When Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano flip-flopped and benched QB Chad Henne in favor of Chad Pennington for their Week 10 game against the Titans, he gave the NFL its 49th starting quarterback this season.
Sparano also joined this year's quarterback flip-floppers — Ken Whisenhunt, Chan Gailey and Andy Reid — as coaches who have made non-injury-related switches at the QB position this season. While Reid's decision was facilitated by Kevin Kolb's injury, when Kolb was healthy, Reid still decided Michael Vick was a better option.
No personnel decision gets more attention from a fan base and organization than a change at quarterback, the most important, glorified position on the field. Sparano had once made it clear that Henne was his guy, even though Pennington had recovered from shoulder surgery. Reid made it clear Kolb was his guy by trading Donovan McNabb, even with Vick on the roster. And Whisenhunt parted ways with Matt Leinart, confirming Derek Anderson was his guy, even with no one but undrafted rookie Max Hall behind him. Despite criticism from Bills fans and poor play last season, Gailey stuck with his guy, Trent Edwards.
Whisenhunt replaced Anderson with Hall in Week Five, his first switch, and then put Anderson back in as the starter in Week Nine. So, Whisenhunt didn't believe in Anderson leading the Cardinals to victory as a starter in Week Five, but now he does? How are fans supposed to be confident in Anderson? Or Hall, for that matter? Reid flip-flopped on Kolb and Vick, but their on-field performance has taken some of the heat off Reid for his waffling. The question is: Why didn't Reid think Vick could win from Day One, instead going all-in all offseason on Kolb?
Gailey did not wait long to get rid of Edwards in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has played well since becoming the starter in Week Three. But why didn't Gailey have that figured out before the season began? He had seen enough of Edwards to make him the starter, but after two games decided the QB had to go?
After eight games, the Dolphins sat at 4-4, and Sparano realized at that point — after eight games of watching the second-worst scoring offense, eight games of watching Brandon Marshall collect only one touchdown and eight games of Henne tossing 10 interceptions — that maybe Pennington gave the Dolphins a better chance to make the playoffs.
But when Pennington injured his shoulder on his first play on Sunday, Henne re-entered the game. As with Whisenhunt in Arizona, Dolphins fans now know that their head coach didn't have confidence in Henne to win, so why should they?
Four separate coaches went back on their word, went against their own campaigning for their guys and made in-season changes. All these coaches spent time convincing their players, front office and fans who their guy was, only to realize after a few games — or in Sparano's case, after eight games — that there was a better option sitting on the bench.
Instead of continually vouching for their guy, coaches should take a lesson from this and be even more cautious in the preseason, allowing for more quarterback competition. After all, let's face it: No one likes a flip-flopper.
The above column is taken from the current print edition of Pro Football Weekly, which features stories on underpublicized Ravens DL Haloti Ngata and emerging Raiders RB Darren McFadden, as well as Nolan Nawrocki's look at the top TE prospects in the 2011 NFL draft, previews of all Week 11 games and much more. You can purchase the print edition at retail outlets or online at PFWstore.com, in either print or electronic (PDF) format.