Monday, Bloody Monday — Ripple Effects in the NFL

People love a good traffic accident. Traffic accidents provide tension and drama to otherwise arcane commutes. Black Monday is the traffic accident in the NFL. Fans of the NFL get most of their joy, not from the game or winning, but the drama that envelops the team they associate. And few days during the league year provide as much satisfying theater as the day coaches and GMs are fired. However, there are few things you should know about the ripple effects from Monday, Bloody Monday.

The most obvious is that the team goes through a wholesale culture change. Make no mistake, the work culture of most NFL teams is directly dictated by the head coach. He’s the most visible person in the building, and everything flows from his presence and agenda. This is one of the main reasons it’s so hard to actually hire a coach in the NFL. Normally a company hires someone who fits the organizational culture, not a person who is appointed to recast it from scratch every two years. It’s hard to hire someone if you have no internal standard to measure that person against. It’s no surprise the teams that are the most consistent in the league are the ones with cultures that stem from ownership and are independent of the man coaching the team.

Players, coaches/scouts, and families feel the brunt of the next ripple when those integral to the previous regime are fired or released. I know one eight-year-old who has moved six times. The upheaval to the family life is part of the reason people in sport are well compensated, but it has a tremendous effect on children and spouses. It’s easy for the casual fan to discount this due to the amount of money these positions pay, but the fact is that many families in football are unhappy in today’s game because of the difficulty in creating a stable lifestyle. A friend, who is a NCAA offensive coordinator, recently told me that he’d quit in a heartbeat if he could learn a new trade — no matter how much it pays. His wife eagerly agreed. The fact is that the current rise in turnover rate in sports is going to turn a lot of good coaches and scouts away from pursuing jobs with teams that need them the most.

Finally, the staff that remains loses confidence in ownership, and they grow institutionalized. This left behind staff begins to focus on their job and their job alone. The idea of team fades with each firing and hiring. The staff begins to do just enough to keep their jobs, because doing any more is too risky, and may lead them to the firing line. This is why most teams fail to innovate and push the boundaries of excellence. Team employment becomes a game of survival, and the exhaustion of consistent firing and hiring only reinforces this dynamic.

More than likely these ripple effects do not interest the average NFL fan. But they should, because they lead directly to the reason every bad NFL team operates with essentially the same blueprint that loses year in and year out. The collective shell shock from this instability destroys culture, erodes stability, and prevents team leadership from creating sustainable strategies for winning on and off the field. Sure, the traffic accident is fun to watch, but eventually you have to look forward and get to where you’re going.