At this point in the year, hopeful coaches around the National Football League are searching for a new job. Some are getting hired, while others are getting fired. The hardest position in the league in today’s game is not the quarterback, the running back or any defensive position, but rather the head coach.
The pressure on the head coach to perform in today’s game is at an all–time high. In the past four seasons alone, 22 teams have fired their head coach. Half of those teams have done so more than once. Only five of the 22 teams that have changed coaches over the past few years have made the playoffs the year after their coaching change. Every time a team underperforms throughout a season, it automatically puts their head coach in the hot seat. The blame is rarely put on the players. It almost always falls on the head coach.
Looking back throughout history, firing a head coach with a losing record at the end of their first season doesn’t always turn out to be the best move for an organization. Jimmy Johnson, known as one of the best coaches in the history of the league, went a dismal 1-15 in his first season as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1989-1990 season. In his second season, he posted a losing record again at 7-9. The following two years things came together for Johnson, winning back-to-back Super Bowls in Dallas. He too would eventually go on to be fired, but Johnson’s coaching stint in Dallas goes to show that sometimes the first year isn’t always a fair indication of how good a coach is, or can be.
Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots is currently in the conversation for being the best coach to ever step foot on an NFL sideline. In his first season as head coach, Belichick and the Patriots went a lackluster 5-11. In today’s game, that calls for a firing. The Patriots decided to stick with Belichick’s program, and he led them to three Super Bowl victories in the following four seasons.
“Pretty much everybody is on a one-year contract in this league. I don’t know how you build a program in one year,” Belichick said at a press conference earlier this year.
Every coach has a different philosophy and style of how he wants his players to play. To only give a coach one to three years to gather the correct personnel and implement new offensive and defensive schemes is just unrealistic. However, general managers want instant results, but championship programs aren’t built in one or two seasons.
“That means you’re going to turn over a high percentage of the roster because the players that the other coach had don’t fit the new philosophy, so a lot of the players are going to have to change in part because of the philosophy and probably in part because of the scheme,” Belichick added.
The most recent surprise firing was of former Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly. Kelly had gone 26-21 with the Eagles over three seasons, including a playoff appearance in his first season. Kelly coached his team to two straight 10-6 seasons, then went 6-9 this past season, calling for his firing in week 16, before the season even ended.
Belichick was disappointed that the Eagles had severed ties with the coach.
“Chip is a great coach. He’ll end up somewhere and he’ll do a great job there,” Belichick said.
As history has shown, it is more likely than not that if you stick with your head coach for more than two or three years, you will see winning results. Keeping these coaches on such a short string in unfair to them, and puts unnecessary pressure on them to rush their program to success in the quickest way possible. Rushing these programs has shown to not be an effective method of coaching, with an abnormal spike in the amount of coaches let go in recent seasons.
If any piece of advice should be given to upper management personnel around the league, it’s that patience is the key to success.