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Exercises in futility

On different sides of the Atlantic, but within 24 hours of each other, two of sport’s more ignominious reigns have ended today.

Firstly, Paul Jewell resigned as manager of Derby County, drawing to a close a 13-month spell at the club in which he oversaw the Rams’ relegation from the Premier League with a record low total of points (11), having managed just one win all season (equalling a 108-year old league record) and conceded five or more goals in six of their 38 matches. They were also the first team ever to be relegated from the top division in March, perhaps the most telling indication of just how poor they were relative to their peers.

And it is not as if things have improved significantly this season. Despite Jewell’s promise of gaining immediate promotion back to the Premier League and a complete re-tooling of his squad, Derby currently lie 18th in the division, a perilous five points above the relegation zone, having won just seven of 26 games so far, and having in September narrowly escaped completing a full calendar year without a win: the streak ended at 364 days.

Notwithstanding the current vogue in football for firing managers at the first sign of trouble, there is little doubt that Jewell had to go sooner rather than later. In fact, it’s a credit to Derby that they have shown so much loyalty and patience to a manager with a decent history who has simply got it terribly wrong here.

At least Jewell walked before he was pushed. Detroit Lions’ head coach Rod Marinelli was fired, a move which brings new certainty to the word ‘inevitable’.

At the mid-point of the 2007 season, things had been looking rosy for then-second year coach Marinelli. The Lions were 6-2 and one of the NFL’s most enduringly unsuccessful and futile franchises – just one win in a playoff game since their last NFL championship-winning year of 1957 – was suddenly looking like a contender.

By season’s end, however, normal service had been resumed. A six game skid saw them finish 7-9, posting their seventh straight losing record.

And if the 1-7 record in the second half of 2007 wasn’t bad enough, the Lions went 0-8 through the first half of the 2008 regular season, and then completed a full and unique set when last night’s 21-31 defeat to Green Bay condemned them to the first 0-16 record in NFL history, and only the second winless season in the Super Bowl era (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in 1976, their first year of existence).

Even if they had won at Green Bay – and the Lions were still in with a sniff deep into the fourth quarter – Detroit would have joined a select band of just eight teams who have compiled 1-15 records in the 31 seasons since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. (And they would still have held the dubious honour of being the only NFL team to start a season 0-15.)

Nonetheless – ifs, buts and maybes aside – the facts are damning. In three seasons, Marinelli had a 10-38 record as a head coach, including 1-23 in his final year and a half. In 2008, the Lions conceded 551 points (while scoring just 281), the second-worst total in NFL history. The squad is woefully short of decent players, let alone good ones – wide receiver Calvin Johnson (78 catches and 12 TDs, joint-highest in the NFL) and kicker Jason Hanson (21 of 22 field goals) are arguably the only two Lions who would be coveted by other teams.

With the regular season over, even if the Lions were to win their 2009 season opener, it means they will go at least 20½ months between wins.

Derby fans: eat your heart out.

In a league which actively promotes parity between its teams, 20½ months is as good as a lifetime. But there is hope. Only last season, the New England Patriots completed the regular season 16-0 (although they subsequently lost the Super Bowl), while their division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, limped to 1-15. In 2008, however, the Patriots have missed out on the playoffs altogether, while the Dolphins have brought about the most dramatic single-season turnaround in NFL history, improving to 11-5 and winning their division.

So there is hope for the Lions, if not for the hapless Marinelli, in 2009. I wouldn’t count on it, though.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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