Fate Reserves the Right to Make or Break You

You don't like to think about fate, mostly because you can't control it. Had it not been for Paul Brown, Bill Walsh may have gone elsewhere from his spot on Cincinnati's staff in the 70s. Instead, he goes to San Francisco and creates the dominant franchise of the 1980s, something he could do because of an understanding owner, a gifted steal of a quarterback, and the right mesh of circumstance, timing, and ... well, that word again: fate. ↵

↵Greg Robinson, fired Kansas City defensive coordinator, former Texas coordinator, and complete failure of a head coach at Syracuse, is firmly at fate's mercy now: he's the new defensive coordinator at Michigan, a move that has some Michigan fans near seppuku and others merely sighing and shrugging their shoulders. It would be very, very easy to pronounce this as a stillborn HR move from the start, a mistake taking a flyer on a guy who while good when surrounded by obvious, glaring talent -- see his successful stint in 2004 at Texas -- can be very, very bad, as anyone who saw his work at Syracuse can attest. ↵

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↵Two competing theories lie here. One, that some coaches excel as assistants but not as head coaches. The Romeo Crennels and Ed Orgerons of this world, star assistants who took their turn in the spotlight, began their tango, and promptly face-planted in front of the judges' table. There is a lot to be said in support of this: managing one part of a whole is much simpler than managing the complexities of an entire team. Under the pressure of managing a whole squad, a brilliant technician like Mike Martz becomes a colorless coachbot; a taciturn, x's and o's guy like Dick Lebeau resorts to putting on a Superman costume to motivate his team. Sometimes, pushing your boundaries works, and sometimes you end up putting your entire office into a white cardboard box on a cold January morning after getting fired. ↵

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↵The other theory is more troubling: fate and circumstance make or break you. Lebeau, an universally respected assistant, ended up carrying the sad white box of fail out of his office as coach of the Bengals. Pause, though: who hasn't ended up carrying the sad box of fail out of the Bengals' job, a cursed and poorly run organization under the fidgety, inept thumb of the Brown family? Bill Belichick fell backwards into an ideal situation at New England: the right QB, the right GM, the right ownership, and a roster stocked well enough with talent to work, something he did not have at Cleveland. ↵

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↵Do not deny he's a genius (albeit a miserable one), but do not deny the role blind luck and circumstance had in determining his legend as a football success. It is a frightening admission to make either as a fan or a person, though. It essentially admits that you're not the person putting the chips on the table and making the wagers. Instead you are the wager, and could be swept away with one or two bad turns of the wheel. There's hard work, preparation, more hard work and preparation, and then the rest rides on the roll of the dice. ↵

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↵With that: Greg Robinson has been good, and he's been bad, and now he'll be one or the other depending on the lot he's cast himself into. Given Michigan's considerable talent on defense, the likelihood of him succeeding seems pretty good. Add in the relative mediocrity of the Big Ten as a whole, and we're talking good odds for a happy outcome for the Wolverines. Good odds are all any gambler can ask for in any game, football included. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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