Bad Coaching in the NFL: The First Annual Midseason Kotite Awards!

We’ve reached the halfway mark of the 2020 NFL season, which means it’s time for the first annual C’mon Coach Midseason Kotite Awards!

As you might expect, Adam Gase and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff are poised to clean up. But don’t be surprised if some surprise winners pull the kind of upset in the awards balloting they could never accomplish on the field.

These prestigious trophies are named in honor of Rich Kotite, who led the New York Jets to a 4-28 record in 1995-96, declared that “Eight-and-eight is great!” after failing to reach the playoffs with the 1993 Eagles and once lost a game because the rain smudged his “go-for-two” chart.

In fact, the trophy itself is a bronze statue of Kotite staring at a chart in bewilderment.

Just like the glitzy televised award shows, we’ll start with some of the major awards, then honor some technical achievements, then finish with the most coveted prize of all: Worst Coach of the Midseason.

Worst Offensive Coordinator: Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots

McDaniels spent two offseasons coaching Jarrett Stidham into someone who reads a defense like he’s trying to read medieval Japanese poetry and throws with the accuracy and confidence of a toddler playing fetch with a Rottweiler.

McDaniels then “modified” his offense for Cam Newton by stapling two pages of zone reads to the front of the playbook and hoping that Newton would magically turn into a Tom Brady-like quick passer despite a complete lack of weapons.

C’mon Coach won’t weigh in on the pointless Brady/Bill Belichick “who deserves more credit for the Patriots success?” debate, especially after Brady humiliated himself in Sunday night’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, except to say “it sure as hell ain’t Josh McDaniels!”

Worst Defensive Coordinator: Mike Nolan, Dallas Cowboys

Nolan won this award by sending the Cowboys defense onto the field so unprepared and uninspired every week that Jaylon Smith nearly lapsed into a coma while trying to diagnose routine off-tackle runs by the Cleveland Browns. He then turned the award balloting into a rout by showing up late for a Zoom press conference because he got Tabasco sauce in his eye.

First of all, Coach, when it comes to hot sauce it’s either some stuff a hippie at the farmer’s market homebrewed out of ghost peppers and CBD-infused vinegar, or it’s Cholula, or it’s nothing. Secondly, Nolan never made it clear what he was eating that had Tabasco on it. You know why? Because he wasn’t eating anything. MIKE MCCARTHY WAS TRYING TO EAT NOLAN’S FINGERS, PEOPLE.

The issues in Dallas run deeper than any of us could imagine.

Worst Special Teams Coach: Ben Kotwica, Atlanta Falcons

C’mon Coach believes that Kotwica gave his hands team erroneous information about onside kick rules before that fateful moment against the Cowboys, and we will never be convinced otherwise.

For evidence, here’s another look at Julio Jones’ postgame explanation of his role on the hands team, which makes pouncing on a loose ball sound more complicated than being an air traffic controller during a snowstorm.

Worst Play Call (Offense): Doug Marrone/Jay Gruden, Jacksonville Jaguars

This replay of the Jaguars’ fourth-down James Robinson Wildcat fake option pass fumble disaster doesn’t quite do it justice: Gardner Minshew motioned out from under center to wide left before the snap, cuing the entire Texans defense that the Jaguars were about to run some garbage shenanigans so they could safely dogpile on poor Robinson.

Worst Play Call (Defense): Mike Pettine, Packers

How to make life as easy as possible for Tom Brady: drop nine defenders (including two 300-pound linemen) into soft coverage on second down, only rush two, and still give up an easy pitch-and-catch along the left sideline.

Worst Play Call (Special Teams): John Fassel, Dallas Cowboys

Chris Jones has been an NFL punter since 2011 but never threw a pass on a fake punt until Week 2, when “Bones” Fassel dialed up a fake from the Cowboys 29-yard line while trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Jones’ throw nearly bounced before reaching intended target C.J. Goodwin.

Fassel coached Johnny Hekker, one of the best passing punters in the NFL (he’s probably a better pure passer than Stidham), when he was the special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. Perhaps adjusting his tactics to the available personnel (or the situation, or the fact it was clear the Cowboys couldn’t jog out of the tunnel without tripping) instead of assuming Jones could do everything Hekker could do would have been wise.

In fairness to Fassel, he did dust off “home run throwback” (better known as the Music City Miracle) against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. Home run throwback results in a big play every time it’s used, which is why NFL coaches have had the courage to call it twice in this century.

Worst Two-Point Conversion Package: Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are actually a respectable 5-of-11 at two-point conversions, but when they are bad, they are ugly. Who can forget Carson Wentz and Boston Scott tackling each other on a zone read that could have tied the game against the Baltimore Ravens?  Or Jalen Hurts in that wacky Stagger Lee formation against the Giants?

Pederson admitted after the Ravens loss that the Eagles “basically exhausted every red zone play that we had on our call sheet” by the end of the game and should have called a timeout instead of calling Gun Left Wentz-Scott Humiliating Backfield Collision.

Gosh, where did Pederson learn to make foolish late-game clock management decisions? Oh yeah, from Andy Reid. Never mind.

Reckless Endangerment Award: Adam Gase, New York Jets

It takes a special type of coach to keep the closest thing he has to a franchise quarterback on the field with a sprained shoulder because he desperately needs a win against an 0-3 Broncos team starting its third-string quarterback. It takes an even more special coach to still lose that game.

C’mon Coach doesn’t have to tell you that Gase is exactly that kind of special. Honorable Mention: Doug Marrone for “Gosh, Gardner Minshew was playing with a broken throwing thumb for three weeks? How was I to know such a thing?”

John Fox Memorial Ultra-Conservatism Award: Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers

Rhule’s Panthers settled for eight field goals under 30 yards in their first seven games, then tried to beat the Saints on a 65-yarder in Week 7. There was also an odd sequence in the fourth quarter against the Raiders in Week 1 where Rhule appeared to be running out the clock while TRAILING by four points. Meanwhile, the Panthers keep losing by a touchdown or less.

Rhule had better figure out how to turn drives into touchdowns before the charming new-coach smell wears off. Sunday’s aggressive play calling in a near-upset of the Kansas City Chiefs was a step in the right direction.

Bad Coaching Lifetime Achievement Award: Rod Marinelli

Marinelli is best known for coaching the Detroit Lions to an 0-16 record in 2008. But C’mon Coach is celebrating Marinelli this week because Cowboys crown prince Stephen Jones told a talk-radio offense that Marinelli didn’t want the team to draft T.J. Watt when he was defensive coordinator in 2017 because Watt might not hold up against the run in his 4-3 scheme.

The Cowboys drafted the slightly-burlier Taco Charlton instead; Charlton has 11 career sacks and is now a backup for the Chiefs.

Whenever you are lulled into truly believing that NFL coaches are tactical geniuses, remember that many of them would look at Superman himself and think, “I’m just not sure he fits my scheme, which finished 17th in the league in yards allowed last season and therefore cannot be adjusted or improved in any way.”

Worst Coach: Adam Gase, New York Jets

The best thing which can be said in Gase’s defense is expectations for the Jets were far lower than they were for the Cowboys and other underachieving teams. Unfortunately, expectations for the Jets were low precisely because Gase is their head coach.

Gase custom-built a bad roster by pushing Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell out the door, then assembled weekly paint-by-number game plans that were doomed to fail, all the while carping about injuries in his weekly press conferences.

Gase spends more energy creating justifications for failure than searching for ways to succeed. He remains employed by couching it all in old-school football wisdom, and because he’s so blatant about his self-sabotage that his employers probably cannot believe it is really happening.

Really, these awards should be the Adam Gase awards — Kotite, at least, had some success at other stops and was respected by his players — and perhaps they will be renamed once Gase is out of the league. But even after the Jets mercifully fire him, Gase will probably be coordinating NFL offenses for the next 25 years.

Just remember, kids: it’s better to be lucky than good, and it’s better to kiss the butt of someone powerful and influential like Peyton Manning than even to be lucky.

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