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Coaching Accountability or Victimization?

When things don't work out, coaches are the ones held accountable. After all, they're the ones ultimately responsible for the product on the field. But that doesn't mean they're the ones at fault when a team or unit fails to perform: oftentimes the players aren't good enough or aren't playing well enough through no coach's fault. Many good coaches get fired because of that, like John Fox for the Panthers, and some good General Managers do too.

When Ron Wolf was fired as GM of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1978, there were rumors of clashes with owner Hugh Culverhouse and coach John McKay. Wolf, instead, simply suggested that he was fired because the team had a 2-26 record and someone had to take the blame. Of course, the Bucs would go on to make it to the NFC Championship Game in 1979 with the roster Wolf built, and the GM went on to a successful NFL career, becoming the architect of the '90s Green Bay Packers. But without Wolf and thanks to Hugh Culverhouse's refusal to spend the Buccaneers declined quickly, and it took them until the late '90s to get back to being a winning team. Ron Wolf may have been fired, but that didn't solve any problems.

The moral of the story: sometimes people get fired not because they did anything wrong, but simply because someone had to go. And this may have been the case with the Buccaneers this past season. Three coaches left the Bucs: Special Teams coach Rich Bisaccia, Offensive Line Coach Pete Mangurian and Defensive Line Coach Todd Wash. Bisaccia left to take the same job with the Chargers, as his contract in Tampa Bay expired. The Bucs wanted to keep him, as he's one of the best special teams coaches in the NFL, so his situation doesn't apply here.

But perhaps it does apply in the other two cases. Todd Wash had presided over the Bucs' poorest unit in terms of production the previous seasons: the defensive line. At the same time, though, he did not have much to work with and has a reputation as a good coach. Not a bad word was said of Wash despite some significant fan criticism while he was still here, although recently some critical words have been spoken regarding his more passive approach to defensive line play. Despite that, Todd Wash was not re-signed after the 2010 Season and left for the Seattle Seahawks.

And we can see something similar with Pete Mangurian. The coach was brought in with Jeff Jagodzinski to teach the line to zone block, but the Bucs moved back to a hybrid power/zone offense when Jagodzinski was fired before he could coach his first game. These past seasons the offensive line has not performed particularly well, but injuries and a lack of talent played a big part in that. Despite those mitigating circumstances, Pete Mangurian was fired and replaced by Pat Morris after the 2010 season.

Now, I don't disagree with either dismissal: I didn't see much from either coach that made me want to keep them in Tampa Bay. At the same time, though, both had reputations as good coaches, but were fired after presiding over talent-poor and poorly-performing units. The point isn't so much that they didn't deserve to be fired, but that the hiring of a new coach won't fix anything if the underlying problem, a lack of talent, isn't addressed. On the defensive line the Bucs have added a lot of talent these past two years, but the offensive line is still sorely lacking in competent play. And replacing a coach won't solve this overnight.