When the NFL coaching carousel heats up, I often marvel at the gravitational pull of league groupthink.
Imagine for a moment that you’re an owner. Someone worth billions of dollars. Someone who, as I’ve found through my research, can help control a county, state or national government by writing a couple of checks. There are few people on earth who can tell you what to do. Your NFL franchise is a play palace where you and wealthier, more powerful people trade stock tips.
Why do almost all of them play it safe every hire, scared to make a gigantic mistake in front of their billionare friends? What does it really matter to most of them?
I’m not asking an owner to go out and hire Kevin Kelly from Pulaski Academy, though that would be spectacular and awesome. But I am suggesting they don’t stop trying to hire another Chip Kelly just because the last one didn’t work out. Sean McVay had a massive boom or bust potential, and just look how far the Rams have come since the Jeff Fisher era.
The hiring cycle arrives with so much promise and excitement every year, but ends like you’re choosing health insurance: Here are seven options laid out by price, which will, to varying degrees, delay your eventual death.
The seven league-acceptable coordinators du-jour are tossed into a grinder and, for the most part, out filters mediocrity—a guy you’re going to run out of town two years from now because he’s not as interesting or exciting as some other coach somewhere else doing something different.
A devil’s advocate might say that Bill Belichick was once a warmed-over, eye-roll inducing candidate. A Norv Turner–Cam Newton pairing looked about as appetizing as a buffalo chicken martini (it’s a thing) before this season started. Andy Reid looked finished before literally reinventing football. There are lifers who are open to new ideas. That’s why they’re still around.
But there are also recycled names who have been bandied about on hot candidate lists every year. Sure, some of them are capable of having an epiphany. What are the chances it happens under your watch?
I recently wrote a piece for the magazine about the future of NFL defenses. I traveled to NAIA schools in the Midwest, high school football fields in New Jersey and the United States Military Academy at West Point to find coaches doing incredible things without many resources. In the past I’ve done similar stories offensively, hanging out with the staff at Princeton where they once ran a three-quarterback offense and another offense where one passer played between the 20s and another went from 0–20 and 20–0.
I’d encourage owners looking for a new coach to spend some of their vacation time on a similar journey. Not necessarily to hire a certain candidate, but to learn for themselves what else is out there and what more could be had besides the boilerplate options delivered to their desk in late December. — Conor Orr
• The future of football looks a lot like … Andy Reid? Armed with Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs' guru is deploying schemes that are changing the face of the game. (By Jenny Vrentas)
• A case for all 30 teams to sign Bryce Harper. Seriously, even the Marlins. And A's. And Rays.(By Jon Tayler)
• How did the life of former NFL receiver James Hardy unravel?Family and friends are still puzzled by his suicide. (By Brian Burnsed)
• For the first time in three years, the vaunted Warriors are vulnerable.Or are they?(By Chris Mannix)
• The fifth episode of Fall of a Titan: The Steve McNair Story is out.Give a listen to our serialized SI True Crime podcast here.
• The countdown clock looming over Bryce Harper has reached zero.His free agency is finally here. Now what?(By Tom Verducci)
• At once, Trae Young is a steely-eyed sniper with no conscienceand a thoughtful first-year player who can navigate today's social media pitfalls. (By Andrew Sharp)
SI Predicts the Future
For the latest edition of SI, dubbed "The Future Issue," staffers were asked to describe the future of sports in five words. Here's a sampling of the responses.
Robert Klemko: EA Sports presents McVay 45
Dan Greene: College: Olympic pay model, finally
Connor Grossman: NFL stadiums host MLS instead
Stanley Kay: Washington's NFL team changes name
Daniel Rapaport: Drake named new NBA commissioner
Kevin Kerr: 2025, winless Patriots seek identity
Jamie Lisanti: Marathon world record set, 1:58:47
Jenny Vrentas: Belichick's granddaughter wins Super Bowl
Tim Layden: Permanent home for the Olympics
Matt Dollinger: Tom Brady: Jets starting quarterback
Jimmy Traina: President Dwayne The Rock Johnson
Chris Ballard: Becky Hammon, NBA-champion coach
Michael Rosenberg: LeBron runs against President Goodell
Charlotte Wilder: Gritty eats all the Flyers
Ryan Hunt: Next stop for Pulisic: Liverpool
Vault Photo of the Week: Speaking of Creative Football Minds ...
In the spirit of our lead item, it's only appropriate to honor one of the most talented football coaches to ever do the job. Bo Schembechler presided over the Michigan football program from 1969 to '89, piloting the team to a 194–48–5 record in his time with 10 (!) Rose Bowl appearances. The coaching legend passed away 12 years ago this week. Schembechler's players carried him off the field above on Nov. 19, 1977 after beating No. 4 Ohio State, 14–6, in the Big House.
Photograph taken by SI's Neil Leifer.
Five So-Obvious-It-Has-to-Happen Visions for the Near Future
1. Never mind that a ball hitting the foul pole is fair. The most confounding thing in baseball is this: Thanks to boxes superimposed to show the strike zone, fans watching on TV know instantly whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, but the home plate ump is left to rely on his superb—but not unerring—judgment. MLB's recent embrace of instant replay has been a success; the minimal disruption for reviewing a call is outweighed by the satisfaction of accuracy. Look for baseball to rely on technology to call pitches, prompting the inevitable question: Are officials, with their capacity for human error, necessary at all in sports?
2. When Roger Federer lost in the fourth round of the 2018 U.S. Open, yes, it had a bit to do with the formidability of his foe. But the 37-year-old was really done in by humidity so oppressive that he needed to get his breathing under control after the match. It was both a dispiriting defeat and a glimpse into the future. As the planet warms, it will impact us all, not least those who tax their bodies in increasingly extreme conditions. Whether it's moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup to the fall or rethinking football's training camp drills, sports will change as climates change.
3. How fast does the wheel of change spin? In 2003 the NFL rejected a Super Bowl ad promoting Las Vegas as a resort destination, so toxic were the city's ties to gambling. As early as next fall an NFL franchise—the Raiders—will join the NHL's Golden Knights, various Pac-12 tourneys and the fastest-growing league, the UFC, in Vegas. That boom traces evolving views on gambling. Given the rise of sports betting, a growing young population, an agreeable climate and all those hotel rooms, Sin City will become the new gravitational center for American sports.
4. The PGA Tour may yet wait for the Tiger Effect to take, but the WTA is already seeing the impact of the Williams sisters. Including Venus and Serena—still going strong at 38 and 37—six African-American women sit in the top 100, not least 2017 U.S. Open champ Sloane Stephens. The best American junior prospect, 14-year-old Cori (Coco) Gauff, is black; so is Whitney Osuigwe, who at 16 is No. 15 in the international junior rankings. And tennis's current star-in-ascent, Naomi Osaka, is the daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father who employed what they called "the Williams blueprint." As more and more minority women make an impact, this trend will continue.
5. For all his endorsement lucre, Michael Jordan earned only $90.2M in salary for his entire NBA career. Compare that to Steph Curry, who not only makes $42M annually in endorsements, but who will also have earned $258M in salary when his contract is up in 2022. (He'll be 34.) The Warriors' guard is one of dozens of pros poised to have made nine figures in their careers, rich to the point of absurdity. Yet there's a sensible purchase available to those with this sort of wealth: a team. Look for a spate of today's stars to be like Mike and buy a majority interest in a franchise, just as Jordan has done with the Hornets. The NBA owners' meeting of tomorrow will resemble the NBA All-Star Game of today. — Jon Wertheim
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