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Thread: Rookie Head Coach starts

  1. #1

    Rookie Head Coach starts

    Anyone care to post this Athletic article?



    What does Zac Taylor have in common with Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Anthony Lynn and Kyle Shanahan? They all lost at least their first five games. @JayMorrisonATH found out what advice they have for the winless #Bengals coach.

  2. #2
    Former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche subscribes to “NFL Sunday Ticket” so he can catch all of the team’s games from his home in Pickens, S.C., and he still roots for the Bengals as hard as he did when he walked the sideline.

    Watching the team struggle to an 0-5 start under head coach Zac Taylor has been difficult. And it’s triggered some memories. Not just of Wyche’s own rocky start as a rookie head coach for the Bengals in 1984, but more so of an unexpected phone call he received after a 38-17 loss to the Steelers doomed Wyche to an 0-5 start.

    Joe Gibbs dialed Wyche to offer support, and to remind the rookie head coach he, too, began his career 0-5 before leading the Redskins to back-to-back Super Bowls, the first of which ended with a championship.

    “I was surprised because I didn’t know Joe,” Wyche said. “We knew each other through league meetings, so the call wasn’t totally out of the blue, but it was close. I could see the blue from there.

    “He called to pick me up a little bit assuming I was at the same low point that he probably was at 0-5. We didn’t chat for a long time, but we chatted seriously for a short time. That call really meant a lot to me.”

    Wyche thought it would have the same impact on Taylor. Wyche is still close with Bengals owner and team president Mike Brown despite the contentious ending — Wyche claims he was fired, Brown contends he resigned — to his tenure in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve 1991, so he called to offer his friend and former boss encouragement during the rough, winless start.

    “I had called Mike to support him,” Wyche said. “And then in the course of the conversation, I said, ‘Would you give me your blessing to call Zac and let him know I started 0-5, too, if you remember?’” Wyche said. “And I’m not sure Mike did remember that. He kind of chuckled like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s right. You did.’”

    Zac Taylor has had the same 0-5 start to his head-coaching career that former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche did. (Rich Barnes / USA Today)

    Unlike Wyche and Gibbs, who had casual conversations before that inspirational phone call, Taylor and Wyche had never spoken. But Taylor was every bit as moved by the gesture as Wyche had been 35 years ago.

    “For someone like that to reach out and say, ‘Hey, it gets better, hang in there, keep doing it the way that you believe in,’ that really meant a lot,” Taylor said. “I didn’t even know him. I mean, I know his history, obviously. So, to talk on the phone with him was really cool. This is an awesome organization that way. There’s a lot of good people who have come through here.”

    Likewise, there a lot of really good coaches who have struggled through the rut of an 0-5 start — or worse. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, 33 head coaches have begun their careers with five or more consecutive losses.

    John McKay holds the record with 26 consecutive losses with the expansion Buccaneers from 1976-77. In addition to Wyche, there is another former Bengals head coach on the list in Forrest Gregg, who lost his first nine games with the Browns.

    In addition to Gibbs, five other Super Bowl-winning coaches have started their careers with at least five consecutive losses — Tony Dungy (five), Bill Walsh (seven), Jimmy Johnson (eight) and, prior to the 1970 merger, Tom Landry (10).

    Dungy,*like Wyche in 1984, got a call of support from Gibbs in 1996 as a rookie head coach with the Buccaneers.

    “It was just incredible,” Dungy said. “I didn’t really know him. I had admired him and had shaken hands with him a couple times before games, but it wasn’t like we’d ever worked together or were close or anything. I think he just looked at a young coach and said, ‘Hey, a five-minute phone call to say keep your head up, I started the same way and have faith.’ I think both of us being Christians, I think maybe that was an attraction to him to, to say, ‘Hey, the Lord’s got this. You’re going to be OK. You can’t lose faith. You have to have that belief in yourself and belief in your system. Don’t compromise and don’t think you’re doing the wrong thing. Just trust in what you believe in.’

    “That was something I had ingrained with Chuck Noll,” Dungy continued, referring to the former Steelers coach for whom he played. “He always talked about sticking with the plan, doing what we do and when you struggle, don’t do more, don’t make changes, but cut back and do less and make sure you’re on top of your fundamentals. And so that’s what we did, and we kind of pulled out of it. We won five of our last seven and that kind of sparked the belief and the next year we won our first five and made the playoffs.”


    Tony Dungy glares at the scoreboard in his first game as Buccaneers’ head coach on Sept. 1, 1996. The Packers beat the Buccaneers 34-3 in the first of five straight losses to start Dungy’s head-coaching career. (Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)

    Wyche drove home that point as well.

    “There is a natural temptation to change things,” he said. “And I’m sure those people up in Section 304 had some really good ideas. But we stuck to what we were doing. Now, you reanalyze some things, that’s for sure. You say, ‘OK, let’s rethink everything one more time. Do we have too many plays offensively? Do we not have enough defensive looks to give the other team some offensive problems? We all knew the players and the potential were there. We knew it as a coaching staff, and I think the players did, too. But until you figure it out and walk away with a win, you’re still 0-and-something.”

    Of the 33 coaches to start 0-5 or worse since 1970, three are active — Taylor, along with the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan (nine) and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn (five).

    Lynn took the Chargers to the playoffs in his second full season as head coach in 2018, and Shanahan has the 49ers sitting 4-0 as the only unbeaten team in the NFC in his third year.

    “If you believe in the process, if you believe in what you’re doing, stay committed and keep reemphasizing the things that you believe that’s important,” Lynn offered as advice to Taylor. “A lot of times we all have great plans, we all have great visions, but sometimes we just don’t have the stamina and the guts to carry it out.”

    Shanahan’s 2017 streak is tied for the ninth-longest to begin a career in NFL history.

    “It’s a huge challenge, especially when you’re a first-year coach because you want to get your first win in and it just builds up and it ends up being a little monkey on your back, which gets frustrating,” Shanahan said. “You get a hundred texts after each game: ‘Hang in there. Don’t worry. It’ll come.’”

    Shanahan said his advice to Taylor is similar to what Gibbs told Dungy 23 years ago.

    “You have to stick with what you started with when you came in: What do you believe in? Where do you want this team to go? You don’t stray from that and eventually it turns,” he said. “He’s there for a reason. They needed to change some stuff up. That’s what he’s going through. Hopefully, they’ll give him some time to do that. He’s a good coach. He’s got good coaches all over there. They’ve got some good players. They’ve just got to keep working at it. It’s not easy when you change everything. People expect it to happen right away. Training camp’s not long enough to get that stuff done. You’ve got to go through a bunch of ups and downs during the season to really find out who you are.

    “What I always liked — I mean, no one wants to go through it — but the good thing about going through it is you really find out about the type of people you’re dealing with. Because you can’t hide when you go through stuff like that. You know exactly who people are.”



    Kyle Shanahan spoke with Zac Taylor after the 49ers defeated the Bengals in Week 2. (David Kohl / USA Today)

    Equally as important as knowing who people are is having people know who you are, Dungy said.

    “My advice to Coach Taylor would be: Don’t worry and don’t listen to everybody else. You know what you believe in. Continue to preach that to the players and continue to do it,” he said. “After we kind of pulled out of it in ’97, that second year, a lot of players said that was the key, that we didn’t change. We didn’t come in with one plan and then say, ‘Now, we’re going to do this, because that first one really wasn’t a good idea.’ They felt the consistency, and the belief was something that really made an impact on them and when we finally did get it, it was ingrained and it took us a long ways.”

    Dungy, more than anyone else, can speak as an authority on the subject.

    Not only did he do it himself as a coach, but he also watched through a facemask as Walsh, the former Bengals assistant and three-time Super Bowl champion coach of the 49ers, mastered the practice as a rookie head coach in 1979.

    “It’s a huge challenge, especially when you’re a first-year coach because you want to get your first win in and it just builds up and it ends up being a little monkey on your back, which gets frustrating,” Shanahan said. “You get a hundred texts after each game: ‘Hang in there. Don’t worry. It’ll come.’”

    Shanahan said his advice to Taylor is similar to what Gibbs told Dungy 23 years ago.

    “You have to stick with what you started with when you came in: What do you believe in? Where do you want this team to go? You don’t stray from that and eventually it turns,” he said. “He’s there for a reason. They needed to change some stuff up. That’s what he’s going through. Hopefully, they’ll give him some time to do that. He’s a good coach. He’s got good coaches all over there. They’ve got some good players. They’ve just got to keep working at it. It’s not easy when you change everything. People expect it to happen right away. Training camp’s not long enough to get that stuff done. You’ve got to go through a bunch of ups and downs during the season to really find out who you are.

    “What I always liked — I mean, no one wants to go through it — but the good thing about going through it is you really find out about the type of people you’re dealing with. Because you can’t hide when you go through stuff like that. You know exactly who people are.”

    Kyle Shanahan spoke with Zac Taylor after the 49ers defeated the Bengals in Week 2. (David Kohl / USA Today)

    Equally as important as knowing who people are is having people know who you are, Dungy said.

    “My advice to Coach Taylor would be: Don’t worry and don’t listen to everybody else. You know what you believe in. Continue to preach that to the players and continue to do it,” he said. “After we kind of pulled out of it in ’97, that second year, a lot of players said that was the key, that we didn’t change. We didn’t come in with one plan and then say, ‘Now, we’re going to do this, because that first one really wasn’t a good idea.’ They felt the consistency, and the belief was something that really made an impact on them and when we finally did get it, it was ingrained and it took us a long ways.”

    Dungy, more than anyone else, can speak as an authority on the subject.

    Not only did he do it himself as a coach, but he also watched through a facemask as Walsh, the former Bengals assistant and three-time Super Bowl champion coach of the 49ers, mastered the practice as a rookie head coach in 1979.

    “I was on Bill Walsh’s first team,” Dungy said. “That was my last year playing. We were 2-14. But the thing that I admired as a player was, ‘Man, this guy has belief in his system.’ He would come in every week and say, ‘We’re not going to change. This is going to work. We’re moving the ball here. We’ve got to clean this up. We’re gonna be good.’ Even though we only won two games that year, I remember thinking, ‘This guy isn’t going to be swayed by little difficulties.’ And that was the foundation of those Super Bowl teams.”

    Of course, maintaining the players’ confidence is only part of the battle. There’s also the issue of making sure the front office keeps the faith.

    Wyche said that never was an issue during his rough start. And nothing is different today as Taylor fights through it.

    “I talk with Mike every day,” Taylor said. “When you talk to people every day, it’s not a state of the union every day. It’s a process that we’re all involved in, and we all believe in it. It’s frustrating to be 0-5, but at the same time you feel like, ‘OK, there’s a bond here. We’re all in this together. We’re all going to make the fixes we need to make to improve and everyone’s on board.’”

    For every coach who rebounded from an extended losing streak to start his career, there is one who never found a way. Two never found a win. Hank Kuhlmann went 0-5 with the Cardinals in 1989 and never coached again. Faye Abbott lost 13 in a row with the Dayton Triangles from 1928-29 and then lost his job.

    The fact that possibility exists is not something a young coach can worry about it. In addition to the call from Wyche, Taylor said he has gotten many others, including one from Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, who is the lone rookie head coach this season with a winning record.

    Rams head coach Sean McVay, Taylor’s former boss, has also offered support.

    “He’s reached out. He’s the best,” Taylor said. “He’ll always support you. Now, we have to play them in a couple weeks, so he’s not too supportive. But it’s all good. There’s a lot of good people in this league who reach out, people I didn’t even know.”

    Maybe one day Taylor will be reaching out to a young coach, offering encouragement in the midst of a dark spell. It’s unclear if the chain of coaching camaraderie began with Gibbs, but it’s clear it’s ongoing.

    Just as Wyche paid it forward, so did Dungy.

    The names and numbers change, but the message stays the same.

    “I have called young guys the way Joe Gibbs called me and I always tell them the same thing coach Noll once told me,” Dungy said. “Leaving your game plan is a sign of panic, and panic is not in our game plan. So, have faith in what you do. Stick with it. Keep selling it and don’t deviate. Your best plan is what you believe in. That is what you’re going to need when things don’t go well. Stick with it and you’re going to be fine.”

    The Athletic’s Daniel Popper in Los Angeles and Matt Barrows in San Francisco contributed to this story.

  3. #3
    Tony Dungy makes some salient points about how he watched Bill Walsh "stick with the program" despite a 2-14 season then went on to launch his dynasty, as well as how the guys in his locker room rallied around their 5-0 finish in his 6-10 inaugural season to make the playoffs four out of the next five seasons.

  4. #4
    Great read, thanks for posting!

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