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Moss firing a sign of organizational failure in Jacksonville

Adam Markowitz
Monday July 18, 2016

Coaches are hired to be fired. Rare is the circumstance in which a coach is hired to play out rest of his career and to be the lone coach for decades at a time for the franchise which hired him in the first place. Les Moss was an institution in North Florida. Up until Monday, he was the only coach the Jacksonville Sharks ever knew.

But now that statement is true no longer. The Sharks relieved Moss of his duties with two games left in the regular season after an abysmal loss on the road to the now 2-12 Portland Steel.

Let's get this much straight, though. Les Moss is one of the best coaches in the Arena Football League. He always has been and always will be. He's been around this game in some form or another for basically three decades, and he comes from a coaching pedigree like none other in this league. Outside of the late great Tim Marcum, if there was a better man to learn the ins and outs of the 50-yard indoor war from than Perry Moss, I never knew him.

Jacksonville's decision to fire Moss is definitely understandable and justifiable. Over the course of his last three seasons, Moss has gone just 22-28 in the regular season, and the team is largely recognized as the greatest underachieving bunch of the 2016 AFL season.

The timing though, is peculiar and is telling of a different problem in Jacksonville.

Last year, the Sharks went 10-8 and snuck into the playoffs. They upset Orlando and Philadelphia on the road to get into the ArenaBowl before losing to the San Jose SaberCats, who arguably happened to be the best team in the history of this great league. If Moss was able to rally his team to win two games on the road in hostile environment, what's to say that he wouldn't be able to do it with largely the same team this year against the same two teams in all likelihood?

The fact of the matter is that Jeff Bouchy always had it out for Moss from the point that the Sharks stopped hosting postseason games, something they haven't done since 2013. It always seemed to be ArenaBowl or bust for Bouchy after all of his years with a similar mentality in Orlando, but a comment made in this afternoon's press conference was definitely alarming.



So let's get this straight. Even if Moss had won the ArenaBowl, he still would've been fired at the end of the campaign? How maddening is that?

Look, Bouchy and the Sharks are definitely entitled to run their franchise as they please. The fact that they've chosen home playoff games as the litmus test for the success of the franchise though, is mind-boggling. No other team in professional sports would have considered last season an abject failure. Jacksonville finished two-games above .500 and was 30 bad minutes against the best team in the history of the league away from a championship.

Coaches take the fall all the time when things go wrong, but this problem in Jacksonville isn't only a Les Moss problem. It's an organizational problem. And it starts with what this team views as "success" versus "failure."

The timing of this firing is clear. Moss was let go when it became mathematically impossible for the team to host a first round playoff game. Definition: Regardless of what happened the rest of the way to the Sharks, even if they won their last five games of the year and captured a championship, the year was a failure.

There's something inherently wrong with that thought.

Let's not forget that Moss not only brought this team to the ArenaBowl last year, but he won it against mighty Arizona on the road with three fewer days of rest back in 2012. It's an accomplishment which should have bought him plenty of time to continue to mold this franchise. Let's not forget about the two conference championship game appearances in his career as well.

Alas, Bouchy assembled an all-star team of sorts over the course of the last few years, and expectations were sky high. Tommy Grady, Tiger Jones, Reggie Gray, Joe Hills... These are all men who have perennially been All-Arena in the past, and by all accounts, all four are going to be Hall of Famers one day in all likelihood. Theoretically, these guys should be putting up 70 points week in and week out. Instead, the Sharks have averaged 52.1 points per game, and there are times where they just flat out don't look good on offense. You lose games by one score in this league all the time when you can't do the little things right, and the Sharks have found themselves on the wrong end of one-score games five times this year, including in three straight weeks.

But is that really all Moss' fault? Or is it a case of an owner assembling a fantasy team and expecting it to all work and blaming the coach when it doesn't?

Surely, building chemistry is partially the job of the head coach, and Moss isn't without blame for this disaster in Jacksonville. But it's also the job of the man who assembles the team as well. Every team needs rank and file players; not everyone can be a star. The Sharks have stars for sure, and that talent alone can beat any team in this league on any given day in any given arena. But without the rest of those glue players, it just isn't going to work over the course of 16 games in all likelihood.

Tommy Grady is a fine quarterback. And he has three career playoff wins. Tiger Jones and Joe Hills are fantastic receivers. And they have zero rings between them. Am I making an unfair correlation between a lack of rings and a lack of success? Perhaps. But I find the correlation amazing, no less.

In Jacksonville, what we have is the case of a dysfunctional and delusional franchise with goals which are borderline silly and defy the logic and main objective of owning a sports franchise. Sure, the books have to balance, and the gate from a home playoff game or two can be the difference between finishing the year in the red and in the black. (Furthermore, having to fly to San Francisco and bus to Stockton from there on four days of notice won't help the budget either.) But that's not the job of the head coach. That's the job of managaement and ownership. The train -- one which was has been on wobbly ground for the last three seasons -- finished running off of the proverbial tracks on Saturday night in Portland.

Moss will be just fine; I'd be surprised if he wasn't named the head coach of the Tampa Bay Storm in another six weeks or so. But will the Sharks be alright in the future? I'm not so sure.

Bouchy and the brass of the Sharks made it clear that they thought Moss was the problem which had to be removed from the equation. If Jacksonville thinks this is the only problem it has though, it's going to have this same issue down the line when someone else -- Raymond Philyaw or whomever is next on a permanent basis -- takes charge of the same club.

Sometimes as owners and managers of businesses, you have to reflect, not just on the performance of your leaders, but the performance of yourselves. We'll have to see whether the Sharks do or do not do that in the weeks and months to come.

Adam Markowitz is an accountant and a freelance sports writer living in Orlando. As a Florida State graduate with degrees in music and history, the garnet and gold will forever be a part of him, but he bleeds the black and red of the Orlando Predators like none other. Adam has been following the AFL since 1991 and has been at well over 200 games, including 16 ArenaBowls. You can follow Adam on Twitter @AFLGuru.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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