By HCR Staff | December 29, 2020
The NFL’s head coaching carousel is going to start spinning in less than a week. The league’s already got 3 openings – Falcons, Lions, Texans – and by next Monday, another 3 or 4 clubs may be looking for a new head coach (Chargers, Jets, Jaguars, Bears?).
The NFL’s Rooney Rule mandates that every club looking for a new head coach must interview one or more minority candidates. But given the historical lack of opportunities for minorities, how deep is this pool, and what would we be looking for if we were in the position to hire?
Well, the pool is far deeper than one might think. In fact, it’s straight up deep – no need for any qualifiers. For example, there’s a solid group of candidates that check off the following criteria: i) Head coaching experience; ii) NFL experience; iii) Success as a head coach.
Here’s who we’ve got (in no particular order):
Karl Dorrell. Dorrell’s the head coach at the University of Colorado, and he’s coming off a great first year there. He’s the former head coach at UCLA, where he also had a winning record under difficult institutional circumstances. He’s got extensive NFL experience as an assistant coach – he can count Mike Shanahan and Bill Parcells as mentors. He’s been a successful playcaller as well, and he’s got a magic touch with assistants. At UCLA, his early graduate assistants included Kyle Shanahan, Brian Callahan (current Bengals Offensive Coordinator), and Clark Lea (new Vanderbilt head coach and former Notre Dame defensive coordinator). Also on his UCLA staff were Tom Cable (former Raiders head coach), Jay Norvell (University of Nevada head coach), Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs offensive coordinator), DeWayne Walker (longtime NFL assistant and Group of 5 head coach), Don Johnson (longtime NFL assistant), Jim Svoboda (Broyles Award winner), Jon Embree (former Colorado head coach and current 49ers TE coach), etc.
Marvin Lewis. All we have to say about Lewis is “track record.” And he built that track record under ownership that is considered among the most difficult – from a budget standpoint – in the NFL. Lewis had an incredible run as Cincinnati Bengals head coach. Yes, we get that he never won a playoff game, but by Bengal standards, just getting to the playoffs as consistently as he did, under the circumstances he inherited, is remarkable. Now there are some who suggest he may not have the requisite energy at age 62 – and that could be accurate – we don’t know. But when a Lewis is available, one can’t tell us that the “minority pool” isn’t deep with talent.
David Shaw. The current Stanford head coach has a glittering record of success. He’s got NFL experience, and he’s also the son of a longtime NFL assistant. The refrain on Shaw is that he doesn’t want to leave Stanford. That may be true, but has any NFL team ever also offered him enough money, authority and family comfort to test that premise? For example, Raiders owner Mark Davis gave Jon Gruden a 10-year, $100 million deal to come out of the TV booth. If Shaw were offered that, would he take it? We don’t know, but he’s talented, he’s got the track record, and he’s more evidence of a deep pool of minority talent.
Jay Norvell. The current University of Nevada head coach is successfully rebuilding a program that had eroded under the watch of former head coach Brian Polian, son of Bill Polian. Norvell is a former NFL assistant, and he’s got an impressive pedigree. His coaching influences include Hayden Fry, Bob Stoops, Jim Mora, Barry Alvarez and the like. He went to a Super Bowl as the tight ends coach for the Raiders under Bill Callahan. He’s also got great familiarity with the college offenses as varied as the Air Raid and Pistol, and the NFL West Coast offense. Norvell’s the son of a former Power 5 college athletic director, so he’s grown up around the game as well.
James Franklin. The current Penn State head coach spent a year in the NFL as a coach for the Packers, and like David Shaw, has had extensive success in college as a head coach. He’s on his second Power 5 program at Penn State, after having successfully led Vanderbilt. At age 48, he’s barely entering the prime of his coaching career. Again, like Shaw, there are those who question whether he’d leave college football. But again, has any NFL club really tested the premise?
That’s 5 minorities who clear our basic, but lofty criteria. Five guys who have had their butts in the seat as a head coach. Five guys who have had to be the leader of an organization. And 5 guys who’ve all had success as a head coach. Finally, that’s 5 guys who’ve had NFL experience as well.
Now compare this group to “hot,” current NFL assistant candidates, who’ve never been a head coach – on any level.
We’re not picking on these candidates, but each one requires some projection as a head coach, some speculation.
Is Brian Daboll, current Bills offensive coordinator, more qualified than the group we’ve identified?
Is Joe Brady, current Panthers offensive coordinator, more qualified?
Is Mike LaFleur, current 49ers passing game coordinator, more qualified?
Is Eric Bienemy, current Chiefs offensive coordinator, more qualified?
Is Byron Leftwich, current Bucs offensive coordinator, more qualified?
There’s a lot of talent out there – it just has to be supported. Many NFL head coaching legends failed – before they succeeded. The difference was support from ownership, in terms of both resources and patience.