New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is the second-longest tenured coach in the league. He’s seen how the league’s tendencies can ebb and flow; the newest trend becomes outdated in an instant, and nobody knows where “the next big thing” is going to come from.
With that in mind, Payton probably knows what he’s talking about when he told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche that he’s seen a lot of mistakes in the head coaching searches this offseason, and believes that guys are being “pigeonholed” in the quest for the next Sean McVay. Payton equates the coaching search to the draft, where the more options teams consider, the better chance they have of striking gold. This offseason, teams went into their search with the sole goal of finding a young, offensive-minded coach who doubles as a QB whisperer (see: Zac Taylor). Payton predicted that out of the eight head coaches hired, maybe three of them would last more than a few years.
The thing is, he’s right. Just like in every other aspect of football, the Rams had to be both lucky and smart to find McVay, and they did. The NFL has always been, and always will be, a copycat league. Half the owners in the league look at McVay and think, “Why can’t we do that?”. Well, you can’t do that because there isn’t a McVay hidden on every team, and making that the only criteria that matters only makes the search process more difficult.
Payton pointed out that current head coaches around the league come from both sides of the ball, with roots in different positions. Payton himself was McVay’s precursor, a young, offensive-minded coach with big ideas who ended up wildly successful. But Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Mike Zimmer, Pete Carroll, Dan Quinn, and Ron Rivera are just a few examples of successful coaches for quality teams that came from the defensive side of things.
Being a head coach is a very difficult job, and not everyone is cut out for it, which is why the trend before McVay was to often hire coaches with previous experience at the head of a team, regardless of their past successes or failures. With teams moving away from hiring veterans in search of the next new thing, there’s significantly less room for error. A veteran head coach might not bring innovation, but he knows how to handle a locker room and deal with pressure from both inside and out. Hiring these young guns can come with a big payout, but a much higher washout rate.
This isn’t even to mention the fact that if everyone is looking for the next McVay, it’s only that much harder to find him, if he exists. Apparently, no one is looking for a young Belichick or Tony Dungy, as Payton noted. Teams have narrowed their searches significantly over the last few years, and the flaws in that logic will eventually bring an end to this trend- but not before Payton and the rest of the veteran coaches can take advantage of it.