Smiler11

The NFL’s search for the next Sean McVay has created a new role: Head Coach of the Defense

11 posts in this topic

The NFL’s search for the next Sean McVay has created a new role: Head Coach of the Defense

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy hired Chuck Pagano, shown here before Monday's game versus the Redskins, as his defensive coordinator in part due to his previous head coaching experience.  (Patrick Semansky) Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy hired Chuck Pagano, shown here before Monday's game versus the Redskins, as his defensive coordinator in part due to his previous head coaching experience. (Patrick Semansky)

By 
September 25, 2019

During a Thursday night game in September 2017, Sean McVay sat on a sideline water cooler and swiped through images on a tablet. He reviewed plays from the Los Angeles Rams’ previous offensive drive, neglecting the Rams’ defense on the field.

At the time, the image prompted confusion and questions. McVay, 31, was in his first year as head coach. He had to explain that he wanted to prepare upcoming play-calls and had no qualms leaving Wade Phillips, his 70-year-old defensive coordinator, in total control.

“That was a big deal a couple years ago when Sean first did it,” said Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president of football operations. “Now it is nearly commonplace.”

In the two years since, McVay has morphed from novelty to prototype. As franchises have sought to hire young, innovative, offensive play-calling head coaches such as McVay, who led the Rams to last season’s Super Bowl, one side effect has been the shifting demographics and responsibilities of NFL defensive coordinators. It has created a swell of experienced, overqualified defensive assistants hired to help their baby-faced bosses find their way.

This season, 14 teams employ a defensive coordinator who used to be a head coach, and 10 of them work under head coaches who call offensive plays. Many of those assistants wear the official label of defensive coordinator, but their duties are better described with an unofficial title infiltrating the NFL’s lexicon: head coach of the defense. It is a job equal parts defensive play-caller, mentor and shepherd of half the roster.

“That’s the best way to go and get the most out of your entire staff,” said Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who works under first-year coach and play-caller Kliff Kingsbury. “He can’t focus on both sides of the ball and be the head coach and call the plays on offense. … It’s too much in a job to do all three things. It’s a natural fit.”

Choosing a defensive coordinator who has done his boss’s job has become an oft-copied template. McVay and Phillips, who at 39 years apart could pass for father and son, popularized the arrangement. Demoff credited the Philadelphia Eagles, considered one of the league’s most forward-thinking franchises, with being first.

In 2016, the Eagles hired Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson to be their head coach and call his own offensive plays. They paired him with Jim Schwartz, who spent a year out of football after being the Detroit Lions’ head coach. Shortly after hiring Schwartz, Pederson called him “the head coach on defense.”

“I wouldn't expect him to come over on the offensive side and make suggestions, whether it be on personnel or plays or the calling or any of that,” Pederson said then. “So I kind of leave [the defense] up to him.”

Kliff Kingsbury is in his first season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.  (Gail Burton) Kliff Kingsbury is in his first season as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. (Gail Burton)

In the past two hiring cycles, only five of 14 new head coaches had defensive backgrounds, which has helped create a surplus of available and highly qualified defensive coordinators. Their experience makes them a perfect match for offensive-minded head coaches who want to focus on calling plays and managing the games. They can be trusted to handle defense, and they can impart wisdom gained from sitting in the head coach’s chair.

Kingsbury, who came to the NFL from Texas Tech, had no interest in taking on sweeping responsibilities. The Cardinals hired him to bring his offense and call plays, and to devote full focus to that, Kingsbury sought an experienced hand for the other side of the ball.

“I wanted somebody who was a head coach for the defense,” Kingsbury said.

At practices, Kingsbury tends to hover around his quarterbacks. In the office, Kingsbury leaves the defensive game plan to Joseph, which leaves him more time to plan and install the offense each week. Kingsbury is still Joseph’s boss, but they work in partnership.

“I think that’s why guys hire guys who had previous head coaching experience,” Joseph said. “He knows that guy who’s been a head coach is going to cover every base without him having to look over your shoulder. Especially if you’re a guy calling your own plays, that’s tough to find two or three hours to talk game plan with a defensive guy.”

Matt Nagy, in his second season with the Bears, hired former Colts coach Chuck Pagano to run his defense this past offseason after veteran coordinator, Vic Fangio, was hired to be the Denver Broncos’ head coach. He said hiring a former head coach wasn’t a necessity, but it was a priority. He casts himself as only an assistant to Pagano in defensive planning, which underscores another part of the shift. NFL head coaches have long been control freaks, considered CEOs of their teams, but the new breed of offensive-minded coaches are willing to cede responsibility.

“You have a guy that has been there, done that,” Nagy said. “They can really take that side of the ball and run with it. … I’m just kind of there to oversee it and help out in any way.”

Experienced defensive coordinators double as valuable resources for new coaches. Green Bay Coach Matt LaFleur, a former McVay assistant, retained Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, formerly the head coach of the Browns. “The good thing is what I bring from my experience in Cleveland,” Pettine joked during training camp. “I have a thick book on what not to do, so I can steer him clear of some of the pitfalls of being a first-time head coach.”

The partnerships have the potential for awkwardness. The coordinators have done their younger boss’s job and probably would like to do it again. The head coach is fully aware former head coaches make for easy interim head coaches. McVay’s self-assurance allowed him to hire Phillips.

“Some young coaches are afraid to hire those guys,” said former Washington coach Mike Shanahan, who hired McVay as an assistant in Washington. “Sean is not.”

“To me, it’s all about what kind of confidence you have in yourself as a coach,” Nagy said. “If I don’t have better coaches than me on a staff, then I’m not a good coach. You need to surround yourself with better coaches than what you are. They go ahead and strengthen my weaknesses and I strengthen their weaknesses, and that’s just how you roll.”

The right personality can erase tension. Early in their partnership, Joseph told Kingsbury, “Listen, bro. It’s your turn.” He wanted Kingsbury to ask him any question he wanted — and Kingsbury picked his brain on how to maximize practice time and how leadership is different in the NFL compared to college — but Joseph was wary of pushing advice on him.

“You have to as a young coach grow into the job and feel your way through it,” Joseph said. “You don’t want someone constantly telling you what you should be feeling or what you should be doing.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is given full authority over the team's defense by head coach Sean McVay.  (Kevin M. Cox) Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is given full authority over the team's defense by head coach Sean McVay. (Kevin M. Cox)

Even if a team favors a defensive candidate at head coach, it faces two unwanted likelihoods for the future of its offensive coordinator: Either he will fail and the team will lose, or he will succeed and another team will poach him. The first outcome is undesirable for obvious reasons. The second outcome is barely more tenable.

NFL teams are fearful of breaking up a thriving quarterback-coach relationship. Hiring an up-and-coming offensive assistant as a coordinator sounds appealing until he bolts for a head coaching job after a season or two. If your head coach already calls plays, you don’t have to worry about losing the play caller your quarterback found rapport with.

“If you have a good offensive mind, he’s going to get hired out of here in two seconds,” Bears General Manager Ryan Pace said. “Now you’re starting over on offense.”

Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn, a former defensive coordinator, took the Falcons to the Super Bowl, but he immediately lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who became head coach of the 49ers. In the three seasons since, Quinn has cycled through two offensive coordinators without approaching the production his offense had under Shanahan. After the Vikings went to the NFC championship game two years ago, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left for the New York Giants. His replacement, John DeFilippo, didn’t even last an entire season, and the Vikings missed the playoffs.

“That’s the toughest part for a defensive guy,” Joseph said. “God willing I get another chance to do it, I have to figure out who’s going to be the offensive coordinator. That’s a big push to me in the interview process. You may be qualified as a defensive guy. … But if I don’t bring the right offensive guy to the table, I won’t get the job. You have to figure out a way to be innovative on offense.”

If Joseph receives a future head coaching interview, he would come prepared not only with an offensive coordinator but a list of younger staffers who could replace that coordinator if he leaves. Joseph cited Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis as long-tenured defensive-minded head coaches who lasted despite frequent staff turnover on offense.

“If a guy can coach the quarterback and he’s calling plays, he’s going to be a hot commodity,” Joseph said. “You have to build your staff that way, knowing that if this guy is a good coach, he’s going to probably move on in two years.”

As everybody who works in the NFL is quick to say of almost every trend, the NFL is cyclical. And there is evidence defensive coaches can work. Of the six active head coaches who have won Super Bowls, four of them — Bill Belichick, Tomlin, John Harbaugh and Pete Carroll — have defensive backgrounds.

“Until people start looking for a larger subset of head coaching candidates … pairing up defensive coordinators with offensive minds will be a trend that continues,” Demoff said.

The current atmosphere makes it hard to imagine Joseph and his defensive brethren receiving head coaching jobs. But they can take solace in what else that means: The number of head coaches of the defense will only keep growing.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/25/nfls-search-next-sean-mcvay-has-created-new-role-head-coach-defense/

FalconsIn2012 likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Falcons hired a bunch of head coaches. Koetter has autonomy and he sucks. Quinn focuses solely on the defense and they suck. Shanny had autonomy over the offense and everyone complains about the play he didn't run.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Jesus said:

The Falcons hired a bunch of head coaches. Koetter has autonomy and he sucks. Quinn focuses solely on the defense and they suck. Shanny had autonomy over the offense and everyone complains about the play he didn't run.

The point I was trying to make is that our next head coach should be an offensive minded coach and, ideally, be the offensive play caller - this is the only way to ensure continuity on the offensive side or the ball. 

Now you can balance a young, inexperienced offensive head coach (who's only really focussing on one side of the ball) with an experienced DC who has complete autonomy on that side of the ball (and ideally has HC experience). That is very much the trend right now around the NFL as seen with the Rams (Sean McVay and Wade Phillips), Packers (Matt LaFleur and Mike Perrine), Eagles (Pederson & Schwartz), Bears (Nagy & Pagano) & Cardinals (Kingsbury and Joseph).

I thinks it's a blueprint we should look to follow.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Smiler11 said:

The point I was trying to make is that our next head coach should be an offensive minded coach and, ideally, be the offensive play caller - this is the only way to ensure continuity on the offensive side or the ball. 

Now you can balance a young, inexperienced offensive head coach (who's only really focussing on one side of the ball) with an experienced DC who has complete autonomy on that side of the ball (and ideally has HC experience). That is very much the trend right now around the NFL as seen with the Rams (Sean McVay and Wade Phillips), Packers (Matt LaFleur and Mike Perrine), Eagles (Pederson & Schwartz), Bears (Nagy & Pagano) & Cardinals (Kingsbury and Joseph).

I thinks it's a blueprint we should look to follow.

 

We had the blue print we’ve just hired the wrong people that’s what I took most out of this report.

Ultimately it’s going to cost DQ and co there jobs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, kiwifalcon said:

We had the blue print we’ve just hired the wrong people that’s what I took most out of this report.

Ultimately it’s going to cost DQ and co there jobs.

We had the blueprint (Shanahan and Quinn) but the wrong way round.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, Smiler11 said:

We had the blueprint (Shanahan and Quinn) but the wrong way round.

Quinn wasn’t a bad hire he’s just lost his way is all.

I believe he can coach many have said that over the years.

Pete Carroll Even said it.

Ultimately though when all is said and done his off field and in game decision making have been in question for a couple of seasons now and he just hasn’t managed to correct the spiral.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, kiwifalcon said:

Quinn wasn’t a bad hire he’s just lost his way is all.

I believe he can coach many have said that over the years.

Pete Carroll Even said it.

Ultimately though when all is said and done his off field and in game decision making have been in question for a couple of seasons now and he just hasn’t managed to correct the spiral.

 

The problem with Quinn and any defensive minded head coach is they're reliant on always finding the right OC. Even then if he's any good, you have to find another within a couple of seasons...

9 hours ago, Smiler11 said:

Even if a team favors a defensive candidate at head coach, it faces two unwanted likelihoods for the future of its offensive coordinator: Either he will fail and the team will lose, or he will succeed and another team will poach him. The first outcome is undesirable for obvious reasons. The second outcome is barely more tenable.

NFL teams are fearful of breaking up a thriving quarterback-coach relationship. Hiring an up-and-coming offensive assistant as a coordinator sounds appealing until he bolts for a head coaching job after a season or two. If your head coach already calls plays, you don’t have to worry about losing the play caller your quarterback found rapport with.

“If you have a good offensive mind, he’s going to get hired out of here in two seconds,” Bears General Manager Ryan Pace said. “Now you’re starting over on offense.”

Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn, a former defensive coordinator, took the Falcons to the Super Bowl, but he immediately lost offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who became head coach of the 49ers. In the three seasons since, Quinn has cycled through two offensive coordinators without approaching the production his offense had under Shanahan. After the Vikings went to the NFC championship game two years ago, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left for the New York Giants. His replacement, John DeFilippo, didn’t even last an entire season, and the Vikings missed the playoffs.

“That’s the toughest part for a defensive guy,” Joseph said. “God willing I get another chance to do it, I have to figure out who’s going to be the offensive coordinator. That’s a big push to me in the interview process. You may be qualified as a defensive guy. … But if I don’t bring the right offensive guy to the table, I won’t get the job. You have to figure out a way to be innovative on offense.”

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LMAO, Adam Kilgore is way behind the times. This has been a common place in the NFL for years. We had that nearly a decade ago when we had Gregg Williams considering he was the HC of the Bills from 2001-2003.

McVay and Phillips didn’t create ****. :lol:

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Iron Saint said:

LMAO, Adam Kilgore is way behind the times. This has been a common place in the NFL for years. We had that nearly a decade ago when we had Gregg Williams considering he was the HC of the Bills from 2001-2003.

McVay and Phillips didn’t create ****. :lol:

 

 

The Saints probably we're ahead of their time, but was it a trend back then... Who else was doing this - the Packers maybe?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Smiler11 said:

The Saints probably we're ahead of their time, but was it a trend back then... Who else was doing this - the Packers maybe?

I’d have to look through it but I know some teams hired Haslett as a DC after he was fired here.

Just looked, he was the Redskins DC in 2006-2008 under 43 year old and first time HC, Scott Linehan and took over as HC when Linehan was canned.

Then he was the DC for the Redskins from 2010-2014 under Shanahan for the first four and then Gruden for the last year before Haslett was canned.

I’m sure there are probably a few more considering that’s 3 instances before McVay ever got the job in Los Angeles in 2017.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now