Six NFL teams are currently searching for a new head coach. Every team has a different approach to filling these jobs, and there’s no perfect system. Go for a coach with previous head coaching experience? Bring in a college head coach? Tab the hot coordinator? A lot of people think a coach needs one of those three checks on their resume in order to be considered. Few NFL assistants get head coaching jobs without coordinator experience (though the Giants’ Joe Judge fits that bill).
And yet, Andy Reid — one of the winningest head coaches in NFL history and the head coach of the defending Super Bowl champions – got his first NFL head job despite no prior coordinator experience. Reid has been an assistant with Green Bay under Mike Holmgren from 1992-98. When Holmgren moved on after ’98, Packers GM Ron Wolf hired veteran defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. Reid was hired by the Eagles.
We reached out to former Philadelphia Eagles president Joe Banner, the man who hired Reid, to learn how that happened and what teams should be looking for when hiring a head coach.
When we set out to hire a new coach with the Philadelphia Eagles after the 1998 season, we did an interesting study to try and identify the key qualities in head coaches that had been successful. We would let that guide our decision.
We defined success as any NFL head coach who had made it to two Super Bowls, and then we just did this massive study of numbers and history and age and everything else. We spoke to tons of people who had worked with these coaches, had played for these coaches, and had been agents for these coaches, in order to create profiles on them. Truthfully, there was nothing that related to pure football that was really in common or valuable to us.
We had all different types of coaches profiled, but there was really just nothing there that we thought really helped inform us.
On the other hand, when we compared all of these guys — from Bill Parcells to Bill Belichick to Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh — they were virtually the same person. It was kind of stunning. As you can kind of see from that list, they were all incredible leaders. They were outstanding at evaluating people to hire, and then managing them. They were all so attention-focused that people around them were kind of annoyed and frustrated with every little detail being such an obsession with every one of those coaches. They had an incredibly strong conviction to a particular philosophy and stuck to it.
These philosophies were all different but the extent of conviction and the absolute conviction and consistency in each of their philosophies was very compelling. From this, we were able to develop a list of eight items we thought all these coaches possessed and labeled them our key character qualities.
Instead of looking at the list of coordinators who had been successful, we started our search by calling and asking people questions like, “Who, regardless of position, is the best coach you have ever been around in terms of how they lead?” Or, “Have you been around any coaches that have been so focused on every little tiny detail that they would drive you and everybody else crazy?” We started asking a whole different set of questions, and it led to a completely different set of candidates than anyone else was interviewing, including Andy, who had never even been a coordinator.
As we talked to people who had played for him, worked for him and coached with him, our eight themes kept coming up and reinforced our decision. These stories were coming from all parts of life, not just football people.
FOUND THE RIGHT PERSON
When we interviewed Andy, he would have described it at the time as “different,” because we were asking him questions about attention to detail, evaluating coaches to hire, and how he would manage his staff. By the end, it was clear that if we trusted the research we had done, it would reflect that we had found our guy.
I remember with humor saying to Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, “Are we actually arrogant enough that we have only been in the NFL for four years, with limited backgrounds in football before that, that we know more than the Hall of Fame general manager that had been working with Andy for the last eight years?”
We couldn’t hire Andy unless we could say yes to that question. We actually decided we were arrogant enough and we were either going to be brilliant or idiots and we just trusted our research and what we had done. So we hired him.
Of course, it did not take long for him to prove we had found the right person. That’s kind of the history of how we found Andy. There were eight teams looking for head coaches that year and he didn’t get one other phone call or inquiry besides from us.
NO COORDINATOR EXPERIENCE? NO PROBLEM
Of course, the reason no other teams talked to Andy is because he had never been a coordinator. It is just all the unknowns. We interviewed Andy twice. Once for four hours and once for five hours. We had dinner with him and we had done a lot of research in talking with others.
We knew that it was going to be very unpopular publicly because he had never been a coordinator. In fact, the story in Philadelphia was that the only reason we had hired him was because he was cheap, since he had never been a coordinator. We ended up making him the highest-paid first-time head coach in history up until that point.
We obviously had the same concerns as anyone when hiring because we just did not know, but we were assuming the research we did was sound and that Andy made sense. Our instincts from the interview matched those themes on the list, and we were right with our assessment.
THE KEY TRAIT
For me, the most important thing you need in a coach is ownership.
These organizations are fantastic sociological studies. You have people all over the place, both geographically and economically. You are in the same building with people making $20K a year to people making $10 million-plus yearly. Obviously, racial and gender diversity is extreme and unique, so if you can’t be a strong leader — which means having a clear vision and getting people to follow you — there is nothing else that needs to be evaluated.
The Eagles went 5-11 in Andy first season, but we were not concerned. He was so on top of everything. He quickly proved that was not just who he was in the interview, but who he actually was. Really within moments of Andy’s arrival, it was clear that the concept of not being successful in a significant way had never crossed his mind, so the need to set up explanations or justifications for failure was not a part of who he was. That reaffirmed to Jeff and I that we had the right guy even as we were losing almost every week.
My experience with most coaches, and this is certainly true with Andy, is that they think of themselves as teachers as opposed to coaches. They know they are coaches, but they really think of their profession as educating players and being an effective teacher. Putting together a staff of effective teachers may not be visible to the public, but it is really crucial to a successful franchise.