How many do you expect Arians to win in ’19?

by Gary Shelton on January 15, 2019 · 8 comments

in general

Arians has had a first-year success before.

Tuesday, 4 a.m.

Scene one:

There was a new energy, a new coach, a new direction. Yep, the Tampa Bay Bucs had it figured out, didn't they?

It was 2009, and the Bucs had made changes. Jon Gruden had won a Super Bowl once, but his team was running in place, and Raheem Morris was a hot new assistant the team feared losing. And so, even though Gruden's 9-7 record was the same it had been the season before when he was given a contract extension, he was fired. So was general manager Bruce Allen, who was moved aside to make room for Mark Dominik.

It sounded good on paper, didn't it? Morris was going to prove it, wasn't he? He was going to win. He was going to start something.

And he won three games, a third of Gruden's total for the previous season.

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The sad truth is that most coaching changes don't lead to the Super Bowl. Sometimes, if you are the Jets, you get Rich Kotite. Sometimes, if you are the Dolphins, you get Cam Cameron. Sometimes, if you are the Browns, you get Hue Jackson. If you are the 49ers, you get Chip Kelly.

And soon, you are changing coaches again.

*.  *   *

Scene Two:

Once, the San Francisco 49ers had been the best team in football. No more.

Back in 2011, it had been nine seasons since they had a winning record. Once the land of Bill Walsh and George Seifert, there were no-name coaches in a revolving door. Once the land of Joe Montana and Steve Young, you had Trent Dilfer and Shaun Hill.

The new guy was going to clean it up, right. Jim Harbaugh had just blown into town, and things were going to be different.

And they were.

In 2011, the 49ers went from 6-10 to 11-5. They lost in the conference finals, by three points to the Giants. Want to know just how far they came? The year before, they lost to the Bucs 21-0. That year, they beat the Bucs 48-3.

Yeah, it can work. It's rare, but there are seasons to point to.

*. *.  *

So what should we expect in this first season of Bruce Arians? Oh, it will be interesting; we know that. The NFC South seems to be declining; three teams had losing records this year and the fourth has a 40-year-old quarterback. But we don't yet know who the Bucs will sign as free agents, or who the draft picks  will be. Picking a record now is like picking a number out of a hat.

And while Arians has made it clear he won't blame the talent, we know better. We've seen this secondary. We've seen this offensive line. We've seen the interceptions and the penalties and the struggles in the red zone. Arians has some heavy lifting in front of him.

But don't you think Tony Sporano had some heavy lifting to do in 2008 when he took over the Miami Dolphins? Cam Cameron had won just one game the previous seasons. Sporano won 11 and made the playoffs. In 2005, the Saints went 3-13. Sean Payton came in, and the Saints improved to 10-6 and made the conference finals. In 1991, the Chargers won four games. Bobby Ross came in and led his team to an 11-5 finish and the playoffs. In 2004, Jim Mora took over the 5-11 Falcons and turned them around to 11-5 and the conference finals. Chuck Knox, in his first stint with the Rams in 1973, took over a 6-7-1 team and led them to a 12-2 season and a spot in the conference finals.

Yeah, it's hard to turn a team around. Most of them follow in the same footsteps of their previous journeys. Sometimes, it seems as if the losing is a life sentence.

But every now and then, someone so dynamic has such a solid plan in place that he exceeds expectations.

Could that happen here?


* * *

We've seen it before, of course. No matter where you lie with the old Tony Dungy-Jon Gruden argument, there is no question that Gruden's job in 2002 was masterful. He came in not knowing the names of his players, and he gave them new energy on their way to a Super Bowl title.

Sure, the Bucs were a nine-team win the year before he came (Gruden won 12, plus three in the playoffs). But there was a sameness to Dungy's last couple of seasons. The defense was amazing, the offense was never good enough to get the team over the hump.

Over the years, however, first-year Buc coaches haven't done well. John McKay didn't win any in his first season. Leeman Bennett won two, or a third of McKay's last year. Ray Perkins won four. Richard Williamson won three. Sam Wyche won five. Dungy won six. Raheem Morris won three. Greg Schiano won seven. Lovie Smith won two. Dirk Koetter won nine, at least.He and Gruden had the only winning records for a first-year coach.

Again, it happens. In 1970, Don McCafferty took over Don Shula's Colts team, which was 8-5-1. McCafferty led them to an 11-2-1 record and a Super Bowl win. Barry Switzer was 12-4 with the Cowboys in his first year, but he lost in the conference finals. That looked bad, since Jimmy Johnson had won back-to-back Super Bowls in the previous two seasons.

George Seifert won the Super Bowl in his first year; however, the 49ers had won it the year before when he was an assistant on the staff. McCafferty also came from within, which means he had a better inkling of his players.

(Yes, George Halas and Paul Brown were very good in their first seasons in the NFL. However, the league was new when Halas started coaching the Bears. The Browns dominated the AAFC and were a top team by the time they joined the NFL).

*   *  *

A reason to hope? Heck, Bruce Arians has done it before.

In 2013, he took over the Arizona Cardinals, a 5-11 team with a history of wobbly ownership. The Cardinals lost the Super Bowl in 2008, but except for that, they had one playoff appearance in 25 years.

Arians took his first team to 10-6 and won 34 games in his first three years.

If that wasn't enough, Arians' defensive coordinator with the Bucs, Todd Bowles, also had a nice first season with the New York Jets. They went from 4-12 the year before he arrived to 10-6 in his first season.

It doesn't always happen. Look at last season's first-year coaches. Chicago's Matt Nagy turned the Bears from a five-win team to one that won 12. Frank Reich of Indianapolis took his team from 4-12 to 10-6. Both teams are in the playoffs.

But Detroit's Matt Patricia fell from nine wins to six. Arizona's Steve Wilks went form eight wins to three (and was fired). Oakland's Jon Gruden went from six wins to four.

Mike Vrabel of Tennessee won nine games, the same as the Titans had won the year before. And the Giants'  Pat Shurmur improved from three wins to five, hardly worth a parade.

* * *

The point is, success is possible, even if it hasn't been seen locally for a while. Dennis Green inherited an 8-8 Minnesota team in 1982; he led his first team to 11-5 and the playoffs.  Bill Cowher took over a 7-9 Pittsburgh team in 1992 and led it to 11-5.  In 2008, John Harbaugh (Jim's brother) took over a 5-11 Ravens team and led it to 11-5. Back in 1970, Don Shula took over the 3-10-1 Miami Dolphins and led them to a 10-4 record.

It's uncommon, but it's not rare. Over their history, the Bucs have hired a lot of wrong guys.

This time, they have to hope they have the right guy.

If so, success is possible, even this year.

The Top 15 First-Year Turnarounds

2002 Bucs                9-7           12-4, Super Bowl                          Jon Gruden

2006 Saints             3-13          10-6, Conference Finals             Sean Payton

1997 Jets                  1-15               9-7                                               Bill Parcells

2011 49ers                6-10          13-3, Conference Finals             Jim Harbaugh

2004 Falcons          5-11           11-5, Conference Finals              Jim Mora Jr.

2008 Ravens           5-11           11-5, Conference Finals              John Harbaugh

1992 Chargers         4-12           11-5, Division                              Bobby Ross

1970 Colts                8-5-1          11-2-1 Super Bowl                      Don McCafferty

1992 Steelers           7-9              11-5, Division                              Bill Cowher

2014 Texas               2-14              9-7                                               Bill O'Brien

2003 Bengals          2-14               8-8                                              Marvin Lewis

1998 Bills                 6-10              10-6, Playoffs                            Wade Phillips

2012 Chiefs               2-14             11-5, Playoffs                             Andy Reid

2015 Jets                     4-12            10-6                                            Todd Bowles

2013 Cardinals          5-11              10-6                                            Bruce Arians



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