A Detailed List of an NFL Coach's Responsibility
We see them in press conferences after games, during the combine and yelling on the sideline each Sunday, but very few of even the most intense fans know what an NFL head coach does.
It really varies from coach to coach and from team to team. Every team has a fit they like, and every coach has a way he likes to handle things.
Some are more hands on than others, such as Bill Parcells, who wanted to be in charge of obtaining players as well as coaching.
But there are some very consistent and regular things an NFL coach is responsible for.
Here's a list of those.
It’s a coach’s job to hit the game tape almost immediately after the game is over. Even while on airplanes taking the team back from away games, an NFL head coach is trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
And most importantly how to fix what didn’t work.
By Monday morning, he’s got his ideas; so does his staff. Gathering the staff's opinions, weighing them and applying them are a big part of his job as well.
Which leads us to responsibility number two.
Implementing whatever he (and his staff) learned from the preceding game is only part of getting ready for the next week.
The coach will also look at the last game or two of the team's upcoming opponent.
It's his job to use all of that information. He must work with his assistant coaches, and both his offensive and defensive coordinator to come up with a way to beat the next team.
Again, some coaches will listen more to their subordinates, while others will do most of the heavy lifting themselves.
This is an ongoing process for teams. Yes, they have a day to install a game plan (usually Wednesday or Thursday), but ultimately they'll tweak it right up until game time based on player injuries, how their team is executing and even things like weather.
Practice makes perfect
All the while, the head coach is making sure things get done on the practice field.
Some coaches might run specific positions; some may run the entire offense or defense. Often though, a coach will try to take a wider view so he can see what his team is and isn't doing well.
Managing the practice routine gives him a chance to see that the adjustments the team needs to make get done correctly.
What time is it? Game time!
When the day of the game comes, a head coach is still tweaking his game plan.
During the game, his job is to continue making adjustments based on the success, or failure, of the plan he an his staff have put together during the week.
He needs to keep that "bird's eye view" of the action in the sense that he needs to know what is happening with every aspect of his team.
How is the quarterback holding up after that big hit in the first quarter? Is his middle linebacker handling that hamstring strain? Why is the star wide receiver dropping balls? How can he replace the running back who just got carted off the field?
All of these these things and much more are under his purview. All of the information that he gathers goes into adjusting the game plan he worked on all week so that it works in the second half.
Most of the major decisions come down to the head coach as well.
Sure, the offensive coordinator might call the plays, but the head coach is the one who pushes for that big fourth down play or fake field goal attempt.
It's the head coach who will be facing the press corps after the game to talk about every decision he's made.
He also needs to be sure about how his players are holding up physically.
Decisions like Washington head coach Mike Shanahan allowing Robert Griffin III to continue playing on a clearly hurt leg are one's that head coaches constantly have to make. We can argue whether he was right or wrong to do so, but the bottom line is that it's the head coach's call.
Not the coordinator, not even Griffin. That falls on the head coach—he carries the weight of that decision regardless of what the aftermath looks like.
Aside from all the weekly game day preparations, an NFL head coach has some other responsibilities.
Depending on the coach, his involvement can be major or minor.
Buying the groceries in free agency and the NFL draft
"They want you to cook the dinner at least they should let you shop for the groceries."
Parcells had a lot of good quotes on coaching, but the above one is probably the most well-known.
The fact is though, some coaches do not excel in player evaluation— especially when it comes to the guys they aren't coaching at the time. Parcells had a keen eye for talent but still probably had more misses than hits. Not every coach can do what he did.
Whether a head coach is good at evaluating talent or not, he has to be involved. He at least needs to tell his general manager and owner what he needs and what he's looking for. He has to watch film on a player the team is thinking of signing or drafting.
He has to be involved in the process. It's his job to to make that final call in conjunction with the general manager.
Some owners and general managers will do whatever they want, of course, but that's a poor way to run a team. Any coach whose owner is imposing his will on a team too much is being set up to fail.
And any general manager who cannot or will not work with a coach to get the guys he needs is doing his job poorly as well.
Not every coach should be buying the groceries, but he should at least be involved in figuring out what brand of groceries are needed to make the list.
Schemes and formations
While the offensive and defensive coordinators are ultimately in charge of designing and implementing schemes, the head coach is the one who is ultimately providing the larger framework that they are working in.
A defensive coordinator who loves to run a base 3-4 isn't going to be brought in by a coach who believes a 4-3 is the best way to go. An offensive coordinator who loves the ground and pound isn't getting hired by a coach who wants to use the spread or read-option.
Some coaches have a trademark "way" of doing things, and some coaches are flexible in their approach.
But their name is on the stationery, and they're the guys who decide the direction team is going to go in. It's the coordinator's job to implement that direction.
A lot of things can be put under this umbrella. Leading the team includes being a dedicated professional in meetings, praising or punishing a player and making sure the team holds together when things get rough during a game.
The head coach needs to teach his players how to act both on and off the field. This is why we sometimes talk about teams taking on the personalities of their coaches.
A coach who falls apart on the sideline isn't usually going to get his team to rally around him for a late comeback. A coach who lets his players walk all over him isn't going to get his team to win.
A head coach needs to lead on and off the field—in and out of the locker room.
It's his job.
That includes dealing with the media. There are right and wrong ways to deal with the media, and how the team does it can be influenced by how their coach does it.
There are lots of things that differ from team to team and coach to coach; variations on the theme, if you will.
However, the list above hits on the major things required of an NFL head coach.
Of course, the biggest and most important job of an NFL is simple: to win football games.
Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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