Any time an NFL coach is fired, Fox football analyst John Madden points out that only two head coaches in NFL history have operated in a perfect situation, one with no outside interference.
"George Halas and Paul Brown had the ideal situation," Madden said this week. "They owned the team. They could do what they wanted, when they wanted, and no one would ever say no."
That is hardly the situation Norv Turner found himself in over seven years with the Washington Redskins, especially the last two years under new owner Daniel M. Snyder. Now Terry Robiskie, who will replace him for the final three regular season games, will be under scrutiny. Robiskie has made his first public moves, firing special teams coach LeCharls McDaniel, announcing a change in the practice and work schedule and starting Jeff George over Brad Johnson at quarterback.
Those are obviously very public moves, but what a head coach also does behind closed doors in mostly closed practices also determines how successful he will be. In the NFL, there clearly is no single blueprint for how to succeed as a coach with the myriad options of work schedules, how to deal with the team owner, the public, the media, how to run meetings, settle on a game plan, motivate players and make calls on Sunday.
In the end, a coach is judged for the most part by wins. How he gets there is the tricky part.
Marv Levy, winner of four straight AFC titles and loser of four straight Super Bowls as head coach of the Buffalo Bills, always went in with a clear definition of what it takes to win.
"You have to be a good teacher, get along well with everyone in the organization, from the owners down to the secretaries, and you have to be honest with your players," Levy said this week. "You can be a good teacher quietly, like Tom Landry was, or bombastic like (Vince) Lombardi. But you do have to teach.
"In terms of responsibility, you have to have your hand in everything, but you also have to know when to delegate, and when to make the decision yourself. All decisions on players should be up to the head coach. All decisions on the coaching staff should be up to the head coach. And you must communicate on a regular basis with the owner."
Levy adds there is a fine line between communicating with the boss and remaining your own man.
"Once he's told you that you have to play the quarterback right now, he's no longer the head coach, in my opinion," Levy said. "When they tell you that you have to develop a guy for the future, that means you're developing him for the next head coach, because it won't be you."
With coaching greats such as Don Shula, Lombardi and Tom Landry chapters in NFL history books, the new breed of coaches find themselves with more responsibility and often more problems. Few coaching icons remain.
Former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, now an ESPN analyst, believes the term "head coach" may be outdated and prefers "head administrator."
"They really can't coach that much any more," he said. "There are obvious exceptions, but a lot of these guys are more administrator than coach. You've got the PR, you've got counseling the players, meeting with staffs to lay out schedules. It's not that people aren't capable, but there are just so many hours in the day.
"To me, the biggest thing is hiring assistants who can present your philosophy best and who can do it so the players buy into that philosophy."
Chuck Schmidt, general manager of the Detroit Lions, agreed that a head coach and his assistants should have to be, first and foremost, teachers.
"We're all faced with the prospect of playing younger players sooner and more often than in the past," he said. "You want to develop them as soon as you can. We're looking for a guy who can see the big picture. He has to get used to the idea of change because his roster is evolving . . . all the time. You can't even think that a guy is a building block you won't have to worry about for 10 years. They can move after four, and you have to be able to deal with that."
Handling the public part of the job has increased in importance along with the intensity of fan and media scrutiny.
"The difference between a head coach and an assistant is obviously all the attention," former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said. "You're in front of all the cameras, everyone is talking about you, everything is magnified, and everybody who goes into these jobs knows it's a very tough part of it. There are a lot of demands, and a lot of rewards. ... It's a pressure-packed situation, and you better be prepared for it."
To which Robiskie, in one of his first statements as the Redskins' head man, said: "When you take this job, you expect some day they'll get rid of you."
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