What is the best formula for hiring a new head coach in the NFL these days?
Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all answers.
Among the eight head coaches still working this weekend, there are three different categories.
1. Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians were hired as extremely successful lifers who still were looking for a ring in their second head coaching jobs.
2. Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan were veteran position coaches and coordinators who were getting their first cracks at being the boss. Vrabel also enjoyed a successful 14-year playing career none of these others can match.
3. Rams coach Sean McVay and two of his prodigies, Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, who also coached under Vrabel, and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor were all wunderkind too smart for school and ready to jump right to the top. They were all young and relatively inexperienced. For the most part, this is also where college coaches making the jump to the NFL also land.
There’s also a fourth category, which would be failed first-time head coaches who went back to the salt mines for more than a few years and then got a second chance. I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, to name just a couple.
Marc Trestman fit the second group. John Fox certainly the first. Matt Nagy the third.
So what’s George McCaskey’s appetite now?
By now you all probably know something about current Bears candidates from first category: former Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, who actually won a Super Bowl, former Indianapolis and Detroit coach Jim Caldwell and former Atlanta coach Dan Quinn.
The second category would include current Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.
At the moment, there are no candidates from the third category, but the fourth category is stacked, with former Jets coach Todd Bowles, former Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier and former Miami coach Brian Flores.
While the Bears don’t appear to be looking for the next young hot shot, here’s a couple of names you should know: current Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell (another McVay prodigy), 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel and Luke Getsy and Adam Stenavich, both offensive assistants on LaFleur’s current staff.
All will get their time in this spotlight soon, if not this year.
Looking back to the 2018 hiring cycle that included Nagy, the six other hires included Jon Gruden (first), Vrabel, Matt Patricia (second), Frank Reich (second), Steve Wilks (third) and Pat Shurmur (fourth).
Only Vrabel and Reich have succeeded to date.
The 2019 cycle brought LaFleur, Taylor, Flores, Kliff Kingsbury (third), Freddie Kitchens (second), Vic Fangio (second), Adam Gase (fourth) and Arians.
Flores, Fangio and Gase already have failed, while LaFleur looks to be a home run.
Last year’s group delivered Mike McCarthy (first), Ron Rivera (first), Matt Rhule (third), Kevin Stefanski (second) and Joe Judge (third).
It’s too early to grade this group, but Judge already has failed. Rhule and Stefanski are in trouble.
What we can say with some confidence is we knew Rivera and Arians were very good coaches, Vrabel and LaFleur look to be home runs, and Reich is much admired but still has questions to answer.
Only our fourth category, guys who failed the first time, has failed to produce in recent years, with Gase and Shurmur whiffing again.
On the other hand, the second and third categories already have produced three failures each.
While no final conclusions can be drawn from any of this – I still like Bowles’ chances to be the next Belichick or Carroll as much as anyone of his ilk I’ve seen in years – it suggests previous head coaching experience is not necessarily beneficial, and it screams finding a winner is more about reading the man than anything you’ll find on his resume.
Weighing all of this, while I am still infatuated with Bowles, I would argue for me at least it makes Daboll, Eberflus, Hackett and Leftwich that much more appealing, and I’d love to see O’Connell and McDaniel added to the list of interviews, which is one of many reasons getting a general manager in place first is so critical.
Perhaps McCaskey’s football chops aren’t all that important here. Bill Polian, who is assisting on the Bears search, certainly can support him there.
It appears likely McCaskey’s judge of character, temperament and people skills will matter a lot more.
• Hub Arkush is a Shaw Media correspondent.