Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Coaching Conundrum: What Exactly Do You Know?

Tom Coughlin in happier times. Mandatory Credit: Julio Cortez 
With the regular season now over, and with a week to go before the Wildcard weekend, the dominant national story coming out of the NFL concerns the head coaching vacancies popping up around the league.  At this point, it’s an annual tradition to race to twitter following the final Sunday of the regular season to figure out what head coaches (and likely their staffs) will be changing jobs. 

This year’s drama has an assortment of narratives and characters; but what may be lost in some of the conversations being had about head coaches is that fans don’t really know what makes for a good coach.  Certainly we see the product on the field, which is ultimately how they are judged, but wins and losses are generally the entire litmus test for what determines who fans will be clamoring for come hiring and firing time. Perhaps that makes sense, but what does one do with Bill Belichick’s head coaching record of (41-55) through his first six seasons in the NFL?

There’s another reason regular fans can’t truly understand all what separates good and bad coaches—in order to truly get it, one must follow a coach and watch his  actions throughout the week and how he manipulates games with his decision-making.  No regular fan has the type of access or time to follow each coach closely enough to make an informed decision regarding a head coach’s relative talent.  

Moreover, with a plethora of “former” (as you’ll see from the list later on in the piece, many coaches get recycled) coaches serving as analysts, the desire to avoid offending a member of the coaching fraternity means the most critical assessments of coaches largely go unspoken.

Even with all the confusion surrounding what constitutes a “good head coach” the commodity most being traded in at the start of the offseason for most teams is hope.  Maybe that hot new coordinator can make the leap to being a great head coach and pull a miserable fan base out of the muck. Or maybe that veteran coach who just can’t seem to get over the hump will finally find the fit and correct personnel to stick in a spot longer than a few seasons.

Definite Coaching Changes:

Tom Coughlin: The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach won’t be back for his 13th season with the NY Giants.  If you were wondering how much equity you can buy with two championships, Coughlin certainly found out for you.  After only winning six games this season, it has been three years since his last winning season.  He also was at the helm of an expansion team in Jacksonville and led them to the AFC championship game. There have been lots of highs and lows for the coach that, even at the age of 69, may still have suitors for his services.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons

Chip Kelly: The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t even let Kelly finish his third season, opting to fire him in the penultimate week of the regular season. Whether it was the allegations of racism or not being allowed to finish the season, it seems that Kelly was having trouble relating to others—an important skill for an NFL head coach.

Jim Tomsula: After only one season as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Tomsula was relieved of his coaching duties.  If we’re being honest, it kind of always felt like Tomsula would’ve had to have a miraculous season to keep his job.  Tomsula (formerly the team’s offensive line coach) was given the job after Jim Harbaugh and the front office seemed unable to get along.  In essence, Tomsula ‘s tenure was always meant to be a stopgap until the team could figure out where to go long term.  Not surprisingly, the team has already been linked to Chip Kelly and Mike Shanahan.

Mike Pettine: Pettine lost his job after only two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.  As a head coach, he was 10-22 but perhaps more troubling for Browns fans is the list of coaches and execs they’ve had since their return to the NFL (MMQB's Jenny Vrentas details the extent of the inconsistency within the franchise). Hard to believe that franchise will experience any continued success with so much upheaval in their front offices, regardless of who calls the plays on Sundays.

Final Notes:

There are some other positions that are still in limbo; Sean Payton may be leaving the Saints for the right compensation.  Dan Campbell was given interim head coaching status in Miami after Joe Philbin was fired in-season.  According to ESPN, Campbell will have an opportunity to interview for the permanent position during their search. A similar situation has played out in Tennessee, as Ken Wisenhunt was fired in November and Mike Mularkey finished the season—he will also be allowed to interview for that job during their search.

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