Les isn't always more: Moss' time with Sharks could be running short
TAMPA - Les Moss has one of the greatest minds in the Arena Football League. Between his time as a head coach and his time as an assistant in arena ball, he has helped generate hundreds of victories and multiple championships. However, after a 63-28 beating at the hands of the hated Tampa Bay Storm, tied for the second-worst in team history, his time as the head coach of the Jacksonville Sharks could be short.
Moss looked visibly dejected on the sidelines on Saturday night, and for good reason. His team took a two-stop lead and turned it into a 35-point defeat in a span of just two hours against an average team, and once the Sharks got behind, they just were never able to get back in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Moss chucked his play card across the field in frustration, perhaps forecasting his own fate.
The Sharks, whom I have heard referred to as everything from the "Dream Team" to the "Best team money can buy" by AFL coaches and executives (their words, not mine), just haven't panned out this year through the first month and a half of the campaign. They have just two stops on downs for the entire season and eight forced turnovers in five games. The offense has gone out on downs six times and have turned it over nine times, four of which came on Saturday night in Tampa.
There are other signs of trouble as well in Jacksonville. The Sharks have already committed 67 penalties this season, an average of 13.4 per game, which would put them on a pace for 241. The Portland Thunder led the league last year with 208 yellow flags. Jacksonville has cost itself 464 yards this year in infractions, 105 of which were in Tampa.
What worries me the most though, is the body language on the bench and the way that the Sharks have responded to adversity this year. As soon as this team gets stopped once, it seems as though things just go in the proverbial (shark) tank.
Here in Tampa, after the net recovery at the end of the first half, the Sharks turned the ball over or went out on downs on three straight possessions. A 21-14 deficit with the ball at the end of the first half and getting the ball to start the second half all of a sudden became a 42-14 deficit in a game which was as good as over.
Two weeks ago against San Jose, an interception was immediately followed by a stop on downs, then a drive which ended in a field goal was followed by an interception. A 48-45 game became a 68-48 defeat.
In the Philadelphia game, six consecutive offensive drives to start the game reached fourth downs. Three of the six ended without points, and only after the Soul were done laughing with a 56-28 lead did the Sharks make the final score respectable. In that mix was probably the best onside kick of the year, one which the Sharks just weren't ready for in the third quarter when Clint Dolezel decided it was time to step on his foes' throats once and for all.
Then there are the little problems. Missed extra points and short field aren't on the coach, but ultimately, those are the types of mistakes which cost coaches jobs. Had Julian Rauch been in Jacksonville from the start of the season, maybe we're talking about a 3-3 team, one which is just in a rough patch at the moment. Instead, we're talking about a 1-5 team, one which really might end up having to hit the panic button.
To be clear, I'm not a believer in firing coaches midseason in most instances (though I still believe that LA is better off firing Bob McMillen now rather than later). I still believe if Moss was given the time, he would figure out how to make this work with this team. There's just too much talent here to ultimately fail. There are still three months left in the regular season, and to paraphrase Kevin Guy, championships aren't won in April; they're won in August.
However, I know Jeff Bouchy, and I know just how important this season is to him. I also know that the Sharks went 7-11 last year and lost in the second round of the playoffs the season before. Eight wins in the franchise's last 25 games just isn't good enough by Bouchy's standards, especially since everywhere he has gone in the AFL as an owner or a partner, his teams have generally won.
Will Moss get it back together in time to salvage the season for the Sharks? The optimist will say that this team is just two games back of the division title with plenty of games left to play against its Sunshine State foes. The pessimist will say that the Sharks are going to be at least two-touchdown underdogs next week in Cleveland and legitimately might not be favored in another game this season if they don't pull off an upset some time in the near future.
Regardless, I just don't believe Bouchy is going to give Moss a chance, and I would guess that he knows it. This has been a nightmarish start to the 2015 season in Jacksonville, and if we learned nothing last year, firing a coach early in the season could pay big dividends. The only problem… Derek Stingley isn't the man being fired, and Ron James isn't coming through those doors in Jacksonville tomorrow.
Something is going to change in Jacksonville and change in the very near future, because Bouchy isn't going to tolerate a team starting off at 1-5 with the probability of being 1-6 after next week.