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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kicking Dan Henning's Cage

Keep in mind I've never been the biggest Dan Henning fan*, prior to Carolina, but I wanted to make a point using him and his words:

First off, credit to TBR's B Team on the link.   It's worth a read, though their statistics are a little in-depth and can honestly be a little self-important at times.   At any rate:

It suggests that the 1991 Washington Redskins - an offense-led Coryell team (like ours, with the exception that Joe Gibbs branched out with the famous H-back and switched to a man-blocking scheme), was potentially one of the best teams from that point on.  A top 5 overall

Then Henning, now in year 3 in San Diego (who inherited a Coryell team by way of Don himself, who gave way to Al Saunders - they really have run almost exclusively that offense, and certainly keep the lineage today), piloted one of the worst teams ever in close situations.

To quote:

San Diego was the opposite, somehow going 4-12 despite being an average team by DVOA with the league's lowest variance. The Chargers went a horrifying 2-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less. (They were 2-1 in games decided by eight points, but in 1991 that didn't count as a touchdown or less because there was no two-point conversion.) They didn't have particualrly bad luck on fumbles, and their schedule was ninth in the league, so it wasn't all about opponent strength. They just kept losing close games. Part of San Diego's problem was a significantly unbalanced offense, which ranked second in rushing DVOA and 19th in passing DVOA. That made it tough for them to come back from a deficit, and they just happened to end up with more fourth-quarter deficits that needed erasing than fourth-quarter leads that needed protecting.
When San Diego went 11-5 the next season, it wouldn't have been a big surprise to Football Outsiders readers, if there had been Football Outsiders readers in 1991. Or if there had been an Internet. Or if I had not still been in high school (my 20th reunion is this Saturday).
Which followed with this quote from a user:
If their 30-24 loss to the Rams was any indication, a good part of the blame for the Chargers' 2-8 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer belonged to their coach, Dan Henning. In that game, the Chargers:
1. Ran a play from their own 1 with one second left in the first half. Marion Butts was tackled for a safety.
"I felt the best thing to do was to take our No. 1 short yardage play, which generally covers every defense that we face," he said. "We ran it and they outdefensed us. (The Rams) either made a mistake or they're smarter than we are."
2. Called a draw on 4th-and-10 with 2:08 left. Ronnie Harmon gained 7 yards.
Henning still believes the draw was the best call.
"You ask anybody in this league . . . one of the most devasting plays in the game is a fourth down draw," he said. "They work as much or more than passes do under those conditions."
Reporters continued to press Henning on his play selection. Finally, he flatly was asked if he blew the draw call.  After I made that explanation and you continue to harp on it, what you should do is go back and join one of the staffs on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beat your (expletive) brain out all day."
Henning was fired a few games later.

        It's not fair to take Henning and compare him to his mentor, Gibbs; Henning was a very midly successful coordinator, much of which came under Gibbs, who won three titles.  But, it's the same playbook, and while personnel matters, it also matters how it's administered.  There's a time and a place to be conservative, but just defaulting to the most conservative is rarely the way to go.  I felt like the draw anecdote was worth sharing, but the greater lesson is still there to be learned. 

*Henning wasn't that good here, in my opinion, but before that there were legitimate rumors that Marv Levy fell on the sword so Henning wouldn't get fired; he succeeded Charlie Weis with the Jets, after being QBs coach, and the O turned into kinda rubbish.
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