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.
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.
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.
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