Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jim Haslett: A Long History of Producing Defenses that Struggle

Shortly after becoming head coach, Mike Shanahan hired Jim Haslett to be defensive coordinator and install a 3-4 defense. Two weeks ago I expressed frustration at Haslett's performance, and last week Shanahan appeared to do the same thing. This week, the defense looked horrendous against the Bills.

These events have led me to re-visit Hasslett's hiring, and in particular, two concerns -- warning signs, red flags, really obvious problems -- that should have led to heads being scratched and fans asking questions.

First, Haslett had not run a 3-4 defense in over 10 years. He ran a 4-3 as head coach of the Saints from 2000-2005, and a 4-3 as defensive coordinator for the Rams 2006-2008. Could Haslett really be up to date on NFL-caliber 3-4 schemes?

Second, Haslett had a long record of running below-average defenses. His 2000-2005 Saints ranked 22nd, 16th, 27th, 18th, 32nd, and 14th in total defense. Similarly, his 2006-2008 Rams ranked 23rd, 21st,and 28th in total defense. (Granted, his 2009 Florida Tuskers did quite well in the United Football League).

If we go back to 1999, the last time Haslett ran a 3-4 scheme, his Steelers ranked 11th in total defense, not bad. However, look what happened the subsequent two years after Haslett left. In 2000 the Steelers ranked 7 in total defense, and in 2001 the Steelers improved to number 1. Haslett left, and the Steelers defense went from good to elite.

Let's return to Shanahan's decision to hire Haslett as defensive coordinator, and the checklist of attributes he might have considered:
a) Candidate has a long history, more than 10 years, of producing mediocre and below average defenses -- CHECK!
b) Candidate has not run the 3-4 scheme we wish to install in more than 10 years -- CHECK!
c) When the candidate last ran the 3-4 scheme his team showed marked improvement after he left -- CHECK!

Thus, Jim Haslett was hired. And today the Skins coaches, players, and fans are trying to figure out why this defense -- stacked with talent old and new -- is struggling.

But Jim Haslett is doing nothing more or less than what he's always done: produce defenses that struggle.

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