Much like society's demand for instant information and access, the NFL has shifted to a win now or else league. Long gone are the days of the decade-plus tenures at the head coaching position. The Jeff Fisher and Bill Cowher long term command positions aren't going to happen without sustained success. One or two bad seasons, and you're gone.
After a 5-11 2007 season, the Baltimore Ravens let go of head coach Brian Billick and hired the first of the now famous Harbaugh brothers, John Harbaugh.
In 2008 we all remember the Ravens made it into the playoffs as a wild card and an 11-5 record with rookie QB Joe Flacco. They beat the Titans at home in the divisional round and went on to lose the AFC Champonship to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A very impressive turnaround from worst to first.
They took a small step backwards in 2009 and barely made the playoffs with a 9-7 record, but still managed to beat New England in the wild card round before losing the the Colts the next week.
The Ravens haven't looked back since and have made the playoffs every year since Harbaugh and Flacco took over, recently winning the Super Bowl. They are the paradigm franchise of a quick turnaround AND sustained success.
Not every story ends this way however.
Every year for the past decade at least one team has gone from last place in their division to winning it outright.
- 2003- Panthers and Chiefs
- 2004- Falcons and Chargers
- 2005- Bears and Giants
- 2006- Eagles, Saints and Ravens
- 2007- Buccaneers
- 2008- Dolphins
- 2009- Saints
- 2010- Chiefs
- 2011- Broncos
- 2012- Redskins
The New Orleans Saints are the only team on this list that made it to a Super Bowl after the teams rapid jump in success. This obviously doesn't show the entire picture. Just because you weren't in last place in your division, doesn't mean you're not in need of, or privy to, a quick turnaround.
In 2009 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired new head coach Raheem Morris and after one poor year, jumped the Bucs into a 10-6 season. Unfortunately they fell just as quickly to 4-12 the following year, which ended his tenure.
The 2008 Dolphins jumped from worst to first under new head coach Tony Sparano and had an 11-5 record, knocking New England out of the way. The following year they took a large step back and finished 7-9 and continued the trend through 2010. Sparano was let go in 2011 as the team hit the 4-9 mark with 3 games left to play.
The Chiefs suffered a similar fate as head coach Todd Haley took a 2-14 Chiefs team, to 4-12, and then winning the division the following year. The step backwards in 2011 didn't sit well though as he was dismissed with three games left in the season at 5-8. Romeo Crennel went 2-1 in his last two games as interim head coach, but only won 2 games the entire next season and has since been replaced by Andy Reid.
Yet To Be Seen
The most recent "turn around" team is the Washington Redskins. Mike Shanahan took over as head coach in 2010 and has taken his time getting them out of the basement. With a 6-10 season followed by a 5-11 one, the Redskins had been in the basement of the NFC East until the 2012 season. This is due in large part to rookie sensation Robert Griffin III. We'll see if the momentum sticks and carries into this year.
San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers have found success with new head coach Jim Harbaugh which seems less predicated on quarterback play than that of the Redskins. Coming off a 6-10 season in 2010, Harbaugh brought the 49ers screaming out of the gate to a 13-3 record. He followed that season up with another division winning season even after changing quarterbacks midstream. They have shown no signs of slowing down as a team, but have stumbled in a couple recent games.
While some may be quick to point to the Seahawks as a quick turnaround team, that really isn't the truth. New head coach Pete Carrol took over the Seahawks in 2010 and had back to back 7-9 seasons before challenging the 49ers last year with quarterback sensation Russell Wilson at the helm. That's a 14-18 record for his first two years compared to the Titans 15-18 record during the same time span under Mike Munchak. It's also yet to be seen if this new found success will have staying power or not, but the arrow is definitely pointing up for the franchise.
Both the Seahawks and Redskins jump to success coincided with the emergence of their electric young signal callers, while Harbaugh and the 49ers have shown they can do it with journeyman Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick.
Not So Fast
How about the current AFC South Houston Texans? The Texans hired Gary Kubiak as their second head coach in franchise history in 2006. The teams record since then has been a steady stream of mediocrity at best until 2011. That was the year the Colt's loss of Peyton Manning left the door open for the incumbent in the division and they took advantage. They have now had two straight years of sitting atop the division and have been labeled the team to beat.
The Giants have won two Super Bowls and had multiple playoff appearances since Tom Coughlin took over in 2004. They've also failed to make the playoffs a few of those years with mediocre records. There was a lot of clamoring for Coughlin to lose his job at multiple points during this run, but the franchise's patience with Coughlin has paid dividends.
The Rest of Success
The Falcons story is a near mirror image of the Ravens with head coach/quarterback combination Mike Smith and Matt Ryan taking over in 2008. The only difference is the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are still the cream of the crop by going to the playoffs all but 4 years since 1994.
The Colts dominated their division for almost a decade by winning the division 7 out of 9 times since 2002. Again, having one of the best quarterbacks of all time didn't hurt things.
The Green Bay Packers have been to the playoffs each of the past 4 years and of course have a Super Bowl as well. This is after the franchise stuck with head coach Mike McCarthy following a dismal 6-10 record in his 3rd year.
While the Ravens and Falcons have shown you can have a quick turn around with sustained success, it seems to be more the exception than the rule. I believe the quick turn around that teams can have is akin to finding a star running back in the fifth round of the draft. Just because it can happen, doesn't mean it will happen.
On one end of the spectrum, the Giants and Texans have been rewarded by showing patience with their head coaching situation and not expecting immediate returns. On the other end, the Chiefs are now on their 4th head coach in almost as many years, the same as the Raiders and the Browns. All franchises that have been mired in the bottom of their division. (The Cheifs are now at 4-0 in the 2013 season. We'll see how well it sustains.)
The Titans departed with long term coach Jeff Fisher and are now under the helm of Mike Munchak. If head coach Mike Munchak is truly laying the groundwork for long term success, then there's no reason to not have patience. The results should show in this third year of tenure, but as we can see above, starting over is rarely the answer.