There was a time when a select few retread NFL head coaching jobs were passed around like jugs of moonshine. Innovative, young hustlers with no head coaching experience had little shot at leading a franchise.
But as the NFL evolves, so does the hiring philosophies of owners and general managers. These men are more willing to search outside the box and nab less-experienced cats with sick offensive resumes, in hopes of landing the next “genius” coach.
There will be eight new faces on the NFL sidelines in 2013. The last time the league went flip-city like that was in 2009. That year 11 new head coaches were hired : Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, Raheem Morris, Todd Haley, Jim Caldwell, Jim Schwartz, Mike Singletary, Tom Cable, Steve Spagnuolo, Jim Mora Jr. and Rex Ryan.
Despite mixed results, this hiring trend has continued. The major difference is that the crop of 2011 coaches were from varying NFL come-ups. In today’s NFL, the pipeline to HC is dominated by dudes with offensive backgrounds. Only one of this season’s new HCs has a defensive pedigree.
(The fact that none of these hires were minorities is a sad, stale and monotonous reality that also requires more burn in future TSL pieces.)
Newly minted Bruce Arians (Arizona) and Andy Reid (Kansas City) are also offensive livewires, but have tasted life as the top dog before. For the most part, you have an idea of what you’re getting with these guys, as far as their ability to lead men and implement a successful plan of action.
Five of the six first-time HC’s (with the exception of Gus Bradley, former defensive coordinator for a top-rated Seahawks unit) are considered QB gurus with coaching histories highlighted by gold-studded stints as offensive coordinators.
Even Bradley’s hiring is offense-based in a way, with his specialty stopping revolutionary offenses, rather than creating them. In essence, his defensive savvy is considered of equal value to a Chip Kelly’s offensive brain power. He’s a test case in building defenses that can offset the dominance of today’s frenetic offenses.
Taking chances and shifting culture is what hiring a first-year HC is all about, but we also know that the quick hook’s in effect if any of these new jacks falter. How long this non-traditional coaching trend lasts depends on what the young minds do with their shot at immortality. If these young boys can’t hack it, hiring a high-priced OG for damage control (Jon Gruden, Lovie Smith) remains an option for franchises.
The first-year sideline stalkers are Bradley, Doug Marrone in Buffalo, Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland, and Mike McCoy in San Diego.
Marrone spent the previous four years as head coach at Syracuse, leading his alma mater back to national respectability. He comes to Buffalo with a dope offensive pedigree and flosses a fast-paced, K-Gun system that has defenses sweating like a cat facing sentencing. It forces indecisiveness like short-pockets in a high-stakes poker game.
Marrone’s never ran the show, but the Bronx native has already made an impact amongst the NFL masters of cutting-edge offense. Before shattering passing records with the Orangemen, Marrone spent seven years in the NFL. He became offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (2006-08) after a four-year bid as the offensive line coach of the New York Jets from 2002-05. He built a rep by teaming with Saints HC Sean Payton to produce a juggernaut that caught wreck in NFL total offense and passing yards per game. He helped school Drew Brees to become a Super Bowl MVP and perennial 4,000-yard passer.
Marrone’s success with Brees also shows that without a quality QB, all of this “New World Offense” stuff won’t wash. Marrone can only hope first-round pick EJ Manuel’s field leadership matches his “eye-candy” status with the ladies.
Chip Kelly’s been lauded, “Master of the Spread Offense,” “The Read-Option Renegade,” “Lil’ Belichick” and “The Future.” The NFL world has been buzzing about the former Oregon coach, who is bringing his bookworm mentality and crazy collection of offensive schemes to an Eagle’s team in transition.
Kelly had historic success at Oregon with his mastery of the up-tempo spread offense by using dual-threat players. NFL execs were sweating the fact that the Ducks led the FBS in big plays, including 25-yard passing plays (220) and 25-yard rushes (110). His offense is built for mobile QBs that can make quick decisions and air it out. The Michael Vick/LeSean McCoy situation would have been perfect, say five years ago, but no one really knows if these guys are gassed or not. Vick is a concussion away from brain damage, and McCoy is a fierce, all-world talent, who’s only played a full 16-games once in his career.
One thing’s for sure, the Eagles' collapse in 2012 after a decade of Andy Reid (they lost 11 of their last 12 games after starting 3-1), has player’s embracing a new leadership voice. Will Vick & Co. have Kelly ripping his locks out by season’s end? Or will his “genius” maximize his long-toothed stars and make Philly an NFC East nuisance?
Taking the Browns job is like grabbing the discarded, burnt pancake out of a stack of fluffy, golden joints. Inheriting a franchise that’s won at least 10 games just once in the past 15 years is an almost sure disaster for a new coach, but the upside is that they’re young enough to build a new culture.
Rob Chudzinski is another guy with an extensive NFL background, coaching tight ends (Cleveland and San Diego), and last season he was OC of the Carolina Panthers. Cleveland fans are hoping “Chud” can take the Browns’ 25th-ranked offense and work some magic like he did in Carolina in 2011, when he and rookie QB Cam Newton elevated a shabby offense to top 10 status. The thing is, Brandon Weeden is no Killer Cam, and with just days left before the opener against the Dolphins, Cleveland is still terminating contracts, cleaning house and scouring the waivers for talent.
Chudzinski's vertically oriented passing attack will eventually become an effective weapon, but it’s questionable he has the pieces to make it pop right now. So instead of focusing on Ws, Chudzinski says he wants to change the culture first.
"I have a plan in place.” Chud’ told cleveland.com back in January. “The people here, we're going to get a great staff. The players…it's a young group. This is going to be about the process…A lot of times everyone is focused on the end result.”
It’s really another way of Chud saying “I have to finish getting these overpaid scrubs out, eat a couple of dirty seasons, get a few No. 1 picks, then, by about 2016 we rolling!”
For Cleveland fans, the word “playoffs” makes the Dawg Pound bark. For Chargers fans, the phrase “Air Coryell” incites electric memories. It reps a time when the Chargers offense obliterated NFL records and laid the foundation for similar Run-N-Shoot schemes of the 1990’s, and the spread/pistol systems of today.
McCoy, the league’s second-youngest head coach at 41, was one of the “hunted” this offseason. In addition to San Diego, he had the Chicago Bears, Cardinals, Eagles and Bills on his back. Now, he has to live up to that phenom status. The Chargers still have a quality QB in aging star Philip Rivers. He should be at his best with the sharp and versatile McCoy, who turned average QBs with different skill-sets in Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, into prime time players during his stints as passing coordinator and OC with the Panthers and Broncos.
For the past five years Bears rookie HC Marc Trestman has been leading, evaluating and molding gridiron gangsters as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, where he led the club to two consecutive Grey Cup championships and was named CFL Coach of the Year in 2009. The football community saw this hiring as bizarre because Trestman is a CFL guy, but he’s actually paid more dues than any of the first-timers.
Trestman is a globally respected QB specialist, having worked with studs like Steve Young, Bernie Kosar, Rich Gannon and Jake Plummer over his 30 years in pro football. He’s been an OC for four different NFL squads, including the ’95 San Francisco 49ers with Young and HOFer Jerry Rice, who once said this about Trestman:
“Marc leaves no stone unturned. It’s amazing how he can comprehend all this stuff. He…understands everything.”
That’s great news for QB Jay Cutler. If Trestman can get the talented and moody pigskin-slinger to murder Trestman’s turned-up version of the West Coast Offense—a very aggressive passing attack that utilizes slants and screens to setup longer downfield passes—then Cutler potentially gives Trestman the best QB amongst the new coaches. It also potentially puts his offense a step ahead of the other rookie coaches, who bring an energy to fan bases craving excitement and Ws. The resumes are thick, but mostly unproven.
There are no guarantees. Just two of the young guns hired in 2011 — Schwartz and Ryan — remain head coaches.
Copy-cat NFL owners are looking for excitement first. Even if they are going to be bad, they are going to at least sell some tickets with gadget plays and high-scoring games. If you don’t win, they’ll just replace you. The NFL’s game of brute strength has morphed into tactical chess, and the Bill Walsh mold is in demand. Those Bear Bryant types need to kick rocks.