Well, here it is. The day some dread and the day most thought it was time. They call it Black Monday in the NFL where head coaches get fired in some cases moments after the final regular season game. This weekend was no different as not only head coaches but their assistants and support personnel. A lot of people are now looking for work and that is how it normally works when you sign up for the gig, you are going to get fired at some point. The question is now is Hiring a pro football coach one of the most challenging things in sports? Sure, hitting a 99-mph fastball or hitting a golf ball 300 yards straight would be at the top of the list but picking “the” guy to be successful and win games seems to be more of challenge than ever.
The hiring process has changed dramatically before the coach even holds a practice. Here are some of the requirements that some elements favor.
1. Big Name… This applies to the fans and media who want to be able to identify with the coach. Big Name huh? What’s a big name these days? A guy who was fired and had a good run? A coach that now transitioned to a TV Talking head who says something cute and, in some cases, obvious and now he is your guy? Or the preverbal 8 second sound bite that gets fans fired up? Nice for the 10 pm news but has not coaching viewers, listers or people who paint their faces their team’s colors. What has coach done to get players to play and play well? That’s what a “Big Name coach” does. He has a history of coaching players up; he sees who cannot play or doesn’t fit and makes tough and, in some cases, unpopular decisions early and moves on with the next player.
2. Resume… How many times have we heard of the hot coaching prospect that was a coordinator on a good team? It’s his turn because of what he is doing. This is tricky because in most cases a coordinator is working with good players unlike in many cases the team that would like to hire him. Remember he can’t take most of the players that made his name popular so how is he will he fix things that need fixing? The other thing is where did he come from and who did he learn from. Coaching trees can be a little deceiving as anyone who coached for Bill Belichick found the head job when they got one not as successful as they thought it could be. They quickly noticed that there was no Tom Brady on his team, and they cannot take some defensive players with him. Moving around in the coaching community is not as good as moving up. Look for stability.
3. Youth… Yes, every team looks for the young phenom coach who will breath life into the team. The problem is youth can also be a hindrance in growth. There have been some coaches who have been able to ascend but most get fired and come back better. The key in hiring a coach is not having to fire him two- or three-years in. You hired him because you thought he was going to be around for a long time. Remember, each time you fire a coach puts you one step closer to being fired yourself.
4. Outside Input… Hopefully you don’t have an owner who likes to meddle. Good owners hire people to do their job and for the most part stay out of the way. Others fall too much in and out of love with coaches where they may stay or get fired one year before the truth comes out about how good the situation requires.
5. Player favorite… The last thing any General Manager can do is listen to the players on who they think they should hire, especially when it comes to a guy who is already on staff. Remember these same players helped get most coaches fired in the first place, so why would you give them another chance to get someone else fired. Players are there to be coached and win games, not making human resources decisions.
6. Experience… It’s one thing to have expertise in other places but having winning experiences helps more. Having the experience in picking a good staff, understanding what you really have and really need are key. Knowing your roll with the general manager is important. How many times did we see coaches who thought they were also general managers? They tried to do both and failed. Normally they relinquished one position only to lose the other two years later.
The other challenge that comes with the job is expanding the search beyond the good old boy network where some coaches are afforded two and in some cases three chances. Some are connected, others have good a good agent who has good connections with GM’s and owners while being a media darling always gets a return phone call. The problem still exist that teams do not look hard enough out of their comfort zone when it comes to hiring coaches who do not look like them. The Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview minority coaches has become a mockery where the interviews have become more insulting than fruitful. Some coaches of color now take passes on certain teams and their process because they know they have no chance for the job. Teams have even gone as far to tell them they will not get the job but only to say it is good experience to sit down and go through the interview process. Say hello to the NFL at its best.
The bottom line is this. Hiring a coach is harder than you think as there is a lot at stake. There are more intangibles that go into the hiring than what you see, hear and read. How about leaving the hiring to people who are alleged “trained professionals”? The next question should be “How do we know if the guy who is doing the hiring trained, let alone professional?” Let the searches begin.