As teams with coordinators who find themselves of interest for head-coaching vacancies elsewhere fret over losing talented and desirable employees, those teams have a device available to persuade an assistant to stay put for now and to elevate to the top job later.
The NFL still allows teams to enter into a firm and binding agreement to promote an assistant coach to head coach at some point in the future. It’s an exception to the Rooney Rule, one that the Fritz Pollard Alliance continues to recognize.
It’s been utilized three times over the past 13 years. In 2009, Jim Caldwell succeeded Colts coach Tony Dungy and Jim Mora succeeded Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren pursuant to a prior agreement. In 2018, Eric DeCosta became G.M. of the Ravens under a pre-existing agreement to become the successor to Ozzie Newsome.
A the Fritz Pollard Alliance said in 2018, “when a Club has established a firm succession plan that involves an internal coach or executive replacing a departing Head Coach or General Manager, no external search is required.”
Thus, if the Cowboys hope to keep offensive coordinator Kellen Moore (or defensive coordinator Dan Quinn), a firm agreement can be reached to have one of them replace coach Mike McCarthy. Likewise in Tampa, the Buccaneers could strike a deal to elevate offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich or defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to replace Bruce Arians, eventually.
In Tampa, that could happen at any time without a full-blown search, since both coordinators are minority candidates. And it could, in theory, occur as soon as Tampa Bay’s current season ends, with the Bucs nudging Arians into retirement and elevating one of his top coordinators to the top job.
The Bucs made a similar move in 2009, firing Jon Gruden and elevating Raheem Morris. Some league insiders believe that, in 2016, the Buccaneers surprisingly fired coach Lovie Smith in order to promote offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who was drawing attention elsewhere.