Coaching Blunder of the Decade

I wrote an intentionally clickbaity headline for fun, but last night I thought about Jason Maas’ decision to kick a field goal down seven with under two minutes to go and tried to come up with a worse coaching decision.

Two notable challengers jump to mind.

The Indianapolis Colts made, probably, the worst play-call in recent history.

In the Colts defence, they botched communications and were (reportedly) not supposed to snap the ball. But even then, it was a staggering case of a not-so-smart team outsmarting themselves.

And of course, a ridiculous coaching decision led to (probably) the biggest play in NFL history.

It was a foolish call, but one that Seattle had run countless times all season. Pete Carroll admitted he screwed up, but you can at least understand going to a play that has worked all year long.

What separates Maas decision (outside, of course, that it happened in Canada so it won’t get the press) was it was without any justification. Let’s set the scene:

West Final. Down by seven. 1:56 to go. Third and four at the Calgary 13. Maas, who has gambled four times earlier in the game, twice in situations longer than this (sidenote: they were all successful), elects to kick a relatively meaningless field goal, and essentially end the game. He had to know there were four possible outcomes:

  • Go for it. Don’t get it, Calgary gets the ball on their own 13.
  • Go for it. Get it. First and goal, with a chance to win/tie.
  • Kick it. Allow one first down, and the game is over.
  • Kick it. Stop them immediately. Get the ball back with approximately 40 seconds to go near midfield, needing to score a touchdown.

It’s the simplest of calls that any football coach at any level could make. What makes it, incredibly – worse – are the other factors that intensify the ridiculous decision. Consider:

  • Calgary ran all over Edmonton all game (180+ yards), and it was safe to say they would pick up the necessary first down to end the game. They did.
  • The Eskimos were on the 13, meaning you could make the case they were better off trying and failing to convert than kicking the field goal. When down by a score, would you rather have the opponent start on their 13 with 1:50 to go, or start on their own 35 with 1:40 to go?
  • The Eskimos had converted all their third down gambles, including 3rd and 10 just thirty seconds before!

I would estimate the Eskimos had a 25-30% chance of victory before the kick, and a <1% chance after.

What occurred after must have delighted Stampeders fans. Glen Suitor – never one to question coaches – wondered aloud if Jason Maas mixed up the score. Chris Cuthbert barely spoke, unable to process what he saw. You could see Eskimos GM Brock Sutherland scrunch up his face, baffled by what his head coach had done. Twitter acted as Twitter does, but when I read “worst call ever?” I found myself nodding, wistfully.

It was a decision so bad my mind immediately went into conspiracy theory mode (the Eskimos were a five point underdog, and that meaningless kick meant they covered…). Even when Maas sent out Sean Whyte to kick, I assumed it was a ridiculous fake, or some sort of trickery.

We were deprived an exciting ending, and worst of all Maas deprived Mike Reilly – the league’s MVP for God’s sake – a chance to save the season.

No coaching career should be defined by one call, but Maas’ fate should be sealed for the season we just witnessed. He has repeatedly showed he has neither the temperament to run a team (we saw numerous sideline tantrums this season) or the intelligence (the Eskimos in-game management was at times ludicrous, from predictably moronic in-game challenges to general play design and selection).  The fact that on retrospection Maas said he would do it again in some ways sums him up: he won’t accept blame, learn, or concede when he’s wrong.



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