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Are There Enough Good, Qualified Coaches to Fill the NFL’s Newest Openings?

The eight unfilled head coaching positions in the NFL is the largest since 2013. Will we see fresh faces rise to the occasion (and owners who will give them time to develop) or will owners pull from the same pool of names?

By 10 a.m. eastern time on Monday morning, one fourth of the NFL’s coaching staffs had been fired, leaving openings in Denver, Miami, Cincinnati, New York (Jets), Arizona, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Green Bay.

What follows, inevitably, is the chicken-or-the-egg argument about what causes seismic employment shifts like this in the first place (this hiring cycle is the NFL’s largest since 2013). Former coaches will argue that it’s a lack of institutional strength; impatient owners with a wandering eye; bad, un-firable general managers poisoning the talent pool; fans without the patience required for a formal rebuild. Others might counter that the myriad baseline resources available to all coaches today should result in marked schematic progress throughout the season—that it’s fairly simple to tell whether someone is ascending or floundering. Even simpler: It’s easy to tell whether a team likes the coach they play for pretty quickly. 

The truth is somewhere in between, but the result of these parallel thought lines is chaotic. How can someone look at the current field of qualified NFL assistants and transition-able college coaches and think that there are enough good names out there to fill the holes? How can all but a few teams believe that they are positively contributing to the replenishment of the talent pool?

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At this point, the constant firing and homogenous hiring processes make the list of available coaches resemble a constantly-shaken Etch-A-Sketch. Good teams develop their talent pipeline and continue to stack winning seasons. Their most visible assistants are plucked and tossed into a horrid situation. About 20% of them float to the top and survive a few years before the process starts all over again.

We’ve advocated breathlessly for diversifying the hiring process before, but for every Sean McVay or Anthony Lynn, there is someone bemoaning the Chip Kelly era, or the Marc Trestman experiment. Owners, it constantly seems, are more afraid of being embarrassed than they are the status quo. But they are also unhappy with maintaining the status quo, which means jettisoning coaches before they have a chance to learn, make adjustments or accumulate the necessary personnel.

That keeps the pool smaller. It keeps the list of hirable assistants and good ideas smaller, too. For every fan base that thinks they’re scoring something revolutionary this offseason, there is another (rightfully) afraid that their owner is one phone call away from installing Jeff Fisher or John Fox to sail the ship again. Is a 63-year-old Jim Caldwell, despite his career winning record, Super Bowl appearance and steady hand in Detroit, ejecting you out of your seat with excitement?

NFL Coaching Firing and Hiring Tracker: Updates, Analysis and News

It’s a bit like our political system, which is too mucky and intertwined to be truly saved anymore. It would take something stunning, like the Cardinals hiring a high school coach and winning the Super Bowl, to reset the school of thought and bring a grand, outside perspective to the situation.

It’s hard to understand an owner who can’t get fired and who mostly uses his or her team as a status symbol as one who is totally afraid to break this perpetual, unoriginal cycle. If they’re going to lose with Fisher, why not lose with Chris Peterson from the University of Washington, or Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders? Why not bring on the staff of Army football, which is racking up wins with a notably undersized and disadvantaged talent pool, and taking the NCAA’s top programs to overtime in the process?  Why not take the coach you're about to fire out to dinner and listen to them explain what is going wrong, and what they need from you to fix it?

It’s hard to imagine, as fans, getting excited for Black Monday every year when it’s turned into a version of American Idol without any new contestants. We just constantly vote out the ones we’re tired of, only to see them emerge again, one season later.