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New York Jets: The Making of a Head Coach

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The great Jenny Vrentas of MMQB wrote an excellent in-depth piece today about the interview process for NFL head coaches. It was around one year ago the Jets hired Todd Bowles, and Jenny's piece touches on the interview Bowles had.

Sometimes the smallest details say the most: Casserly recalls that when Todd Bowles interviewed with the Jets, the fact that he was so in command of the conversation and never once opened his notes impressed everyone in the room.

This article was a great read from top to bottom. I encourage you to click over and give it a look. There was one particular passage that really spoke to me, though.

"You’d be surprised," says one team executive who hired a new head coach this year. "People really reveal themselves."

Here’s an example of what that means: The candidate who said his vision for the offense will be whatever the coordinator wants is not ready to be a head coach. Here’s another: If an offensive coordinator interviewing for a head-coaching job still wants to draw cards for the game, that’s a sign he hasn’t graduated to being the CEO of a team.
I think this touches on a mistake we all tend to make as fans when evaluating head coaching candidates. It isn't just you or me. It isn't just Jets fans. People all across the league do it. If our team's offense stinks, we gravitate to the coordinator of the best offense. If our team's defense stinks, we gravitate to the coordinator of the best defense.

The things we value, though, are traits of great coordinators, not great head coaches.

Sure, coordinator experience has some value. It is a chance to view performance supervising a unit. A head coach will likely put his philosophical input into the system of the team he runs. There is so much more that goes into it, though. Being a head coach is about managing, and the duties are wildly different from a coordinator. A head coach has to assemble a staff and supervise it. He has to manage the game. He has to create a culture and do so many other things that are inapplicable to a coordinator job.

Here's the thing. It isn't just fans who fall into the trap of going for the hot coordinator. I have seen some people mock Woody Johnson for hiring Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf to help him with the searches for general manager and head coach a year ago. How can an owner not know enough to run his own search?

Well, Woody didn't pick these names out of a hat. He also didn't hire them because they ran winning teams. Casserly and Wolf were part of a committee the league commissioned to do quality control on candidates for big jobs and recommend the best. 
Why did this panel come into being?
Robert Gulliver, the league’s executive vice president of human resources who is assisting with the initiative, said that teams face obstacles in the hiring process. For one, decisions are made incredibly quickly—usually within a week of the firing. Then there is the fact that media hype often shapes coaching hires.

The NFL’s committee, officially known as the Career Development Advisory Panel, is trying to change the way owners hear about candidates. "We realized there was an opportunity to do more digging, more analysis and get more names beyond what were mentioned in the media," said Gulliver, a former Wells Fargo executive.
Most owners have not been around football their entire lives. Their frame of reference for many coaching decisions has been the same as fans, hire the hot coordinator whether or not his skills as a coordinator translate to the very different job of being a head coach.

Think about some of the successful coaches in the NFL today. Bill Belichick was fired from his first head coaching job. Pete Carroll was fired from his first two. Mike Tomlin was only a coordinator for a year before the Steelers hired him. Andy Reid was a position coach. Mike McCarthy was coordinator for one of the worst offenses in the league. Bruce Arians was run out of Pittsburgh as a coordinator and thought his career was over. Sean Payton was stripped of his play-calling duties once as a coordinator. Even a lot of diehard Eagles fans wouldn't have recognized the name John Harbaugh as an assistant on their team when the Ravens hired him in 2008.

Recent resumes of coordinator work cannot tell you whether somebody has the leadership tools to succeed or whether somebody has learned from failures and is now better equipped to succeed than in the past. These evaluations are more art than science.

The teams asking the smart questions and judging qualities correctly are the ones that make good hires,