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NFL history points to success of offensive head coaches

Howard Balzer Avatar
January 27, 2023

A look at the teams playing for the right to advance to Super Bowl XLVII as well as league hiring practices over the last 10 years shows that Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill hasn’t cast as wide of a net as he could in the search for the team’s next head coach.

While the Red Sea waits to see if Bidwill can come to terms with Sean Payton, as well as the Saints, aside from Payton and Frank Reich, who was hired by the Carolina Panthers, the remainder of the candidates known publicly are all coaches with a defensive background.

That is opposite of the NFL trend that is clear for everyone to see.

Let’s look at recent history.

In the “it’s time for a change” world that is NFL head coaching, there have been a mind-boggling 69 head coaches hired in the last 10 seasons through 2022. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that’s an average of basically seven new coaches every year. In the last five years, the total is 37, which is right there at seven per year.

This year, there has been only five, which happened only twice (2017 and 2020) since 2013. There were 10 in 2022, eight in 2016 and 2019, seven in 2014, 2018 and 2021, and six in 2013 and 2015.

Stability and continuity are not words to describe organizations, unless it’s the Steelers, which is on their third coach since 1969.

The lack of continuity extends to offensive coordinators because 46 of the 69 head coaches hired have come from that side of the ball. In the last five years, it’s 25 of 37, so essentially two of every three coaches hired have an offensive background. In the last four cycles, it was 21 of 30.

It can be argued that defensive coordinators are often better leaders and have what many general managers describe as a head coaching personality.

However, those coaches have to hire an offensive coordinator and the reality is that if there is success, he will be hired as a head coach somewhere.

Look no further than Dan Quinn, currently the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator and former Falcons head coach. After losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI (2016 season), offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departed for the 49ers and the Falcons were never the same. Quinn was fired after five games of the 2020 season and the next Atlanta coach was Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid can lose coordinators Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy to head coaching opportunities, but the offense is Reid’s and the transition is seamless. After the 2021 season, Shanahan lost offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to the Dolphins and the 49ers are currently without an offensive coordinator.

This Sunday, the four teams in the conference championship games are led by offensive coaches: Reid in Kansas City, Zac Taylor in Cincinnati, Shanahan in San Francisco and Nick Sirianni in Philadelphia.

Only one team that lost in the divisional round has a defensive coach: Buffalo’s Sean McDermott. The others were Pederson in Jacksonville, Mike McCarthy in Dallas and Brian Daboll with the Giants.

Last season was also a clean sweep in the conference title games with Reid and Taylor in the AFC and Shanahan and Sean McVay in the NFC. The four divisional round losers were split evenly with defensive coaches McDermott and Mike Vrabel in the AFC and offensive leaders Matt LaFleur and Bruce Arians in the NFC.

If Payton ends up in Arizona, he will still have his work cut out with quarterback Kyler Murray having to learn a new offense and likely not being able to practice it on the field until at least October.

However, a defensive coach could have an even tougher road finding leadership for the offense, especially if he’s a first-time head coach and expected to change the team’s fortunes as quickly as possible amid the Murray conundrum.

While the fan base wouldn’t be enamored with the elevation of Vance Joseph to head coach, it might be a prescient move if Joseph has designs on promoting offensive coaches Cam Turner and Spencer Whipple.

The latter called plays in the 2020 victory over the Browns when Kliff Kingsbury was sidelined by COVID-19. Turner and Whipple were co-passing game coordinators last season and Turner was also the quarterbacks coach.

For the sake of continuity, that wouldn’t be a bad way for Bidwill to go if Payton isn’t landed.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

 

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