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Rules to Follow When Hiring an NFL Head Coach

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots watches the action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2017

In an age of instant information and sharing, there are lists and rules for everything. How to tie a tie. How to parallel park. How to make your own beer. But there is no definitive list of rules for hiring an NFL head coach. Until now.

After spending a week digging through available NFL statistics and data (thank you, Pro Football Reference), I've come up with a surefire list for league owners looking to hire their next head coach. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but for NFL owners and general managers, this is a great place to start.

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Head coach Greg Schiano holds his head during the fourth quarter of their 23-3 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 22, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

 

1. The Greg Schiano Rule

"Never hire a college coach who didn't dominate at that level."

Before taking over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Schiano served as the head coach for Rutgers. In his 11 years there, he won 68 games while losing 67. Not exactly a record that would instill confidence in professional football players.

Schiano's inability to win at Rutgers—no matter the level of competition or recruiting battles—should have been an indicator of what to expect in the NFL. Add in his epic-sized ego and you have a recipe for disaster.

Another example that comes to mind is when Mike Riley left Oregon State in 1999 with an 8-14 record for the San Diego Chargers and fell on his face. The moral of the story: If you're going to hire a college coach, he'd better be good. Like Jimmy Johnson good.

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30:  Head coach Romeo Crennel of the Kansas City Chiefs watches the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 30, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

 

2. The Romeo Crennel Rule

"Never hire a Bill Belichick coordinator."

Bill Belichick has been wildly successful as an NFL head coach—especially with his three Super Bowl titles in New England. In a copycat league, it makes sense that teams would want to hire coaches who have worked and learned under Belichick.

You should ignore that temptation at all costs.

Belichick's proteges have been terrible as NFL head coaches. Nick Saban (15-17 all time), Jim Schwartz (25-44 all time), Josh McDaniels (11-17 all time), Romeo Crennel (28-55 all time), Eric Mangini (33-47 all time) and Al Groh (9-7 all time) are prime examples in why you must stay away from the Belichick coaching tree when it comes to NFL jobs.

Oddly enough, Belichick's former assistants have gone on to great success in college football. Saban, Kirk Ferentz, Groh, Pat Hill and Bill O'Brien count themselves as members of the Belichick tree. 

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 06:  Head Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks reacts on the sideline during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 6, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

 

3. The Pac-12 Rule

"Do hire former Pac-12 coaches."

Jimmy Johnson made a splash when he left the University of Miami (FL) for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. After he won two quick Super Bowls, everyone in the NFL started taking the college game much more seriously. That resulted in failed experiments like Dennis Erickson, Mike Riley and Steve Spurrier. After several notable failures, many teams started staying away from the college ranks. Those days have changed.

If you're looking for a new head coach and want to tap the college game, check out the play on the West Coast. Especially in the Pac-12.

Three current NFL coaches—Chip Kelly, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll—all came to the big leagues from the Pac-12 (or 10) and have found the pro game to be favorable to their coaching styles. Harbaugh has been to two straight NFC Championship Games, Carroll has one of the NFL's winningest teams over the last two seasons in his latest stint as an NFL head coach, and Kelly's up-tempo offense has the Eagles competing in the NFC East one season after finishing dead last in the division.

Who's next? Stanford's David Shaw and Washington's Steve Sarkisian are two names to keep an eye on for the future. 

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 29:  Head coach Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons looks on during the first quarter against the New England Patriots during the game at Georgia Dome on September 29, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

 

4. The Defensive Coordinator Rule

"Always hire a defensive coordinator over an offensive coordinator."

Going back the last 10 years, only 20 percent of all Super Bowl winners were coached by previous NFL offensive coordinators. Those two, Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy, also had/have future Hall of Famers at quarterback. If the numbers never lie, go with a defensive coordinator when considering which side of the ball to focus on.

It seems logical that in an era of offensive superpowers in the NFL, that you would want an offensively minded coach running the team. That's not proven to be true. While it's a good idea to hire quarterback-based coaches (more on that later), offensive coordinators simply haven't proven to be great investments as head coaches over the last decade.

The winningest coaches of the last 10 years—Belichick, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin, John Fox, Marvin Lewis—all came from the defensive side of the ball. 

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Singletary of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sideline at the Edward Jones Dome on December 26, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Rams beat the 49ers 25-17. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

 

5. The Mike Singletary Rule

"Never hire a former NFL player."

Who better to relate to current NFL players than a former NFL player, right? Wrong.

Former players rarely make good NFL coaches. They almost never become great coaches.

In the last 25 years, only three times did a former player win a Super Bowl. Sean Payton, Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher are the only ones to go from NFL players to Super Bowl-winning head coaches. 

Taking that one step further, of the 13 coaches who have won more than two Super Bowls, only three played in the NFL. They're Chuck Noll, Tom Landry and Tom Flores—and the last championship either of them won came in 1983. That's a 30-year stretch of a former player not winning more than one Super Bowl.

Good coaches can come from the ranks of former players. Great coaches spend their early 20s and 30s studying film and learning the intricacies of coaching—not playing.

Of course, there is one exception...

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers high-fives Frank Gore #21 against the Houston Texans during their game at Candlestick Park on October 6, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Imag
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

 

6. The Harbaugh-Payton Rule

"Do hire former NFL quarterbacks."

Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton have done alright as NFL coaches. In their short careers, the two have combined to win two conference titles and 94 wins in just 138 games. Not bad for a couple of former NFL quarterbacks (albeit one with very minimal experience).

When looking at current head coaches who also played the position, you can also throw in Gary Kubiak, who served as John Elway's backup in Denver before moving into coaching. Kubiak may be on the hot seat right now, but he has 61 career wins and taken the Houston Texans to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Another former quarterback, albeit at the college level, won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You know him as broadcaster Jon Gruden, but before his coaching days, he served as the starting quarterback for the University of Dayton.

The proof is in the numbers. Former QBs do better than any other position in the modern era. And that makes perfect sense, as today's quarterbacks must be equal parts CEO, head coach and player.

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 7: Head Coach Steve Spurrier of the South Carolina Gamecocks heads off the field after the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

 

7. The SEC Rule

"Never hire an SEC head coach."

Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier. 

Two of the biggest names in coaching over the last decade, and they all struck out in the NFL after dominating in the mecca of college football—the SEC.

It will be tempting for current owners to look to college football's power conference for candidates, but the writing is on the wall: Stay away. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin may seem enticing, but Saban was an even better coach when the Miami Dolphins "stole" him away from LSU.

There might be an exception to every rule—and maybe Sumlin will be that guy—but, to date, NFL teams have regretted it every time. Let history be your guide on this one.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head Coach Kevin Sumlin of the Texas A&M Aggies on the sidelines during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Aggies defeated the Razorbacks 45-3
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

 

8. The Outlier Rule

"Always be open to new ideas."

If all rules were followed, Mike Tomlin would have lost the Pittsburgh Steelers job to Ken Whisenhunt, Tom Coughlin would be coaching college football, and Mike McCarthy would still be an offensive coordinator somewhere. Rules are made to be broken—but you better be sure that you're right.

 

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