With eight coaching vacancies making the head coach market a seller’s one, teams are turning over every stone to try to find “the next Sean McVay” (and to a lesser extent, Kyle Shanahan).
It’s reached the point where the Cardinals have hired Kliff Kingsbury. Taking over a Texas Tech program that had 20 straight winning seasons and missed just three bowl games in that span, he missed three bowl games and had four losing seasons. At 35-40, he has the second worst winning percentage in Texas Tech history. He had Baker Mayfield, who left after one season citing poor to non-existent communication from Kingsbury, and Patrick Mahomes, who he went 13-16 with. Kingsbury has no NFL coaching experience, the track record of NFL head coaches hired with no NFL experience is poor, as is the track record of coaches with mediocre at best head coaching careers. There were 24 college head coach openings besides Texas Tech, none of them wanted him, he landed at USC as the offensive coordinator. What is the appeal of Kingsbury? He took over a respectable, stable and successful Texas Tech program that, having played there, he knew innately, and was one of the worst coaches they ever had. He alienated Mayfield after one season, in part because he didn’t recognize the talent he had, and he did squat with Mahomes. But he’s young and an offensive coach, so that makes him the next McVay.
The Cardinals press release announcing Kingsbury made sure to include that he’s friends with Sean McVay. pic.twitter.com/oEqGfkgWdT— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) January 8, 2019
The Packers at least went to the McVay and Shanahan well in hiring Matt LaFleur, who coached under both. LaFleur at least has credible resume items. He was Matt Ryan’s position coach in his MVP season, and then the next year with the Rams was the (non-playcalling) offensive coordinator for the highest scoring team in the league. Head coaches have been hired with less impressive credentials, but LaFleur’s greatest selling point appears to be that having worked for Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, he is the logical Next McVay or Shanahan. Maybe he was also able to name all the starters.
Meanwhile, no one is looking for The Next Doug Pederson. To be fair, it’s hard to define exactly what The Next Doug Pederson is for identification purposes. Pederson’s strengths are in play calling, aggressiveness, and leadership, most of which are not clearly attributable to an assistant coach, and his resume prior to being hired as a head coach was relatively thin.
But that’s beside the point. The league never tires of finding the “hot” candidate, which for the past two seasons is someone who replicates the idea of Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan. McVay’s Rams are fun to watch, but he’s come up short against other teams with Super Bowl aspirations. Last year he lost to both the Eagles and Vikings, the top two seeds in the NFC, this season in addition to losing to the Eagles again he lost to the Saints and Bears, the two highest non-Rams seeds in the NFC, though the Rams did beat the Chiefs and Chargers. Shanahan took over a bad 49ers team and has been dealt some key injuries, but San Francisco went backwards this year. Both coaches still have the bulk of their careers ahead of them, but so far the realities of their head coaching careers haven’t caught up to the ideas of them, yet teams are looking for carbon copies.
Meanwhile Doug Pederson just keeps winning. He’s won four straight playoff games with his backup quarterback leading a team littered with injuries, developed his starter into an MVP candidate, and he single-handedly changed the league’s attitude towards fourth downs. If that wasn’t enough, Frank Reich, the Matt LaFleur to his Sean McVay, is also coaching this weekend. But no one appears to be looking for the next coach who will embrace analytics and push the envelope, and bring strong leadership. They just want a coach under 40 who’s coached some quarterbacks in some capacity.
No one knows who will be a great head coach until they’re a head coach. Pederson was widely considered the worst hire of 2016, he’s the only one left standing and one of the best coaches in the league. Matt LaFleur might be a great head coach. Kliff Kingsbury could have an incredible NFL career ahead of him, and an Air Raid disciple running an NFL has potential to be exciting. But if you’re going to look to emulate a coach because of the last two seasons, shouldn’t you look to the one who’s been the most successful?