The NFL’s current procedures for interviewing candidates from other teams is broken. The best solution isn’t practical. A simple compromise is hiding in plain sight.
The postseason, the most critical time of the year for teams still playing, becomes undermined every year when assistant coaches employed by teams preparing for games carve out time to interview for head-coaching jobs elsewhere. And it’s not just time spent interviewing. The assistant coach must prepare for the interview. The assistant coach, to be best prepared for the portion of the interview regarding the potential members of his staff, must spend time contacting those coaches to secure a loose, general understanding of interest.
Every minute spent doing those things becomes one less minute available for doing the best possible job to prepare for the task at hand — preparing to win a playoff game with the candidate’s current team.
To do it right, it’s an every-waking-moment proposition. We explained that earlier in the week. And we’ve heard from coaches who agree wholeheartedly.
That’s how it works with the season on the line. (For plenty of coaches, it’s also how it works throughout the regular season.) Wake up, have a little breakfast, perform the four-S’s, get to work, grind all morning, afternoon, and night, go home late, collapse from exhaustion, sleep four or five hours, and do it again. (Some coaches just sleep at the facility, saving the time spent traveling to and from home.)
So what are they doing? Anything and everything to prepare to win. Reviewing film from the games they’ve already played, in an effort to self-scout and eliminate tendencies and tells. Reviewing film from the games played by the opponent, in an effort to spot and exploit that team’s tendencies and tells. Reviewing relevant clips from other games involving other teams, in search of anything that will give them ideas or clues or lessons or whatever regarding how best to prepare their own teams to win. Brainstorming plays and other strategies that could work against the upcoming opponent. Culling a game plan from the broader collection of plays. Talking to other coaches and players and whoever about the ideas for trying to win the game.
If you’re truly all-in with the effort to get ready for a single-elimination playoff game, there’s always something to do to help the cause. Interviewing for your next job, preparing for that interview, and taking time to line up a potential collection of employees does not help the cause.
Then there’s the dynamic we’ve mentioned a few times over the past year. The spouse or significant other of the assistant coach/head-coaching candidate, during those fleeting moments of interaction throughout the week, won’t be asking about the game-planning process for the impending playoff game. The curiosity will center on the status of the life-changing job with life-changing money and potential address-changing reality.
Some have argued that, to avoid these issues, the entire interview process should be delayed until after the Super Bowl. With five weeks from the end of the regular season until the end of the postseason, however, it doesn’t seem practical to wait so long.
Here’ an easy compromise. There should be no interviews of assistant coaches from teams still playing until after the conference championship games.
At the end of the regular season, assistant coaches from 17 other teams instantly become fair game. After the wild-card round, six more teams’ coaches are available. After the divisional round, coaches from all but four teams are in play. One week later, everyone can be interviewed.
Yes, this procedure still affects the two teams that qualify for the Super Bowl. But with two weeks to get ready, it’s far less of a problem — as long as the interviews happen in the first week.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady recently said that the week before the divisional round game should be all football, all the time. Meanwhile, his team’s offensive and defensive coordinators spent some of their all-football time interviewing to become football coaches with other teams. Their opponents, the Rams, had a similar distraction, with both coordinators interviewing for head-coaching jobs.
Other teams playing today and tomorrow endured the same distraction. It shouldn’t be that way. And there’s an easy way to fix it, without forcing teams to otherwise slam the brakes on their searches for new head coaches.