I have done a lot of thinking recently about who would be best for the Titans long term at the HC position. I quickly decided that I wanted an offensive guy, since that was this team's primary weakness last season, and I viewed it as nothing short of a necessity to modernize this Titans attack and bring it up the NFL par (this decade even). I mentally threw out 50% of the best coaches in the nation because I was quick to adopt this common fan request. Offense wins games in the NFL today, no doubt. But is this all it's really chalked up to be?
Of the eight remaining playoff teams, more than half (5) of the Head Coaches got their start on the defensive side of the ball; Mike McCoy, Jim Harbaugh, and Sean Payton being the exceptions.
That leaves John Fox, Bill Belichick, Chuck Pagano, Pete Carrol and Ron Rivera. The first two can be explained away by the fact that they have HOF QBs running their offenses at consistently high levels. The others are more interesting. However, not all five of these teams have very good defenses. How much of a correlation is there actually between a coach's specialty and the performance of a team after they've assumed the role of HC?
We saw enough from Munchak to know that this isn't a given. The offensive line he coached for so many years were a fantastic group, routinely giving the team a solid running game year in and year out. After he assumes control of the team, the unit goes to hell in a hand basket. Despite his efforts to become more "hands on" with the group, they continued to stagnate in ability, leading to one of the Titans' worst seasons on the ground in team history.
And consider that Munch was simply coaching a unit of players, not an entire half (or so) of the team. The amount of work that goes into being a head coach in the NFL is staggering, and we often get a glimpse into the lives of those guys in shows like HBO's Hard Knocks and the old documentaries on NFL network. It is simply impossible for a former coordinator to be heavily invested in the running of a defense or offense once he's become a head coach, or at least not nearly to the degree that made them successful at that post in the first place. In the same way a camera man could be incredible at getting the perfect shot on a film set, things are not assured that his quality of work will carry over if he heads to sit in the director's chair and hires his buddy to man the equipment. Where an NFL franchise is concerned, there are a million moving pieces, a gigantic staff to coordinate, a board of owners and front office staff putting in their two cents and informing you of changes, requests, etc.
Long story short, NFL Head Coach it is a crazy job. As best I can tell the correlation between a coordinator's specialty and the outcome, the final product say, of their team is paper thin. Looking at the Bengals, we see a team that Marvin Lewis took over years ago as a defensive stalwart. It was expected that his influence would lead to a revamped defensive unit...except the opposite happened. For years Cincy was woeful on defense, but putting up big numbers with Carson Palmer and his eclectic crew of wide outs. This only changed when he made a great hire in getting Mike Zimmer to run the defense. Chuck Pagano's Colts are hardly known for their defense either, despite his impressive Baltimore D background; in fact it is relatively poor by league standards, yet they remain in the playoffs. Both Pete Carrol's and Ron Rivera's squads feature strong defenses, but they have innovative offenses as well, something we could not have guessed from their prior posts.
The fact stands, as I can tell, that it is far more important that an NFL Head Coach possess the intangibles: and by that I don't just mean the rah-rah motivational skills that fool casual football fans into thinking they know what a good coach is, but in the ability to make critical decisions for the betterment of the team. What do I mean?
1) Their personnel choices. This alone tells you a lot. Often coaches will go and hire their former colleagues, but there is more to it than that. Do the hires fit what the team wants to do? Do they have a REAL plan for the players currently on the roster, and if not, do they have a tangible vision of how to get there?
2) Their management abilities. Can they effectively manage their time between maintaining on-field quality, coordinating meetings and saying the right things to the media (and to the owners and players), and addressing problems/issues with the team? Throw in gameplanning for next week and navigating a hundred other issues that can and will occur during a normal in-season week. Can they keep up and bring the multiple aspects of the team together?
3) Authority and accountability. Can the coach balance accountability properly, both with player and coaching performance? Can the coach make the critical 2 minute drill calls when the game is on the line?
So, in the end I don't think hiring an offensive guru guarantees a strong attack, in the same way that bringing in an accomplished DC mind doesn't bring the promise of a suffocating defense. The relationship between an NFL Head Coach and his coordinators is more than enough to make or break his chances of success. So don't throw away guys so quickly as I did. There is no telling what kind of team Mike Zimmer would form, nor Ray Horton or Dan Quinn. While Bevell and Roman remain my top two choices for the next Titans Head Coach, I will keep things in perspective by looking at the current leaders of the league, and see where they came from. And to that effect, I won't be upset if Webster and Smith decide to bring in a candidate from the ranks of proven Defensive Coordinators available this off-season.