The NFL head coaching carousel is in full swing as we come to the end of a pandemic-clouded season. Owners will be looking to overcome past hiring mistakes, bringing in the right people. All in hopes of turning their losing teams into winners.
Head Coaching Carousel in the NFL
In a league of parity, it’s possible to go from basement to penthouse in just a couple of seasons. Provided, of course, it’s guided in that direction. This has been made evident in recent years by the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. All of these franchises have quickly gone from selecting high in the draft to being in contention for a division title. That success has been directly influenced by the correct hiring at the general manager and head coaching positions.
The National Football League head coaching interview process is a great one. It’s guided by a policy called the Rooney Rule. It’s a policy that requires all teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is an example of affirmative action. Even though there is no hiring preference is given to minorities, an interview for a position is guaranteed.
Usually, a head coach is hired from a coordinator or coaching assistant position or the college ranks. It also helps to have had success in a winning franchise or have been tutored by a great coach. Many of New England Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick’s former coaching assistants in head coaching positions. The New England franchise has also created many general managers and executives. That’s because of the franchise’s success and because of the NFL’s copycat nature.
Matt Eberflus – Indianapolis Colts – Defensive Coordinator
Eberflus was a walk-on linebacker at the University of Toledo. His coaches called him as intense as anyone they had ever coached. After college, he returned to Toledo in 92 to coach and began climbing the coaching ladder. In 2009 the Cleveland Browns offered Eberflus a job as linebackers coach. That’s where he stayed for 10 years until the Dallas Cowboys hired him as their linebackers coach in 2011. Then, in 2018, the Indianapolis Colts named Eberflus their defensive coordinator. There he’s been as productive as any coordinator in the NFL.
When Eberflus became the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, it was set to be under head coach Josh McDaniels until McDaniels withdrew last minute. I give so much credit to Colts general manager Chris Ballard for weathering that storm and bringing in Frank Reich from the Superbowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and assembling this great coaching staff they currently have in Indianapolis.
Before Eberflus got to Indianapolis they were statistically at the bottom in most defensive categories. Not only has he turned that defensive unit into one of the league’s best, but he’s also managed to get the best out of stars like Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, and rookie Julian Blackmon. His intensity, play-calling, and leadership traits are everything owners and general managers love in head coaches. Now at the age of 50, it’s time for Eberflus to get a shot. Indianapolis won’t let him go easily but everyone knows how valuable an NFL head coaching job is.
Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs – Offensive Coordinator
Eric Bieniemy probably the most popular of the 2021 head coaching candidates because of his work withAndy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and this electric offensive unit he’s led with the current Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. For many years, NFL teams in need of a head coach have targeted assistants from the Reid coaching tree. The Philadelphia Eagles hired Doug Pederson (Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2013-’15) and the Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy (Kansas City’s OC from 2016-’17). Now, there’s a strong chance Bieniemy becomes the next to make the transition from under Andy Reid’s wing.
Bieniemy was a national champion and Heisman finalist during the 1990 season at the University of Colorado. He was drafted in the second-round draft by the San Diego Chargers in 1991. Bieniemy returned to Colorado to finish his degree and begin his coaching career in 2000. This after nine seasons in the NFL as a player and after playing his final season under Reid in Philadelphia.
The one thing that stands out most about Bieniemy is that he’s a true player’s coach. This is evident from the number of his players that are vouching for him to move up. The question is how will he fare away from Andy Reid and the talent in Kansas City? It will be worth watching who he brings in as assistants and how he builds his new team going forward.
However owners look at it, it will be hard for anyone not to take a chance on Bieniemy and his offensive coaching ability and management skills.
Brian Daboll – Buffalo Bills – Offensive Coordinator
The maturation and development of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen can be directly linked to the tutelage and coaching of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Any team drafting a young quarterback will look at this success and find it very difficult not to hire Daboll as their head coach.
Another thing that could set Daboll apart from the other candidates is the success he’s had as an assistant. There’s also how close he’s been to the college offenses that are creeping into the NFL today. As an assistant, Daboll won five Superbowls with New England under Belichick and a college National Championship in 2017 as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach under Nick Saban at Alabama. That kind of experience is rare and it won’t be lost on team owners. It could just set him apart in the board room when he’s interviewed.
Robert Saleh – San Francisco 49ers – Defensive Coordinator
Just like Eberflus, San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh leads with emotion and intensity. On their journey to the Superbowl last season, it was Saleh’s defense that got them there. With a great running game offensively, Saleh’s unit was able to control the tempo of games. This allowed his offense to close out games by running because they were ahead on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, they got caught out on a few big plays against the great Chiefs offense in the Super Bowl but it was clear that Saleh was cut out to be a head coach in the NFL because of how his players reacted to his leadership and coaching.
When you look at a great coach, it’s usually followed by the players he’s developed and tutored so the success of middle linebacker and defensive captain Fred Warner is a great sign of Saleh’s coaching ability. Warner has played at an elite level since being drafted into Saleh’s system as a third-round draft pick out of BYU in 2018. It seems that Warner is always in the right position to make plays defensively and that’s a great sign of the coach’s construction of a unit. Saleh puts his players in the right position to make plays consistently and it was made evident again recently during a big win against the Arizona Cardinals and their great offense. The win and shutdown of a good Arizona offense at a critical point in the season will be huge for Saleh during his interview process.
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