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Last week, I examined the Chargers hiring of former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. What I found was that, on average, teams that go outside the organization to hire offensive coordinators saw no uptick in offensive production in the new coach’s first season. And in general, the list consisted of a lot of uninspiring names.  The history of hiring defensive coordinators is a little more successful, at least according to the eyeball test. Chuck Pagano, Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, and Mike Tomlin are some of the more recent hires, and of course Bill Belichick’s work as defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells was the launch pad for two head coaching jobs.

This year, the only team that hired a defensive coordinator was Jacksonville, who tapped Gus Bradley as the Jaguars newest head coach. There’s an entirely new regime in Jacksonville (led by owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell), but it’s hard not to view the Bradley selection in light of the team’s previous hire. In 2012, the Jaguars chose “hotshot” offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who was coming off a successful season as the coordinator of the great Falcons offense. A year later, the Jags are picking the defensive coordinator for the league’s top defense in 2012, at least as measured by points allowed.

The table below shows all of the instances I’ve identified since 1990 where a team hired a new head coach who had been a defensive coordinator for a different team in the prior year. Here is how the Bradley line reads. In 2012, Bradley was the Defensive Coordinator for Seattle; after the season, he was hired to become the head coach of the Jaguars. With the Seahawks, Bradley’s defense ranked 1st in points allowed, 4th in yards allowed, and 7th in PFR’s EPA allowed.

2012Gus BradleySEAJAX147
2011Chuck PaganoBALIND331
2011Dennis AllenDENOAK242020
2010Ron RiveraSDGCAR1015
2008Rex RyanBALNYJ321
2008Jim SchwartzTENDET274
2008Steve SpagnuoloNYGSTL5510
2007Mike SmithJAXATL101220
2006Wade PhillipsSDGDAL71011
2006Mike TomlinMINPIT1483
2005Eric ManginiNWENYJ172624
2005Dick JauronDETBUF212018
2004Romeo CrennelNWECLE296
2004Mike NolanBALSFO661
2003Lovie SmithSTLCHI17163
2003Jim MoraSFOATL211314
2002Marvin LewisWASCIN2156
2002Jack Del RioCARJAX523
2001John FoxNYGCAR161412
2000Gregg WilliamsTENBUF212
1999Jim HaslettPITNOR1211
1999Bill BelichickNYJNWE921
1998Dick JauronJAXCHI1725
1996Pete CarrollSFONWE47
1995Tony DungyMINTAM2720
1995Rick VenturiCLENOR2024
1994Ray RhodesSFOPHI68
1994Dom CapersPITCAR22
1993Buddy RyanHOUARI414
1992Dave WannstedtDALCHI51
1991Bill CowherKANPIT713
1990Bill BelichickNYGCLE12

From a rankings standpoint, Bradley looks like a solid hire — he coached an excellent defense last year, better than the defense of the average defensive coordinator promotion. In fact, here’s a curious bit of trivia: Bradley’s the first defensive coordinator of the #1 ranked defense (in points allowed) to become an NFL head coach the next year since Belichick in 1990. In between, 20 of the 21 defensive coordinators of the top scoring defense returned to that same role the following season; the one exception was Nick Saban, who left to become the Michigan State head coach.

YearTeamDefensive Coordinator
2012SEAGus Bradley
2011PITDick LeBeau
2010PITDick LeBeau
2009NYJMike Pettine
2008PITDick LeBeau
2007INDRon Meeks
2006BALRex Ryan
2005CHIRon Rivera
2004PITDick LeBeau
2003NWERomeo Crennel
2002TAMMonte Kiffin
2001CHIGreg Blache
2000BALMarvin Lewis
1999JAXDom Capers
1998MIAGeorge Hill
1997KANGunther Cunningham
1996GNBFritz Shurmur
1995KANGunther Cunningham
1994CLENick Saban
1993NYGMike Nolan
1992NORSteve Sidwell
1991NORSteve Sidwell
1990NYGBill Belichick

Getting back on track, what can Jaguars fans expect this year? Will the Jacksonville defense be better in 2013? The next table lists each of the defensive coordinators hired to become head coaches. Each row displays his new team’s ranks in Points, Yards, and Expected Points Allowed in the year before his arrival as well as the results in those same categories in his first season. For example, Bradley takes over a Jaguars defense that ranked 29th in points, 30th in yards, and 31st in EPA last year.

YearHead CoachTeamPts N-1Yds N-1EPA N-1Pts NYds NEPA N
2013Gus BradleyJAX293031
2012Chuck PaganoIND282529212629
2012Dennis AllenOAK292930281827
2011Ron RiveraCAR261814272831
2009Rex RyanNYJ181611111
2009Jim SchwartzDET323232323232
2009Steve SpagnuoloSTL312830312931
2008Mike SmithATL292927112422
2007Wade PhillipsDAL20132013915
2007Mike TomlinPIT1197214
2006Eric ManginiNYJ23122362024
2006Dick JauronBUF242931101815
2005Romeo CrennelCLE241516111617
2005Mike NolanSFO322426303230
2004Lovie SmithCHI22141813214
2004Jim MoraATL303227141415
2003Marvin LewisCIN321727282830
2003Jack Del RioJAX9201618620
2002John FoxCAR283122523
2001Gregg WilliamsBUF183292128
2000Jim HaslettNOR2820108
2000Bill BelichickNWE781720
1999Dick JauronCHI23142029
1997Pete CarrollNWE1419819
1996Tony DungyTAM1227811
1996Rick VenturiNOR18222013
1995Ray RhodesPHI114154
1995Dom CapersCAR87
1994Buddy RyanARI72143
1993Dave WannstedtCHI221734
1992Bill CowherPIT2222213
1991Bill BelichickCLE28171418

Defensive coordinators have more immediate success at improving their team’s defensive results — particularly with respect to points — than offensive coordinators did at fixing their new offense. Regression to the mean plays a part (then again, that didn’t help offensive coordinators), but on average, these defensive coordinators took teams from outside the top 20 in points allowed to inside the top half. So perhaps the Jaguars made the right move going for a coordinator on defense instead of offense this time around.

On the other hand, many of the recent defensive coordinator hires — Allen, Rivera, Schawrtz, and Spagnuolo — coached pretty lousy defenses in year one, too. One takeaway from these studies would be that both offensive and defensive coordinators are given way too much credit for their success. What are your thoughts?

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

  • Glad you did both the DC’s and the OC’s. I think the biggest thing to note, as I mentioned in the OC article, is that most decisions, especially personnel and schematic, don’t take hold until years 2+. A coach like Dennis Allen inherited one of the most horrendously handled teams in recent memory, there was no chance he’d be able to fix any part of that team rapidly. That’s the issue I suppose, teams are too complex to just look at one reason why something did or did not happen. A new HC could enter a team as a former OC/DC but he may not fill that role on his new team, instead hiring coordinators of his own instead of managing the offense or defense himself. In 2012 Allen wasn’t even the DC of the Raiders and while I’m sure he was involved in the defense, he wasn’t running their practices. Same goes for Rivera, Spags and Schwartz, it may be a bigger failure on their part to hire poor coordinators.

    I am a big supporter of the idea that a great HC can make a bad team much better, as well as the opposite, but for the 10 or so average coaches in the NFL (which are still great by standards outside the NFL), they are often expected to change things as fast as the greats did.

    I will admit I’m a strong believer that head coaches often don’t get the time they need to prove their system and drafts work, often leaving prior to their impact being felt.

    This is a really great discussion, so many angles to approach this from, which may be why finding a good head coach is hard.

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks Topher.

  • xmenehune

    often, IMO, it’s the personnel decisions by ‘management’ that are clueless, yet continue on year after year. The teams that draft well are much better at picking players. There’s the elite pickers, the average pickers and the ‘what am I doing?’ pickers (though average could be broken down further).
    With OCs and DCs taking over a team, it’s often to me how good are your players? on O, D, and ST. We all know it takes a lot of reps for players to get comfortable in their new scheme, but some coaches force feed their scheme and others adapt their scheme to their players. The adaptable ones are duly noted and the unadaptable? perhaps they have a losing record.

    Results vary from year to year, injuries play a big part in a team’s demise, as well as players will tune out a coach.
    Some teams bring back players too soon from an injury IMO, others cut a good player when he could still contribute.
    The NFL really needs a developmental league for players and coaches as well.

    I would rather read the win-loss records of OC’s and DC’s as they traipse(recycled?) between teams. Improvement W-L? Lapse W-L?
    Some notable (to me) are Morningwheg, Sparano, Bates – theirs more of course, but an indepth review would include, -/+ win pt margin from prior years to their years and their after. I guess Prior, During, After but I can understand it’ll be a large under taking as some coaches have had long careers.

    just a thought,

    BTW as always enjoyed your articles and appreciate the great effort and analysis