21st century sports, in particular the NFL, have been far too quick to hit the panic button and pull the plug on the careers of many players and coaches. Jim Harbaugh’s imminent departure from San Francisco embodies this perfectly. In short, the Sports World needs to listen to the advice Aaron Rodgers gave Packer nation: R-E-L-A-X.
Let me clarify:
In the case of players, they are often judged and given up on far too early in their careers nowadays. Now, I’m no fan of Geno Smith, who the Jets appear likely to cut ties with this offseason, but isn’t it a little absurd to say that a franchise needs to move on, that their investment was no good, when the player they’re referring too is 24 years old? Aren’t athletes supposed to peak in their late-twenties/early-thirties? What ever happened to the late bloomer? Troy Aikman lost his first game 24-0, and his team yielded the worst record in the NFL his rookie season, as did Peyton Manning’s. Can you imagine the landscape of the NFL if the plug were pulled on those careers?
For coaches, this is even more jurassic. Going into the 1980 NFL season, the average tenure of an NFL head coach was 4.6 years. Now? Less than 3 years. Similarly, the average tenure of an NBA coach, removing the Spurs from the equation, is 1.7 years, and the average tenure of an NHL coach is 2.6 years. Isn’t that a little nuts? People need time to finish the jobs they start. I believe that the reason many dysfunctional organizations in sports, from the Oakland Raiders to the New York Knicks, is too much change too quickly. Dennis Allen, former coach of the Raiders, drafted players to fit the Dennis Allen system– not the next guy. Changing coaches so quickly leads to an instant clash of ideals, personnel and roster preferences. Moving from coach to coach, as the New York Knicks have, leaves Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher with a team filled with players that weren’t part of their vision. Amare Stoudemire walks around as the ghost of D’Antoni’s past while Iman Shumpert and JR Smith represent all things Woodson. Upheaval is again on the arise of the Knicks roster, and it isn’t the solution.
So, when Aaron Rodgers, after the Packers came out of the gate to an unimpressive 1-2 start featuring an embarrassing loss to Seattle and a narrow win over Philadelphia, went on the radio and spelled out the word relax for Packers fans in the smooth, California tone he did, he sent the sports world a message. The Packers have since established themselves as the hottest team in football, and Rodgers has left no doubt that he is as elite as quarterbacks come. R-E-L-A-X, the Packers will be okay he said.
That brings me to Jim Harbaugh, the face of high-energy football coaching. Harbaugh walked into the 49ers facility to greet a team with talent that brought them to a 6-10 record. That season, they would go on to be 13-3 and get within one muffed punt of the Super Bowl. The next year, the team made it to the Super Bowl, and the following season, missed the Super Bowl by one play. These 49ers are currently 7-8, without a doubt an off year for Harbaugh and Co., and just like that, you blink your eyes and the man who returned this storied franchise to prominence is on the brink of being fired. Not retiring, not stepping down, just fired. Isn’t that absurd? The fastest coach in NFL history to reach three conference title games is out the door after one 500 season? My Jets are 3-12 and I’m still praying they keep Rex.
Say what you will about his high-energy, high-maintenance coaching style wearing down on the team. Say what you will about Harbaugh wanting complete control over the roster and his conflicting interests with the team’s GM Trent Baalke: teams bring in coaches to win games, and that’s all Harbaugh’s done. He’s got a vision, an idea for what his roster needs to look like to win, and front office interference and changes in staff do nothing but hinder that vision and place it out of reach.
In addition, Harbaugh introduced Colin Kaepernick, whom many have pointed the finger at for this year’s woes, to the 49ers as the face of the franchise. Harbaugh has coached Kaepernick playing at his best, and playing at his worst. He’s seen it all. Kaepernick is physically gifted and it goes without saying. His 4.53 speed and pitcher’s arm go with a 6’5″, 220 lb frame that was born to play in the NFL. He’s just been confused at times, according to Ron Jaworski. Where the 49ers will go wrong is when they fire the man who knows him best. What do the 49ers possibly see in bringing in a new head coach, a new mentor, and releasing the man who knows him best, that the 49ers believe will bring the best out of Kaepernick? It doesn’t make sense.
So is the story of the “panic” button in professional sports, where it was even debated if Johnny Manziel might be drafted to replace Tony Romo after Romo had another playoff-less year. What a disaster that would have been. The Jets let go of Mark Sanchez, and just like that, he was a formidable starter for Philadelphia.
To summarize, what I’m trying to say is that the sports world needs to take note of the recent success of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, as well as understand the response to the heat A-Rodge and Co. received after week 3 of a fresh NFL season. R…E…L…A…X. Everything’s going to be okay. Teams need to take a step back and just let the game play itself out, let coaches carry out their vision, let players play out the slumps, rather than jump in and act rashly. Think back to when you were in school for me, please– imagine if your english teacher collected a paper of yours 3 weeks before it was due, all you had done were two paragraphs, and your teacher graded you on that. It’s not fair. You need to complete the job. You need time. The owner, I mean, GM, I mean, teacher, should give the coach, I mean, the quarterback, I mean, you, time. We all need the trust and time the Packers received to finish our jobs before the plug gets pulled, as does Jim Harbaugh, as does Rex with the Jets, as do Phil and Fisher, as does the rest of the world. We all need to R…E…L…A…X, the rest will play itself out. We’ll take it from there– worry about it then. Obla-di, obla-da. It’s going to be okay.