Expert Analysis


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Who Should New Head Coaches Hire On The Opposite Side of The Ball?

Who Should New Head Coaches Be Hiring On The Opposite Side of The Ball?

During this coaching cycle, the head coaches that have been hired with prior head coaching experience include Doug Pederson (Jaguars), Lovie Smith (Texans), Dennis Allen (Saints) and Josh McDaniels (Raiders). Each will bring expertise to the building that cannot be learned: the experience of running a franchise. 

The other five head coaches hired without previous head coaching experience should bring someone in on their staff, preferably on the other side of the ball, who is a veteran in or was a head coach in the past. When looking at the history of head coach hiring, there have been countless times where younger coaches have brought in a veteran coach on the opposite side of the ball to bring wisdom and leadership, while they themselves learn the nuances of the position. 

Sean McVay brought in Wade Phillips to run the defense in Los Angeles while his focus was on offense. Wade had been an NFL Head Coach for 11 seasons when he arrived at the Rams. The invaluable experience in doing the job, and the trust McVay had in Phillips to get the job done, helped lead them to a Super Bowl appearance in 2018. Other coaches with a similar situation include Doug Pederson with Jim Schwartz in Philly, Kevin Stefanski with Bill Callahan, and Matt LaFleur with Mike Pettine.

Contrastingly, last year, Nick Siranni did NOT do this, despite some success in the second half of the season, but he struggled early on.

The current first time Head Coaches could look to follow a similar path. Let’s look at those coaches, their backgrounds, and what they could be looking for:

Denver Broncos: Nathaniel Hackett

The Broncos hired former Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett, who worked as an offensive coordinator from 2013-2021 with the Bills, Jaguars, and Packers. He has worked only on the offensive side since his start as the assistant LB coach at UC Davis. On all accounts, Hackett has an exceptionally intelligent football mind on the offensive side. He has been Aaron Rodgers’ OC since 2019 and was an integral part in taking the Jaguars and Blake Bortles to the playoffs in 2017. While he adjusts to the speed of the head coach lifestyle, he could use a voice of reason and help in the locker room on the opposite side of the ball.

New York Giants: Brian Daboll

The Giants hired former Bills OC and Belichick disciple Brian Daboll, who worked as an offensive coordinator from 2009-2012 with the Browns, Dolphins, and Chiefs. From 2018-2021, Daboll worked with the Bills. He also had stints as the Patriots TE Coach for 4 seasons and as the Alabama OC/QB Coach in 2017. He has been credited with the improvement of Josh Allen and his success. Since his time in the NFL, Allen has improved his accuracy in adjusted completion% from 64.0% to 73.5% per TruMedia.

Miami Dolphins: Mike McDaniel

The Dolphins hired the 49ers' OC Mike McDaniel, who spent his early years as a WR Coach/offensive assistant before becoming a run game coordinator with the 49ers and OC in San Francisco from 2017-2021. McDaniel was a member of the “famous” Washington coaching staff that included Matt LaFluer, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, and Aubrey Pleasant. McDaniel has been a part of the incredible 49ers' running game that has improved from 21st to 7th in the NFL when he was the run game coordinator. 

Chicago Bears: Matt Eberflus

The Bears have hired Colts DC Matt Eberflus, who started as a member of Eric Mangini’s staff with the Browns in 2009 as the LB Coach. Mangini completed an exhaustive search for Eberflus, hiring him with no prior NFL experience out of Missouri where he was the DC. He spent time with the Cowboys as the LB coach from 2011-2017 before becoming a DC in 2018 with the Colts. Eberlus has worked to bring premiere LB Darius Leonard into a dominant player.

Minnesota Vikings: Kevin O'Connell (TBD)

The Vikings will reportedly hire Kevin O’Connell, who is the Rams current OC, but he will not be able to start until after the Super Bowl, per rules. O’Connell was a QB out of San Diego State in the 2008 draft and spent time with most notably the Patriots and the Jets. Since then, he has been the QB Coach, Passing Game Coordinator, OC of Washington, and now OC of the Rams. His Rams’ offenses have finished in the top 10 in total offense in 2020 and 2021. In Washington, he worked with five different quarterbacks, including being instrumental in helping four of them prepare for the 2018 season, the most in the Super Bowl Era. 

These coaches could look to add veteran leadership with many coaches currently on the market who have been HC’s.

Defensively: Wade Phillips, Chuck Pagano, Vic Fangio, John Fox, Steve Wilks, and Don Martindale

Offensively: Marc Trestman, Matt Nagy, Dirk Koetter, Jim Caldwell and Jim Bob Cooter

Even after being a head coach, you want to surround yourself with a staff that will improve your weaknesses as a HC and align with your vision. This will be the task of second/third time HCs in:

Las Vegas Raiders: Josh McDaniels

Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Pederson

Houston Texans: Lovie Smith

New Orleans Saints: Dennis Allen

The hiring cycle is the most important time of the year for teams looking to improve. There is nothing more crucial to these new Head Coaches’ success than bringing in coordinators that can bring value, trust, AND help them through the process of being a leader in a new city.