Parker’s Sports Corner: The NFL head coach carousel


After every NFL season, at least five teams will fire their head coach, resulting in a carousel of head coaching candidates. 

This year, five defensively-minded head coaches and three offensively-minded head coaches were hired, which doesn’t match the general direction of the league. Over the past decade, NFL football has become an offensively-minded game. With rule changes that make defensive penalties more common and the emergence of new analytics, the phrase “defense wins championships” doesn’t ring as true as it once did.

Today’s NFL is a quarterback-centric, offensively-driven league, with everyone in a race to become the next dynamic offense. 

In fact, since the 2015 season, every Super Bowl-winning head coach who isn’t Bill Belichick has been offensively minded. The last time a defensively-minded head coach even appeared in the Super Bowl was the Patriots’ appearance in 2019. 

That’s five Super Bowls in a row to exclusively feature offensive-minded head coaches. 

Then why is this season different? This is the first time in nearly 10 years that defensively-minded head coaches have represented a majority of head coaching hires. Why would a team hire a defensively-minded coach if the only coaches winning Super Bowls are offensively-minded?

It’s because these coaches are not being hired to win Super Bowls.

In the NFL, head coaches are hired to be fired. It sounds bleak, but only three active NFL head coaches Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh and Andy Reid have been with their current teams for over a decade.

Teams aren’t expecting their new head coach to immediately catapult them into Super Bowl contention. And if a team is firing their head coach, there’s a good chance they’re far from being a Super Bowl contender anyway.  

Many teams are just looking for a head coach who can get the most out of the limited talent they have. Oftentimes it’s the defensive-minded coaches who are better at inspiring these underrated rosters to over-perform. Sure, offensive-minded coaches often possess more championship upside, but defensive-leaning coaches can get the best out of their team, even if they are untalented.  

Mike Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season with the Pittsburgh Steelers for his entire 17-year career, despite having a lackluster team the past few years. 

This past year, DeMeco Ryans was hired as the Houston Texans head coach. As a defensive-minded coach, he turned the 4-13 Texans around to a 10-7 record and a 45-point playoff win.

However, this is where the advantage of having a defensive-minded head coach ends. They’re stabilizers, motivators and leaders, but they’re not innovative enough in a game increasingly built around putting points on the board. There is a clear ceiling to these coaches: they will level out at a playoff win or two before their offensive limitations prohibit their teams from getting to the next level. 

Mike Tomlin has not appeared in a Super Bowl for over a decade. Sean McDermott leads the Bills to the playoffs every year, but is always defeated by more creative offensive teams. Brian Flores stabilized the Dolphins, but Miami reached new heights under offensive guru Mike McDaniel. And Mike Vrabel was just fired this past season after consecutive losing seasons.

These defensively-minded coaches have all been good, even great in the short term, but eventually teams who have Super Bowl hopes always end up hiring a great offensive coordinator.

The franchises who hire these head coaches are doing so out of fear. Fear that their team is not talented enough to put in the hands of a Super Bowl-winning coach. They are not playing to win, they are playing to not lose. 

If I could give a piece of advice to NFL front offices, it’d be this: if you want stabilization and competitiveness in the short term, maybe hire a defensive-minded head coach. If you want Super Bowls, go with an offensive guy.

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