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The NFL's family tree
Terry Pluto says the key to winning in the NFL is all about family ties

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
Browns president Mike Holmgren (left) is considered the "father" of one of NFL's so-called families.
Courtesy of Dawn Einsel
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In the NFL, the key to winning is in a team’s so-called family tree. And it plays out much like a Shakespearean tragedy. NFL teams align themselves with one of two families who have very different styles of play. The Cleveland Browns have the “father” of one of those families at its helm -- team President Mike Holmgren. But, after two seasons, they’ve had little success. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto talks with Amanda Rabinowitz about the family structure and how the Browns plan to make it work.
Terry Pluto on the NFL's family ties

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P: Well there are a couple of ways people view how the game should be played, and it has to do with different coaching trees. For example, in the Super Bowl you had the Bill Parcells coaching tree. Bill Parcells is a longtime coach, and two of his disciples actually had their teams in the Super Bowl. One was Bill Belichick, and the other was Coughlin, the coach of the New York Giants. They both came from the Bill Belichick/Bill Parcells tree. These guys, Amanda, all hire each other and tend to hire the same assistants. There’s another family. It’s the Mike Holmgren family. It’s called the “West Coast Offense” family. Now when Green Bay won the Super Bowl the previous year with Mike McCarthy as the coach, he was from that family. Not only that, Amanda, they all have the same agent in the Holmgren family tree.

R: Really.

P: They hire each other everywhere. They just keep taking care of each other. So, some of these people are good and some of these people are not, but they’re in the family.

R: So what does this mean when you have these two different family trees, different styles of playing the game of football, they all have the same agent hiring the people within their family? Is that good for football?

P: I don’t think it is. Now the Belichick people do have different agents. Eric Mangini who worked one year for Mike Holmgren, said after his first year there he enjoyed it, he liked Holmgren, but he said, “We were from two football families.” That’s where it struck me. I had that interview with Eric after he was let go. He goes, “and the two families just don’t see the world the same way.” And he meant the football world.

R: This kind of goes along with what we’ve talked about before how football’s a mythic sport with the slow motion of the ball through the air and these mythic creatures. And now it kind of sounds like Shakespeare with the Capulets and the Montagues.

P: Yeah. Very nice literary allusion. You know, the Hatfields and the McCoys could closer to that. They do have different ways of viewing the game. The Holmgren people like this thing called the “West Coast Offense” with a lot of quick, short passes. The Belichick people on offense are much more, in my mind, creative. They do things in all kinds of different ways, although they tend to like the running game more. It’s like, you do it this way, we’ll do it that way.

R: With the Browns in this kind of Holmgren family, [Holmgren] being the president, where does that put the Browns? Are they positioning themselves to do well now that they’ve hooked up with the family?

P: Well that’s what they’re hoping. They switch from the Belichick family to the Holmgren family. That’s what they did because before, when they were with Phil Savage that was the extension of the Belichick family with Romeo Crennel. No matter what family we’re talking here, the Belichick family kept going 5-11. The Holmgren family just went 4-12.

R: So does it matter which family has the edge? Last year the Packers won the Super Bowl. That’s the Holmgren family. This year the Giants, which is an extension of the Belichick/Parcells. So which one has the edge?

P: I think it depends on which people of the family you have. Do you have the smart ones or the dumb ones. I really mean that. I don’t know how this actually translates to wins and losses. I just find it fascinating, and I think any of us who have been in any sort of corporate setting understand too that these people hire each other. 

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