In yesterday’s post, I argued that teams were overly hesitant to move on from bad investments. There’s a reason for that: miss on a first-round quarterback, and there are serious ramifications. Sometimes the offensive coordinator gets the axe first — we saw the Jets move on from Brian Schottenheimer this past offseason — but usually the coach and offensive coordinator are a package deal. And the quarterback usually gets at least one more chance with a new staff.
The 2007 draft provides two examples of this. The Oakland Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick, and we know how that went. This was part of a regime change, as Lane Kiffin and Greg Knapp replaced Art Shell and John Shoop. But by the end of 2008, both Kiffin and Knapp were gone, as Russell lasted for one more year under Tom Cable. With the 22nd pick, Cleveland selected Brady Quinn. Romeo Crennel and the Browns went 10-6 that season, but the team regressed to 4-12 in 2008. With Brady Quinn barely making an impact in two years and the team struggling, Crennel and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski were shown the door; a year later, Quinn was done in Cleveland, too.
Lest anyone forget, Blaine Gabbert is already on his second staff. Jack Del Rio and Dirk Koetter were shown the door for largely non-Gabbert-based reasons, although both have landed well in Denver and Atlanta as coordinators. But let’s take a step back and look at history. From 1998 to 2010, there were 35 quarterbacks selected in the first round of the draft. The table below shows each quarterback, his last year as the main starter for that team, how many years he “survived” there (simply his last year starting minus his draft year plus one); I’ve also listed the team’s offensive coordinator and head coach during the quarterback’s rookie season, and how long each of those two men survived in their positions individually and collectively. Finally, the last column is my subjective “bust/not bust” column, with me grading each quarterback on a scale from 1 to 3 on the “was this player a terrible, average, or good pick.” Again, in all of these cases I’m looking at the success with that team, not with any other team (and for Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, I’m considering them as having been drafted by the Chargers and Giants, respectively.)
By my count, there were 14 clear busts drafted. In ten of those cases, the coach and the offensive coordinator were gone within two years. An 11th busted pick was Tim Tebow, at least from a Broncos perspective. Josh McDaniels was fired for lots of reasons, Tebow included, although offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has survived in Denver.
The other three cases were all pretty unique. In Houston, Dom Capers got 4 years and Chris Palmer got 3, partly due to the fact that the Texans were an expansion team and partly because David Carr and Houston had showed signs of improvement early on. In Baltimore, Matt Cavanaugh lasted just two years, but Brian Billick’s ring — and his decision to go after Steve McNair — allowed him to hang around for five more years after drafting Kyle Boller. Gary Crowton was gone two years after failing with Cade McNown, but one fluke season allowed Dick Jauron to hang around seemingly forever.
Even when the pick is not an obvious bust, the seat can be very hot. Steve Spagnuolo lasted only two years in St. Louis after drafting Sam Bradford; after three years, both Greg Olson and Raheem Morris were gone in Tampa Bay. Norm Chow and Bill Musgrave were considered offensive gurus, but lost their jobs after failing to develop Vince Young and Byron Leftwich after only two years.
Even the success stories bring their own cautionary tales. Mike Sherman drafted Aaron Rodgers, but he never got to reap any of those rewards, being dismissed along with his OC after one season. Dan Reeves and George Sefcik never got much of a payoff from the Michael Vick pick. But for the most part, if you hit on a first round quarterback, you’re in very good shape. Coordinators like Ken Whisenhunt, Cam Cameron and Mike Mularkey got head coaching jobs following the success of Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan. Ironically enough, Mularkey is now in his own tricky situation, as coach — but not the man responsible for the drafting — of Blaine Gabbert.
Obviously this is just one side of the coin. Lots of coaches and coordinators who *don’t* spend a first round pick on a quarterback get released after a couple of years, too. But it is interesting to see the ramifications following a bad draft pick (or, perhaps, following the failure to properly develop a good draft pick). In the case of all 14 busts, all the offensive coordinators (with the exception of McCoy if he is back in Denver next year) were gone within three years.