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Patience not a virtue for NFL owners

With 21 teams not owning winning records through eight weeks, it's no wonder coaches from coast to coast are on the firing line. It's also ludicrous in many cases.

Patience is not a virtue for far too many NFL owners when it comes to coaches. They don't seem to learn from the wise approach of the Giants, Bengals, Patriots and, most glaringly, the Steelers, who have had three head coaches since 1969. Yep, the year of Woodstock and Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon.

More often, what we get is wholesale change at the end of the regular season. Or, as in 2015, dismissals before the schedule is halfway concluded: Joe Philbin in Miami and Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee.

Perhaps both of those coaches deserved their walking papers: Philbin had lost control of the locker room and his players weren't going at full speed; Whisenhunt won only 3 of 23 games.

But also consider that the Dolphins severely revamped their roster in recent years, and Whisenhunt generally had been working with rookie quarterbacks in Music City.

"It's great to have high expectations," says Tony Dungy, who helped build a championship-caliber team in Tampa that Jon Gruden coached to a title, then won his own after moving to the Colts.

"But you also have to sometimes be able to say as an organization, 'We are doing OK. People may want a little more now, but we're on our way.'

"The negative is always more vocal than the positive. If you are not a really strong leader or owner, it is tough to hold up against that."

Some owners, spurred on by social media, no less, are in such a present-day mindset that they forget (or completely ignore) what their coaches achieved not too long ago.

Prime cases are Indianapolis, where Chuck Pagano has never fallen short of making the postseason and has taken his team one step further in the playoffs each year; Houston, where Bill O'Brien turned a 2-14 Texans franchise into a 9-7 club last year; and Kansas City, where Andy Reid's past two Chiefs teams have been ravaged by injuries after he made that club a winner.

Go back a little further to Lovie Smith, who was 84-66 in Chicago and got canned. How has that worked out since for Da Bears?

"I agree 100 percent the past should count, honestly, for a lot," says Hall of Famer Ron Wolf, who built a championship team in Green Bay and stuck with such coaches as John Madden, Tom Flores and Mike Holmgren in his various NFL stops. "But what's in the mind of an owner, I can't help you there."

Wolf notes that a sports organization needs to be run like a finely tuned machine, with every part coordinated with the others.

"There has to be continuity, with everyone on the same page, from the owner to the GM and the head football coach," he says. "Hopefully that's what makes it work - until you get to the point where somebody wants to have more power and then things fall apart.

"The object of this whole business is to stay employed and make it work, and the only way is to be on the same page. You will have disagreements, but the guys have to work in concert with one another."

Obviously, that doesn't happen much with perennial losers, but it also can fall apart with winning organizations. Look at the 49ers under Jim Harbaugh, and what happened to John Fox in Denver.

There's no question that Philbin and Whisenhunt won't be the only coaches handed pink slips for the 2015 season, with some possibly coming before the regular-season schedule concludes on Jan. 3. Pagano and Jim Caldwell in Detroit already have made major staff changes, and the Lions fired their president and GM.

What should be considered by the people running a franchise when there are doubts about the coach? Plenty, says Marty Hurney, former general manager of the Panthers.

"That's the same for a head coach or a general manager," Hurney said. "How you are addressing what needs to be fixed? Are you able to spot what is wrong and able to make the hard decisions? Can a coach still communicate with his assistants and players? Does he have a plan? When things are not going right, can they pinpoint what needs to be corrected and make steps.

"Fan bases, owners, everybody wants a team to turn it around quickly, and it takes time. Maybe there is a young quarterback to develop (as both Miami and Tennessee have). ... People want to see progress, and you talk about that blueprint and how is it working, but they want to see the strides you are making to get where you want to go."

Wolf, Hurney and Dungy all point to the stable franchises who not only have that blueprint, but stick to it. When Bill Cowher retired after the 2006 season, the Steelers knew exactly what they wanted and found the guy in Mike Tomlin. They've made two trips to the Super Bowl and won one in his tenure, and there's no hot seat in the Steel City.

They also cite the Giants, where Tom Coughlin often has been the target of the New York tabloids. Co-owner John Mara probably chuckled more than once over those "Can Coughlin" headlines, especially after he won two Super Bowls with the team.

"It's the old-school model with the Steelers and Giants and they are able to weather the storms," Dungy says. "They say, 'We have a formula we know works and we will stick to it.'"

More than two dozen other franchises could learn from that."

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