Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Killin' Time- People I Hate: Dave Wannstedt

I've decided to take a fish-in-a-barrel approach to today's "People I hate" and go after former head coach of the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, and University of Pittsburgh Panthers Dave Wannstedt. I say former head coach because he was fired from all three jobs. F*&k you, Dave. If you don't know who Dave Wannstedt is or why he's appearing on this segment of a Bears blog, well, you must be a very small child. While I question why a child is reading this blog, I'll briefly state that Wannstedt was the head coach (and de facto GM, since he was given personnel control by McCaskey when he was hired) of the Bears from 1993-1998, and in that time went 40-56 with just one playoff appearance. The Bears organization, which had been one of the winningest franchises in the NFL from 1984-1992, fell into such a shambles under Wannstedt's control that they averaged 10 losses a year from 1996-2003. The franchise spent most of the Dick Jauron Era (1999-2003) cleaning up the mess from Wannstedt's rampage (although the Jauron Era certainly had its own mistakes to fix) and thus two straight head coaching tenures were absolutely fruitless for Chicago. Today I've decided to kick Wanny while he's down by going after one of his many shortcomings (since going after all of them would take too damn long) and listing the

TOP FIVE HILARIOUSLY AWFUL DAVE WANNSTEDT PERSONNEL DECISIONS:

5. Re-signing Alonzo Spellman (and not Jeff Graham)
Alonzo Spellman was a defensive end from Ohio State who had been the last first round pick of the Ditka regime in 1992. Spellman had largely under-achieved through the first four years of his contract, and entered the last game of the 1995 season with just 19 sacks in 62 career games. Spellman had three sacks in the '95 season finale against the Eagles, and entered the offseason as a potential free agent.

Another free agent that offseason was wide receiver Jeff Graham, who had 150 receptions for 2,245 yards and 8 TDs in two years as a Bear, including a then-franchise record (since eclipsed by Marcus Robinson's lightning-in-a-bottle 1999 season) 1301 yards in 1995.

Given that the Bears are rarely a free-spending team, they were in the position of only re-signing one of the two, and Wannstedt chose to gamble on Spellman, based on a one-game outburst, rather than Graham, a consistent performer.

Graham went on to play until 2001 with the Jets and Chargers (he actually managed 907 yards with the 2000 Chargers despite catching passes from Ryan F*&king Leaf) while the Bears had to run through a motley assortment of receivers in the last few years of the Wannstedt Era.

Spellman, meanwhile, had a respectable 8 sacks in 1996 before the wheels fell off in 1997. Spellman injured his shoulder in 1997 and finished with just two sacks, but even more concerning than his shoulder injury was the fact that he was batshit crazy. In March of 1998 Spellman, angry that his doctor was late to an appointment, decided to yank a phone out of the wall of the office and threatened to kill himself. Spellman also ballooned in weight, began to have drug problems, and was eventually released after he refused to have surgery on his injured shoulder. Nice choice, Dave.

4. John Thierry over Trace Armstrong
One of the reasons that Wannstedt may have decided he needed to re-sign Spellman was the glaring mistake he'd made the year before when he let defensive end Trace Armstrong go after drafting John Thierry. John Thierry was a linebacker at Alcorn State, a I-AA school, that Wannstedt thought he could turn into a defensive end. Wanny compared him to Charles Haley, which was right on since Thierry finished just 67 sacks, 5 Pro Bowls, and 2 All Pro nominations short of Haley's career totals. Even more important was the fact that Thierry's 12.5 sacks in 5 years as a Bear barely exceeded the 11.5 sacks that Trace Armstrong had in 1993 alone. Wanny decided to go with the young Thierry over the proven Armstrong and got burned badly, as Armstrong would go on to play for another decade, with three more seasons of at least 10 sacks (including 16.5 as a 35 year old in 2000) while Thierry never had more than 4 sacks in a season as a Bear.

3. The runningback he didn't draft
Before Wannstedt's first draft with the Bears in 1993 it was obvious that the team needed help on the offense. Neal Anderson, a shifty runningback similar to Matt Forte who could catch passes out of the backfield had been injured for most of the previous seasons and was approaching the dreaded age 30 wall. He was also a poor fit for Wannstedt's offense (based on Jimmy Johnson/Norv Turner's offense in Dallas) which needed a workhorse back. One was available in the 1993 draft in the person of Jerome Bettis, whom you may have heard of. Instead, the Bears drafted Curtis Conway, a one-dimensional receiver from USC who had only played wide receiver for a year in college. While Conway had a long and somewhat above-average NFL career, he was an inconsistent performer who had just two seasons with more than 733 receiving yards during his seven years in Chicago, while Bettis went on to finish his career with the 5th most rushing yards in NFL history. Guh. That's alright, though, because of...

2. The runningbacks he did draft.
During that 1993 season, where the Bears averaged just 14 points per game thanks to a poor season by the aging, injured Anderson (who'd have thunk?) and Conway contributing a mere 19 receptions (Bettis had 1400 yards rushing, but who's counting?) it became apparent that the Bears did need to find a runningback. They tried to get by in 1994 with Lewis Tillman and Tim Worley (both sucked) but were ultimately forced to draft a runningback in 1995. That runningback was Heisman Trophy winner Rashaaan Salaam.

To be fair to Wanny, the Salaam pick seemed to be worth the gamble (there were rumors of drug use and his hands were always questionable) when he set rookie records for the Bears by rushing for 1074 yards and 10 TDs in 1995. However, he also fumbled 9 times, caught just 7 passes (and had numerous drops), and averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. In 1996, Salaam suffered through an injury-plagued season and finished with just 496 yards (3.5 avg), then later admitted to smoking heavy amounts of marijuana while rehabbing and struggled with his rehabilitation and his weight. Salaam went flat-out bust in 1997, rushing for just 112 yards, and was released. That cleared the way for....

Curtis Enis, the #5 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Enis was a guy who had rushed for a ton of yards at Penn State, but had also accepted money from an agent while he was there (among other controversies) and was once described by Joe Paterno as "the biggest con man to ever go through the Penn State program." The Bears, however, bought into the "changed man" act that Enis gave them in pre-draft interviews and chose him over Randy Moss, who they deemed to be a bigger character risk. Enis naturally showed his character by immediately holding out for an outrageous contract, resulting in a showdown that resulted in Enis playing just nine games his rookie year, with only one start. He rushed for just 497 yards that year with no touchdowns (3.7 average), and the Bears managed the same 4-12 record in 1998 with their new runningback bust that they had in 1997 with their old one. Enis went on to rush for just 916 yards in 1999 before new coach Dick Jauron moved him to fullback. He was out of the NFL after just three years, just like his predecessor. At least the Bears didn't have to deal with Randy Moss and all of his damn character issues. And all of those damn touchdowns. Bullet. Dodged.

1. Trading for Rick Mirer
It's hard to really explain to people who weren't there at the time, or who don't really remember Rick Mirer, everything that is wrong with the Bears decision to trade for him. To begin with, never before in the history of football has a player with such an incredibly proven track record of awful play been acquired at such a high cost. Even if Mirer had been able to resurrect his career like a Jim Plunkett or a Tommy Maddox or other quarterback busts who moved on, none of them demanded a first round pick as compensation. Hell, even Steve Young didn't merit a first round pick when he was traded from the Bucs to the 49ers. Yet, there was Dave Wannstedt sending away the 11th overall pick in the 1997 for a guy who had a 41-56 TD:INT ratio and a 65.2 QB rating in Seattle.

Perhaps even more frustrating was the fact that Wannstedt had Erik Kramer on the roster, a quarterback who had set every single franchise passing record possible in 1995 and who had passed his physicals and fully recoverd from the neck injury that had ended his 1996 season after just four games. Kramer had a 40-24 TD:INT ratio and an 83.9 rating in his three years as a Bear, numbers that would make any sane human being concede that he was a vastly superior quarterback to Rick Mirer, not to mention the fact that Kramer would be entering his fourth season in the system in 1997 while Mirer, a notoriously slow learner, would be entering his first.

With every logical impulse telling him no, Wannstedt pulled the trigger anyway and sent the 11th pick to Seattle for Mirer in one of the greatest heists in history. Mirer then struggled to learn the offense, Kramer clearly outplayed him in the preseason, and Kramer started while Mirer served as an expensive clipholder. Kramer was benched after an 0-3 start and Mirer was given three chances to prove himself and failed epically, going 0-3 against the Patriots, Cowboys, and Saints while compiling a 37.7 quarterback rating and guiding an offense that was outscored 72-9 under his watch. Kramer was reinserted and had a mediocre 74.0 passer rating (nearly twice as high as Mirer's, though) but managed his second 3,000 yard season in Chicago. Mirer was cut after one year, making him the greatest front office blunder in the history of the organization.

One final reason the Mirer trade still chaps my ass? The Bears biggest need in the draft that year was tight end, and, after trading away the 11th pick, they settled for USC tight end John Allred (30 receptions in 4 years as a Bear) in the second round. Had they decided to go with Kramer as their starter at QB in 1997 and spent their first round pick on a tight end, there was some guy named Tony Gonzalez available who went to Kansas City with the 13th pick. Might have been handy to have that guy around for the last 14 f*&king years.

So in summary, I f*&king hate you, Wanny.