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Friday, November 5, 2010

The NFL Head Coaching Crisis

Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, Brad Childress, Andy Reid, Mike McCarthy, Lovie Smith. 424-342 is the combined win-loss record of these coaches, which comes out to a 55% winning percentage. That is a pretty good percentage considering how hard it is in the NFL to consistently have a winning team, but all these coaches share another thing in common: 0 Super Bowl rings. The coaches listed here have coached a combined 53 seasons in the NFL, yet they have absolutely nothing to show for it. The Cowboys, Chargers, Vikings, Eagles, Packers, and Bears have had some of the most talented rosters in recent years, yet none have been able to capture the Lombardi Trophy. In America’s most popular sport, where fan bases are extremely loyal and dedicated to their teams, how is this permitted to happen?

A lot of analysts refuse to blame the coach for a team’s struggles to its coaches because they never think the answer is that simple, but in reality it is that simple. These coaches all have fatal flaws that are killing their teams. Terrible special teams, penalties, turnovers, bad clock management, poor timeout usage, lousy play challenge ability, and terrible 4th down decisions are all things that are plaguing these teams. It may not result in a losing record, but they will prevent a team from winning the Super Bowl. Take Brad Childress in their loss to Green Bay earlier this year. He could have challenged a play that was incorrectly ruled a touchdown, thus saving his team 4 points, but he failed to do so. How much did the Vikings lose by? 4 points. Seemingly simple decisions such as these are constantly hampering teams. Andy Reid’s clock management skills are notoriously bad, and he still has trouble knowing when to go for the 2-point conversion and he even has a chart to help him decide! 46.12% of all NFL games during the last 20 years have been decided by 7 points or less, yet these coaches treat these fixable flaws like they aren’t a big deal. Mike McCarthy’s Packers committed 18 penalties in a loss to the Bears this year, several of which negated interceptions which would have sealed the victory for the Pack. Penalties are something that the Packers have always had troubles with under McCarthy, yet he still hasn’t found a way to keep his team disciplined. Norv Turner has the #1 offense and defense in the league, yet he has a losing record due to terrible specials teams and stupid turnovers. Wade Phillip’s Cowboys were preseason Super Bowl favorites yet they play unmotivated and commit celebration penalties every time they get in the end zone. These coaches spend hours every day looking at game film and drawing up game plans yet they don’t take the time to work on the simple things like clock management that most fans or 12 year old Madden players could do.

As terrible as these coaches are at the little things, Bill Belichick is a coach who does all of them right. The Patriots are always one of the most disciplined teams in the league, because if you are going to commit penalties then you don’t play, it’s as simple as that. The Patriots are constantly atop the league in turnover differential. Do you think that Belichick would allow Jay Cutler to throw 4 picks to DeAngelo Hall? Belichick is also not afraid to go for it on controversial 4th down situations when the statistics behind doing so favor it, even though most coaches would play it safe. He famously gave up a safety instead of risking giving the ball to his opponent in great field position. Belichick realizes that simple things are what win football games and he is always looking for different ways to improve his team’s chances. From manipulating injury reports to filming other team’s signals, Belichick thinks of any and every way to win, even if some methods are not exactly legal. To borrow Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sport’s expression: Belicheck is playing chess, while everyone else is playing checkers. With the exception of 2007 Patriots, no one can claim that the Patriots had the most talented team in the league, yet somehow they won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years and consistently are in the playoffs. Players come and go for the Pats, but Belichick remains and the secret to his success isn’t amazing game plans and innovative plays, but his steadfast commitment on the simple things that lead to championships.

So if the key for talented teams to win Super Bowls is the simple things, then why are there so many coaches who cannot do them? The problem is in the way teams choose their head coaches. Most teams in need of a head coach love to hire coordinators and position coaches from Super Bowl or playoff teams. After the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, teams scrambled to get anyone who had previously worked under head coach Mike Holmgren. Familiar names like Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Ray Rhodes, and Dick Jauron all worked for Holmgren and received head coaching jobs elsewhere as a result. Jon Gruden is the only one of the group who has been able to win a Super Bowl since, and he is now out of the league, having been fired by the Bucs in 2009. Belichick is another coach whose success has led to teams hiring his protégés in hopes that they can replicate Belichick’s success. Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, and Eric Mangini received head coaching jobs and have one playoff appearance among them. The teams are hoping that these coaches have some sort of expert knowledge that they can bring to these teams, yet they fail to realize the nature of the NFL. The NFL is a copycat league, and is constantly adapting and evolving. One team finds success with the Tampa 2 and suddenly all the teams are using it, and the same thing has happened with the 3-4 defense. Coaches study so much game film from every game and when one team’s flaws are exposed, you can bet every other team takes notice of how to expose them. It does not make sense to hire offensive or defensive gurus for your head coach because their expert knowledge is out there for anyone to copy. Just because someone is a great coordinator doesn’t mean they will be a successful head coach, because they do not have to deal with 4th down decisions, clock management, motivation, penalties, and turnovers which are the responsibility of the head coach. Rex Ryan may seem like an exception, because of what he has done for the NY Jets, but people forget that his father was an NFL head coach, and Rex Ryan grew up watching what made Buddy Ryan such a great motivator. Coordinators often have dreams of being head coaches, but many of them don’t have the talent to be, but teams are constantly willing to give them a shot.

The solution to this problem is for teams to look to the college ranks for coaches. Teams spend a lot of time and money evaluating college players based on their past history, yet it doesn’t concern teams that the coordinator they are about to hire has no prior head coaching history. There are plenty of college coaches out there in large and small programs who show the necessary skills to be a NFL head coach. Things like recruiting ability don’t matter in the NFL, so coaches on teams that might not necessarily be very talented, but are able to still consistently win are the ones to hire. If you want a great offense or defense then hire good coordinators but do not give them the head coaching job. Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs who are the surprise team this year at 5-2. Who are their offensive and defensive coordinators? Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, two failed head coaches who are finally doing what they are good at. It’s about time the rest of NFL smartens up and realizes that the head coaching job is about the simple things, something that most coordinators do not do well.


  1. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the NFL. Period. He has had some bad decisions throughout his career but that does not make him a bad coach. Belichick has had bad calls too but everyone says he is the best coach because he leads his team to the playoffs and Super Bowl. Reid has done the same and doesnt deserve to be included in this article

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  3. Andy Reid is one of the best coaches and that is part of the problem. There aren't really many great head coaches in the NFL. It is true that Belichick makes mistakes but he learns from them and doesn't make the same ones over and over. Reid's clock management, as well as his handling of Qb's has been a constant problem, which has hurt them in them playoffs. If Qb greatness is judged by Super Bowl wins then so should head coaching greatness and Reid has 0.

  4. Very interesting post, are you a Pats fan by chance??

  5. Its difficult to gage one coach from another, but I hear your points. Belichick is a winner plain and simple. But Reid has dealt with the most volatile fanbase in America, and a cancer destroyed his teams chemistry (as well as brought him to a Super Bowl...TO).

    That withstanding blame for no SB should not be placed squarely upon Reid, as the player personnel and front office can be attributed to some sketchy signs and deals.

    Also he barely, barely missed out on a SB, losing by 3 pts to your man Bill. Also lost to HOFer Kurt Warner by just a TD. lost 14-3 to a VERY good Panthers team, a SB winning Tampa Bay team, and the Greatest show on Turf.

    5 Conference champ appearances, and a SB appearance. I consider him an elite coach.

    Have you seen the way he has handled VIck? Vick is playing his best football yet.

    But I agree, NFL should seek the College ranks for improved head coaching prospects. But what about these young guns; Jim Harbaugh, Rahim Morris, Jim Caldwell, Josh McDaniels, Jim Schwartz, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin??, Spagnuola. All coaches with 4 yrs experience or less and doing a very good job in my opinion.

    The concept of hiring coordinators and assistants from winning NFL teams is tried and fulfilled strategy that has churned out some of the greatest coaches of all times (cough cough Bill Belichick.

    All this to say, I believe we are ushering in a new generation of coaches, and it will take some 3-5 years until these shakeups slow down. Wade Phillips, Tom Coughlin(great coach no doubt), and Mike Shanahan may be viewing the end of the road. Only 6 current NFL head coaches have 12 yrs or more experience, so 26 teams have somewhat unproven commodities.

    Give it time, the system will work itself out.

  6. What about great college coaches like Nick Saban or Butch Davis who are unable to win in the pros?

  7. Not a Pats fan, actually hate the Pats but I have a great deal of respect for Belichick.

    All good points on Reid, however I think he if were to swallow some pride and become a coordinator for the Eagles, they would be much better off.

    Jim Harbaugh is the perfect example of a great college coach that was hired. Jim Caldwell is merely just a stooge, I think we all know Peyton is running that team. Josh McDaniels is terrible, he's gutted that team of talent in only a couple of years. Tomlin is obviously a great coach, and its not like teams should never hire coordinators as head coaches, you just have to realize success as a coordinator and a head coach are almost completely different so you're taking a big risk if that coordinator has no head coach experience.

    Nick Saban and Butch Davis are interesting because they came from two very large programs in LSU and Miami. How much of their success was due to amazing recruiting and how much was due to great coaching ability? Nick Saban I believe is a very good coach and he only had two seasons for the dolphins, one of which was a winning season, so I don't think we really got to see if he could be a good NFL head coach. Butch Davis had the unfortunate circumstance of being the head coach of the Browns, although his tenure under them wasn't all that bad. Overall though, I would tend to shy away from the biggest of programs with the most talent, in order to find a truly great college head coach that would make a great NFL head coach.