The league has 32 head coaches, all shapes and sizes – and ages, and personalities, and styles. What seems to matter lately, though, is the type of offense they’ve installed.
The four coaches still standing are: Belickick, Reid, Payton, and McVay. All are solid and proven performers.
Bill Belichick is the dean of current coaches. Now 66, he got his start as an assistant on the defensive side back in 1979. He’s been with four teams, including twice with the Patriots, in 1996 and from 2000 to the present. 1996 ought to ring a bell – Belichick was assistant head coach and defensive backs coach under Bill Parcells when the Packers beat the Pats in Super Bowl XXXI.
Belichick didn’t get an HC gig until 1991, with the Browns. In five years there, he went 36 and 44, reaching the playoffs just once and losing in the AFC Divisional game. His regular season record is 261 and 123, for a .680 win percentage. In postseason, he’s been even better, going 30-11 to date.
In nineteen years with the Pats, Belichick has made the playoffs 16 times, and won the Super Bowl five times (and counting). Even so, many experts had picked the Charges to win last Saturday.
Andy Reid, 60, was an assistant coach for five college teams, from 1982 to 1991, before joining the Packers, and HC Mike Holmgren, from 1992 through 1998. Under Holmgren, Reid served as an offensive assistant, offensive line, tight ends, and quarterbacks coach, finishing up as Quarterbacks and assistant head coach in 1997 and 1998. Reid was with the Packers for Holmgren’s entire tenure, including the victorious 1996 Super Bowl year.
For the past 20 years, Reid has been the head coach of the Eagles (1999-2012) and then the Chiefs (since 2013). He’s gone to the playoffs 14 times, but has yet to appear in a Super Bowl game. His current playoff record is 13-13.
Sean Payton, 55, joined the NFL coaching ranks in 1997. He was with the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys prior to becoming a head man, in New Orleans in 2006. He was named Coach of the Year in his first season as HC. His regular season record there is 118 and 74. This past season is his seventh time going to the playoffs, where his mark is now nine and five. He’s taken his team to the Super Bowl once, following the 2009 season, beating the Colts 31-17.
The rise of Sean McVay to being a head coach is similar to that of Matt LaFleur. After a year as an assistant coach with Jon Gruden and the Bucs in 2008, Sean joined the Redskins as a tight ends coach (2010-13), and then offensive coordinator (2014-16). In 2017 the Rams chose McVay as the youngest NFL head coach ever, at age 30. The Rams have finished first in the NFC West in each of his two years.
After losing to the Falcons in the Wild Card game last season, the Rams beat the Cowboys 30-22 on Saturday, and will face the Saints on Sunday. Sean vs. Sean.
Belichick and McVay each became pro coaches without college coaching experience. None of the four was a star at a big-time college. Reid was a tackle at BYU, Payton had success as a QB at Division 1-AA Eastern Illinois, went undrafted by the NFL, and spent a couple years in the Arena League and CFL, and McVay was a wide receiver for Miami of Ohio. Belichick played center and tight end at Wesleyan University, as well as some lacrosse and squash.
Matt LeFleur’s NFL background and time spent working his way up the coaching ladder seem very much in line with how these four winners made their way to being head coaches. Even McVay was in the NFL as far back as 2008.
What do the four surviving HCs have in common? They preside over powerhouse passing offenses.
Over the regular season, Reid and his Chiefs led the league offensively in both total yards gained (425.6/game) and scoring (35.3). Right on his tail was McVay and his Rams, at 421.1 and 32.9. The Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in offensive yardage and fourth in points scored. Payton and the Saints were third in points scored and eighth in yardage.
On the defensive side, the Saints gave up the least yardage – but they were ranked only fourteenth best overall. The Rams ranked 19th, the Patriots were 21st and the defenseless Chiefs finished ahead of only the Bengals. Do defenses ever matter anymore?
Clearly, you’d like your team to be an offensive powerhouse at the moment. Green Bay ranked 12th in yardage gained and 18th in yardage yielded in 2018. The Packers were ninth in passing yardage.
The Chiefs averaged 310 yards per game through the air, and 116 on the ground. The Ram’s corresponding numbers were 282 and 139; the Patriots came in at 266 and 127, while the Saints were 253 and 127.
Each of the final four teams finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game. Though the Rams were third best and the Chiefs 16th, they were still within 25 yards of each other per game. The differences in passing firepower were more telling, with the Chiefs and Pat Mahomes at 310, the Rams and Jared Goff at 282, the Pats and Tom Brady at 266, and the Saints and Drew Brees at 253. Rodgers and company were ninth, right behind the Pats, at 265.
Based on the differences in passing prowess, I’d have to favor kid McVay and young Goff meeting old-timer Reid and even younger Mahomes in Atlanta on February 3. That’s making the big assumption that the Chiefs’ offense can make up for a defense that gave up over 405 yards per game during the regular season.
The most interesting question for Packer fans might be how these coaches and their dynamic offenses bode for the future of new coach Matt LaFleur? My initial impression is very well, but I’m going to give it a lot more thought and research.
For sure though, the year LaFleur spent with the Rams as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator has to bring a smile to Aaron Rodgers’ face.