By HCR Staff | May 14, 2020
It’s common for NFL head coaches to field questions about how this player or that player must improve. It’s a standard narrative; essentially, our team can’t get better unless the player gets better.
We’ll buy that narrative – but only to an extent, and a short one at that.
Head coaches, like players, have to get better too. Just because they’re an NFL head coach does not mean they have arrived. Some have, but not many.
Most have to improve, and significantly.
Here are a few of our observations from last season.
Sean McVay/Rams. There was a time when everything Sean McVay touched – or even wanted to touch – turned to gold. Remember when simply listing McVay as a friend made you a serious head coaching candidate? Not anymore. Super Bowl 53 and Bill Belichick exposed an area where McVay’s skillset needs a bit of work: in-game adjustments.
McVay can get a bit one-dimensional, and when opponents catch on, he simply hasn’t shown as much fluidity in adjusting as one might think. Now, to be fair, the 2019 season presented an obstacle McVay hadn’t had to deal with before: his OL unit wasn’t stable. Also the entire organization had to manage heightened expectations. Let’s be clear: McVay is one of the best head coaches in the game. But can he improve? Sure, and we’re expecting to see just a bit more in-game adaptability.
Bill O’Brien/Texans. Solid head coach, but will be even better if and when he can spend just a tad less energy with his “me against the world” routine. With just a bit more…let’s say maturity, he can reach new heights. An NFL head coach never should lose a 24-0 lead in a playoff game; that’s just our stance. The only way that happens is if you do something to actually help your opponent back into the game. That’s what O’Brien did in the loss to the Chiefs – the fake punt call simply was wrong – 1000% wrong. O’Brien’s explanation was worse and made no sense, and that was our indication that he still needs some maturity with respect to his in-game judgment. Again, and to be clear: O’Brien has turned the Texans into a perennial contender, so he’s done a very good job. We’re just pointing out where we feel he needs to improve.
Anthony Lynn/Chargers. This is a squad that has a chance to make some noise, even with the loss of QB Philip Rivers. Lynn’s grown a lot on the job and we feel he has a bright future. It appears to us that in his tenure, he’s allowed the players to lead. Last year was lost, however, when no one appeared to rein in Rivers. It appeared to us that too much deference was given to Rivers, and that’s where we feel Lynn has to show up in 2020: he’s got to put his stamp on the organization. Games have to be managed better and with more discipline.
The Chargers had chances in 2019 in several key games, but in crucial moments, they made poor decisions and didn’t execute. Yes, one can always can blame the players, but we felt Lynn also helped put them in a position to fail to execute.
This is a pivotal year for Lynn as he seeks a long-term extension with the organization. Chargers ownership wants to see him succeed; he is well-liked, but 2020 is the year Lynn has to show greater consistency with his game management.
Vic Fangio/Broncos. We like Fangio’s trajectory; we’re here to tell Broncos fans that he’s developing nicely. We suspect Fangio felt he’d never get a shot as a head coach, so he was content simply coaching ball and coordinating. He’s never struck us as a guy who had any real interest in the administrative part of the game that every head coach has to deal with.
His rookie year had its trials, but in firing first-time OC Rich Scangarello, we felt Fangio finally put on the big boy pants in his development. We never liked the hire of Scangarello in the first place; there may be a time for Scangarello as an OC, but this wasn’t it. Fangio had to make the tough call in letting his friend go, and he’ll be better for it. New OC Pat Shurmur’s HC experience also will help Fangio, and Shurmur has a long track record in developing quarterbacks.
Mike Tomlin/Steelers. Tomlin’s got a team that can contend for a Super Bowl berth in 2020, but his odds get better if, in our view, he spends just a bit less time with grand proclamations. Tomlin’s record speaks for itself; he’s done extremely well. But to be fair: the Steelers, as an organization, are well-trained to give their head coach, whomever it is, perhaps the very best support in the league. The Rooneys run a very disciplined organization, and that helps the head coach. It’s not as if Tomlin created the Steelers’ winning culture – he inherited it. In 2020, Tomlin gets QB Ben Roethlisberger back, and his defense is one of the best in football. Where Tomlin sometimes gets sidetracked is that he delves into issues far beyond his own team (remember the headphones in Foxboro quagmire?). If he can spend less energy on that, and more energy on his team, we like the Steelers in 2020 getting to Tampa.