Alan Williams (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
The Vikings are one of eight teams returning their head coach, coordinators and all of their position coaches. In a game of change, that’s not often the case.
Put on your Sunday thinking caps and answer one simple question: Name the teams that haven’t made any position coaching changes since the end of the 2012 season? Think it over and we’ll get back to it.
The NFL is known for the turnover of players. Guys who appear to be the backbone of a franchise – Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Percy Harvin, Antoine Winfield, etc. – are here today and gone tomorrow. When it comes to job security, the phrase most often heard is “it’s a business.”
But when it comes to coaching in the NFL, the leash is just as short and the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality is not just alive, but running rampant.
Coaching staffs change almost as often and as precipitously as player personnel is shuffled. Just as players used to spend their entire careers with one team, so did coaches. They could survive a couple of down years. That is no longer the case. Take the case of Rahim Morris. After the 2010 season, he was a frontrunner for Coach of the Year after leading Tampa Bay to 10 wins. After the 2011 season, Morris was fired. Lovie Smith won 10 games with Chicago last year and was fired because they didn’t make the playoffs.
To say a coach has job security is like saying a bomb specialist has job security. The difference between coaching movement and player movement is that coaching staffs change when they’re ineffective as well as extremely effective.
When a coaching staff suffers and “loses the locker room,” a housecleaning takes place that gets rid of everybody and the team goes on with a new vision of a new coach. However, when a team is successful, there is also an attrition effect. How many assistant coaches in New England ended up with head coaching jobs in the NFL or the college game? Bill Belichick’s system was so effective for such a long time that he would routinely lose coordinators to other teams.
The Vikings landed Brad Childress because Andy Reid’s Eagles were so consistently effective and Chilly was the rare offensive coordinator who didn’t call plays. Miami hired Joe Philbin last year because he developed Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore hired John Harbaugh after he was the special teams coach in Philadelphia for nine years before spending one year as a defensive backs coach. Mike Tomlin of the Steelers was the defensive coordinator of the Vikings for just one year before Pittsburgh tabbed him to be their third coach in five decades. Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator in Carolina. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bailey was the defensive coordinator in Seattle. San Diego head coach Mike McCoy was the OC in Denver. In a show of respect, Oakland’s head coach Dennis Allen was the defensive coordinator in Denver until last year. Bruce Arians was the interim head coach in Indianapolis when Chuck Pagano was going through cancer treatment and proved enough to get the head coaching job in Arizona.
If your team has success, coaches leave just as often as if the team struggles with futility and the entire staff is sent packing. But that’s only part of the equation for head coaches. Just as players like Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and dozens of other Hall of Famers didn’t end their careers with the team they are most identified with, so it is with coaches.
John Fox earned his reputation as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, not the Denver Broncos. The same is true for Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, Washington’s Mike Shanahan and St. Louis’ Jeff Fisher – all of whom history will remember more for their former teams than their present teams. But in the short attention span of the NFL, legends that would have finished their careers with one franchise move on in hopes of getting the job done again somewhere else. All four have been to Super Bowls, but only Shanahan has won one, yet their legacy grows over time.
This list doesn’t include a couple of others – Tom Coughlin earned his spots with the Jaguars before coming to the Giants, but a couple of Super Bowl rings later, nobody remembers his Jacksonville days – except Jags fans who remember him as their first coach. The Bears went so off the chain when they hired Marc Trestman, a successful head coach in the CFL.
For those who opt not to hire a head coach with an NFL pedigree, there is always the college game. Guys like Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino soured a lot of organizations on college coaches, but that period has waned. Over the last three years, five teams have hired college head coaches – Doug Marrone (Syracuse) in Buffalo, Chip Kelly (Oregon) in Philadelphia, Greg Schiano (Rutgers) in Tampa Bay, Jim Harbaugh (Stanford) in San Francisco and Pete Carroll (USC) in Seattle.
Minnesota is the anomaly in the coaching revolving door. They are one of the lone franchises to hire its current head coach from within. Leslie Frazier ascended from the defensive coordinator job with the Vikings when Childress was fired and earned the job on his own merits after surviving the interim-tag period.
Whether you’re successful or not, head coaches and assistant coaches leave. Every new coach comes in with a new philosophy, a new vision and a new outlook on how to build the better mousetrap. As a result, players have to start over with a new coach with a new approach. Which leads us back to the original question.
How many teams are coming back with the same position coaches – head coach, coordinators, O-line, D-line, quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, linebackers, secondary and special teams – they had last year?
The answer is just eight – Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston, New York Giants, Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco and Minnesota. They represent just 25 percent of the league and, for the most part, they make sense. Of the eight, only two didn’t make the playoffs and the Steelers and Giants both have Super Bowl championships to show with their current staffs. The other six all made the playoffs in 2012 and all but one team (the Vikings) have made the playoffs both of the previous two seasons.
It would appear that success follows with coaching continuity. The teams that have no coaching changes all have their reasons and most of them have made the playoffs each of the last two seasons. That should bode well for the Vikings, because there won’t be anything drastically new for players in schemes or philosophies. The band is back together and ready to rock.
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.