There’s an NFL trend that’s evident in how teams with coaching vacancies are filling those jobs this cycle. A hint: It’s all about offense.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers filled their opening Tuesday by hiring Bruce Arians — a proven and accomplished offense-minded coach.
The Arizona Cardinals filled their opening Tuesday by hiring Kliff Kingsbury — who made the improbable climb from getting fired at Texas Tech to getting the USC offensive coordinator job to the NFL. However you want to judge this, and I’m not a fan, Kingsbury is an offense-minded coach.
The Green Bay Packers also filled their opening by hiring Matt LaFleur — who was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee last season and has previously been the OC for the Los Angeles Rams, the quarterback coach for the Washington Redskins, and the quarterback coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Obviously, he’s an offense-minded coach.
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That’s not all.
The Cleveland Browns are reportedly down to two finalists: Vikings interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and their own offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Freddie Kitchens. Again, two offense-minded coaches.
Do you see a pattern here?
Teams are valuing that which the NFL rules are heavily showing deference toward — offense. They are hiring the best offense-minded men they can to help impact the most important position on the team, the quarterback.
It’s really interesting to see because I don’t think it’s going to stop.
The New York Jets want to hire an offense-minded head coach to make sure golden child Sam Darnold maximizes his potential.
The Denver Broncos have two finalists and one of them is defensive coordinator Vic Fangio but the other is longtime offensive line guru and Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Mike Munchak — an offense-minded coach.
And that brings me to the Miami Dolphins. Surprise!
We know the Dolphins so far have interviewed four candidates. They are: New England defense coach Brian Flores, Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Dallas defensive play-caller Kris Richard and New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
So at a time most teams are focusing on offense, three of the four coaches the Dolphins have interviewed are defense-minded guys.
The rest of the NFL is fixated on finding success by getting help on offense. And the Dolphins are looking mostly at defensive guys.
And this is where I tell you there’s nothing wrong with looking at defensive guys.
It used to be that defenses won championships, although not anymore. Check the score of the last couple of Super Bowls.
Bill Belichick is a defense guy. So was Tony Dungy.
But the NFL has changed all the rules in recent years and made hitting the quarterback low illegal, and hitting the quarterback high illegal, and touching receivers downfield illegal, and holding receivers illegal, and targeting vulnerable receivers illegal, and hitting sliding quarterbacks illegal and …
You get the point. The NFL has regulated the game so that it favors offense. And the best teams will be that because they have the best quarterbacks and the greatest scoring prowess.
And teams are reacting to all of that by searching out offense-minded guys.
But the Dolphins are leaning, based on their interviews, in a different direction.
This is not a criticism. It’s the facts.
And that leads to my concern:
The Miami Dolphins have been unsuccessfully searching for a great quarterback to pick up Dan Marino’s mantle since 2000. And for most of those years it was just a matter of not finding the right guy.
For most of those years the Dolphins would take a shot at it and miss.
They missed with John Beck.
They missed with Chad Henne.
They missed with Pat White.
They missed with Daunte Culpepper.
They missed with A.J. Feeley.
They missed a lot. It was sad.
But, on the bright side, they knew pretty quickly that they missed. There was very little equivocation or misread of the situation once the coaches and GMs saw the guys they picked play. So those QBs came and went in a matter of two years on average.
Then Ryan Tannehill happened. And the problem became much more serious.
Because it was no longer about Tannehill failing to fulfill the promise of being elite, the team figuring it out and moving on quickly. The problem was Tannehill sticking around for so long.
Year after year the Dolphins believed in Tannehill. And gave him a big new contract. And then gave him more guaranteed money because he was unquestionably their guy.
Coach after coach and general manager after general manager bet on Tannehill.
Everyone in the building from Stephen Ross to Adam Gase to Mike Tannenbaum to Chris Grier bet on Tannehill because they were all sold on the guy.
Some people in the stands — plumbers, mechanics, morticians — were convinced Tannehill was not the right guy years ago while the experts working for the Dolphins remained convinced otherwise.
(Full disclosure: I missed it until August 2017 when yet another big injury to Tannehill convinced me Miami had to go in a different direction.)
Anyway, Ross, who missed it on Tannehill, is still the owner making the final call on the next coach. And Grier, who missed it on Tannehill, has been given elevated GM powers and is helping Ross find a coach.
And both these men who missed it on the quarterback for years have interviewed only one offense-minded coach — Bieniemy — during this search.
They have talked to one person so far with enough expertise on the offensive side of the ball to help them correct course on their quarterback blind spot.
I don’t understand this.
There’s more: The Dolphins are going to be taking something of a strategic step backward in 2019, according to the Dolphins themselves. The greatest purpose of this is to get in good enough position to identify, draft, and develop the franchise’s next great quarterback.
And to accomplish this they’ve interviewed three defensive coaches among the four interviews they’ve conducted?
Look, I don’t know exactly to what degree Bieniemy has helped develop Patrick Mahomes, he of the 50 TD passes in Kansas City this season. Maybe it was a little. Maybe it was a lot.
But I feel confident saying Dennis Allen had zero to do with Drew Brees in New Orleans.
And Brian Flores had zero to do with Tom Brady in New England.
And Kris Richard had zero to do with Russell Wilson in Seattle and wasn’t even in Dallas when Dak Prescott exploded onto the scene as a rookie.
(Peanut Gallery: Oh, Armando, you logical nitwit, have you heard of hiring an offensive coordinator? Those defensive guys can hire a great OC and all will be fine.)
Thanks peanut gallery for your participation regardless of how elementary your thinking.
Several really smart NFL people explained to me on Tuesday that teams are hiring great offensive minds as head coaches because they can hire great defensive minds as defensive coordinators which mitigates losing either one as the trend toward more offense continues.
Next year, the thinking goes, teams needing a new head coach will again be hiring mostly from the pool of the best OCs.
Effectively, that means a defensive minded coach who hires an OC to run his offense is basically hiring somebody else’s next head coach. A defensive minded head coach is going to have his offensive mastermind for a year or two before that guy becomes a head coach elsewhere.
If, on the other hand, a team hires a great offensive mind as the head coach, the offensive mastermind doesn’t leave because he’s already the head coach.
That means your QB is not learning a new offense every year. That means continuity on the increasingly more important side of the ball.
And as other teams continue trying to identify the next offensive genius to hire as their head coach, a team with a fine defensive coordinator is more likely to keep him.
So the benefit of hiring an offense-minded coach as the head coach is multiplied.
Someone within the Dolphins’ organization should have considered this looming trend before their interview process began. Especially since the franchise spent much of the past seven years missing on their QB evaluation even though that player was right in front of their eyes.