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Titanic Moves

Last week, the Tennessee Titans gave up on Billy Volek as the successor to Steve McNair and brought in Kerry Collins. While head coach Jeff Fisher cast it as competition, the team essentially handed the keys to Collins, at least until they feel confident in Vince Young sometime this season or next. A couple of observations about the move.

1. The Kevin Loughery Syndrome. Some players and coaches somehow inspire hope and confidence in spite of evidence, and thereby, extend their careers far beyond what one might expect. My favorite example through the years is Kevin Loughery. He parlayed 3 successful ABA season into a 17 year, 5-team NBA head coaching career, where he kept landing jobs after failing in his prior stint. While 9th on the career loss table, nobody above him comes close to his lowly 474-662 (.417) NBA winning percentage. What were teams such as Chicago, Washington, and Miami thinking? I have not seen anyone in the sports econ literature address this survival by failure syndrome.

Just as writers would refer to Loughery's "experience," several local and national writers have referred to Collins 30,000+ yards as and indicator of his worth -- never mind that his career QB rating of 73 places him down in the Tony Banks-Tim Couch range for QBs of his era. His QB rating has not risen above the lower third level over his past three seasons. Only his best two seasons' ratings exceeded 80 (83 and 85) where he would rate around the middle of the pack in any given year. His TD-INT ratio is nearly 1:1 and the Raiders gave up on him for Aaron Brooks -- enough said! In much more limited action, 23 games, Volek's QB rating is 87.

2. Plays over Players Syndrome. Beyond hope springing eternal for some players or coaches, the Tennessee move fits into the category of making the players fit the system versus the system fit the players. Norm Chow's offense is predicated on a lot of short passing and a high completion percentage. That's not Volek's strength. His QB rating while under Mike Heimerdinger (now back with Broncos) exceeded 90 with more downfield throws (3 more yards per completion than under Chow.) The weird thing is that Collins' strength is throwing the ball down the field. That's also Vince Young's strength in addition to using his legs. One of the key features of coaches with long term (more than a single decade) of success across all sports is an ability to be flexible as player skills sets or rules evolve. That describes John Wooden, Tom Landry, Scotty Bowman, and their equals. The jury is out on Jeff Fisher.