Despite the substantial growth over the past decade, the NFL is still relatively small in the UK and as such when people find out why I’m such a fan I usually reply with something like ‘I love the tactical side of the game, it’s like chess played out with some of the most athletic people in the world – and Rodrgio Blankenship’. Ok so first off it’s a shame Blankenship isn’t in the game at the moment but more to the point – the ability to manage the game is one of the most important roles of the head coach
The HC can throw a multitude of excuses our way when things go wrong but they get paid the big bucks to make the decisions and every decision they make whether it’s directly attributable to them or through the appointment of someone else, it rests on their shoulders. Which is why they need to have their shit together. Throughout the first few weeks of the season, we’ve witnessed a number of odd decisions
Nathanial Hackett is what you all thought of when you saw the title of this article if you’ve been watching anything of the season thus far. In Week 1 he showed all of the time management skills of a young Andy Reid. The decision to attempt a field goal from 40+ yards out which would have been the kickers longest ever FG if he’d made it, was ridiculous. Worse when you traded the house for a star quarterback to then not trust him get five yards against a Seahawk team who will be picking in the top ten at least in the next draft. Hackett has taken the criticism on the chin and appointed an asisstant specifically to help with game management in Jerry Rosburg. Some will bemoan this, but I like it, he’s realised he’s got a weakness and he’s trying to fix it.
Kevin Stefanski is the other coach that annoyed me when in Week 2, the Browns fabulously collapsed against the lowly Jets. In scoring a touchdown towards the end of the game, Nick Chubb surely thought it was done and dusted. You can make the argument that the defence should never have allowed the Jets to come back, that the special teams unit shouldn’t have lost an on-side kick and both would be fair points. But if Chubb had gone down inbounds rather than score, the Browns could have worn the clock down. Scorelines don’t matter, results do. Stefanski gave the Jets an opportunity, albeit a slim one but it was there and the Jets took it.
McVay on the other hand realised what was at stake in week 2 and decided to give the Falcons a safety which drained valuable seconds off the clock, negating the chance of a comeback. Scorelines don’t matter, results do.
Beyond the singular game, coaches need to be also present about what’s coming over the horizon. Towards the end of the Jags win in LA against the Chargers, Twitter was awash with questions about why Brandon Staley still had an injured Justin Herbert in the game when it was already lost. The answer was ‘he wanted to be there with his team mates’ – valiant to the end, to be applauded, maybe. No sports player ever wants to give up their spot through risk of the replacement being better than them and keeping it. Brandon, you’re the HC and you’ve got most of the season still ahead of you and your star quarterback is not 100%, pull rank and pull him out of harm’s way.
This is all to say that coaches need to be thinking about every eventuality before making a move, much like in chess. It’s not always possible for them to do it personally which is why they need to hire the right stuff around them to help. And if they fail then it’s very likely that they’ll be on the hot seat before too long.