When evaluating the strengths of each job opening, it’s crucial to look at what will be important to prospective head coaches. By doing that, we can see how these areas will translate to each team’s desirability.
First, coaches want an owner that is truly committed to winning, such that it drives everything they do. They also want an owner that will be engaged, but in an appropriate way. This means asking tough questions, setting the bar high, willing to invest money, etc. But there is a balance here. The owner is not even slightly tasked with hiring the coaching staff, but they should be engaged in the process in the same way other people in the building are.
Appropriate engagement and financial support are really what a coach desires. This starts with the coaching staff and extends to a reasonable budget for player salaries and coaching staff salaries.
Another factor for ownership is a willingness to support progressiveness in terms of analytics or whatever else the coach believes. If he has a passion for something like that, is the owner willing to invest in it?
The second thing coaches care about is the status of the quarterback position. Do they have the quarterback? If not, do they have somebody on the roster that can be developed to become the quarterback? If there’s nobody on the roster who the coach believes in, do they have the resources in either high draft picks or financials to be in a position to go out and get the right quarterback?
Third, what is the quality and philosophy of the General Manager? Coaches will care a little bit about the organizational structure, but most coaches are actually fairly flexible about this subject. It does, however, have to be something they’re comfortable with. Most coaches want input in personnel decisions, but they will respect that the right General Manager will make the right final decisions. The HC will coach the team, and the GM will bring the HC the best players, but they’ll be engaged together on both. They respect each other’s expertise.
One stipulation: Let’s say you’re a head coach that believes you need a great quarterback and need to be strong on the two lines of scrimmage and then you can build from there. IF you get matched with a GM who thinks you can develop offensive linemen but need to prioritize wide receivers, you don’t fit as a head coach. You may take the job anyway if it’s the only offer you receive, but you don’t fit philosophically and that will be a problem at some point.
Overall, coaches want a GM who is a strong evaluator, has a team-building philosophy that aligns with them, and will include a proper, accurate, and objective evaluation of the current roster.
The fourth and final factor is the strength of the roster and the capital each team has to improve.
Let’s take a look at how each current opening stacks up in terms of these criteria (Note: the Raiders are not included as they do not have an opening yet). This is in no particular order.
Ownership: Negative—Shad Khan has really struggled to find the right people. He has either repeatedly hired or kept people too long. He also hasn’t made timely decisions in terms of exercising patience or moving on. Khan seems to be mostly unengaged and isn’t consistently spending whatever it takes to win.
QB: Positive—I’m still pretty confident that Trevor Lawrence is a good answer at QB. At this point, I’d be slightly nervous, but Lawrence makes the job far more enticing than it otherwise would be.
GM: At best, Jacksonville has a huge question mark at GM. Most people do not feel like Baalke has been successful in working collaboratively and successfully with head coaches. He hasn’t demonstrated great skill at evaluating players. Plus, he seems to be all over the place with his team building philosophy, which means he doesn’t have strong conviction. I would view it as a weakness, and I think most coaches would agree with that assessment.
Roster: They don’t have a team that’s been built around the lines. They have a lot of work to do on the roster, including the most important areas.
Verdict: Jacksonville is not a very good situation, other than the quarterback situation. Lawrence makes the job tempting because QB can be the hardest and most important thing to find.
Ownership: Chicago has a supportive front office and an owner who will prioritize winning. They have a team president who really operates day to day. Even if they haven’t won, it’s a priority for ownership. They’re willing to make investments to help team success as opposed to just worrying about profitability. Ownership has also proven to be patient.
QB: I personally don’t think Chicago has their QB solution in Justin Fields.
Roster: The Bears have a weak offensive line and a defensive line that has some strengths. But it’s impossible to know what will happen with Hicks. Khalil Mack is getting older and started to get hurt a little bit more. So, I actually don’t view the D-Line as a strength, even though it could be in game one next year.
Verdict: In my mind, Chicago’s ownership is a positive in terms of support for the head coach. At best, there are question marks with the GM, a negative on the QB (my opinion), and the roster is very weak. It’s not a great situation.
Ownership: I think the Vikings ownership cares a lot about winning and is willing to invest the money in people and systems. They have also shown a propensity for patience. This is a positive.
QB: Kirk Cousins is just an okay quarterback solution, not ideal. He would make me nervous, but some would deem the situation to be fine. In any case, he only has one year left on his contract, and he’s getting older.
Roster: Weak on both lines, so there’s a lot of work to be done. That’s not going to be a quick turnaround.
Verdict: It’s also not a great situation, and it’s going to be very difficult to win the division as long as Aaron Rodgers is playing in Green Bay.
Ownership: Stephen Ross wants to win and is willing to invest what it takes to win. Yet, he has not demonstrated the best judgment when hiring coaches. The other thing is that coaches want an owner who’s going to give them time to succeed. Flores’ firing does the opposite of reassuring this. Flores created a team that by the third year was much better than it was when he took over. It now has some upside and is getting better each year. Still, he got fired, which is going to scare future HC’s.
QB: Tua Tagovailoa is a quarterback that they can play with, but he’s not a guy that can make them one of the top eight teams in the league.
GM: I think there are question marks about Grier. He picked Tua when, at a minimum, there were better QBs available. He used two first round draft picks to take a wide receiver when his defensive line is fair and his offensive line is atrocious. He also signed Will Fuller, who predictably got hurt again. He signed DeVante Parker again and he got hurt. This was predictable, and Parker isn’t that good. Grier clearly looks like somebody who is not focused on building through lines, and he believes in a quarterback who at best is a question mark.
Note: I think Waddle is going to be a really good player. But they traded the 12th pick in 2021 and 15th pick in 2022 for him. They likely could have gotten him for far less.
Roster: Okay defensive line, although I think it’s been covered up a little bit by how aggressive they were and how much they blitzed. This makes it a little weaker than it looks because of how well coached the defense was under Flores. The offensive line is terrible.
Verdict: Poor situation and Flores’ firing was more than questionable.
Ownership: Seems to be supportive, reasonably patient, willing to spend money. It’s possible they will sell the team, but that’s not likely to happen too quickly. Even so, if a coach is looking to find a place to be for five to ten years, it’s definitely a risk. Current ownership, however, appears to be what most coaches would like, but the future ownership is uncertain.
QB: Not having a quarterback is a big deal. Some coaches will not go to a team that doesn’t have a quarterback and doesn’t appear to have the assets they need to go get one.
GM: George Paton is a positive.
Roster: I do think it’s a strong roster, but they have to figure out how to fill the quarterback position.
Verdict: Denver is generally a desirable situation. But not having a QB is a big negative. Not only don’t they have a QB, but a solution isn’t readily apparent. The division is also very tough. Herbert and Mahomes will be there for at least the next decade
On one hand, people focus on the fact that there aren’t the usual and obvious head coaching candidates. Typically, there will be candidates that everybody knows because they have a track record as a coordinator.
The same is true with the teams that are looking. It’s not an optimal list in terms of having an excellent combination of owner, QB, and GM. No team checks all three boxes. Of course, you could say that’s why they’re looking for a head coach…because they’re not that good. But the reality is, teams that have turned it around often at least potentially have a good owner/QB/GM situation.