Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

NFL owners skip history in hiring head coaches

The Pittsburgh Steelers won a playoff game last weekend. So did the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks.

But the NFL's biggest winner over the weekend was the Miami Dolphins. They won the Adam Gase Sweepstakes.

The Dolphins were one of seven teams looking for a head coach this month and everyone wanted to visit with Gase, the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. Many of them did. The Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles all interviewed Gase in the past week but it was Miami that got him to agree to become their next coach.

Gase has what the new breed of NFL owner seems to want — an offensive mind.

Why not? The game is now played in the hands of the quarterback. So that's the quest of every NFL team — find a quarterback. Then find a coach to help that quarterback maximize his potential. That was the thinking in Miami with the hiring of Gase. The Dolphins have a $96-million investment in quarterback Ryan Tannehill and need someone who can prod him to play to the level of his money.

That wasn't Joe Philbin. So he's out and now Gase is in.

But Gase was just the face of the hiring parade. The hunt is on for offensive minds and the interviews are going to those men. Former head coaches Chip Kelly (Eagles) and Tom Coughlin (Giants) have interviewed for jobs and could be recycled in 2016. Offensive coordinators Dirk Koetter (Bucs), Hue Jackson (Bengals), Harold Goodwin (Cardinals), Josh McDaniels (Patriots) and Doug Pederson (Chiefs) also loom as hot properties.

Quarterbacks drive the hires. But in the rush to fix quarterbacks, NFL owners have skipped over a critical history lesson. Defensive coaches win in this league.

Seven of the past 10 coaches to take teams to Super Bowls had defensive backgrounds. Fifteen of the past 24 coaches to take teams to Super Bowls had defensive backgrounds.

The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have a defensive coach, Bill Belichick. The two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks have a defensive coach, Pete Carroll. The last three coaches to win Super Bowls had defensive genes — Belichick, Carroll and John Harbaugh. The coach of the top-seeded team in the current NFL playoff tournament — Ron Rivera of the 15-1 Carolina Panthers — is a defensive coach.

Gase built his reputation as a quarterback whisperer during the two years he spent as an offensive coordinator with Peyton Manning in Denver. Manning passed for NFL records 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns under Gase in 2013. Gase's predecessor, Mike McCoy, was hired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 2013 after spending just one season with Manning (4,659 yards, 37 TDs).

Charlie Weis was hired as the coach at Notre Dame in 2005 after a five-year stint that included three Super Bowls as the offensive coordinator of the Patriots with Tom Brady. McDaniels was hired as the coach of the Broncos in 2009 after his three-year stint as offensive coordinator with the Patriots and Brady.

Brady and Manning have launched more head-coaching careers than NFL expansion.

Weis wasn't the same coach without Brady. He went to consecutive New Year's Day bowls in his first two seasons at Notre Dame with players he inherited from Tyrone Willingham. But in his final three seasons, with a roster stocked with his own recruits, he went a combined 15-21 and was fired.

McDaniels wasn't the same coach without Brady. He failed to last two seasons with Kyle Orton as his quarterback, winning only 11 of his 28 games. McCoy hasn't been the same coach without Manning. He's a combined 22-26 in his three seasons with the Chargers.

Chip Kelly left behind better quarterbacks at Oregon than he found in the NFL at Philadelphia. He lasted less than three seasons with the Eagles. Philbin, by the way, was hired by the Dolphins for the work he did in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers.

Now McDaniels is back in the mix as a quarterback whisperer after having been reunited the past four years with Brady in New England. Koetter is hot because of his work this season with Jameis Winston, the first overall pick of the 2015 draft who passed for 4,000 yards as a rookie.

Jackson is drawing interviews after Andy Dalton's career year in Cincinnati. So is Goodwin after serving as offensive coordinator for Carson Palmer's career year in Arizona. Pederson is attractive for the work he's done with Alex Smith as Kansas City's quarterback this season.

But the fate of these offensive gurus tends to be driven by the success — or failure — of their quarterbacks. We saw Jason Garrett's struggles as a head coach this season without Tony Romo.

If I were an NFL owner, I'd hire a defensive coach every time. The fate of defensive gurus is driven by their schemes, not one particular player in that scheme — i.e., quarterback. Witness the jobs Mike Zimmer in Minnesota and Todd Bowles in New York have done without franchise quarterbacks. The Vikings won the NFC North this season with a quarterback who threw only 14 touchdown passes and the Jets won 10 games with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

That's coaching. If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning can't come along with their offensive coaches in the hiring process — and they can't — then give me a defensive coach. Every time.

— Dallas Morning News (TNS)

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