Since only four of the current league owners have in fact amassed their personal fortunes strictly from football; the Mara (Giants), Rooney (Steelers), and Halas families (Bears), along with the Raiders Al Davis, it is no surprise that when faced with the task of to selecting the lifeblood of their football club, the head coach, I believe most of the current team owners are totally out of their element.
Think about it for a moment. What does being a buying real estate, building malls, selling burgers, automobiles, pharmaceutical, insurance, bank services, being involved in high tech, oil and gas or the banking industry have to do with hiring a football coach? Well the answer to this question is "probably nothing".
Because of this fact, owners over the years have resorted to a number of not-so-scientific methods for making one of the most critical football decisions they will make. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.
One of the most popular of these methods is hiring a coach from, “The Old Boy Network.” Nothing is probably safer in the eyes of many of these owners than hiring a recycled coach who has been-there and done-that. Marty Schottenheimer, Dom Capers, Wade Phillips, Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt are just some of these modern-day coaches that fit this particular profile. Some of these mostly unsuccessful coaches actually repackage themselves in the time between their head coaching gigs as assistants and once again become popular choices.
A second popular method is, “Heir Apparent Hire.” This method is mostly used by owners and GM’s alike when hiring coaches on an interim basis. With two stints, each as an interim head coaches, Rick Venturi (Colts and Saints) and Terry Robiskie (Brown and Redskins) are head and shoulders the champions in this area.
The heir apparent hire is also used to reward the loyal long time assistant; Bill Johnson replacing the great Paul Brown, the late Phil Bengston replacing Vince Lombardi, George Seifert replacing Bill Walsh and perhaps the worst ever heir apparent hire of all times: Allie Sherman replacing Jim Lee Howell with the Giants after the 1960 season.
It wasn’t that the two-time NFL Coach of the Year was a bad football coach - quite the contrary. Rather, the problem was, in hiring Sherman, the Giants bypassed two other loyal assistants by the name of Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
The third type of heir apparent hire is more of a modern phenomenon. In this particular case, an assistant coach is hired with the expressed purpose of becoming the clubs’ next head coach. Such was the case with Jim Mora Jr., hired in 2008 to replace Mike Holmgren in 2009 for the Seahawks, Jim Caldwell possibly replacing Tony Dungy with the Colts and Jason Garrett replacing Wade Phillips in Dallas in 2010.
Oh and by the way, if the Cowboys don’t challenge or win next year’s Super Bowl, you can take that last heir apparent hire to the bank!
One of my favorites is the “A plus B equals C hire.” Here’s the premise; said team has won two consecutive Super Bowl championships; their quarterback was named the leagues MVP and their defense was ranked among the leagues best, so therefore their offensive and defense coordinator are without question, the absolute best candidates for open coaching position. I can’t possibly tell you how often owners and GM’s have fallen for this highly unreliable system for selecting a head coach.
The ever popular “Flavor of the Month Hire” or as it is sometimes called, your “Media Darling Hire” is exactly what these names imply. These candidates are usually championed by a television color commentator and their behind the scenes technical accomplices. The scene usually starts with visual shots of the offensive and defensive coordinator communicating with the sidelines from up in the booth or a defensive coach franticly making situational substitutions while signaling in defensive adjustments on the sidelines. This is usually followed by the talking heads up in the booth uttering profound statements that this particular anointed assistant is one of the best young coaches in the business.
Based on what criteria?
Then there’s the popular statement: "He’s one of the hottest names in coaching and they say a certainty to be a head coach in the league next season."
The big question one must ask is; who are they?
It’s almost like hiring an attorney to handle some traffic and parking tickets, being satisfied with the results and than proclaiming him a sure-fire Attorney General!
How many meetings have these pundits attended?
How many practice sessions have they ever viewed?
Have they ever watched him teach or more importantly make a correction?
Do they know if he has the ability to handle game pressures or make adjustments?
Does he have instincts?
Does he have a coaching philosophy?
Does he have organizational skills?
Can he discipline individuals or handle off the field problems?
Does he have the ability to lead upwards of 65 coaches and players into battle for a minimum of 16 weeks during a given NFL regular season?
Aside from you, the person proclaiming his virtues, can he handle the media?
Can he work with management?
Can he put together a creditable staff?
Does he know player personnel? Believe me when I tell you there are a number of top football tacticians that don’t Tom Brady from Marcia Brady.
If you, as an owner or GM, can’t answer affirmatively to each of these questions, I believe you will destined to repeat this process again and again over the next four to five years.
When I hear an owner or GM say that they are looking for an offensive or defensive minded coach, I really question if they have even the slightest idea what they are doing? First of all, a head coach at the professional level is a CEO, first and foremost. His focus is no longer that of a position coach, but rather the program as a whole.
This may surprise you, but in actuality, the perfect candidate for a potential head coaching position is a special teams coach. Unlike a position coach who may coach as many as five individual players (offensive line coach) and as few as one player (quarterback or tight end coaches), the special teams coach is responsible for 66 individual specialized positions both offensively and defensively, is the only coach other than the head coach to conduct an entire team meeting and is entirely responsible for as many as four individual periods during a team practice session.
I’m not going to even comment on the clubs (owners, president’s or GM’s) that resort to outside individuals or head hunters in order to select an individual to lead their football team or for that matter any other executive position. With no exceptions, they should all probably be looking for a new way to make a living.