"Neon" Can't Light Falcons' Way

by Adam Small | 11/6/03 6:00am

The Atlanta Falcons are currently 1-7 without superstar-in-the-making Michael Vick at quarterback, and head coach Dan Reeves is rumored to have as good as shot at being the Falcons' coach next year as Al Sharpton has of being President in 2005. Into this mess comes the mighty "Prime Time" Deion Sanders saying "I want to be the Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons." The same line was then re-iterated by the shiny-dressed one on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, followed by Tony Kornheiser saying "I'd hire him."

I have just one question: what planet are we on?!?

Deion sat there and said, "Are you telling me I can't hire a great coordinators and delegate authority?" No Deion. I'm telling you that a coach has to COACH, not hire great coordinators. In no way do I doubt that Deion Sanders can inspire young football players. He sounds like a fire-brand preacher who danced a little too much with Mr. Brownstone half the time. But coaches do more than inspire! A Coach COACHES a team. He teaches. He imparts knowledge. He watches game film. He thinks!

Deion has confused football with basketball, where coaches are baby-sitters and the ability to inspire can make you the greatest coach in the game. Let us look at the best of the bunch in football as far as coaches go. Bill Belicheck fired his defensive captain, pissed off his entire team, and then lost his top two free-agents long term to injury. Since then, he has COACHED them to five consecutive victories. Why? Because he knows the game!

Bill Parcells has taken a decimated offensive line, a zero running game and a mediocre-at-best quarterback into a 6-2 record. He didn't do it with inspiration alone. He did it with X's, O's and teaching fundamentals like tackling and not taking stupid penalties.

Sanders is the NFL's historical poster boy for ignoring all of these things. He loathed zone defenses as a "star" cornerback because it lowered his potential for interceptions. He tackled once a season, usually by the ankles, and couldn't drop a running back for a million-dollar raise. He is also one of the causes for the celebration penalty being instituted in football.

To coach effectively in the NFL, you need to be passionate about EVERY aspect of the game. You need to read scouting reports, look at game films, tendency charts and matchups. That requires a great head for the game and a facility to learn things you never really specialized in as a player or a position coach.

When Neon Deion pretended to be a receiver, he was fast and had decent hands. But his routes looked like they were run by a computer program: no adjustments, no crispness and no concept of finding holes in a defense, rather than just trying to beat your own man. If THAT is the way Deion would coach the Falcons receivers, I can personally guarantee you that Michael Vick would be the first QB to run for 1,200 yards and the first quarterback to have limbs left on the field of play. He would get killed running all over the place because Deion would be incapable of figuring out how to "inspire" Brian Finneran to out-run NFL cornerbacks.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Falcons owner Arthur Blank takes Deion up on his offer. Say Sanders signs the best coordinators in the game. For the sake of it, let's say Ray Rhodes on defense, since he won't want to stay in Mike Holmgren's shadow much longer and Bill Callahan on offense after he gets canned in Oakland. Both of these guys know the X's and O's, and have coordinated teams to the Super Bowl. After one year of success, those two, who by Deion's own admission have run their respective sides of the ball and are the creative minds behind the Falcons' success, they leave.

What does Deion do? Go hire more great assistants? How long would it take for one of those individuals to become "the guy?" How long could a fraud who doesn't call plays, doesn't diagram game plans and who, by his own admission, is a motivator only, last as the head coach? Two years, I say, after which he will never be given another job because he's too damn expensive and just not good enough.

Deion Sanders was an electrifying player who survived as probably the most athletic man in the entire league. As a cornerback, that's more than enough, especially in an era of running offenses prior to the proliferation of the West Coast offense and the pass-happy downfield teams like Indianapolis, St. Louis, Dallas, etc. But he was never a bright player, and lacks any credibility as a real coach in the NFL. To hire him, Arthur Blank would be telling all the head coaches in the NFL that they aren't what matters, and that it's all about cheaper coordinators. And that is not only wrong, it's criminal.

So, Arthur, spare me, spare the fans, spare the league and spare football the travesty of naming the most overrated player, and the least qualified coaching prospect of the last 20 years to ANY place in your organization. Unless, of course, "Director of Media Bluster and Bulls**t" is available these days. Deion is certainly qualified for that.