Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Time & Patience In Short Supply, But That's What Marinelli & Lions Need

Vince Lombardi. Just say the name and the word "winner" spills from your lips, reflexively.

Tom Landry. Rarely bare-headed, rarely beaten.

Chuck Noll. A Super Bowl ring for every non-pinky finger.

Bill Parcells. NFL franchise doctor extraordinaire, synonymous with toughness. Multiple Super Bowl winner.

Jimmy Johnson. How 'bout them Cowboys?!

Bill Belichick. Steel-jawed, emotionless. But all he does is win the Big One.

You could start a list of the 10 best coaches in NFL history, and chances are most of the above names would be on it, somewhere between one and ten. It would be hard to argue for their exclusion -- let's put it that way.

But all of those men have one thing in common: they were losers long before they became winners.

Lombardi took over a moribund Packers franchise, and it took him a season or two before they were ready for prime time. Landry started from scratch, with an expansion team, and suffered for it. Noll's first season as Steelers coach was in 1969. The team finished 1-13 (only win against the Lions, of course). Parcells had some awful early years with the Giants. Johnson finished 1-15 with the 1989 Cowboys, his first year in Dallas. Belichick failed in Cleveland long before he found his niche with the Patriots.

Rod Marinelli is going to be judged by how well his 2006 Lions fare. No getting around that. He may even be judged on how the season opener goes against the Seahawks on September 10. Some have probably already passed judgement. But time and patience -- the two elements most needed here -- are also the two elements the pro football denizens in Detroit have in the least supply.

Nobody wants to hear that there is going to be a period of adjustment with a new coach and a new staff, but there is. Nobody wants to hear that a first-year head coach is going to need time to feel his way, but he will. Nobody wants to hear that it's going to take time to clear away the stench that's wafted around the Lions organization for decades, but it will.

And, to be fair, for every Lombardi and Noll, there are dozens of anonymous, success-deprived coaches who didn't make a ripple with their chances at being an NFL head coach. Far more failed than succeeded.

But you simply cannot dismiss the fact that the names at the top of this post weren't much to shout about when they entered the fraternity of NFL head coaches. They were, at one time, unknown and unproven at the pro level. Not one of them took their new team to the promised land in their first season.

Nobody knows for certain how many games the Lions will win this season. As usual, the predictions are all over the map. Those who should know -- because they tell us so -- seem to pin the number between five and seven games won. A .500 season would be nirvana for most fans. But one thing is generally agreed upon: the Lions will not win the Super Bowl. They won't even, most likely, qualify for the playoffs. It's quite possible that they'll suffer through another double-digit loss season. The loss totals of Mornhinweg and Mariucci, of Rogers and Clark. And Wayne Fontes, at times.

But it won't be how many games the Lions win this season that should tell the entire story of their progress. With them, it should be more tangential. Are they playing more disciplined? Are they beating themselves? Can they compete with the upper tier teams, especially on the road? Do their offensive and defensive schemes seem to befit the talent they possess?

THOSE are the questions that should be answered to render judgement on the 2006 Detroit Lions. Not, "How many games did they win?"

For if that was the only criteria, the world wouldn't even have heard of Lombardi, Landry, Noll, and company.

Court adjourned.

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