Analyzing Trends of Failing NFL Head Coaches

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IOctober 11, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 30:  Head Coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets walks on the sidelines against the Philadelphia Eagles during their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 30, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The hot seat—football's proverbial pressure cooker.

A place no NFL coach wants to find his behind. 

Sometimes, head coaches are fired for blatantly obvious reasons—a 1-15 campaign or clear mismanagement of his roster. In other instances, a firing is met with criticism or a perception that the coach wasn't given a fair chance to succeed. 

Either way, there are similarities that ultimately link the group of failing NFL head men, an assortment of recurring trends present in most of the current hot-seat situations. 

Let's examine the commonalities that exist between today's failing head coaches. 

Bad Quarterback Play 

Go ahead, call me Captain Obvious. 

Whether it's been a team's failure to acquire a steady signal-caller or simply inconsistent play by a quarterback from a prior coaching regime, this is the foundational ingredient to eventually getting yourself fired in the NFL. 

Pat Shurmur, the Cleveland Browns' head coach who's compiled a 4-17 record during his head-coaching tenure, is a prime example of this. 

Colt McCoy was clearly not effective or accurate enough to be the team's quarterback of the future. While I respect the Browns organization's decision to look for an upgrade at the game's most critical position, Brandon Weeden was an extremely questionable first-round pick, and he's underwhelmed to begin his career.

They say the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and while that's almost grotesquely cliche, it's undeniably true. 

The ripple effect of a poised and accurate quarterback who's capable of frequently delivering in the clutch, has an immeasurably large reach. 

Rex Ryan, another "failing" NFL coach, married himself to Mark Sanchez when the team decided to trade up to pick Sanchez in the 2009 draft, and now, he's paying for it. 

Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey, though hired in 2010 to coach a team not loaded with a tremendous amount of offensive talent, has remained steadfast in his support of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick when it's clear that the Harvard alum, to a certain degree, is holding back the Bills due to lack of arm strength and general inaccuracy. 

Even Jim Schwartz, a guy who many lauded as an up-and-coming head coach after leading the Detroit Lions to a 10-6 record in 2011, has seen his club fall well short of expectations to start the year. While there are many reasons for the shockingly slow beginning, it should come as no surprise that Matt Stafford, the 5,000-yard passer of a year ago, has thrown three touchdowns and four interceptions and has a rather pedestrian 81.6 QB rating. 

Tony Romo's play definitely hasn't benefitted Jason Garrett, has it? 

Many times in the NFL, a coach is only as good as his quarterback. 

Now, obviously, a coach can only work with what's provided to him, but he's not totally out of the loop when it comes to personnel decisions made by the general manager. 

In other words, if I were an NFL head coach, the first thing I'd be vying for, thoroughly researching to find and working tirelessly to develop is a good quarterback. 


Mind-numbing penalties typically separate the great teams from the bad ones and the coaches with job security from the ones in the unemployment line. 

The Top 10 most penalized teams in the NFL last season combined to win an average of 6.8 games. 


I think not. 

Schwartz's Lions had the third-most penalties. Jason Garrett's Cowboys? The fourth-most. Gailey's Bills, the sixth-most. In all likelihood, much of the reason why Hue Jackson was fired in Oakland was due to the team's 163 penalties, which was nearly 30 more flags than Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks. 

The lack of discipline is typically an extension of the man in charge, and discipline is undeniably a vital aspect of being a cohesive and successful football team. 

A lot of what makes a team undisciplined, I believe, is bad preparation. 

Who's that on? 

The head coach. 

Remember, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. 

Failure to Evolve

This is the most overlooked but seemingly crucial aspect of being a fantastic coach in the NFL and what many of today's failing coaches have failed to do. 

Quick, who's the best coach in the NFL? 

Bill Belichick, right? 

The vast majority would say so. 

What has he done throughout his illustrious tenure in New England? 

Constantly stayed ahead of the curve. 

With a legend under center like Tom Brady, it would have been easy for Belichick to become complacent. However, he's avoided complacency at all costs. 

There are too many brilliant football minds coaching in the NFL—guys with immense experience—to get complacent on either side of the football. 

I won't waste your time explaining all the different personnel and schematic alterations the Patriots have made during the Belichick-Brady era, but think about how they've implemented slightly varying offensive attacks nearly every season.

You probably wouldn't believe it if I told you the Patriots lead the NFL in rushing attempts through five weeks this season. 

They do, with 191. 

The adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" absolutely does not apply to professional football. At all. 

Belichick has continually adopted new ideologies and taken a progressive approach to his coaching. Many failing coaches have not. (I haven't forgotten, obviously, that having Tom Brady has made everything a little easier.)

Gailey's offensive system has remained unchanged during his tenure in Buffalo. Though injuries haven't helped the Bills over the last year and a half, teams caught on to the Bills' short-and-quick-spread passing game after the team got off to a hot start in 2011. Buffalo finished the year 6-10. 

What has Detroit done differently? 

No, I don't know the smallest intricacies on either side of the ball, but Calvin Johnson, deservedly, is the prominent feature of the offense. Now, teams have limited his productivity because they know what's coming when they play the Lions.

Certainly, Megatron should be the focal point of the Lions' offensive attack, but after starting 1-3, an attempt at keeping the opposition honest with a greater emphasis on running the football might work. 

The struggling Lions should try it. 

Rex Ryan thinking a traditional ground-and-pound attack would flourish after years of that being the mantra of the Jets' offense has clearly been proved wrong, especially when the talent at key positions to enact such an offense is clearly lacking. 

What's made Belichick wildly consistent and accomplished is that his systems have catered to the talent with which he's been provided. He's highlighted the supreme talent and hasn't forced the issue. But most importantly, he's kept everyone guessing. 

When we look at the seemingly growing number of failing coaches in today's NFL, it's plain to see that they're deficient in one, two or all of the following areas—quarterback play, discipline and willingness to evolve. 

That's why they're moving onto the hot seat. 


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