Holler: Coordinator stability an oxymoron

Want to see just how fragile the professional life of an offensive coordinator is? Look no further than the tenure ranking of the Vikings' Bill Musgrave.

When they talk about the average career of an NFL player being somewhere plus or minus three years, it comes as a shock to many casual NFL fans. To achieve that, for every Brett Favre, there have to be about 10 guys who only last one year. It's not an easy way to make a living. It's a hard reality to realize how brief so many NFL careers are.

At times, doing some background research can glean surprising results. Starting from the premise that Bill Musgrave's offense is entering its third year, the thought of trying to compare the third seasons of other NFL offensive coordinators came to mind. Therein lay the problem.

Being an offensive coordinator isn't an occupation anyone wants to have long-term in the same town. You rent. You don't own.

It's a job in which coordinators are happy to have at the moment, but it's not one he actually wants to keep. With the combination of head coaches being fired, offensive coordinators being forcibly pushed onto their own sword by a head coach looking to save his own job for another year, or a coordinator being successful and landing a head coaching job, the attrition rate among OC's is unsettling.

Musgrave has been with the Vikings organization as offensive coordinator for just two seasons. You wouldn't think that would push him up the tenure chart very high. How many offensive coordinators have more experience with their current teams than Musgrave?

At first blush, one would logically come up with a number somewhere in neighborhood of the low 20s. As an alleged gambler in my own right, rumor has circulated that if the over/under was at 17½, I would have bet money I didn't have on the over. After all, Musgrave has worked his way up that ladder a little bit in terms of tenure, but nothing to be insane like landing him in the top half. Right?

Wrong.

Embarrassingly wrong.

How does being tied for sixth place sound?

Musgrave is already at the Thanksgiving "main table" among current offensive coordinators. There's never skin on the gravy there. If offensive coordinators got together for an offseason conference like owners and head coaches do, Musgrave would be among the first to get at the swag gift tables corporate sponsors "leave behind."

Only five offensive coordinators – the Giants' Kevin Gilbride (6 years), Detroit's Scott Linehan (4), New Orleans' Pete Carmichael Jr. (4), Houston's Rick Dennison (3) and Washington's Kyle Shanahan (3) – have been with their teams in the capacity of offensive coordinator longer than Musgrave. Shanahan should have an asterisk next to his name, because he has the unique distinction of being hired to that position by his dad (paging Dr. Freud). Nobody accused Carmichael of paying off offensive linemen to take out defenders in the Bountygate scandal. He got a pass. Sean Payton needed someone to wear the Bluetooth. Who Dat?

It can be argued New England's Josh McDaniels has more experience as the OC in New England, but following a clandestine mole-planting operation helmed by Bill Belichick, McDaniels infiltrated conference rival Denver. He's been the running offensive coordinator for just one season, but he was the New England coordinator for three years from 2006-08. However, he was sent on a mission to Denver to contaminate its offense – trading away franchise QB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall and getting both of the budding young stars out of Denver and, eventually, out of the AFC.

Offensive coordinators – good or bad – tend to not hold the job very long. In political terms, they're vice presidents. While they're in their office during any given season, they are merely a heartbeat (a.k.a. firing) away from having a 50/50 chance of being named interim head coach. They run one side of the ball, but have to answer to someone else. They don't have the franchise launch codes. It's a job that apparently isn't viewed as a long-term occupation anymore.

Prior to the last decade or so (when rules to protect quarterbacks and other that make it much more difficult to assault wide receivers), coordinators on both sides of the ball were known for hanging around with the head coach through thick and thin. When the NFL overtook Major League Baseball as America's Game in the 1970s, it did so riding on the back of its recently established tradition among the coaching ranks. There was stability. They kept the band together, with lead singers like Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Bud Grant, John Madden and Chuck Knox providing the vocals. Lead guitarists didn't leave to join another band. As the game has changed, so has the landscape for offensive coordinators.

The life expectancy of head coaches is something that has become tenuous. Once a coach raises the bar, the expectation is that he surpasses that standard. The one-year team option extension given to Leslie Frazier is an example of how precarious a head coaching job is. It would appear the role of offensive coordinator has become a temp job, even if Musgrave is under contract through 2014.

The days of the five-year plan for coaches are dead and gone. For coordinators, it appears to be much more like doing the Harlem Shake in a mine field. When only five members of your fraternity have more than two years experience with the paddle in their frat house, this isn't a crown coaches wear very long.

Of the five OCs with more experience than Musgrave, two of them (Gilbride and Charmichael) have Super Bowls rings with the team they're still with, one (Dennison) was on a team that was the No. 1 seed in his conference, one was Scott Linehan, and the other got the job because of fatherly love. Maybe the third time around will be the charm for Musgrave. We'll find out in free agency and on draft weekend how Year 3 of the Musgrave offense will play a role in the success or failure of the Vikings offense.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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