By Juan C. Lozano | June, 19, 2018
It’s fourth-and-three and your favorite team is punting. Like many fans, you’ve probably used this opportunity to check your fantasy team stats.
To some fans, special teams is uninteresting. Chances are they can probably name a few offensive and defensive coordinators in the NFL. But how many special teams coordinators can they name? I’m guessing not many.
Special teams coordinators — like many of the players they coach — work in comparative anonymity. Their work is generally only recognized when protections break down and a kick gets blocked. Most other times, the special teams coordinator is an afterthought.
Chances are a first-time head coach was either an offensive or defensive coordinator before getting the big promotion (look for more about this in a forthcoming feature). The last special teams coordinator to become a head coach was John Harbaugh in 2008. Harbaugh was hired from the Philadelphia Eagles, but only after serving as the defensive backs coach in 2007 after nine seasons (1998-2006) as special teams coordinator.
Who will be the next special teams coordinator to become a head coach?
Submitted for consideration: Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp.
Conversations with coaches and executives around the league reveal high praise for Fipp’s special teams knowledge, organization and ability to get the most out of the personnel.
Fipp has held the position with the Eagles since 2013 – along with running backs coach Duce Staley and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, he survived the transition from Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson. During that time, the Eagles special teams improved (per the fine folks at Football Outsiders) and, of course, the Eagles just won Super Bowl LII.
A coach with a strong reputation and a winning pedigree like Fipp should be strongly sought after.
After all, the Eagles’ 2017 offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, parlayed the Eagles’ success into the Colts’ head coaching job and current defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will likely get the opportunity to interview for future head coaching vacancies.
So why not Fipp? Why is he not mentioned for head coaching opportunities? Why not other special teams coordinators?
Part of this is attributable to the narrow view of NFL decision makers.
Fans aren’t the only ones who overlook special teams. I’ve had one team executive tell me that special teams was a “wash,” as if it all evened out at the end of the game.
Front office execs want to make the splash hire (“win the press conference,” as they say). They want to get fans excited (i.e., sell tickets).
So who is going to make that splash? The offensive coordinator that helped put points on the scoreboard. The defensive coordinator that led the stingy defense. What about the special teams coordinator that helped a team get good field position?
Most decision makers and fans feel they can analyze and identify quality offensive or defensive play. They can’t do that with special teams play. It’s a much more difficult task.
Aside from the on-field production, here are the some other characteristics that make Fipp and other special teams coordinators valuable — and qualified for head coaching opportunities:
• ROSTER/TALENT EVALUATION: Aside from the head coach and strength coach, the special teams coordinators probably know team personnel better than anyone else in the building. They know who is willing and able to play “Teams.” They must evaluate the roster and communicate to position coaches and the head coach the players they want or need, both on a macro (a player’s need to be on the 53- or 46-man roster) and micro (individual game situation) level.
• STRATEGIC: The special teams coordinator communicates with the head coach about in-game decisions the same way that offensive and defensive coordinators do.
• COMMUNICATION: In addition to communicating with the head coach frequently during the game, they must also communicate with training staff as well as position coaches about the availability of players during the contest. There are a lot of bodies on the sideline. The ability to keep track of all the moving parts would be helpful as a head coach.
The special teams coordinator also has the responsibility of addressing the team in a special teams meeting. A special teams coach does this frequently, if not every day. During these meetings, he is addressing anyone that has anything to do with special teams and this is generally a large percentage of the team. His ability to keep things fresh, concise, informative and motivational is a coveted coaching trait.
Fipp, 44, is a former University of Arizona walk-on turned scholarship free safety from San Diego. He has defensive coaching experience as well, having been defensive coordinator for Cal Poly and San Jose State in the early-mid 2000s, before joining the NFL in 2008 with the San Francisco 49ers. Fipp was an assistant special teams coach from 2008-2010 with the 49ers and in 2011-12 for the Miami Dolphins before joining the Eagles in 2013. Another stellar season from the Eagles’ special teams might be enough to make Fipp a candidate to be the next ST coordinator turned head coach.