- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

Jerry Jones has not fired Wade Phillips yet. Or perhaps it is the tempest known as Terrell Owens who should be handed a pink slip in Dallas.

With the NFL playoffs getting under way Saturday, 20 teams have been dispatched to the film room to study the transgressions that led to their elimination.

That excludes the 11-5 Patriots, one of the best teams in football’s modern age not to qualify for the playoffs. Their disappointment was exacerbated by the 8-8 Chargers overtaking the Broncos to win the AFC West on a tiebreaker.

That sound you heard in Denver this week was the sniffling of owner Pat Bowlen discussing the firing of Mike Shanahan after 14 seasons. Shanahan’s dismissal brings to seven the number of coaches who have been told to get lost since the start of the 2008 season.

That number includes Rod Marinelli, the latest stooge to succumb to William Clay Ford’s incompetent stewardship of the Lions. The 83-year-old Ford has one playoff win in 45 seasons as owner of the Lions. That ineptitude is unlikely ever to be duplicated by another owner, considering the strong stomach and good genes it would take to endure so much bad football for so long.

Another coaching change is not about to change the culture of losing in Detroit.

And that is the point.

A coaching change is rarely the solution, only the readily available response to a string of losses. Eric Mangini did not lose 50 IQ points in the last five games of the Jets’ season. It only seemed that way with quarterback Brett Favre throwing nine interceptions and two touchdown passes in those five games, four of them losses.

Mangini possibly should have benched the injured Favre, as several of the Jets have suggested. But that move would have been at odds with the wishes of owner Woody Johnson, who already is championing Favre’s return next season.

The support from the owner goes beyond Favre’s diminishing returns on the football field. Favre remains a big box office draw, no small consideration in a market as challenging and potentially lucrative as New York.

So the fate of Mangini was caught in the fragile grip of a 39-year-old quarterback. The acquisition smacked of genius with the Jets atop the AFC East with an 8-3 record. It reeked of desperation after the Jets fell out of playoff contention and finished the season 9-7.

None of it was a commentary on Mangini’s coaching ability.

Not that we should cry over those handed a golden parachute on their way out the door. Just as coaches are hired to be fired, coaches also are fired to be rehired. Shanahan is certain to resurface somewhere in his next football life but probably not before taking his turn in an analyst’s seat in a television studio.

The Steelers are one of the few organizations that seem to understand the obvious. Hire the best possible person and then stick with him through good times and bad. Mike Tomlin is only the third coach of the Steelers since 1969. Both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, who preceded Tomlin, left on their terms.

Cowher, who will have a coaching job the moment he expresses the slightest interest in one, probably would not have evolved into who he was with any organization but the Steelers. The Titans would argue the point after Jeff Fisher celebrated his 15th season with the team by leading it into the playoffs with a 13-3 record.

Fisher is the longest-tenured coach in the NFL and trails the longevity of only Jerry Sloan and Bobby Cox in the four major professional leagues. Fisher, Sloan and Cox have been judged by the number of times they have put their teams in the championship hunt, not by the number of times their teams have fallen short - which is as it should be.

Their organizations recognize the long-term value of maintaining consistency and continuity in the coaching ranks.

The surprise is that most organizations choose to ignore it.

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