Playoff failures shouldn’t earn coaches the Fox treatment

Jun 15, 2021, 6:38 AM | Updated: 12:28 pm
Drop the Mike...

It has been suggested in the wake of the Avalanche and Nuggets’ playoff exits that Jared Bednar and Michael Malone have been deemed incapable of leading their respective teams to the promised land. As a result, they need to be replaced – much in the same way the Broncos did with John Fox after three-straight playoff failures, including a debacle in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The reasoning goes this way: John Fox took the Broncos from irrelevance to contending status, but he was not the coach to take them to that championship level. I have a problem with that argument.

Fox’s Broncos were blown out in the Super Bowl by Seattle with a team that was without the injured Von Miller and Chris Harris. It was the next season that Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darrian Stewart and Emmanuel Sanders all came on board. That season ended with an uninspiring playoff loss to the Colts that had less to do with Fox and more to do with Peyton Manning having begun his career ending slide during a midseason game against the Rams and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio making moon eyes to Mark Davis and the Oakland Raiders’ head coaching job.

The Broncos made the championship leap the following year not because of the arrival of Gary Kubiak (who did a fine job). It was the introduction of Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator and what he did to transform that defense into one of the greatest single-season defenses in NFL history that made the difference.

Since NHL and NBA assistants don’t make a Phillips kind of impact, we are left with Bednar and Malone. Both coaches took their respective teams from irrelevance to contending status – just like Fox. Blaming the two of them would be a mistake.

Let’s start with Bednar and the Avalanche.

Back in February, I said I had three concerns about the Avs in the playoffs. One, could Philipp Grubauer carry a team to the Cup? Two, could the young, offensive-minded defensemen hold up on the defensive end? Three, could they beat a physical team that could skate and play a heavy game against the more skilled and finesse Avs?

Unfortunately, all three of my fears were well-founded. That speaks to a flaw in the way the Avs were built, not the way they were coached. Do you think Bednar told his team not to try and win battles in the corners and along the boards? Do you think he told his team to let Vegas beat them in almost every 50/50 battle? Do you think he told his defensemen to be outmuscled and forced into momentum changing and game changing turnovers?

I don’t believe the Avs came up short because they didn’t have the will to play that style. That would be an insult to these players. I don’t believe they are built to play that style. So, go ahead and fire Bednar and replace him with a fire-and-brimstone Mike Babcock or John Torterella type. Come back with the same roster and all you’ll get is a coach frustrated with a team that can’t play his style.

As for the Nuggets. Come on now.

The moment Jamal Murray crumpled to the floor at Golden State, we knew the Nuggets weren’t going far in the playoffs. They were able to get by Portland because the Blazers are a mess. Phoenix is a talented, hungry team led by the sublime point guard and leadership skills of Chris Paul.

Losing to the Suns is no sin. Getting swept sucks, but are you telling me that if Denver won one game then suddenly a five-game series is more acceptable and Malone doesn’t catch heat? This is all because they got swept?

Again, I come back to the way this team was built. In hindsight, Tim Connelly did not have a good year. He got rid of good players and glue guys like Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. He let Jerami Grant get away and allowed Mason Plumlee to walk. The Aaron Gordon trade was much ballyhooed at the time, but Gordon was less than inspiring once he settled in. At the end, the Nuggets were trying to win a second round playoff series with a backcourt made up of a 30-year-old European rookie, a 10-day contract journeyman brought off his couch and a solid backup. Not happening.

Can Jared Bednar and Michael Malone deliver the championship goods? I believe they can. Only if they get the help from the front office.

And for those who believe simply changing the coach is the cure all? How has that worked out with the Broncos these last several years?

Drop the Mike

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Playoff failures shouldn’t earn coaches the Fox treatment