Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Head Coaching in the NFL

Joe Philbin was fired this week as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.  Joe Philbin should never have been a head coach...he is clueless.  In fact, since Bill Belichick took the helm of the Patriots, there have been 21 head coaches among the other three teams in the AFC East (Bills, Dolphins, and Jets).

I often watch football games with people who don't understand one key aspect of the NFL...the games are played by the head coaches, who decide how to use the players they have to implement the game plan.  In the 1960s, my favorite team was the Dallas Cowboys, for one reason...the head coach was Tom Landry.  For the last 15 years, I've had the privilege to root for a team with another great head coach...the Patriots and Bill Belichick.

You might say that the great coaches are successful because they have great players, but you would be wrong.  In the case of the consistently successful teams, the head coach makes the players great by designing and implementing a system and game plans that use their combined talents to achieve success.

The all-time greats include George Halas (Bears), Vince Lombardi (Packers), Tom Landry (Cowboys), Chuck Noll (Steelers), Bill Walsh (49ers), Bill Parcells (Giants), and Bill Belichick (Patriots).  There have been other, good, successful head coaches in the NFL, but these guys won consistently, with whatever talent they had available to them.

I recently attended a wedding in which a Philly fan was making a toast to a group of people from Massachusetts.  In her toast, she said, "Now I know why the Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots...Deflategate."  It made for a good laugh, but clearly she did not understand that Andy Reid had the win in hand before blowing it.  The Patriots simply executed their game plan and watched the Eagles fall apart.

There are four key aspects of great coaching: (1) building a professional, winning culture, (2) evaluating talent, (3) developing game plans, and (4) managing games.  Andy Reid is one of those coaches who is good at evaluating talent but terrible at game management.  You only have to look at this year's Kansas City Chiefs to understand that.

If you want another example, look no further than the Atlanta Falcons.  Under Mike Smith, they were a decent team that always seemed to implode, but under Dan Quinn, they are 4-0 so far and look as strong as any team in the NFL--with essentially the same talent.

If you look around the league today, there are a few other excellent head coaches like Mike McCarthy (Packers), Sean Payton (Saints), Tom Coughlin (Giants), and Pete Carroll (Seahawks).  There are a few who have potential, but it's too early to tell, including Todd Bowles (Jets), Ron Rivera (Panthers), Mike McCoy (Chargers), Bill O'Brien (Texans), and Mike Pettine (Browns).  There are also a slew of coaches who have been disappointing so far, including:
  • Chip Kelly (Eagles).  Sorry friends and family in Philly, but until he starts to manage games like a professional coach instead of a college coach, he's no better than Andy Reid.
  • Rex Ryan (Bills).  Strip away the bombast and the tough veneer, and all that's left is an average coach.
  • Chuck Pagano (Colts).  He yelled about Deflategate, but Brady could throw rocks instead of footballs and still beat Pagano's predictable teams.
  • John Harbaugh (Ravens).  He's another loudmouth whose every move is the same as the week before and the week after.
  • Marvin Lewis (Bengals).  Generally clueless, he finally had the sense to put his offense into the hands of someone really smart (Hue Jackson), and the results are showing.
  • Mike Tomlin (Steelers). His only Super Bowl win came from a team he inherited.  Now, he can't win a playoff game, even with a great offense, because he doesn't know how to adapt to game situations.
When it comes down to it, the best head coaches are playing chess while the others are playing checkers.  Do you really think that Belichick, McCarthy, or Carroll goes into a game without a unique game plan and a contingency for every move the other coach might make?  If you do, maybe you can be the next head coach of the Dolphins.

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