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The Value of Things: Coaching

How do organizations go about finding the right fit at head coach?

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

I am a big believer in numbers. The last football I actually played was in 8th grade. It’s a different story I can tell at a different time. As I alluded to in my introduction, I have coached girl’s volleyball in the past (thus the retired part of my moniker), but I am going to try to not overstep in terms of comparing one to another. It goes back to the portability of traits thing I mentioned in the primer episode of the value of things.

So, we could argue over and over about who the top ten coaches are currently in the league. We could also just look at their records. If we consider Sean Payton as an active coach then the top ten coaches in terms of regular season records are listed below. Some of you may want to include Zach Taylor and Kyle Shanahan and replace two of the guys below. As you will see, that would only serve to bolster my point.

  1. Matt LeFleur .796
  2. Sean McVay .679
  3. Bill Belichick .670
  4. Andy Reid .633
  5. Sean Payton .631
  6. Bruce Arians .625*
  7. Mike McCarthy .609
  8. Mike Tomlin .609*
  9. Sean McDermott .605
  10. John Harbaugh .598

* does not include ties

The first and only real pertinent question we ask is what these ten (or 12) guys have in common. There are no hard and fast rules. Some of these guys are offensive guys and some are defensive guys. There is even one special teams coordinator here. One of the things you account for when studying human beings is that there will never be 100 percent of anything. You go according to what happens a majority of the time.

Listen to enough analysts and you will discover that teams win games in one of three ways. Either they are more talented than the opposing team, make fewer mistakes than the other team, or have superior strategy. Yes, there is normally a combination, but it comes down to those three things more often than not.

What you don’t see is the idea that one team wants it more than the other team. All of us have seen numerous movies where a coach gives an inspirational speech before the game or at half time and the underdogs miraculously win by wanting it more. That is a bunch of *kittens*. Sure, teams may have the occasional game where they have extra motivation for one reason or another, but one hardly builds a whole organizational structure over simply “wanting it more.”

So, if we acknowledge that wanting it more is not a relevant factor or a repeatable dynamic then we’d have to change our view of coaches. While some pundits talk about someone being a leader of men, that can’t be the main consideration. Some of the coaches might be a great leader of men, but that trait would be secondary to something else that they bring to the table.

So, if it isn’t an ability to inspire then what is it? It has to be one of the other two things that coaches can control, Either they are superior when it comes to strategy on one side of the ball or another or they have superior attention to detail so that they and their team don’t make as many mistakes as their opponent.

Where does Lovie fit in with all of this?

We ought to dispense with the idea that the coaching search included Lovie Smith. Anyone believing that should come to my sales pitch on some beachfront property in the Texas panhandle. Is he superior at strategy or a great mind when it comes to making sure the i’s have all been dotted and the t’s have all been crossed?

NFL: Scouting Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The truth of the matter is that Lovie is average. Even if we ignore his coaching record at the University of Illinois we would see an 89-87 record. If we ignore the alarming trend in how that record was compiled we’d have to conclude that Lovie is an average football coach. That’s nothing to sneeze at. The last guy to occupy the job was a lot less than average. The now infamous BOB was little more than average himself.

Heck, the best coach in franchise history according to record (if you include his Denver seasons) wasn’t much better than that. It’s the way numbers work. Some are good and some are bad. By sheer definition some have to be in between. If we establish that the top ten coaches (whoever they may be) are all offensive and defensive gurus (with a notable exception or two) then we have to ask if Smith is one. Maybe he was 20 years ago, but that isn’t the case now. There is nothing in his recent coaching record that would indicate that. Yet, he has coached defenses before and some of them were really good back in the day. So, that’s better than the alternative I guess.

What I learned from coaching

I coached varsity volleyball for two seasons. I hated almost every minute of it. That was particularly true at the last job I had. There was administration stuff that bogged you down and the learning curve was outrageous. I learned that being successful as a coach was more than simply knowing the sport. It goes back to the traits discussion in the last piece. Someone with the chops to be a good varsity or college coach probably doesn’t have the chops to be a good youth or junior high coach.

I loved coaching younger kids. They got more excited when they did something right and coaching fundamentals was fun. Obvious parallels could be drawn to football. Some guys make good position coaches. Some guys make good coordinators. Some guys are actually better as a head coach. Figuring that out isn’t all that difficult. I think 99 percent of Houston knew what would happen when the last guy was hired.

Smith is probably best cast as a head coach. He’s done that more than anything else at any level. He will probably be better than he was at Illinois. Hopefully he will be better than he was at Tampa Bay. Yet, 99 percent of the fan base knows how this will turn out. Given all the constraints he will likely be average. Average isn’t bad. It’s average.