When Butch Davis walked away from the Cleveland Browns last week, he left behind a trail of ill will forged by his four-year power grab. The more power Davis grabbed, the less effectively he wielded it.
In the end, players tuned him out, management distrusted his decisions, and fans heaped their frustration on him.
Consider the stunning rise and fall of Davis instructive in the long-held NFL policy of copying success. Teams can try to copy winning formulas, but rarely can they duplicate them.
Davis appeared to adopt the model Jimmy Johnson used in creating a modern-day dynasty with the Dallas Cowboys, where Davis served as defensive coordinator. Johnson called the shots not only on the football end, but also in personnel, too. That's what Davis wanted -- and got in Cleveland.
Except that he had Tim Couch instead of Troy Aikman, William Green instead of Emmitt Smith and Quincy Morgan instead of Michael Irvin. Big difference.
It is convenient in the salary cap era to say czar-like power structures don't work in the NFL. But that is dead wrong, as Ron Wolf pointed out last week.
"The guys who have complete control [of their teams] are in charge of the league," said Wolf, who took the Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls and one title as general manager. "Look at Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and Mike Sherman."
Belichick's New England Patriots and Reid's Philadelphia Eagles are both 10-1 and on a collision course that intersects at the Super Bowl. Despite Atlanta's 9-2 record, many feel Sherman's 7-4 Packers are the only real threat to the Eagles in the NFC this season.
Wolf, meanwhile, had Mike Holmgren as his coach in Green Bay. Holmgren eventually trundled off to Seattle to be the Seahawks' czar/coach. Five years later, Holmgren still hasn't won a playoff game and, with his team crumbling, might soon hit the unemployment line himself.
Dave Wannstedt couldn't handle total control with the Miami Dolphins, either. Stripped of his personnel power last offseason, Wann- stedt watched his team slide toward oblivion before bailing last month. Like Davis, he was a Johnson protege.
Total control is a tricky thing. Marty Schottenheimer is a much better coach in San Diego -- where he is simply the Chargers' coach -- than he was with the Washington Redskins, where he held autonomy.
Dennis Green (Arizona Cardinals), Joe Gibbs (Redskins) and Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) all possess total control. None is going to the playoffs this season.
So there is no magic formula for power and control, there are just hot hands. In the end, Davis misplayed his with his own bad decisions.