- Being a new coach in the NFL can be incredibly tough, especially if you're inheriting a less-than-ideal roster of players. But by following this five-step guide, any man can survive his first year.
Congratulations to the new head coaches of 2018.
For some of you—Steve Wilks, Matt Patricia, Mike Vrabel, Matt Nagy—this is your first go ‘round. For others—Josh McDaniels, Pat Shurmur—this is a rare second chance. And for Jon Gruden, this is your first time with a head coaching job this decade, so this website may not load on your Apple Newton.
This information can be helpful for everyone though, and an important reminder for you second-timers that in this business, the name of the game is hanging on. Some coaches decide not to listen to our advice and end up with the always-problematic fired mid-season label, leaving them on a hunt for a collegiate assistant gig somewhere in the distant Midwest. Others end up in a far scarier place, auditioning for analyst gigs at the Big Ten Network.
So grab your pencils, open your notebooks and keep your eyes up front. When your team starts 0–4, you’re going to want this stuff handy.
Welcome to the five-step survival guide for head coaches:
PHASE ONE: INSIST YOU’RE GOING TO KEEP GRINDING, MAKE NOTE OF PRACTICE INTENSITY
This gives your intended audience—the fans—a peek behind the curtain. The defensive end who had 19 sacks last year and has none through the first five games of this season? He’s getting tons of sacks in practice. The quarterback, who rocketed a ball over his receiver’s head and into the collapsible medical tent last Sunday? He’s Floyd Lawton when you guys aren’t around. It’s nuts.
Nothing pacifies an angry mob quite like telling them you’ve got it under control and that you’re not changing anything. In fact, be sure when relaying this through the press to be noticeably terse. It shows that you have so many good schemes behind these closed doors that you cannot possibly spend another moment goofing with reporters when you could be polishing this Carrara marble game plan for Sunday.
PHASE TWO: TELL REPORTERS YOU’VE DECIDED TO SPEND MORE TIME IN (OFFENSIVE/DEFENSIVE) MEETINGS
OK, so phase one didn’t work and you lost again. Because you got hired as an (INSERT AREA OF EXPERTISE HERE) guru and you spend 90% of your time with that specific position group, maybe it’s time to spread the genius around a little bit. Let reporters know that you’ll be taking a more active role in the opposite side of the ball and awkwardly sit in on meetings that take place in rooms you’ve never been to in the facility.
If you win the next week, be sure to find a way for one loyal reporter to write a feature about you finally stretching your legs and putting your stamp on the culture. Relay a family-friendly anecdote about you bringing Chick-Fil-A into the tight end meeting room to surprise the guys.
“When you first get here, you’re working day and night to ensure that the plan is in place—but you might forget that there’s 50 other young men in this building that deserve my focus and attention,” you’ll tell the sympathetic reporter. Maybe throw a cot in your office, just so the reporter wonders: Is he working so hard to fix the problem that he's actually sleeping here?
If you lose the next week, you should quietly try to extend the coordinator you just inadvertently insulted by publicly saying you would get more involved in his job.
PHASE THREE: SURRENDER PLAYCALLING DUTIES
A personal favorite. Not only will you be empowering the smart assistants that YOU HIRED, but you’ll be freeing up even more of your time to wander aimlessly throughout the facility and walk on the treadmill. Wandering is the secret to good coaching. Endless wandering.
This is especially helpful because now, without even pointing someone to that conclusion in an off the record conversation from your personal cell, you can avoid blame for just about anything. You don't even call the plays anymore!
That leads us seamlessly into our next point…
PHASE FOUR: FIRE THE COORDINATOR OPPOSITE YOUR AREA OF EXPERTISE
Things are bad but it’s not your fault. This is not quite the nuclear option, but it’s a diplomatic chess move that requires some finesse. When you fire the coordinator, you must complement him or her endlessly on the way out the door—almost to the point where fans and media wonder why you got rid of them in the first place. This is where the real professional tact comes into play.
The key is to make it sound like it’s coming from above your pay grade, but just enough so your distant owner doesn’t actually think you’re making it sound like it’s coming from above your pay grade. This is real three-dimensional chess, but you wouldn’t have risen to this level in your profession if you weren’t at least a small percent psychopath anyway.
PHASE FIVE: CRYPTICALLY BLAME YOUR GENERAL MANAGER FOR A LACK OF TALENT
This is it. The red telephone. This is what keeps you employed for another two years or gets you a one-way ticket to coaching outside linebackers in Saskatchewan.
After a particularly bad performance, start using code words like “depth” and “concern” in the same sentence out loud in front of television cameras. It will take but a whiff of this rift to send the hungry local columnist into a frenzy. If you played your cards right, the blame will shift to the person picking the players, he or she will get fired and you’ll stay on to aid the franchise in its “transitional period.” How much golf have your played with the owner of your team to this point? Did you ever actually return an email from a reporter looking for help on a feature story? These things should factor heavily into your decision to obliterate the most important working relationship in sports.
But once it happens, man, does it feel insane. You have blamed the general manager. You have jumped out of the plane without proof that a parachute is resting in your backpack.
Isn’t coaching wild?