Grading out coaches is a difficult thing for the most fans. Unlike players, the product the coach puts on the field is totally dependent on others. Dom Capers does not sack the quarterback or make an interception, but his schemes and teachings put the defenders in place for that to happen. As a result it’s rare to see fans praise the coaching staff but common place to think of the whole bunch as idiots who can be replaced easily.
In reality it’s often hard for those outside the building to evaluate how a coach performs for those outside the organization. It’s a bit like judging a teacher. A good teacher needs to be sensitive to the needs of his students, maintain discipline, and keeps the class learning together as a whole…not leaving any child behind. It’s a messy and hard to evaluate proposition….and even harder if you can’t see the teacher in the classroom each day. In the same way, a coach needs to teach and motivate his players….putting them in a position to succeed. It’s a job as much about human interaction as it is about the nuts and bolts of football. As such, it’s hard for those outside the organization, or outside the football industry, to solid sense of how each individual performs. We can look at records, stats, and what players developed…but someone the picture is going to be incomplete.
But when has that ever stopped us from rushing to judgment? In an attempt to try and hit on the different phases of a good coach, I’m going to grade on three criteria for each of the coaches: "Motivation/Discipline," "Player Development," and "X’s & O’s." The first standard, "Motivation/Discipline," looks at how hard the men on the field played for the coach and how sharp their play on the field appeared to be. This will look at penalties, sound technique, and a general "how hungry did he look out there" test. An outright failure for this first area would indicate that the coach has "lost the locker room." Highest marks would be reflected by highly disciplined unit that would go through a wall for its coach. The second area, "Player Development," is simply a question of how many young players have improved from last year. If a large number of younger players are developing as expected or better than the coach will receive high marks here. Conversely if large numbers of players are regressing then the coach will score low marks. The final test, "X’s & O’s" is a big picture look at the nuts and bolts of football decisions including a broad view of the scheme, how effectively the depth chart was used, the play calling on a week to week basis, and how the respective units fared statistically.
Today we start with one of the more controversial coaches for the Packers, Shawn Slocum.
Motivation/Discipline – C+
Discipline is what knocks this grade down. The Packers had too many penalties on the special teams this year, and this is best displayed with special teams "ace" Jarrett Bush. Bush was the most penalized player for the Packers this year, and most of those penalties fell during his special teams play. These penalties included holding, unnecessary roughness, interference with opportunity to catch, and illegal touching of the kick. Bush is not the only transgressor, but he is the main special teams contributor and his play sets the tone for the rest of the group.
Player Development – D
Tim Masthay continued his strong development this year, but other specialists had clear and dramatic regression. Mason Crosby’s struggles are well known, but a better indication of coaching problems may be the problems Bush had this past year. Typically at this time of year Bush gets his fair share of critics who label him a liability, but at the end of most Bush rants comes a line of "well at least he can play special teams." This year I’m not sure so we can fall back there. He had a high amount of penalties and seemed to struggle with his blocking and tackling duties like never before.
X’s & O’s – C+
The Packers had an interesting set of plays this year for special teams. Early in the year the team seemed to roll out a new trick play per week….often with great success. These aggressive play calls were the result of a high amount of opponent study and a keen awareness of the weaknesses in their formation. Late in the year a new set of trick plays were called as well marked with high profile failure (the Masthay fake and the failure lateral being the best two examples). This is the problem with hyper aggressive play calling, when it works everyone looks like a genius, but when it fails everyone looks incompetent. I’m willing to split the difference due to the high amount of success the Packers found early with this style of play, but toning down the trick plays for next year would probably be a smart plan.
Overall Grade – C –
This is not the year to change someone’s impression Slocum. Those who are on the "FIRE SLOCUM" end of the spectrum can point to Crosby’s struggles, the high penalties, and the bizarre play calls near the end of the season as clear signs he should still be fired. Those who are advocates of stability in the coaching ranks can point to the early success of the aggressive play calls and strong punting game the Packers had this year as a sign that Slocum could still develop into a good coach. The good news is that special teams were generally not a liability and the Packers were able to field a middle of the road unit. Typically this is all you can ask for out of your special teams coach.