Comparing Eras

The Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, or does it?: NFL Coaching Trees

By now, I’m sure you have figured out the most common way an NFL Head Coach gains the highest chair in the land is usually through the familiar route of “offensive or defensive coordinator of a playoff team, whose unit happens to be one of the best in the NFL. Yes, it helps to have good players, but somehow magically, it’s the guys on double digit win teams that get interviews for those 6-8 coveted NFL Head coaching gigs.

The general rule of thumb is, you move from position coach (DB’s to DC, QB’s to OC, etc.) and the younger you are when you get that DC or OC gig, the better. Some guys are permanent OC/DC for years, and that is NOT a bad thing at all. But basically, once you get hired as a head coach ,we get to see was it your magical coaching acumen, playcalling, and leadership….orrrrr did you just oversee a bunch of stud players. Well, we will find out in your next stop! Like Bart Scott says…”Can’t Wait!”

Ever hear of this guy?

The joke of the past few years is that if you stood two urinals down from Rams coach Sean McVay, you somehow ended up an NFL Head Coach. Packer and Bengals fans know what I’m talkin’ about. McVay is pretty young to be sprouting his own tree, but he comes from a bigger branch of one, via Broncos coaching legend Mike Shanahan, (you may have heard of his son Kyle, running the 49ers before turning 40 years old. Must be nice). The oddity with the McVay limb of tree is that Packers’ LaFleur and Bengals’ Taylor didn’t have much Coordinator experience before they were swept up by some desperate owners, but that’s this generation for you.

this tree sprouts from Shanahan’s time on the Redskins, when they had RG3. Everyone figured out McVay’s shit after 2018, so back to the drawing board for the wunderkind!

Just because you are part of a tree, doesn’t mean the team gets the fruits of the tree trunk. Bill Belichick’s tree has been hit or miss, with guys like Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, and wunderkind Josh McDaniels having brief and somewhat tumultuous stops around a decade ago. (Seriously look up Mangini’s tenure on the Browns, an absolute shit show) Out of his current disciples, Bill O’Brien (who somehow is the GM too!!??) and Mike Vrabel have landed teams in the playoffs, while Matt Patricia and Adam Gase look sort of….eh.

These tree trunks are legends

Getting super technical, Billy B is part of the giant Bill Parcells coaching tree, whose most famous offshoot is Sean Payton. In fact, from Parcells 2000’s Dallas tenure, both Payton and Mike Zimmer have become current Head Coaches, along with Anthony Lynn of the Chargers. Overall, those guys help offset the “averageness”, (which is a word I made up), of Belichick’s minions, who have tried harder trying to replicate the Hoodie, than actually just being themselves.  

As for offensive coaches, the most famous one really starts with Bill Walsh of the 49ers, but we will jump to the first offshoot (not including Mike Shanahan from earlier) to the legendary tree of Mike Holmgren, which in turn sprouted an even bigger tree (no pun intended) with Andy Reid. Stay with me. You can do this. Holmgren grabbed the Green Bay job in the early 90’s, after conveniently being the OC for the back to back Super Bowl winning 49ers. Notice a theme?

The staff he assembled in Green Bay, which by the way had an absolutely loaded roster led by that ole country boy dick pic sending Brett Favre, and a old as hell and still monstrous Reggie White. Holmgren’s staff had “dat one guy right dere, dat Jon Gruden”, Andy Reid, and Steve Mariucci. Those guys all had Head jobs by the late 90’s and had good success.

Andy Reid and his mustache

Andy Reid has a pretty damn good tree, I would say.

Like Billy B, Reid has been around so long so that he has two separate eras, or even offshoots from his tenure. Most famously there is his early staff from the Eagles, you know when they went to 4 straight NFC title games? This one spawned John Harbaugh and Ron Rivera. Hell, with the Chiefs breaking records the past five years, anyone under his watch became a hot commodity, which is how Frank Reich of the Colts, and Doug Pedersen of the Eagles got spots. They are both doing really well on teams that granted do have some talent, but they sure as hell aren’t ruining anything.  Could it be being a backup QB for almost a decade in the 90’s helps with game planning, play calling, and connecting with players? Because the jury is out on Nagy, though locker room hints they like him.

*Bellichick’s tenure with the Browns in the early 90s is famous for sprouting two famous college coaches in Saban and Kirk Ferentz, but more so for a whopping amount of future front office execs this past millennium. Check out this neat article.

“Marty Ball!!!”

Other famous trees include old Marty Schottenheimer, whose main off shoots of Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher also spawned Mike Tomlin via Dungy, and Marvin Lewis via Cowher, as well as other guys below them like. Even though these offshoots didn’t adhere to the ultimate ethos of “MARTY BALL!” where you RUN THE GODDAMN FOOTBALL, they are a smaller qualified tree without a doubt, using the quality over quantity metric.

Side Note:

The following is a conversation probably had with Marty Schottenheimer between 1986 and 2006, during his Browns (remember those AFC title game losses to the Broncos, eh?) Chiefs, and Chargers reigns.

Coach: “Hey Marty, we have this really simple pass play where the QB runs a three stop drop and throws a quick 5 yard pass. It’s called a hitch.”

*Marty and his giant glasses, just dripping with emotion: “I don’t know if you have noticed, but around here, we RUN THE DAMN BALL! We do it to a fault, results be damned! Now bring me Christian Okoye, Ernest Byner, and LaDainian Tomlinson, cause those sons a bitches are getting 35 carries on Sunday!”

And scene…..

Let’s wrap this up

One of the biggest precursors to being an NFL coach and getting swallowed up in a universe of coaching is the old adage, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. This guy worked with that guy, he must have magic pixie dust, so on and so forth. Untangling the coaching web is really fun, and seeing where certain guys started out, and how quick their rise was, is sometimes startling. You don’t have to be a two decade plus lifer in the NFL, but if you are on the right team or close to the right branches, you get noticed. Without a doubt, you can separate excellent coaches from average ones, but you know what realllllyyy helps. Damn good players.