Every year we’re treated to a new merry-go-round of head coaching hires. There are some teams that seem to be on the ride more than ever, and as John mentioned in yesterday’s pod, a lot can be pointed at the owners of said franchises. It feels like teams such as the Jets, Browns, Dolphins and Buccaneers are in a constant state of disappointment, largely brought on by the inability to hire the right man at the top. There’s a good chance that the Dolphins and Bucs have it right now but the same can’t be said of the Browns or Jets (despite not firing Adam Gase, I’m yet to meet a Jets or football fan that has much good to say about him).
In conjunction with this there’s been a real lack of ethnic minorities being appointed in recent years. I listened to an interview that Mike Florio did with Tony Dungy the other day speaking about the origins of the Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview at least one person from a minority background for a head coach rule. Dungy explained that the rule wasn’t there to only benefit minority coaches but also to get owners to see the whole field and consider all contenders for the role before making a final decision. He cited the case of the Steelers when they hired Mike Tomlin as an example – which turned out to be a pretty decent hire.
It feels like in these times, owners who part ways with a coach at the end of the year (or earlier) are in such a rush to hire a new face and get the perceived ‘hot prospect’ that they miss out on better options. This year there were six head coach vacancies and all were filled before the championship games where the likes of Robert Salah and Eric Bieniemy were dominating (Kevin Stefanski over Salah, really?).
So what’s to be done? The Rooney Rule is currently being treated like a tick box exercise and all too often franchises continue to pick sub par head coaches (and GMs to an extent). The NFL should look at putting a hold on new coaching hires until after the Super Bowl. It would not only give coordinators of Super Bowl teams more time to interview for the roles but also give owners an opportunity to research the field a bit more and meet more people, not just zero in on the guy they wanted from the start.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, the 49ers present a good case study of what can happen when you take your time and you get the right combination of coach and GM in place. This is Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s third season in charge. Previously, the 49ers had suffered through two ‘one and done’ seasons with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly as head coaches. Trent Baalke was GM between 2011 and 2016 and aside from bringing in Jim Harbaugh he seemed to do little else that was positive. CEO Jed York fired Baalke at the end of the 2016 and eventually picked Kyle Shanahan as head coach who had just been to the Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons. Shanahan was then instrumental in persuading the 49ers brass to hire Lynch as GM. Three seasons, and a lot of patience, later and the 49ers are back in the Super Bowl.
There is of course a lot of luck involved when it comes to picking a head coach. However, the need for owners to do as much as they can to eradicate the need to rely on luck is paramount.