posted 2011-02-09 13:30:00

A Golden Age? Not in the NFL

Coach Don Shula led the Dolphins to a perfecr season (Photo: NFL)
Coach Don Shula led the Dolphins to a perfecr season (Photo: NFL)
A Golden Age? Not in the NFL

Head Coaches Bare Brunt of Financial Pressures


Eli Cohen

Staff Writer

It has become common knowledge within an inner circle that includes human beings (though I wouldn’t put it past chimpanzees) that the economy is of quite different stature lately.

Meanwhile, the NFL is enjoying record TV ratings, with more people tuning in than ever before. Now, there are very few rational explanations for how this is happening. There is, however, one plausible theory. In recent years, the NFL has experienced a blackout epidemic. For those who do not know what a blackout is, it is really very simple: If a team’s home game is not completely sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, it will not be broadcast locally.

One only need look at the current economic state to understand this trend — why pay $150 per ticket, $50 for parking, and $8 for a beer…, not to mention asking an annoying family member to ditch their Sunday soap opera and watch your kids. Or, worse still, watch the soap in your home, with your kids.

This all really boils down to money, and unfortunately, money is forever shaping the game this country grew up loving. That game took another step towards a new era on Jan. 26, when the Tennessee Titans fired longtime coach Jeff Fisher.

Fisher stood as the longest tenured head coach in the NFL, having worked 17 seasons with the Titans organization. Last year the Titans finished at 6-10 and tied for last in the always-competitive AFC South. After the season ended, there was much debate as to whether the team would keep their potentially toxic quarterback Vince Young, or their disciplinarian head coach. Young was released, and the issue was silenced.

But soon after, the coach was let go as well.

This certainly isn’t the first instance, nor will it be the last, of the “No Fortitude League” owners losing their backbone and forgetting what gridiron football was once all about — hero head coaches, anonymous supporting casts, and once-in-a-generation talents spending their entire career with one coach. Gone are the legendary Don Shulas, Vince Lombardis, and Chuck Nolls of the world. Gone, too, is Jeff Fisher.

The NFL owners have long been aware of dwindling demand for tickets, and while TV revenues have risen, personal operating profits have diminished. Often, owners record losses. Imagine being an entrepreneur who has fulfilled his dream of purchasing and operating a sports franchise. Failure has never been a consistent part of anybody’s formula to big riches, and why should the NFL be any different? The past five years have seen several teams go from last to first, and owners are feeling the heat.

Amid the crises involving attendance, profit, and performance, owners are losing patience, and the head coach is the easiest “restart” button in this entire machine. On Jan. 26, by firing Fisher, Titans owner  essentially reset his dysfunctional Tamagotchi.