Dannehy: No Sure Strategy for Finding Next Great Head Coach

| January 12th, 2022

Everyone has their preferred qualifications for the next Chicago Bears head coach. In a way, they are all correct. Or all wrong.

No Surefire Resume

There are 11 coaches who have been in the league for more than three years and won 60% of their games. Of those, five were defensive coaches. If you stretch the list to include Pete Carroll – currently at 59.3%, with a Super Bowl ring – it’s an even six offensive and six defensive coaches. So, while fans tend to focus on one side of the ball or the other, history doesn’t seem to prefer either when it comes to sustained success.

What’s maybe more interesting is that their coordinator experience isn’t all that relevant.

  • Five of the coaches were coordinators for at least five years. All of them had success, though they weren’t successful every year. (Bruce Arians had some awful offenses in Cleveland, so did Mike McCarthy in San Francisco. Sean McDermott was fired as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia.)
  • Sean Payton was only a coordinator for three years, but he was stripped of play-calling duties by Jim Fassel early on and wasn’t a regular play caller again until he got to New Orleans.
  • Mike Tomlin and Mike Vrabel were only coordinators for one year. Tomlin was good, Vrabel wasn’t.
  • Matt LaFleur only called plays for one season, having one of the ten worst offenses in the league. (Are we sure LaFleur is good and isn’t just being carried by Aaron Rodgers?).
  • Andy Reid was never a coordinator at all.
  • John Harbaugh coached special teams.

Four of the coaches are now on their second teams, with three having more success in their second stints. Two of them benefitted from Tom Brady and the third found Patrick Mahomes. If Justin Fields is great, he’ll make whoever the next coach is look like a genius.


Leadership is thrown out as being important and surely it is. But until a coach is standing in front of a room, with his team in front of him, it’s an unpredictable trait. LaFleur was passed over because he is soft spoken; Arians was passed over because he’s too outspoken.

While there is no leadership test a candidate can pass, there clearly seems to be trend towards hiring former players who displayed their leadership on the field, i.e., Vrabel and Dan Campbell.


If the Bears are looking at giving coaches a second chance, a good start would be to make sure they were able to excel in their specialty the first time around. Lovie Smith coached the team for a long time because his defense was dominant; Matt Nagy was fired after four years because his offense stunk.

  • Belichick had four top-15 defenses in five years with Cleveland.
  • Arians had three top-15 offenses in five years with Arizona.
  • Andy Reid had 12 straight seasons in which his team was inside the top 20 in scoring and yardage in Philadelphia.
  • McCarthy’s Packers were typically near the top-five in both categories.
  • The same is true for Carroll, who had at least solid defenses in New York and New England before the Legion of Boom hit in Seattle.

Those coaches proved that they could teach their side of the ball while also being the head coach. Leadership is great, but the best coaches seem to give their teams a strategic advantage. That doesn’t bode well for Dan Quinn, Todd Bowles or Les Frazier, but could be good news for Doug Pederson, Brian Flores and Josh McDaniels, if teams show interest.

The Big Game

Maybe what’s most interesting is that nine of the 11 coaches mentioned at least appeared in a Super Bowl in some capacity before getting their first head coaching jobs. Of those, five came away with rings, two doing so as coordinators. Perhaps there is real value in being a part of a winning organization?

Then again, one look at the numerous former New England Patriots employees and it’s clear that winning shouldn’t be the most important part of the decision.

In Summary?

The Bears are casting a wide net in their search for the next head coach. The decision will dramatically impact the future of this organization. But there is no set of criteria to determine whether or not a hire is a good hire. Sometimes it’s just luck, and circumstance.