Want a great head coach for your NFL team?
Then ditch the coaching merry-go-round and look for an on-field CEO
All 22 normally focuses on on-field performance. But this week, something different. I want to introduce you to one of my many unique football theories. If you like it, maybe I can share more in the future. If you don’t like it, then I will definitely share more in the future. Let me hear from you.
We are less than a week away from “Black Monday,” the day after the last week of the NFL regular season. It is the day when many failed coaches are fired. Immediately, the newly coachless organizations begin the search for a new coach. Every year, the latest batch of on-field failures repeat the ineffective coach search strategy that landed them with their last loser head coach.
The teams compile a list of the most effective offensive and defensive coordinators and enter into a slow form of speed dating, where the potential coaches travel from team to team, selling themselves. It makes sense until you actually think about it.
- Coordinator X is a great coach
- We need a new head coach
- Let’s hire coordinator X
The logic appears sound. But it is flawed because the skills that are required to become a successful coordinator are not the same skills required to become a successful head coach. Let me demonstrate my point by applying that same logic to the players. Von Miller is the best football player on the Denver Broncos’ roster, so they should make him the starting quarterback. Absurd, right? Miller is a perfect pass rusher and very few of those skills would help him succeed at quarterback.
The analogy is imperfect, but you get the point. Effective coordinators have shown an ability to find and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents, through immersive film study, creative play design and astute playcalling. None of that would help them in their new duties as head coach. As the cliché goes, head coaches are the CEO of a team. Like CEOs, they should be concerned with long-term strategic planning and decision-making, managing the cultural and emotional well-being of the team and acting as the face of the organization. Those things don’t sound like coaching, but they have as much of an impact on a team’s success as game planning.
Too many head coaches underestimate the importance of their new CEO duties and focus on the side of the ball that brought them success. The impact of that on a team is not unlike what happens in other organizations: There is no strategic cohesion, long-term awareness and a culture of apathy develops. In football, those issues manifest themselves in a few ways: poor clock management, indecisiveness at important moments, missed assignments by players, disgruntled players, harmful leaks to the media, etc.
Some new head coaches go the other way and completely abandon their past as a coordinator, focusing on their responsibilities as a head coach. While I think that tact is more likely to produce success, it is also flawed. In this scenario, the organization is paying the coach more to do what he is good at less often.
But don’t worry, I have the solution. First, teams should not value head coaches more than coordinators. Why not pay the Atlanta Falcons’ Kyle Shanahan $10 million a year to be your offensive coordinator? He is certainly worth it. Next, put coaches through a management combine of sorts, meant to assess their communication skills, emotional intelligence and strategic-planning skills. Then interview players who have played for him. With those data points, I think a team would at least be using the best criteria to tell if a coach has the ability to be a good head coach. Finally, they should be sent through head coaching training. Much like a player is more likely to perform well in a game if he has practiced a particular scenario, a head coach will make better decisions if he has learned about the potential results before being faced with a dilemma.
I know this all sounds odd, but in a league that tries to legislate parity through salary caps and scheduling, there are very few areas where a competitive advantage can be gained. This is one way to try to create an advantage. For the teams that find themselves out of the playoffs every year, rethinking hiring practices seems like a small risk to take.