Columnist Kent Somers: Some NFL owners will make a mistake by not considering defensive coordinators to be their next head coach.
If anyone has a more difficult job now than romaine-lettuce growers, it’s NFL defensive coordinators.
It’s not just that offenses are throwing for more yards and touchdowns than ever. Or that there has been an infusion of young, talented quarterbacks that likely will keep that trend going. Or that owners would rather pass a kidney stone than a rule designed to decrease scoring.
It’s also that all the above are likely to make it harder than ever for a defensive coordinator to be hired as an NFL head coach.
Owners tend not to be free thinkers, one reason why the NFL has been called a copycat league. And the cats likely to be copied this offseason are the teams with young, offensive-minded head coaches.
Owners are going to direct their general managers to find the next Sean McVay, the 32-year-old who turned the Rams around. Or the next Matt Nagy, the 40-year-old who has the Bears atop the NFC North, or 38-year-old Kyle Shanahan, whose time with the 49ers has been hampered by injuries to key players.
What will inevitably happen is a team or two will succeed in doing that, while most others will fail miserably.
“Most owners are f–king morons and most of them will overrule GMs who have a brain in their heads,” said one agent who represents coaches. He requested anonymity because he just called owners “morons.”
“It’s another one of those stupid things in the NFL.”
He is not alone in his thinking.
Narrowing your coaching search to finding the next McVay is “the biggest mistake you could make,” said Eric Metz, a longtime agent for coaches and players. “You should be looking for three things: A) a leader of men, B) a man with a plan and C) the ability to assemble a tremendous staff.”
There could be as few as four job openings in the NFL. Green Bay and Cleveland have already fired their coaches, and Tampa Bay (Dirk Koetter) and the Jets (Todd Bowles) are expected to part ways after the season.
But there could several others, including the Cardinals, Ravens, Broncos and Panthers.
Over the past five years, the average number of head-coaching changes is close to seven per year, and just 11 current head coaches have held their jobs for more than four years.
A year ago, there were seven jobs open, including Arizona. Four were filled by offensive coaches, and three by defensive ones, including Steve Wilks with the Cardinals.
It’s hard to say which group fared better.
Frank Reich, formerly the Eagles offensive coordinator, has turned the Colts around. But he was aided by quarterback Andrew Luck’s return to health and upgrades on the offensive line.
Reich and Nagy merit consideration for Coach of the Year honors.
Pat Shurmur of the Giants and Jon Gruden of the Raiders, who have offensive backgrounds, do not.
Two of the three defensive-minded rookie head coaches meet on Sunday at State Farm Stadium: Wilks and the Lions’ Matt Patricia. Both teams have struggled. The Cardinals are 3-9 and the Lions are 4-8.
The other head coach with a defensive background, Mike Vrable, has done a solid job with the Titans (6-6).
So what does all this tell us?
Mostly that a rookie coach’s success depends upon far more than his expertise on one side of the ball versus the other.
How good was the staff he hired? How much talent was on the roster he inherited? Was the franchise quarterback in place? How good a job did the general manager do in drafting and addressing needs? How much of a difference did injuries make?
McVay, for instance, would not have made the immediate impact in Arizona that he did with the Rams. Everyone knew the Rams under former coach Jeff Fisher underachieved, and General Manager Les Snead did an excellent job of acquiring talent. McVay was able to hire Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. And offensively, the Rams have been blessed by good health the past two years.
Wilks deserves some blame for the Cardinals’ poor season, but not all of their woes can be attributed to him. The team had no quarterback when he was hired. The previous two drafts were weak, and the Cardinals again have been beset by injuries.
“You could bring Sean McVay into Arizona and he would not have the same offensive impact,” Metz said.
That won’t deter owners from trying to copy what the Rams and Bears did by focusing their searches solely on offensive coaches. That’s a mistake.
“If you’re looking only for the next Sean McVay you could end up passing on the next Bill Belichick,” Metz said.
Reach Somers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kentsomers. Hear Somers every Friday between 4 and 4:30 p.m. on The Drive with Jody Oehler on Fox Sports 910 AM.