Tuesday, September 23, 2008

a look at "rock bottom"

No NFL team has failed to post at least one victory in a season since the 1976 Buccaneers.

But in the last 20 years, 16 of them have come damned close.

16 wretchedly awful teams, all with 2 wins or fewer.

Here's the list that hopefully we can avoid becoming a part of:

There is one team on the list, the 1999 Cleveland Browns, that was an expansion team, so an awful first season isn't an unreasonable expectation.

Because I believe that once you hit bottom, it takes three years to truly evaluate the turnaround, I am not going to focus on the 2006 raiders or 2007 Dolphins. Although I highly doubt the raiders will return to prominence anytime soon.

The team entering year three of the rebuild is the 2005 Texans, and while they're off to a tough 0-2 (probably 0-3 after this week) start ... they got to .500 last year, they have their foundation in place, and after opening with 3 straight roadies, will spend the entire month of October playing at home, and will play 6 of their next 8 at Reliant. There's still time for the Texans to rebound.

So that leaves 12 non-expansion teams that have passed through the three year rebuilding cycle. Which ones do I want the Chiefs to mirror?

The 2004 49ers were the bottoming out of the Mariucci teams of the early 2000s. The coaching was less than solid, players were infighting, and after the season, owner John York cleaned house and hired Mike Nolan. It isn't working so far. Nolan has yet to do better than 7-9, Alex Smith looks like a total bust, and while the 49ers are 2-1, their next five games are all against playoff caliber competition.

Example for the Chiefs? No.

The 2002 Bengals were the culmination of a decade of horrid drafting, bad personnel decisions, and even worse coaching hires. Owner Mike Brown finally wised up after 2002, hiring Marvin Lewis to turn things around. And through prudent draft decisions (Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson), the Bengals won the AFC North three years later. Since that wildcard round loss to the Steelers though, they've been a .500 team, have had character issues, and now the bottom appears to be falling out.

Example for the Chiefs? No.

The 2001 Lions ... as long as Matt Millen is in charge, there is no hope for this franchise.

Example for the Chiefs? Hell no.

The 2001 Panthers lost their last 15 games to go 1-15. John Fox and Marty Hurney were brought in to replace George Seifert, and after some rock solid draft choices and (in my never humble opinion) one of the most underrated free agent signings of all time, Jake Delhomme, the Panthers were in the Super Bowl two years later, and in the NFC Title game as recently as three years ago. Still a perennial playoff threat off to a solid 2-1 start in 2008.

Example for the Chiefs? Yes.

The 1996 Jets were the culmination of ... well, of my entire lifetime filled with draft blunders, horrid coaching hires, horrid trades, ridiculous free agent signings, it was just the perfect storm of incompetence. And the Rich Kotite Farewell Tour to boot. Thankfully, former owner Leon Hess cleaned house, giving the keys to the franchise to Bill Parcells. Within two years, the Jets were in the AFC Title game, and have been to the playoffs 6 of the last 10 years, despite playing in the Patriots division.

Example for the Chiefs? Yes.

The 1994 Oilers were the bottoming out of the run-and-shoot Oilers teams from the late 1980s / early 1990s that enjoyed tremendous regular season success (7 straight playoff berths), but no postseason success (1 playoff win). Head coach Jack Pardee was shown the door prior to a Monday nighter in week 13 against the Giants, and young, unproven defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher took over. Things have been looking up ever since. With former GM Floyd Reece calling the shot, the Oilers / Titans managed to finish .500 for three straight seasons (1996-1998) despite playing in three different cities (Houston, Memphis, Nashville). In 1999 the now-named Titans went 13-3 and were literally inches away from taking the Rams to overtime in the Super Bowl. The 2001 Titans had the AFC home field. The 2002 Titans played in the AFC Title Game, and won the AFC South in 2003. After a rebuilding job in 2005, the Titans got back to .500 in 2006, returned to the playoffs in 2007, and are unbeaten through three weeks of 2008.

Example for the Chiefs? Yes.

The 1992 Patriots ... most famous for the Bill Maas guarantee game ("if we show up and put our helmets on, we'll win") that we nearly lost. The Patriots cleaned house after this debacle, hiring Bill Parcells. Two years later they were AFC East champs, and in 1996 reached Super Bowl XXXI.

Example for the Chiefs? Yes.

The 1992 Seahawks are unique in that they actually fielded a top 3 defense that year. Their offense really was this bad. The Seahawks treaded water for the rest of the decade, routinely finishing around .500, but never got their act together until bringing in Mike Holmgren prior to the 1999 season.

Example for the Chiefs? No.

The 1991 Colts were wretched, and (unbelievably) "two time AFC Head Coach of the Year" Ron Meyer was shown the door midway through the season. The Colts hired Lindy Infante to turn things around. Three years later, they were in the AFC Title game. Aside from two down seasons (bottoming out in 1997, Peyton's rookie year in 1998), the Colts have been perennial contenders every year since.

Example for the Chiefs? Yes.

The 1990 Patriots were awful. And nothing was learned, as the 1992 Patriots were every bit as bad.

Example for the Chiefs? No.

However ... the two teams on the list I would most want the Chiefs to emulate would be the 1989 Cowboys or 2000 Chargers.

The 1989 Cowboys were Jerry and Jimmy's first team. Through shrewd drafting, solid coaching hires, and arguably the single most lopsided trade in NFL history, they went from one win in 1989, to 7 and first team out in 1990, to 11 and a wildcard win in 1991, to Super Bowl champs in 1992. From 1991 until 1999, the Cowboys were threats to win the NFC East every year, and for most of the 1990s, they were threats to win it all as well.

The 2000 Chargers were the bottoming out of the solid Chargers teams of the early and mid 1990s. (Much like last year was the bottoming out of the solid Chiefs teams of the 2000-2006 years). Like the Cowboys, the Chargers used solid drafts to build their core, and then made two key trades out of the number one pick (2001, 2004) to pick up extra picks that they used to add to the core. The Chargers are still well positioned today as AFC contenders, and despite a slow start, are still the clear favorites to win the AFC West this year.

So, of the 12 truly wretched teams that had to gut it and start over, 7 of them "got it right". And of the four not judged ... the 1999 Browns, an expansion team, managed a playoff berth three years later. The 2005 Texans are clearly on the right track. And the 2007 Dolphins gutted house and brought in a man who saved not one, but two teams listed above. So realistically, 10 of the 16 rebuilds "worked". And look at the ones that didn't / work: the raiders. The 49ers. The Bengals. The Lions. The 1990 Patriots. And the pre-Holmgren Seahawks.

As bad as this is right now, the facts are painfully clear. If you have a solid plan in place, competent management to execute the plan, and the willpower to see it through the three year process, you will be successful. Every team that had those components, returned to elite status within 3 years of rock bottom. So Chiefs fans, (johnny bristol voice) hang on in there baby ...

(and give us a chance on Sunday. Its gonna be 85 and sunny for crying out loud, and you won't pay anything close to face value to witness the next step on the road to 0-16, L25!!!)

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