At Some Point, You Either Adjust Or Fade Away
10:16 AM EST on January 29, 2024
Contain your shock at the revelation that Julian Edelman has a TikTok account. Of course this man has a TikTok account! But for once, the medium is not the message. What matters is that, in one recent video, the former New England Patriots receiver ranked teams he hated facing in the playoffs and the three-time Super Bowl champion put the Pittsburgh Steelers at three (out of five) saying, with a few dashes of do-you-know-who-I-am swag, "You know with Pittsburgh. They do what they do! They're gonna put someone—a linebacker on me?!"
"They do what they do" is, depending on your perspective, a manifestation of well-earned confidence or embarrassing hubris, though the reality usually sits somewhere in between. The Steelers did put linebackers on Edelman, and Edelman torched seemingly whoever got the assignment. The Steelers, an organization that claims every season is Super Bowl Or Bust, never got past the dynastic era of the Patriots, which included Edelman, and haven't been back to the big game since the 2010 season. They saw the reality in front of them, and they did not adjust.
Adjusting, in theory, is among the more obvious parts of sports strategy. An offensive coordinator figures out something new, they score a bunch of points, everyone else copies it; defensive coordinators wrack their brains to figure out a counter, one cracks the code, everyone else copies it. Points plummet. Pundits pontificate: What happened to the offense? Then an offensive coordinator figures out something new. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But if anything could insulate a human being from change, it would be six Super Bowl rings, right? The ones flashed by Bill Belichick, formerly of said New England Patriots, and now just another coach out on the market, seemingly without a home. After he, well, agreed to not come back as Patriots head coach following several seasons that ranged from lackluster to abysmal, Belichick had two interviews with the Atlanta Falcons, the one job that seemed like the best fit, but owner Arthur Blank decided to go with Raheem Morris. Of the other head coaching gigs beyond Atlanta that have been filled, Belichick reportedly wasn't interviewed at all.
Two open head coach gigs are left (Washington and Seattle), and Jonathan Jones at CBS Sports reported that neither team seems interested. Jones started out his report expressing a good amount of incredulity at the lack of interest in Belichick (who is 16 wins away from catching George Halas on the all-time regular-season wins list, and 26 away from matching Don Shula for most ever), before getting to the heart of the matter. "If you hire him," Jones said one anonymous executive told him, "we all know he's gonna run things his way." A source "close to Belichick," Jones added, told him "what we all know—that he's going to be picky, and he's going to want control." In other words, Jones says, he won't take just any job to chase the few legends standing in his way.
The prototype that teams want right now are disciples of San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan (and, in a way, of his father, the legendary coach Mike Shanahan). They are all the rage right now because Shanahan guys keep winning. Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel, who revived the moribund Miami Dolphins franchise? Shanahan guy. Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans, who coached rookie C.J. Stroud into looking like a seasoned vet as Stroud took his team to a playoff berth and a playoff win? Shanahan guy. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, whose team flourished with new quarterback Jordan Love while Aaron Rodgers sat on a couch and spewed conspiracy theories? Worked side-by-side by with Shanahan for years. Raheem Morris? He worked a bit with Shanahan, too. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers—the they-do-what-they-do Steelers—said they are looking to bring in a new offensive coordinator from outside the organization. If so, it'll be just the second offensive coordinator brought in from outside the organization in coach Mike Tomlin's 17-season tenure. It sure feels like it'll be a Shanahan guy.
And Belichick? He's not a Shanahan guy, and there's no way he's bringing in a Shanahan guy. He's bringing in, uh, Matt Patricia? He's also bringing a method of roster construction that has been severely lacking over the past few seasons.
(Notably, the recently retired Nick Saban, who won six national titles at Alabama, was constantly adapting to trends and thus became the rare coach to leave the job of his own accord.)
The Shanahan offense will fall out of favor, eventually, because all offenses do. It's part of the back-and-forth, the tick-tock of the eternal pendulum in sports and life. Teams rise and fall, dynasties come and go, players retire, coaches do too. It's all change. Celebrities arrive, then fade away. Storied publications die off or become AI clickbait farms. Entire empires fall. Change is the only constant, and all sports does is remind us of that, with lower stakes.
People rarely want to change, because change is hard, uncomfortable, and time-consuming. Except the alternative is putting a linebacker on one of the greatest playoff receivers of the 2010s, which did not go well for the Steelers. Change comes for all of us; nothing can shield you. All anyone controls is how they react to it. So far, Belichick—owner of six Super Bowl rings, clearly one of the greatest of all time, as sure a Hall of Famer as anyone—has been just another guy who has failed to adjust.