The thin line between winning and losing in the NFL typically comes down to coaching. Although each and every head coach in the league possesses a wealth of football knowledge and motivational techniques, only a handful of guys are truly elite at their profession. Imagine if I could take all of those coaches and compile a dream staff to guide a team through a regular season. Who should I let call the offensive and defensive plays? Who would serve as excellent position coaches? What about the direction of the kicking game?
Those were some of the questions that I had to consider when compiling my list. After much thought and a little consultation with some of my peers, here's my dream coaching staff:
Head coach: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Love him or hate him, there's no disputing Belichick's standing as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. He has guided the Patriots to four Super Bowl wins in six appearances and led the team to seven straight playoff berths. Given that he earned another pair of rings as a defensive coordinator (with the New York Giants, in 1986 and 1990), the hooded one is the easy choice as the leader of our star-studded coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator: Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Don't let the Packers' 2015 performance overshadow McCarthy's impeccable reputation as a play caller. I've had former NFC defensive coordinators describe McCarthy as a "stone-cold killer" due to his extraordinary instincts. With McCarthy also viewed as a quarterback-friendly play designer with an adaptable mind, the Packers' leader is my choice to direct this offense.
Quarterback coach: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
It's hard to find a quarterback guru with a more impressive résumé than Arians. The grizzled NFL coaching veteran has tutored the likes of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, but it's his work with Andrew Luck in 2012 that makes him the right choice for this team. Despite his tough-love approach, he has a way of connecting with young quarterbacks, which is critical in a league that's built around the position.
Running backs: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
For all of the credit Payton receives for his work as a quarterback whisperer, the Saints' head coach quietly builds balanced offenses that revolve around a rugged rushing attack and a complementary vertical passing game that exploits one-on-one coverage on the perimeter. Considering the success the Saints have enjoyed with a hodgepodge of running backs, it is sensible to appoint Payton as the leader of this group.
Wide receivers: Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Jackson was strongly considered for the quarterback position based on his ability to build up pedestrian quarterbacks (see: what he accomplished with Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer), but most observers overlook his impact on the careers of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as their position coach in Cincinnati from 2004 through 2006. (Johnson averaged 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns over that span, while Houshmandzadeh averaged 1,005 yards and seven touchdowns.)
Offensive line: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid started his NFL coaching career in Green Bay as a tight ends coach, so it's easy to envision him transitioning to the offensive line. He has a keen understanding of trench play following a solid career as a starter on the offensive line at BYU and stints as an offensive line coach in the college ranks, and his knowledge of the passing game should help our team create impenetrable pass-protection schemes. On a staff loaded with quarterback gurus, Reid's offensive line expertise could make him a valuable asset.
Tight ends: Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans
The ex-NFL tight end is the perfect fit for the position, based on his experience as a player and coach. Not to mention, Mularkey is a creative play designer with a knack for drawing up exotic trick plays to generate big gains on the perimeter. With a room full of aggressive play callers and schemers, Mularkey's innovative approach could help the team push the envelope on game day.
Defensive coordinator: Todd Bowles, New York Jets
The innovative defensive wizard is an ultra-aggressive play caller with a tremendous feel for attacking pass-protection schemes with overload blitzes and simulated pressures. Bowles relentlessly pursues quarterbacks with a barrage of blitzes, leading to a number of turnovers and splash plays from defenders. As a squad leader, Bowles shows outstanding people skills while also cleverly mixing in some motivational tactics that would make his mentor (Bill Parcells) proud.
Defensive line: Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Ryan's brash and bodacious personality doesn't always play well in press conferences, but it definitely helps him connect with the strong-willed characters that occupy the defensive-line meeting room. Most importantly, he is a superb teacher with the knowledge and communication skills to help young defenders grow into monsters along the defensive line.
Linebackers: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera brings a wealth of knowledge to the position after playing on the legendary '85 Bears defense and learning play design from the late Jim Johnson in Philadelphia. The combined experience will help him drop wise words in the ears of linebackers looking to wreck shop on opposing offenses trying to attack the middle of the field. Given a couple of instinctive playmakers with athleticism and cover skills (see: Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly in Carolina), Rivera could be a key member of a defensive staff that wreaks havoc on foes around the league.
Defensive backs: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers' ultra-confident leader is one of the best secondary coaches in the business. He not only understands scheme and technique, but he is a masterful motivator with a tremendous feel for getting players to bring maximum intensity to the field. Although Tomlin prefers a zone-based scheme in the back end, he is an exceptional teacher capable of helping any defensive back enhance his toolbox.
Pass-rush specialist: John Fox, Chicago Bears
Fox helped Michael Strahan (in New York), Julius Peppers (in Carolina) and Von Miller (in Denver) master a handful of pass-rush techniques that enabled them to become perennial Pro Bowlers, and the wily defensive coach is the perfect choice to tutor situational pass rushers. Fox will not only teach young pass rushers to harass quarterbacks off the edges, but he could assist in designing nickel blitzes.
Special teams: John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh, who entered the NFL as a special teams coach, is the perfect choice to coordinate the kicking game. Known as a player's coach, Harbaugh is a strong motivator and tactician in the kicking game. With the overwhelming majority of NFL games decided by seven points or fewer, the opportunity to grab a coach with extensive special teams experience could be a game changer.
Quality control: Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins
Despite his reputation as a certified quarterback developer, Gase is best suited to handle the research duties on the staff. He is an inventive offensive mind and a detailed teacher, but he still needs some seasoning before assuming a bigger role in our star-studded group.