Game Time: Gary Kubiak's Contract Extension -- Move Along, There's Nothing To See Here

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A couple of years in, I'm finally starting to get the hang of this sports talk radio thing.  Basically, what you do is you fill four hours a day making issues in the sports world seem as though the fate of mankind rests on the outcome, choose the side which you think will save mankind, defend said side vigorously as if your Sopranos DVD box set depends on it, and then sit back and count your money as the sponsors climb over themselves to back your show. Lather, rinse, repeat. That's some sweet action.

Admittedly, I've gotten pretty good at the whole "make a topic seem important by ranting and raving part", but I'm still having trouble counting my money. At any rate, once the clock turns to 7:01 p.m. and I watch some actual news of events going on in the world or right here in our community, I feel pretty stupid. Watching people walk amidst the rubble of what used to be Haiti will do that when you just spent the last thirty minutes of your life making things like College National Letter of Intent Signing Day out to be as historically significant as Election Day and 9/11 combined.

So that's the world in which I work, and I have to say that even in that world where the importance of daily events is awash in hyperbole, I'm trying to wrap my brain around why everyone is treating the pending Gary Kubiak contract extension as if it should be part of Obama's next State of the Union address.

To be clear, it isn't just one side of the Great Kubiak Contract Extension Debate that is exaggerating the significance of this deal. It's all THREE sides -- Pro-Kubiak, Anti-Kubiak, and Texans' Management.  

Those who back Kubiak see it as vindication and a reward for a job well done. Chief among this camp is my colleague Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle, who devoted his column today to giving kudos to the organization for backing Kubiak (which I don't have a problem with, if that's his stance) and making the 2-14 mess Kubiak inherited out to be messier than those inherited by other coaching regimes around the league (which is ultra-subjective and frankly irrelevant; there's no such thing as a good mess).

At the same time, those on the Anti-Kubiak side of the Great Kubiak Contract Extension Debate have announced their presence with authority all day long today that the extension is not deserved. Hand-wringing abounds as callers to talk radio lament that this means "four more years of Kubiak," as if the Texans coach just managed to win some sort of binding election. To be fair, many in Houston probably spend as much on Texans tickets and apparel as they pay in taxes, so this type of Pavlovian reaction to a four-year extension is somewhat justified.

Finally, you have Texans owner Bob McNair, the man who ultimately cuts the check to Kubiak, talking about the virtues of inking his head coach (and the current assistants) to a new "long-term" deal, the importance of continuity, and the ripple effect a head coach's job security can have on an organization. Whatever.  

Someone probably should have gotten to McNair before he got off this beauty, though --
"I think Gary's done a good job ... I look at our results, and I look at what some other coaches have done, and I evaluated his performance against others."

Look, I am fine with Kubiak coming back for 2010 (more on this in a second), but to say that this extension was handed out after comparing his performance to other coaches is completely disingenuous without telling us who those other coaches were. Of course, after going and uncovering the numbers ourselves, you can see why McNair would talk in generalities when it comes down to "comparing" Kubiak with his peers.

Classifying Kubiak's "peers" as "first-time NFL head coaches hired between the end of the 2005 season and the beginning of the 2008 season" (so at least two full seasons in their current positions for the ones who are still around), the facts of the matter are this:

Between the end of the 2005 season and the beginning of the 2008 season, eleven (11) first time NFL head coaches were hired. They are as follows (first season, team's previous season record in parentheses):

Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals (2007, inherited 5-11)
Bobby Petrino, Atlanta Falcons (2007, 7-9)
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons (2008, 4-12)
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens (2008, 5-11)
Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (2006, 4-12)
Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans (2006, 2-14)
Cam Cameron, Miami Dolphins (2007, 6-10)
Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins (2008, 1-15)
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings (2006, 9-7)
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (2006, 3-13)
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (2007, 8-8)

-- Two (2) of these coaches were gone during or just after one season -- Petrino resigning via a yellow sticky note from Atlanta to go back to college football, and Cameron fired in Miami when Bill Parcells was brought in to clean house. The remaining nine (9) are all still in their current positions.

-- Of the nine who are still employed, eight (8) have made the playoffs. Gary Kubiak is the only one who has not coached in a playoff game.

-- Of those eight playoff coaches, six (6) have won a playoff game AND been to a conference title game, and three of those coaches have been to the Super Bowl (including one Super Bowl champion, Mike Tomlin). Two of the three Super Bowl teams had never been to the Super Bowl in the history of their respective franchises.

-- Of the eight playoff coaches, six inherited teams with 5 wins or fewer the season before they took over the reins. The best record a coach inherited was 9-7 (Childress).

(Update: I realize my list above needs to technically include crap like Lane Kiffin, Scott Linehan, Rod Marinelli, and Erik Mangini's Jet's stint. My bad. Point was more to compare Kubiak to guys who were continuing to remain employed and getting deals extended, like the eight coaches who have made the playoffs. But thanks for the cards and letters.)

So the bottom line is this  -- unless the coaches McNair was comparing Kubiak's resume to were Bobby Petrino and Cam Cameron, he should have just left that whole "we compared him to other coaches around the league" thing out of this.  

And yet, my premise with these words I have typed is that all three parties involved in the Great Kubiak Contract Extension Debate -- Kubamaniacs, Kubaphobics, and Kuba-employer -- are making a big deal about nothing. Have we not seen enough contract extensions done for purely cosmetic purposes now to know that if the Texans go 5-11 next season that Kubiak will be gone? Contract extensions across sports are a joke; if the franchise has the resources (and the Texans do), they'll do what they think is best to win, even if that means firing a coach with time left on his deal.

And ironically, despite the mountain of evidence that I just presented two paragraphs ago, I think Kubiak and his staff give the Texans the best chance to win in 2010, and that's all I really care about right now is next season. The progression of this team, while glacial in speed, has been apparent, and you have a young nucleus that has grown up together. I'm fine with the man who assembled and nurtured the nucleus seeing things through.

That said, it HAS to be this season, and it has to be at MINIMUM a playoff appearance. If you ask me "should Kubiak be back in 2010?" I would say "Yes." If you ask me should he have been given a contract extension beyond 2010, I'd say "No, he has to make the playoffs." Many would agree, and I think Bob McNair deep down would agree that it's high time his billion-dollar investment play some games after the first week of January.

And therein lies my biggest disappointment in McNair as an owner and CEO in this whole story. In any company in any industry, at the very least you need to run the organization with clear goals and clear consequences for missing those goals. Rarely as a CEO do you get a chance to justifiably manage with such organizational clarity as "Make the playoffs, and we extend your deal; miss the playoffs and you're fired." In some respects, that's a CEO's dream! (This is the performance-based sales guy in me bubbling to the surface...) On top of that, McNair has historical data from the 2009 season that shows that his most important employees (coaches and players) actually perform their BEST under these conditions when, at 5-7 with questions of Kubiak's future swirling, they put together their best month of football (Rams game notwithstanding).

But McNair chose harmony, perceived comfort, and complacency for a team that still hasn't shown the maturity to handle that environment over a chance to have everyone on the same page with a clear goal and the ultimate motivation to achieve it. He did this all in the name of making a bunch of highly paid professional adults feel warm and fuzzy about their head coach's future.

Will Kubiak's extension be a boon or an albatross in 2010? Ultimately, this team may just be ready to take the next step regardless of its coach's contractual status. We'll find out soon enough.  

But IF the team shows the same scattershot focus from game to game (hell, half to half) in 2010 that it did in 2009, we'll have our answer and we'll remember the day where Bob McNair chose everyone's comfort over opening the gift that the "clarity gods" dropped in his lap for 2010. And if the team misses the playoffs again, then when we're all done crying about another season gone awry, we'll laugh at everyone who made such a big deal (pro or con) about the four-year "commitment" the team made to Kubiak when they end up firing him anyway.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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