The NFL Coaching Game Of Musical Chairs

It would appear as if six NFL teams will be looking for a new coach for next season.  I say “it would appear as if” because there might be a seventh team in the coaching market if negative player reaction to the Eagles’ embarrassing “strategic decisions” from last Sunday nights persists and grows.  But for now, here are the potential buyers in the coaching market:

  1. Chargers
  2. Falcons
  3. Jaguars
  4. Jets
  5. Lions
  6. Texans

An interesting way to look at this “marketplace” is to examine the jobseekers.  There are three categories of coaching candidates this year as is the case every year:

  1. Former NFL head coaches who have been fired from previous jobs and who have rehabilitated their résumés in some fashion.
  2. Current assistant coaches/coordinators whose current teams excel in the phase of the game under control of the candidate.
  3. “Hot” college coaches eager to step up to the pro level.

One of the former NFL coaches whose name has been floated about in this coaching cycle is Jim Caldwell.  Should he land a job this time around, he will make NFL history.  Caldwell was the coach of the Detroit Lions from 2014 through 2017.  Here is the historic mark he could make if he gets a job with any of the 6 teams in the market:

  • Since the merger of the NFL and the AFL in 1970, no head coach fired by the Detroit Lions has ever gotten another head coaching job in the NFL.

The Lions and their head coaches for the last 50 years have been a mess.  At the time of the merger, Joe Schmidt was the coach; he left in 1972 and in his 6-year tenure, the Lions won more games than they lost.  Since 1972 here are the Detroit Lions head coaches who have posted a winning record:

  • Gary Moeller:  His record was 4-3 after taking over the job in mid-season in 2000.
  • Jim Caldwell:  His record was 36-28 in his 4-year tenure.

That’s the list, folks.

The current assistant coaches/coordinators are a list of the “usual suspects”.  Their names have been on the grapevine all season long.  The closest thing to a “surprise entry” on the list is Joe Brady.  He has been an assistant in the NFL for only 1 year after a spectacular season as the offensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers won the CFP championship.  Brady is only 31 years old; if he gets a job in this cycle, it would be a rapid ascension up the ladder of the coaching profession.

The “hot college coach” for this year is actually a “hot former college coach” who has been on TV for the last two years – – Urban Meyer.  Rumor has it that the Jaguars and the Chargers have Meyer on their radar and that Meyer’s agent is seeking a multi-year deal worth $12M per year plus incentives.  Urban Meyer has been a winner – – a big winner – – in all of his collegiate jobs; that is the reason his agent could make such contractual demands with a straight face – – if in fact the rumors are true, and the agent actually did that.  Here are a couple of significant differences between a college head coaching job and an NFL head coaching job that would give me pause before I hired a college coach to a “multi-year deal at $12M per”:

  • College coaches get to pick the players they want.  Coaches go and schmooze parents and players to get top shelf talent; coaches who can do that successfully about 15 times a year are pretty much assured of success.  Not so in the NFL; a coach may covet a player and the Draft will assign that player to another team; the coach is powerless to “change the player’s mind”.
  • There is no salary cap in college football.
  • In college, the coach has imperial power.  For example, if he does not want players or assistant coaches to give interviews, he can make that rule and enforce it with suspensions and/or playing time.  In the NFL, the CBA requires players to be available to the press; a coach who does not like that will have to submit to that rule.  His “powers” are limited by higher authority.

None of this is to say that Urban Meyer – – or any other “hot” collegiate coach – – cannot adapt to the NFL situation very quickly.  Matt Rhule made the necessary adaptations with the Panthers this season, but Rhule is not getting $12M per year.

Instead of pontificating as to which team should select which coaching candidate, I think the more interesting mental exercise is to look at the jobs and think about which job is the best one for the jobseekers to chase.  If you believe that the only road to success in the NFL is to have a bona fide franchise QB in hand, then the Jags and Chargers rush to the top of the list.  The Jags have the first pick in next year’s draft and Trevor Lawrence looks to me to be the best QB to come out of college since Andrew Luck in 2012.  Meanwhile, the Chargers have Justin Herbert under contract and his rookie year makes it clear that he is a franchise QB.

If you believe that the best way to turn a team’s fortunes around is to radically change the roster, then the Jets and the Jags become most interesting.  Both teams have 2 first round picks this year and both teams have more than $80M in salary cap room.  That means a roster shuffling is more than possible.  Comparing the Jags and Jets on this dimension brings up an interesting economic difference:

  • Success in the NY/NJ area brings the opportunity for added endorsements and celebrity status.  Success in the NY area also means paying State income tax in either NY or NJ in the 9-10% range.  For a player making $5M a year, that means giving the State authorities $500K per year.
  • Success in Jacksonville does not assure endorsements nor celebrity status nearly to the degree that success does in NY/NJ.  However, the state income tax in Florida is ZERO.

As Samuel L. Jackson is wont to say on the Capital One ads:

“What’s in your wallet?”

Finally, since I mentioned taxes on wealthy young men who play football in the NFL, let me close with this observation from Oscar Wilde:

“Rich bachelors should be heavily taxed.  It is not fair that some men should be happier than others.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………