As an owner, you can leak as much information as you’d like about your thoroughness during a coaching search. Right down to the brand of hand soap you laid out when you hosted the guy at your house for an analytics crash-course slumber party. But the truth about any modern coaching hire is that it’s a massive decision all teams make far too quickly and without a proper breadth of information, leaving the ultimate result up to chance.
In hiring Mike McCarthy as his latest head coach, Jerry Jones’s goal was simply to bet on something that, he hopes, has a smaller chance of crashing and burning.
The reports about Dallas’s briefly available coaching job seemed to illustrate as much. Jones talked about the historical failure rate of collegiate coaches making the leap to the NFL (which is almost exclusively because of bad hiring and employment practices by skittish owners, who are afraid to be embarrassed, too preoccupied elsewhere and rarely give enough rope to those learning on the job). He juxtaposed that with the mountain of evidence showing second-chance head coaches catching on elsewhere and having success. Given that he’d like to win sooner rather than later, grooming someone with a longer development time or a greater perceived chance of failing was not an appetizing option.
But the bet on McCarthy isn’t just that a second-chance coach can find success. It’s whether he is actually willing to learn from his first job and apply those lessons to a drastically different roster than the one he cultivated over the years in Green Bay.
Yahoo Sports made a sound comparison, I think, to the Chiefs hiring Andy Reid after Reid was let go in Philadelphia. There was a similar case of a good coach going temporarily stale and an organization deciding to fumigate out of desperation (before ultimately hiring one of Reid’s disciples to lead them to a Super Bowl after the Chip Kelly era). Often lost in Reid’s narrative, though, is how effectively he transformed himself between the stop in Philadelphia and the one in Kansas City. That was all on Reid.
Reid let his (figurative) hair down as a play-caller. He empowered his staff to seek and implement interesting concepts. He willingly dipped into the collegiate game at a time when the league was stagnating offensively.
McCarthy’s desire for a radically different second act has been made well-known. He did a special with NFL Network about his shadow coaching staff and their year spent identifying trends around the league. He also did an enlightening Q&A with MMQB founder Peter King where he expressed his desire for “a proposed 14-person Football Technology Department, including a six-person video unit and an eight-person analytics team.”
An eight-person analytics team, depending on how you qualify your analysts, would rank among one of the most robust in the NFL, by the way.
The point here is that it all sounds great. Will it actually happen? Or, will the same kind of creeping stagnation that eventually throttled the Packers nab the Cowboys as well?
Owners making coaching hires weigh pros and cons at nearly every turn. Offensive or defensive-minded? Younger or older? Disciplinarian or freewheeling socialist? It’s easier for them (and far worse for the system) to lump candidates into categories and pick generalized character traits as if their ideal coach is on the Made to Order menu at Sheetz.
But Jones is gambling on an already successful person’s desire to evolve. With unbelievable pressure to win right away in Dallas, how fascinating is that?
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