Offense, Defense and Hiring a Head Coach

Doug Pensinger

Offensive head coaches are all the rage but are they a proven commodity?

Seven head coaches have been hired this off-season, with all but one came from an offensive background. This trend would suggest there's a correlation between having an offensive head coach and winning. Let's see if that's the case...

Twelve teams make the NFL post-season every year. Of those twelve teams this season, ten finished in the top 15 in points allowed per game. Ten also finished in the top 15 in points scored. What does this tell us? It tells us that, according to the stats, offense and defense played an equal role when seeking a playoff bid this season.

Of the twelve playoff coaches Chuck Pagano, Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick, Mike Smith, John Fox, John Harbaugh, Marvin Lewis and Leslie Frazier all come from defensive backgrounds. Jim Harbaugh, Gary Kubiak, Mike Shanahan, and Mike McCarthy all come from offensive backgrounds.

That leaves us with 8 head coaches with a defensive background and 4 with an offensive background.

So if there is no correlation between hiring and offensive minded head coach and winning, why the trend? Does bringing in an offensively minded head coach signify that your offense will improve? No. Does bringing in a defensively minded head coach indicate your offense will suffer? See Bill Belichick. Then I repeat, why the trend?

I believe we are seeing an uptick in offensively minded head coaches being hired due to the false pretense that a wave of point scoring innovation is sweeping over the NFL. I am not alluding to the fact that the NFL has been evolving more and more to a pass happy league, but rather the notion that some new brazen offensive techniques are being masterminded by winning teams all around the league. Teams such as the Redskins, Seahawks and 49ers are running offenses people are calling "revolutionary", "game-changing" and "innovative" - referring to read-options, athletes at quarterback, and uptempo schemes. The fact is that none of these things are new. The read-option isn't new and neither are ways to stop it. The read-option originated in the 1960's as a spin-off of the wishbone.

Rather, I believe what we are witnessing is a shift in mentality. With all of the prolific passing numbers accumulated over the past 5 years, defensive coordinators are programmed to stop the pass. This is the reason we see defenders flying upfield rushing the passer leaving no one to account for the quarterback, we see the better athletes matched up with WR's and RB's and not the QB, and we see defenders and defensive coordinators largely neglecting the run.

Offensive coordinators are currently taking advantage of this shift in mentality by using read-options, fast paced schemes, and athletic quarterbacks. Does this mean that every team needs an offensively minded head coach so that they can duplicate the success of Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco? Absolutely not. However that seems to be what's happening. Every where I look I see fans, media, and more clamoring for their team to hire the next offensive genius. With all the fuss over offense, you would think that football only contained one side of the ball.

Sooner rather than later defensive coordinator's schemes and draft strategies will catch up with the read-options, fast paced play-calls, and use of athletic quarterbacks. Teams will spend countless hours studying the read-option and as soon as someone cracks the code every other team will follow suit (I expect more zone coverages) - it wasn't too long ago the West Coast Offense was a groundbreaking development that left defensive coordinators scratching their heads. Defensive coordinators will shorten play calls, just as the offense has done, in order to keep pace, and teams will begin drafting more athletic DE's and OLB's in order to neutralize athletic QB's and set the edge.

Jeff Fisher comes from a defensive background. I have to give it to Rams fans, when the Rams job opened up there wasn't a cult-like outcry for an offensive coach as we are seeing this off-season. Perhaps that's because the Rams had just ditched one so-called genius (Josh McDaniels). But with all of this "offense is king" talk going on in the NFL, someone needed to take the side of the defense. Defense wins just as much as offense, and the numbers back me up.

There is more to being a head coach than innovating some new way of scoring points. It's about staff building, collaboration, and team building amongst other things. You can be the smartest football mind in the world, but if you don't surround yourself with pieces that all fit together, you will fail. I believe the Rams have a coach who can make the right decision more often than not and will lead the Rams to success - offensively minded or not.

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