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NFL Coaches Continue to Struggle With Clock-Management Issues

Oct 7, 2010 – 7:11 PM
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Thomas George

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Andy ReidWhen, just before halftime of Week 4's Redskins-Eagles game, Philadelphia coach Andy Reid waited for an official's review that placed the ball near the Redskins' 1, called timeout afterward, then watched as his team still could not execute efficiently to avoid a delay-of-game penalty, he offered a succinct explanation.

"I goofed,'' Reid said.

His expanded explanation was that officials spotted the ball back further than where it was initially -- inches from the goal line -- which changed his play call, a problem when the play clock started short and fast.

That is why the Eagles had to settle for a field goal that made it 17-6 at halftime en route to their 17-12 loss.

"Goofed" made more sense.

But Reid is not alone.

Each week in the NFL, at least one coach is caught in a bewildering clock-management snafu that makes fans scratch their heads and critics howl. The question endures: how can coaches at this level so frequently blow it when it comes to the clock, the call, the situation?

Well, the best coaches have a pulse for everything on the field, including offense, defense, special teams, motivating players and monitoring officiating. The intense heat of some moments can be consuming.

All of them talk about clock management, but none of them practice situational football in exactly the same manner. And the way some of them carelessly toss their timeouts around early in games continues to infuriate some traditionalists.

Oftentimes, the amount of work you put into these issues correlates to the success you get in them.

Some coaches have too much ego to rely on an assistant to closely manage the clock and situations for them. Some of them are too insecure for that. Their thinking goes, "I'm the head coach, that's my job, and if I don't do it, ownership might think I shouldn't be the head coach.''

"Watch the sidelines in these games and during some critical timeouts. You've got so many people in the huddle ... it's a ton of confusion sometimes right there."
-- An ex-NFL QB, speaking on the recent rash of clock-management issues
Some get into major problems in offensive clock management because of their quarterback's lack of experience. Coaches around the league insist, for example, that when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is running the Indianapolis offense in tense situations, clock management is less a problem. Manning and a handful of other quarterbacks have the savvy and knowledge to take control of such situations.

A former longtime NFL quarterback who requested anonymity said: "When I played, we had a handful of calls for every situation. We knew which one of those plays we were going to use for each situation each week. I know things have changed, that the game is so specialized now, but some of these offenses need to go back to three to five plays they can hang their hats on in critical situations. Simplicity would be better.

"Watch the sidelines in these games and during some critical timeouts. You've got so many people in those huddles. The quarterback is talking, the head coach is, too, and so are the offensive coordinator, the quarterback coach, the backup quarterback ... it's a ton of confusion sometimes right there. That also should be simplified.''

Part of the solution for coaches is to spend more time in the offseason studying clock management and devising plans. Those plans should be practiced more frequently in weekly game preparations and given the same emphasis as general offense, defense and special teams.

And NFL coaches should designate one of their coaches to be their clock management guy. He should be in the coach's ear at all times reminding him of play-clock situations, game-clock situations, all issues regarding time. This, for example, is a role that Carolina's Jim Skipper (assistant head coach/running backs) has adeptly served for coach John Fox. It is a model worth emulating.

An NFL coach observed: "You can lose sight of the picture. Things happen fast. Sometimes you get caught up. These mistakes happen. We are all human. Should they happen? No. Is it going to continue to happen? Yes.''

And each time it does, NFL coaches are reminded how much this task is such a huge part of their jobs.

Who is the league MVP after four games? Is it one of the usual suspects, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? A newcomer like Arian Foster? FanHouse TV's LeCharles Bentley says, "None of the above".

Filed under: Sports