*Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his weekly notebook. *
ASK THE LEAGUE: What should NFL teams seek in a head coach?
With six head-coaching jobs open, I thought I would reach out to a few friends in the business to see what they value in a frontman. Here's my question and their responses:
If you were hiring a head coach, which essential traits would you demand?
NFC personnel executive: "He must be able to command the room. He needs to be clear and consistent with his messaging when it comes to establishing his culture. He also needs to understand how to utilize all of the talent on the 53-man roster."
Former vice president of player personnel: "He must be a leader of men. I also want a guy who is focused solely on winning games and developing players."
AFC senior personnel executive: "1) Ability to relate. 2) Teaching ability. 3) Adaptability. ... He also needs to have a knack for hiring good assistant coaches, specifically offensive coordinator, offensive line, defensive line coach and defensive coordinator."
NFC scout: "To be a good head coach in this league, you must be a leader of men capable of communicating in a direct way. He must hold true to his word when dealing with players because trust and communication is critical to building a great team. ... He must also be adaptable in today's game. He has to be able to put guys in a position to succeed based on their strengths. Whether it's tweaking the scheme or identifying a specific role for a player, a good head coach finds a way to maximize the talents on the roster. Finally, he must be self-critical. He needs to constantly evaluate the operation and make changes when necessary. Accountability is key to long-term success."
Whenever the coaching carousel starts spinning, the speculation automatically goes to the which hot offensive and defensive coordinators are ready to fill the vacancies around the league. While I have the utmost respect for play callers, I know that skill isn't necessarily a prerequisite for serving as the CEO of a football team. Sure, it is nice to have a head coach capable of lending his tactical expertise to one side of the ball, but the job of a head coach is to manage the entire football team.
From establishing the core philosophy of the team to creating the culture in the locker room to determining which players are "up" on game days to managing timeouts in critical situations, the head coach's job requires superb organizational, leadership and communication skills. Naturally, the position demands a high level of football intelligence and situational awareness, but those traits pale in comparison to the ability of getting a group of young men moving in the right direction.
During my time in the NFL as a player, I was fortunate enough to be around some of the best and brightest coaches in the game. It is hard to dispute the résumés of Marv Levy (Hall of Famer), Mike Holmgren (Super Bowl winner), Tom Coughlin (two-time Super Bowl winner), Marty Schottenheimer (200 regular-season wins) and Jon Gruden (Super Bowl winner). Although their coaching styles were different, they shared several core characteristics as team leaders.
First, each coach was a natural leader of men. They all commanded the attention of their players when they stood in the front of the room. Some were more demonstrative when addressing players (see: Schottenheimer and Gruden), but each exuded a level of confidence that permeated the room. Considering how teams reflect the image of the head coach, that confidence and presence is essential to establishing a winning culture.
In addition to having a commanding presence, each of the coaches had a clear vision for how he wanted the team to play and consistently conveyed that message on daily basis. For instance, Schottenheimer would impose the "Seattle Rule" (runners must carry the ball in a tucked position past a cone 25 yards away from the line of scrimmage and jog back to the huddle with the ball still in the tucked position before handing it to a ball boy) to emphasize ball security. Meanwhile, Coughlin created the "Concentration Line" at the edge of the practice field to remind players of the focus expected when they crossed the line for practice. Most coaches in the league use similar tactics with their teams, but all of the coaches listed above were diligent about expressing their expectations and followed through with their actions.
Finally, all of these coaches were adaptable to their teams. They were able to assess the collective talent of the roster and make adjustments to help the personnel reach peak performance. For example, Holmgren was a pass-heavy proponent during his tenure in Green Bay, due to the presence of a three-time MVP at quarterback (Brett Favre). Yet he became more run-oriented in Seattle when he discovered an MVP-caliber runner in Shaun Alexander. Despite wanting to put the ball in the air 30-plus times based on his success as a play caller in West Coast offensive schemes, he scaled back on his approach to enhance the team's chances of winning. In the end, it's about winning -- and coaches should be able to make adjustments to increase their chances of finishing on the right side of the ledger.
With plenty of teams searching for the right leader to reverse franchise fortunes, I just hope they know what they're looking for and make decisions based on core characteristics needed to lead a group in the right direction, as opposed to a sexy play-call sheet or gaudy stats.