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by Bryan Leonard - 12/21/2005
Coaching in pro football is not easy, and frankly, there are far more bad/mediocre coaches than very good ones. This is the time of the season when coaches can be a huge factor in whether a team is motivated or not. Many NFL teams are already out of it and there is all kinds of speculation on where Reggie Bush is going to open training camp.
It's not always easy for teams this late in the season to get focused or give 100%, unless they are fighting for a playoff berth. However, some coaches have the talent to get the most out of their players whether they are in the playoff race or not. Look at the Cleveland Browns. This is a team in rebuilding mode under first-year coach Romeo Crennel. But they haven't shown any signs of packing it in even though they've long been relegated to not making the postseason.
Cleveland has the No. 13 overall defense in the NFL, a reflection of Crennel, whose strength is as a defensive coordinator. In addition, the Browns are 2-0 against the spread the last two games, losing 23-20 to Cincinnati as a +12 dog, then winning 9-7 at Oakland Sunday as a road dog. In fact, both those games were on the road. Cleveland is 3-4 SU/4-3 ATS the last 7 games, despite losing rookie WR Braylon Edwards and rotating quarterbacks, settling on rookie Charlie Frye of late.
Last week a Tennessee player was talking about head coach Jeff Fisher and commented on how he loves to play for him. He pointed out that Fisher was unlike any coach he had ever played for, a coach who takes the time to do little things, working on details with players and genuinely caring. Like Cleveland, notice that the Titans are also in rebuilding mode, but have not packed it in, going 3-2 ATS the last five weeks. On Sunday they gave a fight to the best team in the NFC, covering in a 28-24 loss to Seattle.
On the flip side, there are other coaches who don't appear to be able to motivate their players. Jim Haslett of the Saints has been under the gun the last three seasons, and New Orleans is 4-7 ATS the last 11 games. They haven't covered since Thanksgiving and appear to have packed it in of late, getting blown out by Atlanta and Carolina the last two weeks.
If you check the Oakland newspapers this week, there are all kinds of stories about Norv Turner likely getting axed soon. Oakland is 0-4 SU/ATS the last four games. Turner has a reputation as an offensive mastermind, but they've scored 10, 10 and 7 points the last three games. Oakland has lost the last two games as a favorite. The Raiders appear to have given up on this lost season.
The Bills have lost 5 in a row under embattled Mike Mularkey, who will be lucky to be back (1-4 ATS run). Miami is giving a solid effort for first-year coach Nick Saban on an impressive 4-0 run. As bad as the Texans have been this season, notice they are 6-2 ATS the last 8 games. Coaching is a significant aspect to how a team prepares and plays, and it can be even more important this time of the year with respects to who plays hard and covers and who is just going through the motions.