize for Eli's INT while if Romo had thrown it -- it would be his fault.

Eli is up for MVP if Rodgers wasn't in the mix, and Tony is a GOAT that you almost renamed your GOAT of the week award for.

OK, here's the rub.

Eli this year ... 7 wins ... 25 TDs 12 INTs. Tony this year ... 7 wins ... 26 TDs, 9 INTs.

If Tony had the advantage of playing his entire career for one head coach, behind a GREAT and consistent OL for most of that time, WITH A top flight D - he would be considered elite. If Eli had to play in Dallas - with three head coaches, a mediocre OL, and a D that gives up points EVERY year but one -- he'd be considered above average at best.

Change their last names, and Tony Manning is elite. And Eli Romo isn't. Stop the hate."-- Sharon Shepperd, Austin

Sharon, you write a very nice letter. But I have to ask you a question: Are you seriously telling me that Tony Romo is a clutch quarterback after what you witnessed with him earlier this year against the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions? If you can honestly tell me after watching his performance as a whole this year, down the stretch in games, that he's a better clutch quarterback than Eli Manning, then I think we'll just have to agree to disagree and I wish you well as you go through the rest of your season.

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