NFL Head Coaching Crisis: The Fatal Flaws Of Coordinator Coaches
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Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, Brad Childress, Andy Reid, Mike McCarthy and Lovie Smith: 424-342 is the combined win-loss record of these coaches, which comes out to a 55.0 winning percentage. That is a pretty good percentage considering how hard it is to consistently win in the NFL.
But all these coaches share another thing in common: zero Super Bowl rings.
The coaches listed above 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 because they never think the answer is that simple, but in reality it is. 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 fourth down decisions are all plaguing these teams.
While the aforementioned flaws may not result in a losing record, they do prevent a team from winning the Super Bowl.
Take Brad Childress in Minnesota's loss to Green Bay earlier this year. He could have challenged a play that was incorrectly ruled a touchdown, thus saving his team four points, but he failed to do so.
How much did the Vikings lose by? Four 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 two-point conversion—he even has a chart to help him decide!
Statistics show that 46.12 percent of all NFL games during the last 20 years have been decided by seven 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 that 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 top offense and defense in the league, yet he has a losing record due to terrible specials teams and stupid turnovers.
Wade Phillips' 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. Further, the Patriots are consistently at the top of the league in turnover differential.
Do you think that Belichick would allow Jay Cutler to throw four picks to DeAngelo Hall? Belichick is also not afraid to go for it on crucial fourth down situations when the statistics don't favor it, even though most coaches would play it safe.
Belichick famously gave up a safety instead of risking giving the ball to his opponent in great field position. He 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 three Super Bowls in four years and consistently make the playoffs. Players come and go for the Pats, but Belichick remains. His secret to success isn’t amazing game plans and innovative plays, but 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 under 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 hiss success.
Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Eric Mangini received head coaching jobs, but have only one playoff appearance among them. Teams that make these hires 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. The same thing has happened with the 3-4 defense.
Coaches study so much game film from that 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 as 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. Assistants don't have to deal with fourth down decisions, clock management, motivation, penalties and turnovers. Those areas 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 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 make it.
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 experience.
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.
Dom Capers, who has already failed twice as a head coach, is absolutely thriving as defensive coordinator of the Packers. It’s about time the rest of NFL wises up and realizes that the head coaching job is about the simple things, something that most coordinators do not do well.
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