Picking a new coach is a tricky beast in the NFL. Teams have taken all sorts of different approaches and none seem to correlate completely with success or failure — well, except maybe the Belichick tree.
Some folks believe that you shouldn’t hire retread coaches but Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys are 12-5. Stay away from college coaches! Alright but Pete Carroll had a lot of success in Seattle and Kliff Kingsbury’s Cardinals are a legit contender. You need offensive-minded coaches these days, right? But what about Sean McDermott? Nobody wants hard-nosed football guys anymore! What about Mike Vrabel?
There’s no perfect model for picking a successful coach. However, there are some lessons we can learn from failed recent hires that could point us toward necessary qualities and point us toward some of the most likely candidates to succeed.
For example, putting someone in over their head doesn’t seem to work particularly well.
The New York Giants hired Joe Judge despite the fact he had only been a special teams coordinator for four years. Before that he was a special teams assistant with the Patriots and Alabama. From Day 1 when Judge refused to admit Daniel Jones was his starting quarterback, it appeared his perception of how NFL head coaches acted was far from reality. That carried over to silly practices like making the players do up-downs and ranting for 11 minutes during a press conference.
Anyone with common sense could have seen the Urban Meyer disaster coming because he had no NFL experience at all. He was asked to manage a group of grown men when he’d only ever bullied college kids. Meyer’s college career was also marred by drama and dysfunction. That’s another red flag. If the rumors about the Vikings’ interest Lane Kiffin are correct, this particular danger exists in hiring him. There’s even an article from 2017 titled, “The wild history of Lane Kiffin’s dramatic coaching departures.”
In Cincinnati, things have quieted down around Zac Taylor because of the emergence of Joe Burrow as an elite quarterback this year but in his first two seasons there were reports of the team having culture and communication problems. Taylor had been bumped from Sean McVay’s QB coach to a head coach within just a few seasons.
Adam Gase’s tenure in Miami was volatile with one report coming after his firing that he, “yelled at the owner about knowing more about football than he did. Multiple sources say a high-ranking club official had to intervene.” Gase’s first press conference with the Jets was bizarre and his tenure turned into a parody of hilariously bad coaching.
Matt Patricia was an egomaniacal bully who hid a sexual assault accusation from his team in the interview process. Yet the Lions still kept him on.
If we look through the resumes of recent successful hires like Frank Reich in Indianapolis, Matt LaFleur in Green Bay, Sean McDermott in Buffalo, you would be hard pressed to find previous drama or red flags.
So if the criteria for avoiding disaster is finding head coaches who are prepared for their roles and do not have a background with glaring issues, who does that leave us?
Well, a good number of candidates. Three that particularly stand out are Byron Leftwich, Kellen Moore and Nate Hackett.
Leftwich, who played in the NFL for five different franchises before becoming a QBs coach and then an OC, was hand picked by Bruce Arians to operate Tom Brady’s offense in Tampa Bay.
“I was very, very pissed that Byron didn’t at least get an interview this year. For the job that he’s done . . . I think I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done,” Arians said this week.
While having Brady is a massive advantage, Brady’s numbers have also skyrocketed over the last two years. He led the NFL in passing with 312 yards per game as Leftwich has, so to speak, collaborated with him on the Bucs’ offense.
That’s another potential pitfall when hiring coaches. They all present themselves as wanting to empower those around them but having a track record of actually doing that is favorable. Leftwich’s NFL experience would seem to make it less likely of potentially alienating players.
The same could be said for Dallas’ Kellen Moore, who served as a backup QB and then jumped immediately to OC. Moore has now worked under two different HCs, which is rare, and succeeded offensively with both.
Hackett, the current OC for the Packers, has slowly worked his way into contention for head coaching jobs, from working quality control in the early 2000s to OC positions with the Bills, Jaguars and Green Bay.
Certainly Aaron Rodgers, like Brady and Dak Prescott, has helped put Hackett at the forefront of conversation for a head coaching job but the Packers overhauled their offense when LaFleur and Hackett arrived and have helped boost Rodgers back to the top of the MVP race.
Buffalo’s Brian Daboll could be included in this category. He did what the Vikings refused to do with Stefon Diggs. Indy’s Matt Eberflus and Kansas City’s Eric Bieniemy are proven coordinators without our aforementioned red flags, too.
Doug Pederson did have some drama at the end of his era in Philadelphia but his resume includes a Super Bowl ring with Nick Foles, hence why he will be a sought-after candidate. He falls more under the category of Mike McCarthy or Bruce Arians as coaches who have proven that they can win in the NFL. There aren’t too many of those on the market each year.
So as the Vikings prepare to hire a GM and head coach, we can all acknowledge that predicting whether the next leader of the franchise will be a home run or strikeout isn’t easy but if their chances for landing a quality coach can increase by focusing on what types of things they do not want as much as the traits they do.