NFL analysts break down games and offer their takes on players, coaches, and events, That's their job, and if they hurt some feelings along the way in their analysis, that's just too bad. Part of the business. But when does that cross the line? Perhaps when someone perceived as an expert analyst takes those things on the field and extrapolates them to infer things about the character of a player or coach. And when former Colts and Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy isn't clogging the bestseller lists with his books on mentor-leadership, he's created quite the little amateur (and we do mean amateur) psycho-analysis business based on what he sees in public.
We've already seen this when Dungy passed judgment on Rex Ryan as a person and coach based on one string of F-bombs in HBO's "Hard Knocks" show. Now, Dungy has decided that it's appropriate to question the leadership abilities of quarterbacks based on their tendency to throw interceptions. On last Sunday's NBC pre-game show, Dungy said that if Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo(notes) wants to be a team leader, he has to stop turning the ball over so often. This after Romo threw three picks in a loss to the Tennessee Titans. Now, I'm not exactly sure what leadership and turnover rate have to do with each other, so I thought I'd go to the numbers.
Among the quarterbacks with the highest single-season interception totals, you will find the following names: George Blanda (several times), John Hadl, Fran Tarkenton, Ken Stabler, Sid Luckman, and Brett Favre(notes). Now, we may quibble with Lord Favre's actions on and off the field at times, but question his ability to be a team leader when he's on his game? No, thanks. You want to question the leadership abilities of anyone else on that list, Coach? Go right ahead and say that George Blanda wasn't a leader. We'll want to be over here when the lightning strikes.
How about the career interceptions list? Leaders and tough guys all over that top 10. Blanda, Favre, Tarkenton, Hadl, Dan Marino, Y.A. Tittle ... and some guy named Johnny Unitas. Please, let me know when Tony Dungy has the guts to say that Johnny Unitas was not a leader. I'll want to DVR that one.
Games with high interception totals have to be taken into context. Sometimes, they absolutely indicate that a quarterback is having a lousy day (or career). But as often as not, a guy who stays in long enough for a bunch of picks and doesn't get pulled by his coach is trying frantically to make a comeback, or otherwise snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And if that concept doesn't meet with Dungy's perfectly organized little world, where everyone can be compartmentalized into little boxes based on what he thinks people should do, that's just too bad.
The real problem is that Dungy is making these value judgments with the smallest bits of evidence - he hadn't even watched "Hard Knocks" before he said that he wouldn't hire someone like Rex Ryan, and he certainly doesn't know enough about Romo and the Cowboys to know whether the quarterback is a leader or not . Perhaps Dungy's advice to teams needing better quarterbacks would be, "Inherit a situation where Peyton Manning(notes) is already there and ready to be great," since that's just what Dungy did in Indianapolis.
Stick to the game analysis, coach. Your Xs-and-Os are pretty good. The head-shrinking and character judgments? Not so much.