Do NFL Head Coaches Need the Extra Burden of Calling Plays?

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14:  Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints watches play from the sidelines the NFC Divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  The 49ers won with a score of 36-32.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last week we took a look at the responsibilities an NFL head coach has in today’s league.

You’ll note that in that article there is no mention of calling plays. That’s because it’s not something all head coaches do.

In fact, we can have a healthy debate as to whether it even should be something head coaches should do.

The answer to that is no, most coaches absolutely shouldn’t.

Before we get into that, it’s difficult to get a firm grasp on overall how effective or useful it is for a head coach to call plays either offensively or defensively (which seems to be more rare).

In a quick Google search, you can see that there are few studies and even fewer recent articles about the pros and cons of NFL head coaches calling plays.

And some are downright useless.

If you look at some of the other pieces, such as this ESPN report from 2011 by Bill Williamson regarding the struggle of a head coach calling plays, you’d think it was always a complete disaster.

After all, all three coaches pictured in the piece are no longer head coaches. Hue Jackson was one and done in Oakland, Todd Haley’s tenure in Kansas City was a big mess and Norv Turner’s work in San Diego ended with the complete regression of Philip Rivers.

On the other hand, Bill Walsh called many of his own plays and was very successful with the 49ers.

Those two points tell you a lot of what you need to know about what coaches need to do in order to pull off calling their own plays.

A head coach has a ton of things to keep track of on a weekly basis and there are some who just can’t pull it off at all, forget adding calling plays to it.

After going through the 32 current head coaches in the NFL, eight currently call plays in addition to their regular head-coaching duties. I may be wrong on some of the first-year coaches, as we don’t know for sure what’s happening until the season really starts, but even if they all decide to call plays it’s still not quite a significant amount. One more, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan says he might be calling defensive plays this coming season.

The guys who call plays are the Packers’ Mike McCarthy, Saints’ Sean Payton, Bears’ Marc Trestman, Texans' Gary Kubiak, Cardinals’ Andy Reid, Giants' Tom Coughlin, Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and the Buccaneers’ Greg Schiano who calls defensive plays.

Other coaches will call plays sometimes but not always. Of course, all coaches will have a hand in game-planning as well as the final say on critical plays during a game.

Of the eight coaches who call plays regularly, most of them are pretty successful. Payton, McCarthy, Coughlin and Reid (despite being fired in Philadelphia) all have win/loss records which are overwhelmingly positive. Schiano is too new to really read much into his ability and Trestman hasn’t even coached a game. Carroll’s record as the Seahawks’ coach is just over .500.

However, if you look at the three coaches we mentioned a few paragraphs ago (Turner, Haley and Jackson) you can see it’s not exactly a sure thing.

Sure, three of the four most successful coach/play-callers have Super Bowl wins, but given that the majority of recent Super Bowls have been won by coaches who don’t call plays, it’s no sure thing.

We can see that while it’s possible for coaches to be successful calling plays on top of all their other duties, it takes a special kind of mind to do it well.

The best coaches are good at delegation; they know how much they can handle and are honest with themselves about what they cannot handle.

When they can put ego aside, they can be successful either calling plays or not.

In the end though, the majority of coaches have more than enough on their plate without adding full time play calling to it.

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 You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.