In an article published right around this time last year, ESPN the magazine's Seth Wickersham believed that he had discovered the formula to finding a great NFL head coach.
Tthe majority of the most successful NFL headmen -- past and present -- have possessed at least one of the following four characteristics:
1. They were between ages 41 and 49.
2. They had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.
3. They were assistants on teams that won at least 50 games over a five-year span.
4. They had only one previous NFL head-coaching gig.
When he applied these qualifications to assistants around the NFL, the man he found that possessed them all was Marty Mornhinweg. He cites an extensive study on head coaching hires commissioned by the Eagles 10 years ago, another by the 49ers and one done by New York University. All suggest that Marty has all the characteristics of a great NFL head coach.
All of these documents point to a guy very much like Mornhinweg. For starters, the 47-year-old has spent 15 years in the league, including the past four as Eagles' offensive coordinator. According to Robert Boland, the sports management prof who spearheaded that 2007 NYU study, those two data points represent the ideal intersection of age (41-49) and NFL coaching experience (at least 11 years). Boland found that these coaches win more often than their younger -- and older -- counterparts; he included in his study Cowher, Shanahan, Bill Belichick and Mike Holmgren, who each won Super Bowls under those circumstances. The reasoning is simple: A coach in his 40s with more than a decade of NFL experience has the ideal mix of managerial competence and personal confidence to lead a team. He's young enough to relate to players but old enough to command respect.
He also notes that this recent trend of hiring young coaches has mostly led to poor returns. Guys like Mike Tomlin, Josh McDaniels & Raheem Morris all fit that mold. Tomlin took over an already Superbowl caliber team and has obviously continued that success, Josh McDaniels was an unmitigated disaster and lacked either the maturity or leadership skills to be a head coach and Raheem Morris flamed out in just his third year.
As much as the media and fanbases love to cry about teams hiring "retreads" rather than hot young assistants, the fact is that these "retreads" have a much better winning percentage.
According to the NYU researchers, coaches who were fired or resigned from their first head coaching job often thrived in their second. Since 1992, 35 of these so-called "once-over retreads" have won 57% of their games. That group numbers some illustrious members, including Shanahan (axed by the Oakland Raiders), Belichick (booted by the Browns), Tony Dungy (sacked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Tom Coughlin (canned by the Jacksonville Jaguars).
Coaches hired before their 36th birthday have won just 36% of their games and really Mike Tomlin is the only guy making that number as high as it is. After the jump is an interesting bit from the story about the Eagles search for Andy Reid.
When the Eagles set about the process of hiring a new coach after firing Ray Rhodes, Joe Banner commissioned a study on hiring head coaches. He found that the conventional wisdom of hiring former coordinators was actually flawed.
Clearly, his development hasn't gone unnoticed. Mornhinweg is the first assistant to whom Eagles head coach Andy Reid has delegated play-calling duties. Under Mornhinweg's direction last year, Philadelphia scored a club-record 416 points. This season's offense will be even better.
Conventional NFL wisdom has always had it that an effective and experienced coordinator will naturally become a successful coach. But Mornhinweg's excellence at his current position is actually one of the few strikes against him. Good coordinators, it turns out, don't always make great coaches.
The Eagles learned this the hard way, which led to their study. Back in 1995, Philly exec Joe Banner thought he had hired the perfect coach in Ray Rhodes, a former defensive coordinator for the Packers and 49ers. But after going 30-36-1 in four years with the Eagles, Rhodes was fired. Before his next search began, Banner analyzed 16 "elite" coaches who had appeared in at least two Super Bowls. He was startled to learn that many of the NFL's greats -- Bill Parcells, for instance -- weren't coordinators for a long or particularly successful period of time. And seven elites -- Chuck Noll, Jimmy Johnson and Marv Levy among them -- hadn't been NFL coordinators at all.
Since there seemed to be no correlation between the expertise that produces or prevents touchdowns and the leadership that wins titles, Banner says his study "liberated" the Eagles to think outside the traditional pool of candidates. The result was the hiring of Reid, the Packers QB coach at the time, who impressed everyone with his attention to detail, willingness to argue with his then-boss, Holmgren, and reputation as a leader. NYU's analysis validates the Eagles' theories: The regular-season winning percentage of former coordinators (49.1%) is ever-so-slightly lower than that of noncoordinators (49.3%).