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How did I end up with John  Hadl's helmet? It's actually a funny story

How did I end up with John Hadl's helmet? It's actually a funny story.

In 2011, Mike Mularkey and Joe Philbin were offensive coordinators for high-powered offenses. Those success seasons — on the backs of elite quarterbacks and wide receivers — were springboards for head coaching jobs in 2012. Mularkey’s work with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez got him the top spot in Jacksonville, while Philbin (with an assist from head coach and play caller Mike McCarthy) parlayed big numbers from Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, and Randall Cobb into the Dolphins head coaching job. Mularkey, of course, was one-and-done with the Jaguars, while Philbin had an uneven first year in Miami.

Mike McCoy’s work with Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker in 2012 (and Tim Tebow in 2011) helped him become the Chargers head coach in 2013. McCoy is one of three 2012 offensive coordinators who will be head coaches this season. 1 The other two are are Bruce Arians (who goes from OC/interim HC/COTY in Indianapolis to Head Coach in Arizona) and Rob Chudzinkski (OC in Carolina, HC in Cleveland). I’m not sure if Arians really qualifies, but in any event, it’s McCoy who truly represents the “hot shot offensive coordinator –> head coaching job” rungs on the coaching ladder. His 2012 Broncos finished 2nd in points scored, 4th in yards, and 1st in both Net Yards per pass Attempt and Adjusted Net Yards per pass Attempt.

We’re working on our database of offensive coordinators, but it’s not 100% complete just yet. Let me know if I’ve missed any, but the table below represents all of the instances I’ve identified since 1990 where a team hired a new head coach who had been an offensive coordinator for a different team in the prior year. Here is how the McCoy line reads. In 2012, McCoy was the Offensive Coordinator for the Denver Broncos; after the season, he was hired to become the head coach of the Chargers. With the Broncos, his offense ranked 2nd in points, 4th in yards, and 1st in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt.

2012Mike McCoyDENSDG241
2012Bruce AriansINDARI181020
2012Rob ChudzinskiCARCLE18129
2011Mike MularkeyATLJAX7108
2011Joe PhilbinGNBMIA131
2010Pat ShurmurSTLCLE262628
2008Todd HaleyARIKAN344
2008Josh McDanielsNWEDEN8512
2006Ken WhisenhuntPITARI12713
2006Cam CameronSDGMIA145
2006Norv TurnerSFOSDG242623
2005Gary KubiakDENHOU756
2005Scott LinehanMIASTL161418
2005Brad ChildressPHIMIN181922
2005Mike McCarthySFOGNB303232
2003Norv TurnerMIAOAK172420
2003Mike MularkeyPITBUF192217
2000Marty MornhinwegSFODET642
1999Mike ShermanSEAGNB122310
1998Chris PalmerJAXCLE8109
1998Brian BillickMINBAL121
1997Jon GrudenPHIOAK19517
1997Chan GaileyPITDAL7612
1996Jim FasselARINYG221316
1996Kevin GilbrideJAXSDG1425
1994Mike ShanahanSFODEN121
1993Norv TurnerDALWAS242
1991Ted MarchibrodaBUFIND213
1991Mike HolmgrenSFOGNB332

[Brief sidetrack: Every time I see it, my mind is blown that McCarthy was hired as a head coach after that disastrous 2005 season.]

From a rankings standpoint, McCoy looks extremely qualified, although I’m not sure what that means. Brian Billick was an offensive guru in Minnesota but couldn’t get that side of the ball right in Baltimore. Norv Turner, Cam Cameron, Todd Haley, and Marty Mornhinweg coached great offenses but have struggled (to date) as head coaches. Of course, Mike Shanahan and Mike Holmgren stand out as the exceptions. Both used success coaching Steve Young and Jerry Rice (nice work if you can get it) as launch pads to head coaching careers, but they’ve been two of the best head coaches of the last two decades.

Perhaps the more concerning note for Chargers fans: look at the most recent names on the list. Philbin, Mularkey, Shurmur, Haley, McDaniels, Cameron, Whisenhunt, and Turner is not a list any coach wants to join. But let’s look at some data and not just reputation. When you hire a hotshot offensive coordinator, presumably the offense should improve.

The next table lists each of the offensive coordinators hired to become head coaches. Each row displays his new team’s ranks in Points, Yards, and ANY/A in the year before his arrival as well as the results in those same categories in his first season. For example, Mccoy is taking over a Chargers team that ranked 20th, 31st, and 22nd last year in Points, Yards, and ANY/A.

YearHead CoachTeamPts Yr N-1Yds Yr N-1ANY/A Yr N-1Pts Yr NYds Yr NANY/A Yr N
2013Mike McCoySDG203122
2013Bruce AriansARI313232
2013Rob ChudzinskiCLE242528
2012Mike MularkeyJAX283232302929
2012Joe PhilbinMIA202218272723
2011Pat ShurmurCLE312927302929
2009Todd HaleyKAN262425232525
2009Josh McDanielsDEN1629201514
2007Ken WhisenhuntARI19181271215
2007Cam CameronMIA292027262828
2007Norv TurnerSDG14552017
2006Gary KubiakHOU263030282824
2006Scott LinehanSTL119171066
2006Brad ChildressMIN192520262328
2006Mike McCarthyGNB22182522918
2004Norv TurnerOAK262526181718
2004Mike MularkeyBUF30302872522
2001Marty MornhinwegDET222727261628
2000Mike ShermanGNB10915111513
1999Chris PalmerCLE313127
1999Brian BillickBAL262620142426
1998Jon GrudenOAK17136221827
1998Chan GaileyDAL222019985
1997Jim FasselNYG283030212724
1997Kevin GilbrideSDG182621262827
1995Mike ShanahanDEN10610937
1994Norv TurnerWAS252628131724
1992Ted MarchibrodaIND282826262422
1992Mike HolmgrenGNB222421171512

Simple regression to the mean principles would have predicted that these offenses would show some improvement. As it turns out, most of these teams produced virtually identical numbers. Joe Philbin wasn’t able to bring any Green Bay magic to Miami. Mularkey looked great with Matt Ryan and terrible with Blaine Gabbert (perhaps not so coincidentally, Dirk Koetter exhibited a similar trait). Of the 16 offensive coordinator hires from 2000 to 2012, only four were able to improve their team’s rank in both points and yards (Whisenhunt, Linehan, Turner, and Mularkey).

Those results aren’t damning on Mccoy, of course: he’s his own person, not an amalgamation of his predecessors. McCoy’s success will depend on many things outside of his control, but also on his ability to be a head coach. As part of my Super Bowl preview, I wondered if the success John Harbaugh was having might prompt teams to promote more special teams coaches. I ended that post by saying: “Being a head coach is more about managing a team, creating a vision for the roster, hiring talented people, and being a leader more than it is about play-calling.”

For McCoy, success as a head coach will mean more than just turning the offense around. It will be about finding the right coaches and players to surround his roster. But if anyone expects his presence alone to solve the problems that have haunted Philip Rivers, this post might cause you to rethink that notion.

Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams

  1. As for the other six head coaching changes? Doug Marrone (Syracuse) and Chip Kelly (Oregon) jump from college to Buffalo and Philadelphia, while Marc Trestman goes from Canada to Chicago. Gus Bradley was the sole defensive coordinator hire, moving from Seattle to Jacksonville, while Andy Reid (Philadelphia to Kansas City) was the one “retread” hire. Sean Payton also moves from the naughty step back into the head coaching job in New Orleans. []
  • Very interesting article and I wonder if the same could be applied to DC’s as well. Overall I think being a HC is just a hard job, most decisions they make won’t have an impact till 2-3 years after they are hired and some (heck most in this current HC market) will be fired before the players they help groom or draft reach their potential. Overall if I had the choice I think I’d stick with a good coordinator position if I can get it, though the Chargers job isn’t nearly as bad as other jobs out there.

  • I still find the McCoy hire really strange. He’s only had any kind of successful offense when either Peyton Manning or Josh McDaniels was really running the offense, and in the latter case it was really just slightly above average. I know he has been getting praised non-stop for adapting the offense to Tebow in 2011, but the offense was still terrible. And that was his only year really running the offense.

    Obviously, being a head coach is a very different skill set than being a coordinator, as you say, but it sure feels like he was hired for his acumen as a coordinator, and his record there just doesn’t seem that strong to me.

  • [Brief sidetrack: Every time I see it, I think 1) Kudos to McCarthy for taking the first lifeboat off of that sinking ship; b) How did a head coach as inept as Nolan make that good of a hire?; and c) Neither Alex Smith nor I will get those subsequent 2.5 years back.]

  • Scott Tanner

    I sort of wonder about drawing conclusions from the fact that the offenses don’t seem to improve in the first year. It would seem like the kind of team that is likely to hire a new head coach is probably, on the aggregate, trending in the wrong direction. I would be curious to see the results of those offenses from new OC head coach hires versus all other teams with a first year head coach. My hunch is that the offenses under the new OC head coach would at at the very least be no worse, and possibility better than the offenses under any other new HC. Now obviously, if you’re hiring an offensive guru you want to see substantial improvement in the offense. But it doesn’t always happen overnight (would also be curious to see the trend over a few years, rather than just the first year) and the teams in these scenarios are probably pretty bad to begin with.

    • Richie

      Good call. (Small sample size.) For instance, check out Mike McCarthy’s rankings after his first season: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/gnb/

      Basically, the worst-ranked offense that McCarthy has had, since his first year, was 2010 when they won the Super Bowl!

  • The SackSEER Guy

    Very interesting post, Chase.

    This actually feeds into something I have suspected for quite a while, namely, that head coaching is not nearly as important to a team’s success as it is cracked up to be (which would explain your sub-finding that offensive coaches don’t positively impact offense, etc.). It’s true we have successful coaches and unsuccessful ones, but (in my mind, at least, what should be) an equally compelling explanation is that some, if not all, “great” coaches are “great” because they are associated with teams with great players. My theory is that coaches are really more like kickers. Sure, if a team replaced an NFL kicker with an average joe, they would suffer considerably, but there are well more than 32 willing individuals who can be competent NFL kickers, and the talent differential from the top of that list to the bottom is minimal.

    • Richie

      head coaching is not nearly as important to a team’s success as it is cracked up to be

      I see it a little differently.

      I think head coaching is important (I’m not sure how much). But, I think that being a coordinator and being a head coach are different, and not necessarily related, skill sets.

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