The Pendulum Swing Is Complete.

If you look at the Atlanta Falcons’ offering of their head coaching job to Jaguars’ D-coordinator Mike Smith in and of itself, you’re likely to think one of several things:

  • Who the fuck is Mike Smith?
  • Has Arthur Blank gone crazy?
  • This franchise is destined to lose even more.

These are all justifiable reactions. Mike Smith is the defensive coordinator of the Jaguars in the same way that Rick Neuheisel was the offensive coordinator in Baltimore until recently — someone named to the position, but it looks like he had very little responsibility for the actual schemes despite calling the plays; that was on Jack Del Rio, a defensive specialist himself. And after the GM search landed a Patriots college scout to be the new general manager, this is the latest questionable move — never mind that the hire for a rebuilding team would not look good, especially with a bang-up defensive coordinator like Rex Ryan looking for a job.

But this would obscure an obvious trend. You hear a lot on ESPN and probably read a lot more about a GM or owner looking for a coach on the same page as they are when going through candidates. Tony Sparano is the new coach in Miami because he’s one of Bill Parcells’ boys; he knows how to work with him. John Harbaugh, despite never having coordinated anything outside of special teams in the NFL, was hired by the Ravens. Norv Turner just somewhat rehabbed his reputation in San Diego — after Chargers’ GM A.J. Smith got in such a spat with Marty Schottenheimer that Dean Spanos said he had to fire the coach. Mike Holmgren may be back for one more season, but by all appearances, that looks like it.

About 10-15 years ago, we were seeing an apex of the coach/GM phenomenon, with coaches amassing enough power and influence through victory to essentially control all aspects of football operations for pro teams; either they held GM titles or had simpatico execs as semi-figureheads/sounding boards in that spot. Mike Shanahan still has that to an extent with the Broncos; Holmgren got that when he went to Seattle, and had the GM label removed a few years back. Bill Parcells is in the front office after having that same power wherever he went post-Giants; he retired after clashing with Jerry Jones in Dallas, someone just as egotistical about the make-up of a football team as Parcells.

Bill Belichick is the only coach left who wields the kind of power that coaches held as all-knowing personnel men in the 90s (Scott Pioli is very good as a personnel guy, the Pats speak for themselves, but Coach Hobo holds the final say). What we are seeing now is the hiring of either complete newbies lacking comparative experience to former head coaches or the hiring of re-treads who are not seeking that final authority and decision making. The pendulum is now completely on the side of ownership and the front office folks they hire with regard to personnel and final say. It’s why you’ll never see Pete Carroll in the NFL again any time soon (not that he deserves that kind of power.) The old-school coaches that get mentioned every year (Bill Cowher, Schottenheimer) want and feel they have earned more say than some front office people are comfortable giving right now, never mind the money involved.

Thus, we have these complete unknowns as head coaches.

2 Responses

  1. I’ve learned that when teams hire complete unknowns, they could just as likely be successful as not successful (hence the “unknown” aspect). When the Packers hired Mike McCarthy, I thought, “Really? The 49ers offensive coordinator? The 49er offense sucks.” Obviously, so far, things are working out. If you’re a fan of one of these teams hiring an unknown, you just have to hope your front office understands things and sees something in the coach.

    Actually, there are also a fair number of “re-tread” coaches in the league: I think 7 of the 12 playoff teams this year had coaches that had previously coached elsewhere. As a whole, there’s probably a balance between the unknown quantity hires and the recycled name hires.

  2. Having an unknown coach isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look at Green Bay and Mike McCarthy. None of us are in the interviewing room, so we can’t say how qualified experienced coaches are for the unique aspects of each NFL head coaching job. Some “superstar” coaches just have a history of being on good teams, and don’t make much of a difference. A good GM should go with who he thinks will be the best man for the job, and that includes finding a person who will work harmoniously with the front office.

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