Some former coaches get second looks, some don’t

New York Giants v Tennessee Titans
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Every year, a strange dynamic plays out as the coaching carousel spins. Some former head coaches get serious consideration for a second chance, and some don’t.

It’s unclear how or why or when a coach who has been a head coach before ends up being considered to be a head coach again. It’s bizarre that owners often ignore proven former head coaches and roll the dice with coordinators who have no head-coaching experience.

The current cycle features multiple former NFL head coaches who did relatively well in their prior stints, but whose names haven’t even been mentioned in the current cycle.

Bill O’Brien has emerged as the favorite to become the offensive coordinator of the Patriots. He coached the Texans for more than six years. He finished with a record of 54-52. He took the team to the playoffs four times.

Jason Garrett, currently an NBC analyst, went 87-70 with the Cowboys, with three playoff appearances in nine seasons.

Marvin Lewis wants back in. But he’s gotten no interest, despite becoming the best coach the Bengals had in years, going 131-122-3 in the regular season and leading the team to seven playoff appearances.

Mike Zimmer generated a record of 74-59-1 in eight seasons with the Vikings, including three playoff appearances — and an NFC Championship berth.

Chuck Pagano had a record of 53-43 with the Colts, with three playoff appearances and an appearance in the AFC Championship.

Ken Whisenhunt, who tied Jim Hanifan as the only coaches in Cardinals history to make it six years with the team, went to the Super Bowl. He coached the Titans. He last worked in the NFL as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator in 2019.

None of those coaches have been interviewed or even mentioned as potential candidates.

Former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell has gotten an interview with the Broncos, and former Colts head coach Frank Reich will interview with the Cardinals.

Other former coaches who currently work in the NFL include Commanders coach Ron Rivera, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, Saints coach Dennis Allen, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Jaguars coach Doug Pederson, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, Buccaneers coach Todd Bowles, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Of the eight remaining playoff teams, nearly half are coached by head coaches who were fired from their prior head-coaching jobs — the Jaguars, Chiefs, and Cowboys.

So maybe there’s merit to the notion, while pondering the usual rising-coordinator suspects, of sprinkling in some interviews with one or members of what Jon Gruden calls the Fired Football Coaches Association. Even if the goal is to compare and contrast the personalities of those who have done the job with those who never had, it makes sense to at least consider those who have done it before, and done it fairly well.

55 responses to “Some former coaches get second looks, some don’t

  1. Zimmer should get the heck out of Minnesota – the perennial choke team of the NFCN!

  2. It’s a good old boys’ network. The owners ask old coaches they know, and they recommend their friends or relatives and children of their friends. This isn’t rocket science.

  3. Only two kinds of HCs, those who have been fired and those who will be. Half the time people complain about tired old retreads, half about hiring hot shot coordinators without enough experience.

  4. The problem isn’t that some coaches get 2nd looks. It’s that some coaches get 19th and 20th looks. NFL “family” nepotism at its finest.

  5. It’s possible the Baby Boomer coach is now technically out of touch with the GenZs coming into the league now. It’s a problem in the working world. It was bad enough trying to get Millennials to see how to work and be consistent. It applies to the NFL, too.

    Some teams may be thinking the younger coach is the way to go to be able to connect with GenZ and their characteristics.

  6. The Todd Bowles of the world doesn’t argue the matter…
    putrid his 1st shot at HC, yet the Bucs give him another shot and he turns a high scoring offense 2 straight years into a team barely able to get a TD in many games with TOM BRADY at QB!

    Several successful coaches on your list are FAR more deserving to replace Todd today!

  7. That Jim Caldwell doesn’t get another look when he has winning records with both the Lions and the Colts astounds me. I’m not saying he will revolutionize the NFL, but for all the horrible hires that will inevitably happen this offseason, at least one of these teams could really use a proven commodity.

  8. Brian Billick won a Super Bowl and never got another sniff at a head job. The late Jim Fassel mostly overachieved with a pretty mediocre Giants team, even making a Super Bowl and never got another job. Mike Martz never got another head job after the Rams, though his personality and underachievement with a stacked roster was probably the reason.

  9. Usually with head coaches you can tell if the guys is great in the first few years. All those guys you mentioned are perfectly fine coaches but none of them strike me as great. I think teams would rather role the dice trying to find the next genius than go with another retread.

  10. None of these are that hard to understand.

    – O’Brien went down in flames after trying to consolidate too much power around himself, has a reputation as a GM killer, and teams are reluctant to take that on for a coach with middling results.
    – Garrett is widely perceived as underachieving with the Cowboys given their resources and talent level. And, he flamed out as OC with the Giants right after, so why would a team be interested in hiring him when it seems he doesn’t have it anymore?
    – Lewis is 64 years old, and most teams aren’t looking for that unless it’s a coach with a much better track record. Lack of playoff wins and lack of discipline over his team – he would need to be a coordinator to prove he still has it.
    – Zimmer is 66 and is perceived as too old school, and from the defensive side of the ball, when most teams want offensive guys.
    – Pagano had Andrew Luck in his prime and largely wasted/underachieved with him – his record is attributable to Luck not Pagano. Pagano also retired in 2020, so probably not interested?
    – Whisenhunt got another chance with the Titans, flamed out horribly. He then got fired as OC with the Chargers, so is widely seen as the game just passing him buy. No reason for a team to take a shot on him at 60.

  11. Definitely a bias against the older coaches these days. The younger aggressive style coach is in vogue. The younger guys all struggle to manage the clock and like to call plays on one side of the ball which takes away from managing the ship. Copycat league that will change again at some point but I agree these guys with established careers will have to look to coach USFL or whatever side league they have going or college ball always has opportunities.

  12. after the hatchet job his players did to him, Zim is probably done until he goes back to DC for a while. But age and other considerations (like the loss of his son, rip) may prevent it.

  13. Fun fact: in the Super Bowl Era (and a long time before that) no former Lions coach has gone on to be a head coach again. Detroit is where head coaching careers go to die.

  14. I think a lot of opportunities go to coaches that teams believe can elevate the offensive or defensive side of the ball (and hopefully put together a staff that can do the same for the other side of the ball). Vic Fangio is getting calls. Norv Turner always had a coordinator job available. Wade Philips always had opportunities. If Kyle Shanahan is ever fired from the 49ers; he’ll always have coordinator jobs available and possibly a Head Coaching job. Josh McDaniels is still considered to be a good offensive mind so he’ll always warrant coordinators jobs and possibly HC opportunities (though I think the Raiders might be his last chance).

    The other component to Head Coaching candidates is their RELATIONSHIPS within the league. Not only are relationships to owners and GMs important but even more so are RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER COACHES. A football coaches’ most primary skill is to coach players. But a head coach must coach his players directly AND through his assistant coaches. Head coaching candidates must be able to assemble an impressive staff. One thing about former coaches that haven’t coached in a while is that they lose opportunities to work with and direct contact with younger position coaches that a potential head coach can build a staff with.

  15. BoB – wanted total power. BoB the GM got BoB the coach fired. Any GM that hires him knows BoB is coming for their job.
    Garrett-Widely seen as Jerry Jones puppet who underachieved. Known for his clapping. Went to NYG to be OC and was last scene clapping his way to the unemployment line.
    Lewis – Regular season coach who never got over the postseason hump. 0 postseason wins in 16 years and team bottomed out last 3 years he coached.

    Some are considered to old school, the modern game passed them by, can’t connect with the young players, etc. True or not the perceptions are out there.

    Look there’s legitimate concerns about a lot of these coaches combined with up and coming coordinators and as you pointed out, the sheer quantity of ex-head coaches vs openings make it unlikely that everyone get’s another crack at it.

    Sean Payton has a relatively bad record considering the talent he coached, including several sub-500 seasons, but his friends in the media are talking him up nonstop like he’s Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

    As in most aspects of life, it is who you know, not what you know.

  16. How many of these coaches are still under contract with their old team? Most of them are probably still getting paid until their contract expires. Why would they work for free? Most contracts likely prohibit them getting another job and then still get paid off of their old contract.

  17. Age is definitely one factor. You also need to look at each specific situation. Was it an issue with ownership? Personnel issues? Philosophical differences? Conflict/tension between coaching staff and front office? Current trends in the league also play a significant factor. We are seeing this now with the GM’s. A lot of teams going to younger and more analytical driven GM’s. Some of these coaches you just know their time has passed and they only had that once chance at being a head coach. The last four Vikings head coaches were all one and done. Mike Tice, Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer…none of them went on to a second head coaching job. They were all hired as long-time assistants with no prior head coaching experience.

    Right now the NFL is an offensive league and the current trend is to hire young offensive-minded coaches.

  18. It’s all about relationships, connections and trust. Just as it is for the rest of us. Most of us have gotten a job interview sometime in our lives based on who we know.

    You’ve heard of Linkedin, right?

  19. Don’t forget another aspect here that isn’t mentioned: exciting the fan base. A young guy from a successful team is going to invigorate the fan base much more than a retread who was mildly successful or less with another organization. All of the current coaches you mentioned have one thing on their resume that most of the others do not: a Super Bowl.

  20. If O’Brien learned anything (and can convince an owner of that) while he was in Houston he should be a prime candidate for another HC position. The rest of these guys are getting up there. Reich is 61 but would look 5 or 10 years younger if he’d shave. I think he’ll get another shot too.

  21. As a Bengals fan, even when he was winning I couldn’t stand Marvin Lewis’ smug press conferences and the constant “I know better than you” response. Bill O’Brien was similarly smug and condescending. Both of those guys flamed out and if a GM were to take a chance on them they’d have to assume the media would ask some tough questions and these smug coaches could make some bad headline quotes. I like to think them not getting 2nd chances is mostly karma. Pagano and Zimmer are D coaches and it just doesn’t seem like the time when older Defensive coaches are gonna get a shot. Zimmer might be a bit too old school, I would take him as a D coordinator in a heartbeat though. There was a time when his players would run through walls for him, it just wore out eventually.

  22. Just shows that there’s no rhyme or reason as to how teams decide on their head coaches.
    It’s either going to be someone considered a dinosaur or some “wet-behind-the-ears” dude who looks like a deer staring into headlights.

  23. tyelee says:
    January 18, 2023 at 12:13 pm
    The Todd Bowles of the world doesn’t argue the matter…
    putrid his 1st shot at HC, yet the Bucs give him another shot and he turns a high scoring offense 2 straight years into a team barely able to get a TD in many games with TOM BRADY at QB!
    Never mind that the Bucs lost their C in training camp, LG retired and RG left in free agency. Gronk is gone as well. I guess Tom Brady tossing 18 fewer TDs and 600 yards less than last season with the same OC is Bowles fault? Brady set an NFL record in passing attempts this season, but it’s all Bowles fault.

  24. I think it’s less about age and more about, Can/Will this guy listen to newer analytics/styles and actually consider adjusting? Or are they stuck in their ways and not flexible.

  25. Successful coaches tend to one of two things: great leaders of men (Tomlin, Vrabel) or brilliant defensive/offensive minds (Reid, Shanahan, McVay). Most coaches fall somewhere in the middle — like everyone mentioned in this story — which is why most don’t last that long. Belichick aside — and he had a pretty decent QB there for 20 years — most coaches who fail in one spot seldom truly excel in another. They may do better in a better situation, but rarely is it night and day. So why give these guys second and third chances? Caldwell was mediocre in Indy and mediocre in Detroit because he’s….mediocre. There’s far worse, but not like it’s some huge injustice that he doesn’t get a third bite at the apple.

  26. I turn on the tv and see all the coaches getting interviews for gm’s,coordinators,and coaches snd I don’t see Leslie Frazier even getting a whiff😢So at least the Bills get to keep some continuity this season.

  27. Marvin Lewis 0-7 record in the playoffs will stand as the most post season losses w/o a victory forever… No other owner would give a coach so many chances w/o winning. He is the definition of an average coach and his teams always lacked discipline.

  28. Well, as a life long Dolphin fan I am glad to see that Flores didn’t make your article. He’s a great defensive coach and nothing more because of his personality disorder. Zero people skills and changed coaches like his underwear. He couldn’t convince any reputable coaches to join his staff because his revolving door of coaches.

  29. If you’re looking to hire a young, inexperienced coordinator who’s never been a HC before, then I think you need to have some patience. They’re going to make mistakes (e.g., clock management), but if they’re smart, they will learn from their mistakes and improve. If they’re showing progress – even if they’re not winning titles in the first 2-3 years – stay the course. Changing coaches every 2-3 years is a recipe for long-term failure.

  30. Problem with old coaches is they are set in their ways. The league is evolving. Kinda sounds like if you’re not one or two year removed from a HC position you’re not going to get a call.

    Plus they’ve got to reach this younger social media, gaming community. Also likely develop a young HC.

  31. Kliff Kingsbury has to be the most fascinating hire of recent memory. You can kind of trace the (flawed) logic but it’s just so absurd. He was Mahomes coach in college. Couldn’t win with him, mind you, but happened to be his coach. Cardinals had Kyler Murray and needed an offense he knew how to run and were hoping he’d become the next Mahomes guided by the guy who failed to get the best out of the original Mahomes.

  32. coronalt ,

    Which underlines that you’d better be in the in crowd. Right now, that’s the whole McVay/Shanahan circle. If you know them or their family members, you can get hired. It’s literally how these owners hire coaches, which should be disturbing to fan bases that they don’t have any way to discern on their own.

  33. You left out Marvin Lewis record in the 7 postseason games is an astounding 0-7. You cant do that if you try. Why dont you try diggin a little deeper into each coach mentioned instead of passive aggressive attempts to paint all w the same brush trying to imply something? The NFL is like life and sometimes its not fair. But Bill O’Brien becoming a OC doesnt bother me at all. Its about relationships, as it is in the real world too.

  34. Some get brief second looks. Jim Mora Jr, Jim Caldwell, Romeo Crennell, Steve Mariuci got 2nd looks with impatient owners.

  35. Pagano is retired, had cancer a decade ago, and seems way older than his actual age of 62. Some of the others are older, at least semi-retired, and/or uninterested I’m sure. Sure the NFL has a lot of retreads, but it’s generally not like MLB where some teams keep bringing back Tony Larusso or Dusty Baker for 5-6 decades.

  36. Marvin Lewis turned a dysfunctional organization around. I will give him that. His problem was QB. Palmer quit because of the disfunction. Dalton could never get over the big game hump. Coaches don’t make QB’s. QB’s make coaches!

  37. govchris said on:
    January 18, 2023 at 12:49 pm
    “How many of these coaches are still under contract with their old team? Most of them are probably still getting paid until their contract expires. Why would they work for free? Most contracts likely prohibit them getting another job and then still get paid off of their old contract.”

    Matt Patricia and Joe Judge this season were still being paid by their old teams (Lions for Patricia and Giants for Judge) even though those two are on the Patriots’ coaching staff.

  38. I’m just delighted that the article, and, as of this writing, no one in the comments has cried racism.

  39. Most of the coaches listed are retirement age and need to retire.
    Tom Coughlin is a good example. He was a great coach in the 1990s and early 2000s but by the 2010s with the Giants he was losing touch with the younger players.
    Then Jacksonville brought him in as head of Football Operations after New York fired him and he was a DISASTER who was totally out of touch with the modern game and younger players.

  40. Most NFL owners don’t really care about winning a SB, they just want a franchise that makes a ton of money but not many headaches. So a decent coach who can provide 4-5 years of reliable safe performance without any drama will always have buyers. They are the Camrys of the NFL.

  41. Too many average teams consistently stay in the crapper because they insist on hiring proven loser retreads for their HC – case in point is Tampa short of the Super Bowl the NFL gifted to Arians & Brady where is Tampa today ? Bowles was a loser in NY & he’s proven he cannot handle being a HC – Defensive Coordinator YES…but not a Head Coach!

  42. I have the exact opposite opinion. I think there are way too many guys who were middling or poor head coaches at best getting second and even third chances. Todd Bowles. Raheem Morris. Vance Joseph. Josh McDaniels. And I really don’t understand the point about guys like Andy Reid or even Mike McCarthy. Andy Reid was extremely successful in Philadelphia, he just didn’t win a Super Bowl. McCarthy actually did win a Super Bowl. The same goes for Doug P. He won a Super Bowl, and very few people thought that he was the problem in their subsequent struggles. There’s a perception that he may have even try to get fired. That’s a far cry from the revolving door of has beens , and never weres.

  43. There really is no reason that Marvin Lewis not to have had another shot. Did we forget what a mess Cincy was before Lewis took over and how he turned that franchise around? But if he has not received interviews because he refuses to be the token minority interview who is being interviewed to satisfy a policy. I’m with him

  44. Lovie Smith got three tries. Jim Caldwell got two. Todd Bowles got two, three if you count the interim stint in Miami.
    Ron Rivera, Mike McCarthy, Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Doug Pederson, Josh McDaniels, Pete Carroll are all at their second or third stops.
    Marvin Lewis is really the only name out there who I’m surprised hasn’t gotten a second shot.

  45. Nathaniel Hacket is a great example of how things work in the very insular NFL. Son of a longtime coach which opened a ton of doors and made him all sorts of contacts. He’s also apparently a very likeable guy so he’s got that going for him. Was lucky enough to be the OC (not calling plays but had the title) while Aaron Rodgers was playing great. Welcome to a head coaching job you are in no way prepared for, Nathaniel! Within a month he’d handed off clock managment to an assistant and by the time he got fired he wasn’t even calling the plays. He was literally a spectator with a headset.

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