Green Bay Packers: The problem of instant gratification
By Kenn Korb
Earlier this week, I found out that Chip Kelly was fired from his position as head coach 0f the Philadelphia Eagles.
Like most, I felt like he hadn’t exactly had a good season, but apparently unlike most I’m still not quite sure on whether it was a good decision or not.
On one hand, he made a bunch of ill-advised moves that mostly have backfired – especially in the past year, once he gained more autonomy over personnel moves.
With his decisions during his time with the Eagles, he was overly-insistent on making decisions built entirely on utilizing his ideal scheme to perfection; instead of adjusting his offense around his players to some degree, he showed a quick trigger in ridding himself of players he either didn’t believe fit his scheme or that didn’t happen to get along with him.
On another hand, this was one bad season following a 20-12 record with a playoff berth in his first two seasons as the head coach.
This was his first season working as the lead person in control of personnel aspects for the team, and that brought a handful of massive changes across the roster that changed the makeup of the team immensely in a short period of time; those changes include significant moves at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker, and cornerback.
While this was undoubtedly a down year, this wasn’t necessarily the right call for a team that seems desperate to not only matter, but thrive as they once did during the heydays of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in Philly green.
Still, it is emblematic of the times we live in.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the Green Bay Packers; don’t worry, it all connects … in time.
Kelly was fired after what was a bad year after implementing a litany of changes, hoping at least a decent portion of those would turn positive immediately – his job depended on it.
Since many did not come to fruition in the way that was hoped for right away, he is tossed to the side three years into a plan that was likely expected to be built for sustained success over many years.
But really, how was he supposed to ever reach that level?
There are two things he would need from fans and the organization to be able to do so: patience and belief.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” as they say; to create sustainable success, you need to have time to do so.
You also need to have the people supporting and funding you to believe in the vision you have in mind, and be willing to sit through some hiccups and questionable and/or risky decisions along the way while you attempt to reach the point you hope.
Unfortunately for Chip, he apparently had neither working for him … and that is despite what can only be viewed as a promising beginning. As bad as this year was, he has double-digit wins each of the previous years, including a division crown and a home playoff game his rookie season – one that was close enough to be lost only by a late field goal.
One bad year should not capsize a tenure that starts so optimistically.
The only reasonable way it should have a shot is if there are catastrophic circumstances involved; an eight- to 10-win drop-off, rants and badmouths players and the organization, full-on locker-room mutiny, death threats, bribery, blackmail, cheating scandals … something drastic and damaging to the organization and the sport in general type of stuff.
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Unfortunately (again) … reasonable is not something we do today.
I say “we” because we all are guilty of this on some level.
We levy expectations on the teams, coaches and players we watch religiously, and we demand constant perfection from them in what is not only an insanely difficult and physical sport, but something that at the end of the day is (or at least should be) relatively meaningless.
At the end of the day, all we want are positive results for the team we happen to follow – and we don’t care how we get them.
If someone has to lose their job, so be it; if they don’t bring us consistent perfection while entertaining us, they don’t deserve to be in that position.
You know how I know this?
Just look to ESPN.
I can’t remember the last time I heard anything semi-positive related to them.
They spew out and promote garbage content over anything remotely insightful, favoring simplistic concepts and headline-grabbing moments.
They can’t even stomach funding the areas within their own empire which did manage to do so like Grantland used to.
Yet … they still are the “worldwide leader in sports” that they claim to be; no other hub of sporting news and entertainment really even attempts to challenge their amount of content or level of viewership, despite the fact that nobody seems to have a single decent word to toss in their direction.
For some reason, despite knowing the opinions and stories they tend to boost add little beyond hyperbolic filler, millions of us still go to them as our main source for content.
We still tune in and boost their ratings, listen to their hot takes and arguments that provide little in terms of critical thought.
The one thing they provide on any consistent level is outrage.
Outrage that a player/coach/owner/trainer would have a dissenting opinion on a matter, or that they give a cliché answer when we want to hear something “real.”
Outrage that an athlete may say something without thinking it through, or that they may do something “out-of-line” while being hyped up in the moment before/during/after a game where they were pumped up with the same emotion, energy and adrenaline that is not only desired but undoubtedly necessary to some degree for them to have any hope of competing on the level that everybody expects.
The outrage we see can take many forms.
Most are in the programming that apparently is watched every morning, such as First Take (Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless may count as entertainment on some level, but little in the way of actual informative ideas have ever escaped that show).
Others come from the personalities themselves (seriously, how much more ridiculous does it get than having a host in Bayless who can hold such an asinine vendetta for and against certain players that he has always preferred Tim Tebow over Aaron Rodgers?).
Don’t even bother with the social media, where we can see reports of little importance put up as integral, must-see “journalism” (Deflate-Gate was rampant with that).
This outrage at least somewhat stems from that impatience and lack of belief we have in these players, coaches, and organizations we invest our time and money toward.
We have built up a culture of instant gratification within our sports fandom (which is also within our culture outside of sports as well to a degree, but not nearly as immediately visible and prevalent; that’s another story though).
We want the results we desire, and we want them immediately. It seems impossible for us to understand that results take time, and that they are not guaranteed.
At times, it seems like we don’t even care about what is actually happening out there on the field, only what we envisioned COULD happen. We see a new player signing in free agency, a new draft class in May, new coaches – head or otherwise – brought in to instill new culture, all with the expectation that they will fix everything that ails us.
The preseason projections for a team’s record and how they could (or in many minds, SHOULD) look on the way to doing so tend to matter to us so much that if the team does anything less than those projections, we treat them as if they insulted our very existence by showing up with something anywhere below our endless expectations.
Look again at Chip Kelly, who had his team and their fans expecting to, at the very least, take the division and maybe even be a dark-horse candidate in the NFC for the Super Bowl.
This team underperformed and had multiple errors influenced directly by his decisions, but this team would never have been in those optimistic conversations if not for the moves he made.
Even back when they were made, none were truly claimed as outright failures, and there was optimism even with the disappointments.
This was all despite knowing just how many ‘if’s were needed to go well for things to work out as well as people hoped:
- IF Sam Bradford can return healthy after two seasons lost to ACL tears (and also overcome his startling allergy of throwing deep)
- IF moving on from two of their starting guards would end up at least a net neutral endeavor
- IF trading LeSean McCoy was the right move
- IF signing DeMarco Murray afterward was smart (especially after the main reason for the McCoy move was said to be money)
- IF Byron Maxwell deserved the expensive contract
- IF Kiko Alonso could return healthy from his own ACL tear
- IF the moves made the past couple years at receiver could outweigh the losses of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin
- IF the low-key move of injury-prone Walter Thurmond from cornerback to safety would pay dividends
Even though the vast majority of that list did not pan out, this team was still fighting for the division crown in Week 16 in a home game; had they won, they would have been atop the NFC East coming into this week, controlling their own destiny in a matchup against a Giants team they have routinely manhandled.
That doesn’t matter though; intentions and long-term goals mean little to the masses who need the salty, greasy sustenance of fast-food quality instant gratification to get through their daily existence, not caring that this style of team-building and decision-making is not only unrealistic but completely unsustainable over any decent period of time.
We see so many teams and owners too willing to take that instant feel-good approach – mostly due to impatience and anxiety brought forth by their ravenous fanbases.
Too few teams are willing to sit through early lumps and unsatisfying beginnings to give their coaches and players time to build a program, grow with it and become something that can last for years.
The latter is how you build a dynasty; from there all you need is some fortuitous luck mixed in at key points to claim a championship or more (and make no mistake; EVERY champion has a great deal of luck that aids them along their path to greatness whether it be a lucky tip, a non-call of a penalty, health to all their key players, or even just the happenstance of decent seeding providing matchups they can take advantage of better).
Think about all the great teams you remember from history; how many won right away? Not many, and if they did, it likely didn’t last.
The Packers in the 60s survived the Ice Bowl before eventually winning the first two Super Bowls; they also had the guy the Super Bowl trophy is named after coaching them.
Pittsburgh has only had 3 head coaches since 1969 – all of whom were given decent time to build their squads and cultures before eventually winning at least one championship each and being perennial playoff participants for large portions of their tenures.
San Francisco was always underwhelming until they got their coach and QB combo of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana to build around; they were given the time and belief to do so.
The most recent Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty started with a 1-15 season that saw them also trade away their undoubtedly best player; while they took their lumps they were setting up for the future.
Most recently, we have New England, where Bill Belichick was 5-13 before the Tom Brady show started – and the offense never became the focal point until 2007, while the team was predicated on a defense built from unheralded players for their championships in 2001, 2003, and 2004.
Now, however, things are different.
Despite all the evidence pointing to needing patience to make something that can be good for a long time, we just want the quick fix and raise hell if and when it doesn’t come the way we hoped.
We write expectations in stone without accounting for things entirely out of our hands and beyond what we can ever hope to predict.
Think of your own team, Packers fans.
We have a team sitting at 10-5 heading into a matchup with their rival Minnesota Vikings that will decide the division; if the Packers win, they claim the NFC North for the fifth season in a row.
Already, the team has qualified for the playoffs for the seventh year in a row – a team record. They have won a championship in the past decade, were a couple minutes away from competing for another just last season, and have been one of the better offenses we’ve seen for such a long time that we cannot remember the last time they struggled.
But because they are struggling on offense now, so many of us are upset.
Despite having yet another playoff berth, another chance to compete for a championship, and having the level of consistent success many might legitimately kill to have, there is so much angst and unhappiness rampaging through so many of us Packers fans.
Because though they are 10-5, they aren’t as good as we expected them to be; it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing to watch – and more importantly, it isn’t the way we envisioned it.
It doesn’t matter that the offense has been decimated at wide receiver (losing not only a top-10 player in Jordy Nelson, but a promising explosive option in rookie Ty Montgomery) and offensive line (having to play nine different players on the line throughout the season – not including replacing the long snapper), not only lessening the possible options available at each spot but prematurely elevating many young players who have not really been able to step up and produce as needed to this point.
It doesn’t make a difference that the team managed to win more than many healthier teams despite those issues, or that the defense has stepped up on multiple occasions all season to either save games or at least keep them at manageable deficits.
It means little (if anything) that there are 31 other teams in the league, all with players, coaches, owners, staff and fans all wanting the exact same thing as you (but for their own particular team), or that those who are on these teams and play this sport are all people – imperfect human beings just like anyone else ever born, prone to error just as much as any given individual might be.
No, all we care about is that the team doesn’t look like we have come to expect; when that doesn’t come to fruition – no matter the reasons – we start calling for changes.
We want heads on a platter – or at least pink slips in pockets. Somebody needs to be fired, or some massive change has to happen for which we have constant physical evidence.
I wonder why we even bother watching and playing any sport any more; the results are never as great as they could be in our imaginations. The true records and statistics will never measure up to the fantastical projections we make for the teams and players we throw our money and time toward.
We might as well just play Madden and use that as our season, but each of us do our own version to tell the story that we want to see. It seems as if that would have as good of a chance as pleasing our desires as the real thing.
And if the results of this ended as something we don’t like?
We can change it immediately!
Just start a new season, simulate through and in like five to 10 minutes you have a whole new result.
Turn them off too; see what the team would be at it’s best.
No worries about fatigue, missed games, or anything remotely human to be found; that seems like what many seem to hope for, despite how ingrained and essential the different aspects of being human truly are to the sport.
If we actually care about and want to enjoy what happens in this sport and with the teams and players we follow, we all need to be willing to accept that not everything goes according to plan, and that some things just don’t happen right away.
Of any fanbase in the league, we are probably the luckiest across of the entire history of the franchise in terms of prolonged success and reaching the pinnacle.
That has been especially true during my lifetime; since I was born in 1991, the team has seen only three losing season (4-12 in 1991 and 2005, 6-10 in 2008) while having two of the league’s premiere quarterbacks during that time.
Across those years, they have qualified for the playoffs 18 times while winning 18 playoff games and two championships in the process.
Still, when it comes to the current regime of Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson we tend to have so little patience for anything – even though only the Patriots have managed to match us in terms of sustained success during their time with Green Bay.
They took a 4-12 squad and had them at 13-3 with a home playoff game in the NFC Championship in only two years, immediately moved on to a new quarterback who has been a two-time MVP and Super Bowl winner since taking over as starter, and have developed and managed a constantly youthful and overturning roster that is always in the playoffs and a threat to win a championship leading into any given year.
We want to change that?
We’ve got to stop this unrealistic, delusional, ungrateful foolishness.
What we have now – even in a season that has been surprisingly different in unwanted ways – is still a situation that the vast majority of teams league-wide could, should, and do envy.
Let’s appreciate it while we have it.