The NFL season comes to an end on Sunday when the Bengals face the Rams in the Super Bowl. But the league’s offseason coaching and general manager carousel also finally stopped spinning this past week.
Nine teams hired head coaches. Three hired GMs. And 10 hired at least one new coordinator.
Let’s take a deeper look at the movement:
▪ The candidates with offensive backgrounds got six of the head coaching jobs. The offensive coaches are: Brian Daboll (Giants), Doug Pederson (Jaguars), Josh McDaniels (Raiders), Mike McDaniel (Dolphins), Kevin O’Connell (Vikings, though it won’t be made official until after the Super Bowl), and Nathaniel Hackett (Broncos). The three defensive coaches that were hired were Matt Eberflus (Bears), Lovie Smith (Texans), and Dennis Allen (Saints).
▪ Among the nine head coaches, five are first-timers: Daboll, O’Connell, McDaniel, Eberflus, and Hackett. Four have experience: Pederson, McDaniels, Smith, and Allen.
▪ As usual, most teams hired a coach who is the opposite of the previous guy. The Vikings, Broncos, Dolphins, Giants, and Jaguars went from a defensive coach (or special teams) to an offensive coach. The Bears, Saints, and Texans fired an offensive coach for a defensive one. Only the Raiders, who fired Jon Gruden in October over his e-mails, hired a coach on the same side of the ball.
▪ It certainly was not the best hiring cycle for the NFL’s minority initiatives. Of nine head coaching vacancies, only one went to a Black coach (Smith) and one to a coach who identifies as biracial (McDaniel). Of the four GMs hired, two are minorities (the Bears’ Ryan Poles and the Vikings’ Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Of four offensive coordinators hired, one is a minority (the Texans’ Pep Hamilton). Of six defensive coordinators hired, four are minorities.
▪ Here is the NFL’s diversity scorecard: head coaches: 5 of 32; GMs: 7 of 32; offensive coordinators: 4 of 25 (seven vacancies); defensive coordinators: 14 of 30 (two vacancies).
The NFL has made improvements among GMs but still has to improve its pipeline of minority offensive coaches. And the NFL has to fight the perception that minorities are funneled to defensive coaching positions.
▪ When the Raiders were conducting interviews, they asked each GM candidate who they would choose as their head coach, and vice versa. Dave Ziegler, who spent the last nine years in the Patriots’ front office, told Raiders owner Mark Davis that he would bring McDaniels.
“I don’t even know if he’s available,” Davis said.
Ziegler responded: “He will be if I come here.”
Davis said he was drawn to McDaniels for his ability to develop quarterbacks, citing Matt Cassel and Mac Jones in addition to Tom Brady. Davis also admires McDaniels’s ability to adjust his game plan.
“I’ve just always seen the Patriots as a team that not only adapts from week to week or half to half, but maybe even series to series,” Davis said. “I just believe in Josh’s ability to assess the situation and make the changes in real time.”
As for Ziegler, hired as a GM after spending 12 years working up the ranks, Davis said he respects that the Patriots win with “a lot of no-names.” Ziegler will have final say on roster matters.
▪ Smith and Allen were promoted from within. Allen, 49, had an abysmal 8-28 record in two-plus seasons as the Raiders’ head coach, but his promotion in New Orleans makes sense. Allen coached on Sean Payton’s staff for 12 of Payton’s 16 years, and brings continuity to the Saints as they look to rebuild and find a quarterback.
Smith’s promotion from defensive coordinator is a bit more of a head-scratcher. This seems to be the second straight year that the Texans have somewhat punted on the head coaching decision. David Culley came out of left field last year, and the same now for Smith, who most recently went 17-39 in four seasons with Illinois.
Smith’s name never came up in the Texans’ coaching search until the very end of the process, nor did he have any buzz for other openings. It’s hard to believe that he was the Texans’ top choice, as they would have simply named him head coach a month ago instead of embarking on a five-week search.
Smith is clearly a better choice than Josh McCown, the former quarterback who has no coaching experience at any level yet was a finalist for the Texans’ job. And promoting Smith and keeping most of the Texans’ staff intact is good for continuity. But it does little to dispel the notion that GM Nick Caserio is really the shadow coach.
▪ It’s also clear that the Dolphins wanted a puppet to replace Brian Flores. McDaniel, 38, is brilliant (a graduate of Yale) and has coached on several successful teams, including Super Bowl appearances with the Falcons and 49ers. But it’s obvious that the Dolphins were looking for a “yes” man to coach Tua Tagovailoa — “My job is to coach you to get all that greatness out of you,” McDaniel told Tagovailoa — and take on defensive coordinator Josh Boyer and his staff, who were retained.
The Dolphins could have had Jim Harbaugh, who was a finalist for the Vikings job and is a favorite of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. But Harbaugh can be tough to work with and would almost certainly want to dictate his staff and quarterback — reasonable requests for most coaching candidates. But the Dolphins look like they just wanted someone who would do what he is told.
COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF
What makes this a super matchup
A few more nuggets from the Super Bowl before kickoff:
▪ With the Rams and Bengals both earning No. 4 seeds, this year marks the first Super Bowl featuring none of the top three seeds in either conference. The Rams and Bengals also combined for a .647 win percentage in the regular season (22-12), the lowest ever for a Super Bowl matchup.
▪ How unexpected is the Bengals’ appearance? They entered the season with the NFL’s third-lowest Super Bowl odds, tied with the Jets and Jaguars at 120:1, according to FanDuel. And the Bengals didn’t play any games this season on “Sunday Night Football.” They join the 2016 Falcons, 2009 Saints, and 2008 Cardinals as the only other Super Bowl teams not to have played on “SNF” since the NFL made it the signature game of the week in 2006.
The Bengals’ last appearance on “SNF” was a 45-10 loss to the Chiefs in Week 7 of the 2018 season.
▪ This year marks the second Super Bowl for Rams coach Sean McVay, and he admits that he flubbed his team’s preparation before their 13-3 loss to the Patriots four years ago. McVay said he planned to do less micromanaging of the game plan this time.
“[I] kept tinkering and tweaking, and I don’t think that was the right approach,” McVay said. “You’re always going to fine-tune a little bit, but probably didn’t do a good enough job of really treating that first week where you’re getting the game plan in, just getting something set.”
▪ Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has intimate knowledge of both quarterbacks. He has coached Joe Burrow for the last two seasons. And Callahan, 37, also was the Lions’ quarterbacks coach in 2016-17, where he worked with Matthew Stafford. Callahan is the son of longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan.
▪ Burrow was a guest on Tom Brady’s “Let’s Go!” podcast two weeks ago and said he tries to pick up little tips from Brady.
“It’s fun to hear him talk about plays in the past,” Burrow said. “He remembers every little detail about everything that’s happened in his career, so obviously you try to emulate a guy like that.”
▪ Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell was drafted by the Patriots in the third round in 2008. He only lasted one year in New England and washed out of the league after four seasons, but he said his experience in Foxborough made him want to become a coach.
“I felt like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool a little bit as a player, coming out of college, going into that culture,” O’Connell said. “Unbelievable learning experience for me, and I feel like at that moment, I found myself finding that love of the other side of it, potentially getting into coaching once I got done playing.”
Local connection with Rams’ Scott
The bio for Rams safety Nick Scott says he was born in Lancaster, Penn., went to high school in Fairfax, Va., and played at Penn State. But Scott, 26, spent his middle school and early high school years in Brookline, playing on the varsity football team at Brookline High for his freshman and sophomore seasons before his family moved to Virginia. Scott, a running quarterback for the Warriors, led them to four wins as a sophomore, and after that season he got a scholarship offer from Boston College before his family moved.
“He was a dominant player even as a sophomore,” said Brookline athletic director Pete Rittenburg, who also coached Scott in track and field. “We wish we could’ve kept him for two more years.”
Scott, a strong safety, was a two-time captain at Penn State and was drafted by the Rams in 2019 with one of the last picks, 243rd overall in the seventh round. He has been a core special teamer for the Rams but has increased his defensive playing time in each of the last three seasons, from 1 percent as a rookie to 20 percent last season to 36 percent this season.
Scott had his first two career interceptions this season, and he intercepted Tom Brady late in the second quarter of their divisional playoff game, which, if Brady stays retired, will go down as the final interception of his career.
“You originally draft him out of Penn State with the visions of him being a special teams player,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “And all he’s really shown is, ‘Hey, I’m a great football player that has the ability to contribute on special teams.’ ”
Brady was the real draw, not Belichick
Odell Beckham revealed this past week that he was “very, very, very, very” close to joining the Patriots in November, and that he had a long conversation with Bill Belichick. But Beckham’s anecdote should concern Patriots fans.
“I was like, ‘You know, if this was three years ago, it would have been ideal,’ ” Beckham said. “Because Tom [Brady], he’s one of my favorites.”
It’s a telling answer. As great of a coach as Belichick is, he was never the draw for players to come to New England. It was Brady.
And Mac Jones, though he had a nice rookie season, isn’t a selling point yet among players.
It means that until Jones can prove himself an elite quarterback, the Patriots are going to have to overpay for free agents, just as they did last offseason.
Keeping track of injuries
The NFL added a 17th regular season game but says it didn’t see an increase in injuries — the opposite, in fact. The NFL says that there were 135 documented concussions in 2021, tied for the fewest since the league began tracking them in 2015. Add in training camp and the three preseason games, and the NFL says it had 187 concussions in 2021, down from 224 in 2019 and 281 in 2017.
The NFL also said that the overall rate of injury didn’t increase with the 17th game, because that extra game simply replaced a preseason game, and “preseason games have the highest injury rate of any activity that players engage in,” said NFL senior vice president Jeff Miller.
But, alarmingly, ACL tears occurred at their highest levels since tracking began in 2015, with 49 in the regular season and 71 overall, both records.
The NFL found that one out of six concussions, and about 30 percent of ACL tears, happened on special teams. The league will continue to look for ways this offseason to make kickoffs and especially punts safer.
The offseason could have several top quarterbacks on the move, with Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Jimmy Garoppolo among those who could be wearing a new uniform next fall. Perhaps Kyler Murray should be included in this list as well. Murray has suddenly unfollowed the Cardinals on social media and deleted all Cardinals-related photos from his accounts. It’s unclear what message Murray is trying to send, but here’s betting it’s a leverage play for his contract. Now that Murray has completed his third season, he’s eligible to sign a new deal. But he’s under the Cardinals’ control for two more seasons, for just $5.5 million next season, and an undetermined amount in 2023 (the Cardinals haven’t picked up Murray’s fifth-year option yet, but it seems a foregone conclusion). Don’t be surprised if we start hearing soon that Murray is thinking about switching back to baseball, as well … Roger Goodell badly wants to bring more diversity to the league’s ownership ranks, with just one minority owner (the Jaguars’ Shad Khan) among the 32. Media mogul Byron Allen, who is Black, announced his intention this past week to bid for the Broncos, who will be sold this offseason. In a statement, Allen mentioned that in 2019, “New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft asked me to take a good look at buying an NFL team.” Goodell expects to have other minority candidates involved in the Broncos’ sale, but Allen appears to be the front-runner if he can get the financing lined up … The NFL is heading to Germany, with the league announcing that four games will be held there over the next four years — two in Munich and two in Frankfurt. The Patriots have a large following in Germany and will almost certainly get one of the games, but it may not be next season. The NFL assigned four teams to the German market — the Panthers, Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Patriots — and it seems a safe bet that each will be involved in the four games … Not to be a hater, but consider me a little underwhelmed by this year’s Hall of Fame class. Among the five modern players elected, Richard Seymour is the only one I would have voted for, though LeRoy Butler is certainly worthy. But Bryant Young and Sam Mills were first-team All Pro just once in their careers, and I’m of the opinion that Tony Boselli didn’t play long enough (just seven seasons). I would’ve gone with Ronde Barber, Torry Holt, Devin Hester, and Zach Thomas. It boggles my mind that Brian Urlacher was a first-ballot inductee yet Thomas can’t get in … EdjSports, the official analytics partner of the NFL, gave Belichick its “scared but strong” award this season. The math guys say Belichick and the Patriots performed well situationally (to little surprise) but that he played it too scared on fourth-down decisions. Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who attempted several controversial fourth downs throughout the season, got the “Keep Fighting Out There” award as the “coach we are most proud of.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.