NFL Head Coach: Hardest Job in Sports?

Marty SchottenheimerOn Monday, the San Diego Chargers fired head coach Marty Schottenheimer. The 4-year turnaround expert was fresh off his best season yet — a 14-2 campaign that included the placement of 15 players in the Pro Bowl and the NFL’s MVP in LaDanian Tomlinson.  However, the season was cut short earlier than most expected when the New England Patriots knocked off the Chargers in the second round of the playoffs.

It’s a familiar scenario for Schottenheimer, who has a reputation for successful regular seasons followed by choke jobs in the playoffs.  Even so, does that really merit termination?  It’d be one thing if the Chargers were on a decline or had a down season. But the best record in the NFL hardly qualifies as a “down season.”

Furthermore, why in the world did the Chargers wait until Feb. 12 to make that decision — a month after their season was over? 

Turns out that this decision was about more than just X’s and O’s.  Unfortunately for Schottenheimer, he has been dealing with a front office that was less than cordial.  Chargers GM A.J. Smith and Schottenheimer have butted heads ever since the coach arrived in San Diego. Apparently, after Schottenheimer allowed several of his assistant coaches to interview for and accept coaching positions elsewhere in the league, Smith and owner Dean Spanos decided they’d had enough.

If you ask me, it’s a dumb decision on their part.  Now they’re stuck with a head coaching vacancy and a mostly picked-over field of candidates. Not only that, but they interrupted the momentum of a coach who had assembled a Super Bowl-caliber team.  In my opinion, Schottenheimer is one of the best in the league.  With the exception of his playoff woes, he has had success everywhere he’s gone. 

In the end, irreconcilable differences ended the Schottenheimer era in San Diego. And a 14-2 coach is now unemployed.

Which brings me to my point: is there a harder job in sports today than NFL head coach?  Every year, we see situations like the one in San Diego. Coaches are asked to build winning franchises, but are given little or no time to do it. They are required to bring home a Super Bowl ring, but often aren’t given any say in the players they must work with.

The NFL is purposefully designed to create parity. That’s why it’s so rare to come across franchises like the Patriots that are so successful over several years.  That’s why you almost always see different teams in the Super Bowl year-in and year-out.  Granted, it makes things interesting and creates balance across the league. But, it’s torture for die-hard fans who have to watch their teams ride the roller coaster of success. And it’s even worse for head coaches who are destined to have up and down years, no matter how good they are as coaches. 

Finally, front offices in the NFL are way too involved. It’s like Bill Parcells’ famous quote likening an NFL coach to a chef who must cook a great meal, but has no say in the ingredients.  If a front office truly has confidence in its coach and demands success, they must be willing to let the coach do his job. 

Which is exactly what went wrong in San Diego. The front office overstepped their boundaries. They attempted to micro-manage a winning coach. And they got rid of a guy who had done nothing but bring them success.

I’m confident that Schottenheimer will end up with a good coaching job, if he’s interested. Another franchise will recognize the value he brings to the table.

But, if I were Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer or any other college head coach who was even remotely contemplating NFL openings, I’d be careful before taking the plunge.  In college, at least you have a say in who you recruit. And, for the most part, you aren’t dealing with the kind of egos you see in the NFL.  At the very least, you can be confident that your players aren’t making more money than you are. College players are more coachable and, as a result, college coaches have more influence over the success of their teams. 

Just ask Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban — I’m sure they’d tell you that NFL head coaching isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be.

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~ by ahalperin on February 14, 2007.

3 Responses to “NFL Head Coach: Hardest Job in Sports?”

  1. Marty Schottenheimer is a good coach. As you noted, every team he’s coached, he’s turned into a winning franchise. So hear me out…I think he is a very good coach. But here’s some stats: he’s lost six consecutive playoff games, he’s 5-13 for his career in the post season, he has the most wins, but no super bowl titles, in 1995 and 1997 the chiefs were 13-3 and secured homefield advantage thoughout the playoffs, the chiefs lost their opening playoff games both years, the chargers also secured homefield advantage and managed to lose at home. It seems that Marty can only take a team so far. Or maybe he has horrible luck in the playoffs. I don’t know. I’m not saying the Chargers were right to fire him. What I am saying is that the Chargers were arguably the best team in the NFL and didn’t get past their first playoff game. Maybe it’s not all about winning the superbowl, but that’s what NFL fans only seem to settle for. You’re 100 percent correct when you say that an NFL head coach is the hardest job in all of pro sports.

  2. I think Marty is awesome.

  3. и всё эе: шикарно..

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