Wannstedt better than his record with the Bears
Contrary to popular belief, Dave Wannstedt was not a bad football coach
Now, hear this: Dave Wannstedt may be a better football coach than Jimmy
Johnson in Miami.
Johnson is a great CEO. He can make things click and, all in all, he
understands personnel. He understands organization. He understands motivation.
But in a football chess match, I would have taken Bill Parcells over
Johnson. Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren, too. Throw in Jim Mora. And, yes,
maybe even Dave Wannstedt.
That's why I believe the Miami Dolphins will be a better football team
under Wannstedt than they were under Johnson.
Now, I know that's a mouthful. Nevertheless, I believe it.
Wannstedt's failures in Chicago (41-57) were well-documented. I just
never heard an opposing coach privately say that the Bears were a poorly
coached or an ill-prepared team. They just had bad players. Johnson has
left him with good players.
I mean, much was made this past week that Wannstedt was 1-11 vs. Mike
Holmgren going into the Dolphins game with Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks.
Wannstedt is now 2-11 after Miami throttled Seattle 23-0. The game wasn't
As for that previous 1-11 mark that Wannstedt accrued against Holmgren's
Green Bay Packers, well, just compare at the rosters, not to mention the
front offices of the Bears and Packers during that period.
Holmgren's right-hand man was Ron Wolf, one of the best general managers
in the NFL. Wannstedt's right-hand man was Mike McCaskey. Get the picture?
Wannstedt's quarterbacks were Jim Harbaugh, Dave Krieg, Steve Walsh,
Steve Stenstrom, Rick Mirer and Erik Kramer. Holmgren had Brett Favre.
Holmgren coached the Packers when they were loaded. Remember when Dorsey
Levens used to back up Edgar Bennett? They had receivers like Sterling
Sharpe, Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman. Their Super Bowl championship
year, they had Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura at tight end. On defense, Reggie
White and Leroy Butler were in their prime, and Gilbert Brown was hungry, not
just for the nearby Burger King.
The point here is that you had Wolf, one of the game's great talent men,
stacking the deck for Holmgren, one of the game's great coaches.
The Bears had Wannstedt basically trying to do both jobs. He wasn't very
good at one of them but, perhaps, even that was a little misleading.
Wannstedt had his choice of two jobs -- the Bears and the New York Giants
-- following the Cowboys' first Super Bowl title in 1993. His close friend,
Johnson, brokered the deal by convincing the Bears that the only way
Wannstedt would take the job is if he had control over personnel. He also
sold Wannstedt on the idea that a coach should always have control of
It was a mistake. Bears president Mike McCaskey pushed a good personnel
man, Bill Tobin, out of the way. Wannstedt then inherited a splintered
scouting staff that was working on a budget that barely surpassed that of the
cheapskate Cincinnati Bengals. Support staff? Hardly. The Giants would have
been the right choice for Wannstedt, who was doing his first duty as a head coach.
Miami is almost a complete contrast from Chicago, and not just on the
weather front. The Dolphins' front office support staff is loaded, perhaps
even overloaded. When Wannstedt makes a decision now in the personnel
department, I believe he'll have pretty good information to get this right
more than wrong. He can thank Johnson the CEO for that.
|Jay Fiedler -- Wannstedt's choice as Dolphins' quarterback -- was 15-for-24 for 134 yards and threw one touchdown in his debut win over Seattle.|
On the coaching side, Wannstedt always had told me that he learned a great
deal from his failures in Chicago. He never spelled out every one of them,
but I suspect that he could have had a stronger coaching staff with the Bears.
He did not make the same mistake in Miami. In fact, one rival AFC coach
said he cringed when he saw that Wannstedt had guts enough to hire Chan
Gailey as his offensive coordinator. That Gailey was just coming off a stint
as a head coach (in Dallas) and still has aspirations to be a head coach
never bothered Wannstedt. He just wanted the best possible person for the job.
There were other changes, including the hiring of the spirited Jim Bates
as defensive coordinator. Wannstedt put together a better staff than Johnson,
who also had handcuffed his coaches. In fact, I always thought Johnson
intimidated his assistants into a fairly Neanderthal approach whereas his
coordinator in Dallas, Norv Turner, was willing to fight for what he believed.
Johnson's marching orders of "run the ball" -- without any sophistication
to the attack -- was shortsighted.
Turner believed in running the football, but he knew how to run the
football. It meant throwing on first down, and throwing the ball downfield
for big plays to give the offense some breathing room. I think Johnson wanted
that; he was probably more frustrated that he couldn't find his Norv Turner
Wannstedt, who spends much more time
studying game tape than Johnson ever did, has a greater command of X's and
O's. Of course, Johnson brought in Wannstedt last year to serve as an
assistant head coach. Wannstedt did some coaching, but he was more of an
extra set of eyes and hears for Johnson. He identified several problems and
when the opportunity came for him to replace Johnson, he didn't hesitate to
act on what he saw.
Aside from firing both coordinators, and fine tuning the staff, Wannstedt
confronted the most delicate problem in south Florida -- Dan Marino. And he
did it by not being confrontational.
Marino never appreciated Wannstedt's lukewarm approach to the issue of
whether Marino should return for another season. Let's face it, Wannstedt
believed it was time to move on, and Gailey almost certainly would have not
taken the job if he had to force a new offense on an established star, such
as he tried with Troy Aikman. Marino got the hint.
It was painful, but respectful, although I'm not sure Marino saw it that
Wannstedt shouldn't be perceived as Jimmy's boy, either. One of the first
things Wannstedt did was thaw the iceberg that had separated the great Don
Shula from the franchise. He also didn't hesitate to again hire Shula's son,
Mike, who was abruptly fired from his offensive coordinator's job in Tampa.
Wannstedt also didn't embrace Johnson's idea of a successor for Marino
(Damon Huard), and he didn't buy into the idea that J.J. Johnson was the
answer at running back.
I'm not saying that the Dolphins are bound for the Super Bowl this year
under Wannstedt. He's walking into an AFC East division that has a terrific
trio of superstars in Indianapolis, and probably the best overall team in Buffalo.
As the quarterbacks in the division, the Colts have Peyton Manning, the
Bills have Rob Johnson, the Jets have Vinny Testaverde, the Patriots have
Drew Bledsoe and the Dolphins have Jay Fiedler.
I like Fiedler. He really is an impressive person to meet. He has a
presence. But until he proves that he can play week-in and week-out at a
fairly high level, then it is only healthy to presume that Wannstedt, like
Johnson, will also fall short of Miami's quest to return to the Super Bowl
for the first time since 1984.
It just won't be a big fall, as many have anticpated.
||Marino never appreciated Wannstedt's lukewarm approach to the issue of
whether Marino should return for another season. Let's face it, Wannstedt
believed it was time [for Marino] to move on. ”