Game #17: Black Monday’s Eve

Bill McPeak was the Washington Head Coach for 5 seasons in the mid 1960s. His record was 21-46-3. Ron Rivera’s record will be similar when his tenure ends perhaps as early as “Black Monday.” 26-39-1.

If you dislike amusement park rides the coast into the end is always a relief. This has been a rough autumn and winter for the WFT. That’s the norm. Washington football fandom is not for the feint of heart. This season will end with the proverbial whimper that most do. Tomorrow, or shortly thereafter the team will start the off-season with a bang by dismissing some or all of the coaching and front office staff. Winning the off-season is what the WFT does best. Winning on the field is another matter.

If you submit yourself to the torture of performing basic math on the WFT seasons the picture that emerges is stunning. There have been only four winning seasons this century. Depending on your generation you may have cut your teeth on Joe Gibbs‘ great teams in the 1980’s. They were the outlier. If you have gray on top you might remember the dismal 1960’s. There was only one winning season that decade. That came at the end when Vince Lombardi followed Curly Lambeau’s lead by making Washington his “Sunset Tour.” The rise from the ashes that followed was spurred by George Allen, then Gibbs…and then the return to ashes. If you are in the retirement community it’s “Deja Vu’ all over again.” Here are the winning percentages by decade since 1960:

The rise and fall of the WFT over the past 63 years. All told, even with the Glory Years included, the cumulative winning percentage is below .500 at .489.

The time span of 63 years accounts for the tenures of 17 Head Coaches, not including those with the “Interim” label. Pittsburgh, on the other hand is on Coach #6 during those years. Soon the number will climb to 18 Head Coaches here. Cocktail Napkin math says that’s three coaches here, including a Hall of Famer with over a decade of tenure, for every one in Steel City. Those are the pegs on the analog gauge at Low and High. Most franchises will fall in the middle somewhere. Failure and success are linked to that gauge with a strong relationship.

“If you live in hope, then you’ll die in despair.”

Sam Huff

“The ‘New Broom is gonna’ sweep clean.” An old workplace refrain is surely accurate for this franchise. Several media outlets have already listed candidates for the General Manager and Head Coach job. There’s even a piece out there linking candidates to potential modes of Josh Harris‘ thinking. The fact that no one but Josh knows what Josh is thinking won’t slow the flow of ink. The “Fire to Hire” cycle can’t move quickly enough. Interviews for the Head Coach position cannot start until January 22. The General Manager is not similarly restricted. The one thing that will be telling is which position is filled first. Will the GM work for the Head Coach, or vice versa? The position filled first is the lead dog.

Ron Rivera did things that a Head Coach should not have had to do. Has any other HC had to write a letter to Congress answering their questions about the franchise? Congress? He took bullets aplenty for the former owner. He’s also widely respected within the business. But, he’s gone very quickly this coming week. The hat that he wore in picking personnel was his undoing.

There’s entirely too much emphasis placed on whether the Head Coach is from the Offense or Defense side of the ball. There are plenty of Lombardi Trophies in each bin. Up the road in Baltimore the top seed in the American Football Conference is coached by a former Special Teams coach. A good Head Coach is good regardless of specialty. Being sucked into a paradigm of thinking can lead to rough times. David Tepper fired a successful Interim Coach solely because he was from the Defensive side of the ball. His Offensive-minded hire lasted only eleven games.

Ron was fixated on Defensive talent. His drafts were a study in finding long-shots and slow-developers. They weren’t without any talent. They were just slow in showing most of it. And, the top picks were Defense. The Offensive Line was given table scraps. Trading away two Edge Rushers during the season was in no small part because too much of the salary cap was going towards the Defensive Line. Despite all the Draft Picks and money the Defense was abysmal this year. If the focal point and strength of your program is the worst in the business…it’s time to change things up.

The WFT played San Francisco well for a half or so. Eventually, Kyle Shanahan figured out that the Defense of Washington couldn’t stop the run. The younger Shanahan has a nasty habit of forgetting how good his run game is. He didn’t revert to form last Sunday. The final score of 27-10 was hardly disgraceful. The much-acclaimed Miami Dolphins had 56 points dropped on them in Baltimore. Washington looked pretty good by comparison when they played their Conference #1 seed.

Dallas comes to town the beneficiaries of another chapter of Referee Incompetence. It’s a rapidly spreading malady affecting the game every week. That the League wants the Cowboys to host playoff games is not in doubt. The conspiracy-minded had a field day with this fiasco. There are so many fixes readily available it removes all doubt that the League is anything other than fine with the current situation. One full-time referee upstairs, in-charge, and on a head set to the on-field crew would prevent many messes. “Pick up that flag.”

All you need to know about the current situation is that the League built a “Command Center” for long-distance review. Patrick Mahomes was recently hit while running down the sidelines, still in-bounds. A penalty flag for “Unnecessary Roughness” came flying. Hitting the QB out of bounds was the foul in this case. The Command Center was not allowed to correct this call despite how obviously incorrect it was. The whole Command Center schtick is strictly Clockwork Orange. After the debacle in Dallas one would think the League would issue some sort of apology or note that they made a boo-boo. Oh no! Instead they issued a video that was classic “Circle the Wagons.” There was even mention of a lack of officiating resources.

Considering that this is an $18.6 Billion per year business the poor mouth excuse is risible. But, there may be a nugget of truth in there under layers of paint. The League cannot attract officials from the top College conferences. The money is as good or better for the SEC and Big 10 officials. And, the “Eye in the Sky” official corrects the most egregious errors on the spot. It’s much easier to stay out of the crosshairs officiating in those conferences. What the League is recruiting is personnel from lower-ranking conferences and Division 2/3. Imagine going from calling a Frostburg vs Fairmont State game to some packed-to-the-rafters NFL stadium. That type situation is happening more often as veteran officials flee. The officiating situation is bad, getting worse, and there is no indication that it will get better soon.

“Dandy Don” Meredith with a bare-headed Tom Landry. Dak Prescott’s 92-yard TD pass last week is still shorter than Don’s 95-yarder against…who else? Washington; November 13,1966

Dallas also scored on a miracle 92-yard pass. Dak should have been sacked for a Safety. The Detroit Linebacker whiffed. It was so Roger Staubach like. Dak won’t need a miracle throw like that against the somnambulant WFT this week. Like most games at FedEx Field the stands will be mostly filled with fans of the visiting team. Fittingly the weather calls for dreary overcast, cool enough to be considered cold, with a clearing Northwest wind blowing out the rain/snow goop mix of the early January weekend. Behind the wind and after the game will come clear skies. Perhaps with them will come better days ahead for the beleaguered faithful of the Burgundy and Gold. Perhaps.

Author’s note: The “Featured Image” for this post is of Eddie LeBaron. He played for Washington for 7-years before being claimed by Dallas in the expansion draft of 1960. LeBaron was 5’7″ tall. Gil Brandt drafted 6’3″ Don Meredith from college that year. He swore he’d never draft another QB shorter than 6’1″ again.

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