Tips For Hiring Your Next NFL Head Coach

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None of the coaches fired on NFL's “Black Monday” came as much of a shock. But, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier, the real story is what happens next as “a lot of ambitious, very similar men blow through team headquarters looking for work.”

He joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the hiring decisions underway around the league, and Tanier immediately launched into why he decided to write an interview guide for NFL owners.

"I want a guy who’s driven by something else -- by a joy, by an excitement of working with the guys or molding young men. Not just, ‘Well I need a silver trophy to validate my life.’"

Mike Tanier

BL: As you have pointed out, the average tenure for an NFL head coach is less than three years. How could asking better questions during the job interview process help create a lower turnover rate?

MT: Well, I think what you see so often in the NFL is they sort of take the next candidate up. You get men who were great coordinators, which means they were a strategist who diagrammed offenses and defenses and implemented them. You know, sometimes it’s like taking somebody from the engineering department and making them the president of the company. A great engineer doesn’t mean a great president for a variety of reasons.

So if the owners start looking a little deeper into these guys, not into what they succeeded in in the past but what their expectations are when something happens like, say, a media scandal breaks involving the quarterback, or something more simple like, you know, it's July and you need to run your training camps and your meetings and all of your other policies. Have you really thought about those or are you just going to photocopy plans?

BL: As we have discussed previously on this program, according to the analytics, far too many NFL coaches punt on fourth down. But you say that your ideal candidate wouldn’t need to agree to be aggressive in every fourth down situation. Why not?

[sidebar title="The 4th Down Bot" align="right"] To help NFL coaches and fans understand the statistics behind the 4th down question, the New York Times has created a tweeting robot. David Leonhardt explained the concept to Bill Littlefield. [/sidebar]MT: Well, a little bit. I’d want to have a little bit of fourth-down aggressiveness. If someone came in talking like analyst Phil Simms, who kinda has a little aneurism every time there’s a 4th and 1 play, I’d be very worried. At the same time, what I want to hear is an understanding of the research, what it says, and how that particular coach reacts to it.

What I don’t want to hear is things like, "Well. you know, research is for the geeks who never played the game. Stats are for losers," and things like that. "I go with my gut and I go with the flow of the game." And "the gut" and the "flow of the game" are a way of saying, you know, "I think sort of magically about these situations." So don’t tell me those things. Tell me you’ve thought of all this. You’ve made your own decisions, but that they’re rational and reasonable decisions, not seat of the pants decisions that might have worked for Mike Ditka in 1985. They really don’t work anymore.

BL: Your final question for prospective NFL head coaches seems to me the most interesting. Why do you want owners to ask what, besides winning, a coach really loves about coaching?

MT: Well, in the last couple years we’ve seen Gary Kubiak, who was the head coach of the Texans and is now a coordinator, he had a stroke on the sidelines. John Fox, the head coach of the Denver Broncos, during his bye week had a heart attack. You’re seeing college coaches that are getting sick on the sidelines. This is really a 19 or 20 or 21 hour a day for 10 months out of the year position. It’s extremely high stress.

So, the question I have to ask is, "What is making you tick to do it?" Not only do guys get sick, but you’ll see a guy like Greg Schiano, who was the coach of the Buccaneers, who sort of got carried away with the Machiavellian element of things. Yes, I want a driven guy. But I want a guy who’s driven by something else — by a joy, by an excitement of working with the guys or molding young men. Not just, "Well I need a silver trophy to validate my life."

BL: Mike, your column ran on Monday. Is there any chance owners paid attention and are now asking more hard-hitting questions than “How do you like your surf ‘n turf?”

MT: You know, I know a couple of owners who actually do read my stuff. And I also know those owners are the ones that are very smart and savvy about what questions they do ask. But you know, it’s funny, I’m listening to some of the names of the coaches that are being bandied around and they’re exactly the kind of guys that I would really be worried about. And I hope owners are recognizing that they’re looking for people who might have better ideas and better responses than the old re-treads.

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This segment aired on January 3, 2015.


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