When coaches are fired, you inevitably hear the phrase “What have you done for me lately?” It runs rampant in the sports world and affects both Hall of Famers and first year flameouts alike. On Sunday, Jacksonville saw another example of this, when first year Armada FC head coach Tony Meola was let go eight matches in to the fall season. While many will focus on the reasoning behind the termination, I look at how our local teams have handled this in a “win now” society.
There are multiple ways for ownership to handle a tenuous coaching situation, and in Jacksonville we have seen almost the full gambit over the last few years. The aforementioned Armada have cycled through two permanent head coaches and an interim in less than two seasons. The Sharks of the Arena Football League recently cut ties with Les Moss, the only head coach in the franchise’s history, which has since resulted in a three game winning streak, a surprise playoff berth and a run to the American Conference Championship game under interim head man Bob Landsee. And most notably, Jaguars owner Shad Khan has been patient in regards to his chief of staff Gus Bradley, who has compiled just a 12-36 record in three years at the helm. Which one of these approaches is the best?
A look at the town’s football teams first. The Sharks decided, despite Moss’s largely successful career that included an Arena Bowl title and another berth in the game last year, a shakeup was needed to break the team out of what was largely considered a lethargic slump. This happens across all sports and examples abound, from Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants to Doc Rivers with the Boston Celtics. So far, it has paid off. The Sharks went from four straight losses and dropping five of six prior to parting ways with Moss to knocking on the door of a second straight Arena Bowl berth. Sometimes, a new voice and leadership is all that is needed to get a talented team out of the doldrums. It also creates an opportunity for the organization to keep Landsee if they feel that he has done enough in his part time audition for head coach and maintain some momentum and consistency heading in to next season. This is a popular strategy, though not one employed yet by the Armada.
On the other side, the Jaguars elected to keep its head coach despite what some have categorized as underachieving over the last few seasons. In sheer wins and losses, Bradley has shown minimal progress over his three seasons in Jacksonville, but Khan is playing wait and see with his head coach and general manager after firing both to previously hold those positions just one year into his leadership term. This could pay off in 2016, if all the pieces acquired by Dave Caldwell finally realize their potential under Bradley, who now entering just his fourth year as a head coach at any level, should have improved his ability to manage the intricacies that come with wearing the main headset on gamedays. If not, and the team flounders to another losing record, heads will undoubtedly start to roll and many will wonder whether hanging on to Bradley longer than many wanted to actually hurt the teams chances at long term success. The jury is obviously still out on this strategy.
Which brings us back to the Armada. Owner Mark Frisch is highly competitive, and does not just want to see professional soccer in Jacksonville, but wants to see it thrive. Therefore, when results do not live up to expectations, new personnel is brought in to rectify that, whether it be players, coaches or staff. Through the first season and a half, the entire organization has been a revolving door and there are two ways to look at that: the owner settles for nothing less than greatness or he has an itchy trigger finger. In the win now society we live in, everyone wants to support a winner, but sometimes people forget how hard it is to merely get a franchise off the ground. Sometimes that just means laying the groundwork and letting it grow for a few years. With the constantly changing coaching and player personnel, there has been no opportunity for the Armada to develop an identity in its nearly two seasons of existence.
While there is no guarantee that Meola would have improved as a head man given the time afforded to his counterpart across the way at EverBank Field (and I do not think he would have), or that last year’s interim head coach Eric Dade could have had a Landsee-like effect if given the job full time this year (the jury is still out on the Sharks head honcho by the way, but he has to be the favorite to get the job on a permanent basis at the end of the season), but one thing is clear: the “What have you done for me lately” sports philosophy has fixed the Armada into a holding pattern that is one everyone, from top down, would like to see change.