Thursday, June 1, 2006
Europass: Tracking trends in All-League team By Mike Carlson Special to (May 26, 2006) -- If you believe in omens, or in history repeating itself, Thursday's announcement of NFL Europe's All-League team was good news for the Frankfurt Galaxy, and coach Mike Jones. Jones was named Coach of the Year by a vote of his colleagues, and the judgment of his peers has been a dependable way to forecast who will be the World Bowl winner. Since the league's return in 1995 as an all-European circuit, the team whose coach cops the award has won the World Bowl eight times, including the last four in a row. Jones now sits in the same position Amsterdam's Bart Andrus was in last season, bringing a team to the game in second place as Coach of the Year, and facing a team returning to the championship game with a more experienced squad. Because, in another anomaly, the team with more players with World Bowl experience has actually lost each of the last three games. Mike Jones will try to become the fifth straight Coach of the Year to also win the World Bowl. There was more good juju for Frankfurt when Amsterdam's Gibran Hamdan was named Offensive Player of the Year, because that award carries a reverse jinx. The league's offensive MVP has played in 12 of the previous 13 World Bowls, but they have managed only a 6-6 record. That may help mitigate the let down Frankfurt's Roger Robinson might feel; he broke the league's rushing record despite playing in only nine games, and ran for 133 yards on 32 carries in the game that mattered most, Week 10's must-win matchup with Berlin. You could argue he was crucial to the Galaxy's success, while the Admirals, of course, have proven able to win without Hamdan at the controls. The World Bowl record for the outstanding defensive players is even worse, as only nine have even made it to the final, where they've gone 3-6. Whether Amsterdam's Tony Brown's sharing the award with Cologne's Philippe Gardent helps mitigate the jinx remains to be seen. The race for Coach of the Year between Jones and Andrus must have been close, and beyond the idea that Andrus won it last year, may have been influenced by the 'fast at the finish' phenomenon. Jones' team got off to a slow start, then came on strong, and qualified for the World Bowl in the last week of the season, and that is the sort of pattern that impresses voters. The following example is not intended as a reflection of the Frankfurt or Amsterdam seasons, but illustrates the point with an extreme example. Take an NFL coach whose team starts the season 7-1. They coast a little, perhaps suffer a couple of key injuries or bad breaks, hit a difficult scheduling patch, and finish 8-8. That coach will face calls for his sacking, as he's built high expectations and failed to live up to them. Now imagine another coach whose team starts off 1-7, wins a game, loses one, then goes on a six-game winning streak to finish 8-8. He will be perceived as turning things around, even though in a sense he's turned them around from himself. He might have chosen the wrong players at the start of the season and found better ones only through desperation. Or he may have hit an easier scheduling patch. Either way, the fast finisher is the racer the bettors seem to fancy, and, of course, it's the finish line that is the most important point in any race. Mike Jones has to receive immense credit for the way he installed his game plan, and got the team to stick with it and make it work. His coordinators, Whitey Jordan and Ed O'Neil, deserve notice, too. I talked about Jordan's magic working with lines, and the league rushing record speaks for itself, but it's worth mentioning that O'Neil has now coached in five World Bowls in his eight NFL Europe seasons. There's more than a whiff of ol' time football about Jones' tactics, and it has worked well. Andrus should not be overlooked. Reaching the final two years in a row after losing your starting quarterback is some achievement. His Admirals established themselves as a force early, which obviously affected the vote, but he should also get credit for putting together a veteran-led team that knew exactly what was necessary to win. Tony Brown's play for the Admirals may help him earn a roster spot with Carolina. There were a few surprises in the All-League selections. Gardent, Cologne's French linebacker, not only shared the defensive MVP award, but was voted to the All-League squad. His range was a key part of Cologne's defense, and although he's a little small by NFL standards, and doesn't have the speed to compensate, he is a player. Although Brown shared the defensive MVP trophy, he didn't make the All-League team. This was a case of the coaches recognizing Brown's ability to do the hard work inside that often goes unnoticed. Also worth noting was Noriaki Kinoshita making the team as the special teamer. Although I'd love to see separate awards for punt and kickoff returners, and another spot for a coverage guy, Kinoshita was a dangerous return man for the Admirals, and as I mentioned previously, might be worth a look in an NFL camp. Jinxes and history are one thing, but any coach will tell you that history starts over each time the whistle blows to start the game. Europass will be back with a preview of Saturday's World Bowl, without the votes, the streaks, and the coincidences -- just what will be out on the field.