More special teams coordinators need to be hired as head coaches


Graphic by Tiger Times staff.

Special teams coordinators should be looked at as head coaching candidates more often.

Ben Rosen is a senior and a reporter  for Fishers Tiger Times. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

     Currently in the NFL there is not a single head coach that was a special teams coordinator directly before becoming the head coach of their current team. Of the head coaches that started the 2021 season, only one (now former Giants head coach Joe Judge) was a special teams coordinator immediately preceding being hired as a head coach. 

     At the time, Judge was the Patriots special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach, but only for one season. Prior to that, Judge had only the special teams coordinator title. Taking that factor into consideration, not a single head coach at the start of the 2021 season was solely a special teams coordinator at the time they were hired as a head coach.

     However, some current NFL head coaches were special teams coordinators at some point prior to becoming a head coach. The most well known example is Ravens head coach John Harbaugh who was the special teams coordinator for the Eagles from 1998-2006. In 2007 the Eagles made Harbaugh the defensive backs coach in an effort to help him get an NFL head coaching job. 

     Recently, The 33rd Team, a website run by former front office executives in the NFL Mike Tannenbaum and Joe Banner, published a study comparing how head coaches with special teams coaching experience perform compared to those who do not have special teams coaching experience, with data from as far back as the 1991 season. The research found that head coaches who coached special teams at one point have a better winning percentage than head coaches with no special teams coaching experience. 

     One reason some of the numbers could have a large difference is because Patriots head coach Bill Belichick coached special teams before becoming a successful defensive coordinator and eventually a head coach. But Belichick does not carry the numbers for that group as much as you would think, given his success with the Patriots. Other very successful head coaches like Bill Cowher, Dennis Green and Marv Levy are also a part of that group.

     The group of head coaches without special teams coaching experience included some great head coaches such as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, Seahawks head coach Pete Carrol and Saints head coach Sean Payton. Each of those four coaches have won championships, as well, so that gives an indication that the difference goes beyond the success of Belichick.

     One reason for this could be that being the special teams coordinator requires a coach to be able to work with and know how to use all of the players on the roster. This is because playing on special teams requires skills that go beyond what is needed to play offense or defense, as they have to do things like field goals, kickoffs, punts, kickoff returns and punt returns.

     Recently, Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi wrote an article explaining how these skills and other qualities make special teams coordinators good head coaches. Rizzi explains that special teams coordinators need to have a good understanding of the rules and situational football which are subject areas that head coaches also must be knowledgeable in. That is a reason why many special teams coordinators also have associate head coach or assistant head coach in their title. 

     When the Raiders needed to name an interim head coach this season due to Jon Gruden’s sudden resignation following a New York Times report, they turned to then assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. Bisaccia ended up leading the team to the playoffs with a 7-5 record as interim head coach/special teams coordinator during the regular season before a loss to the Bengals in the wild card round. 

     This showed that when given the opportunity to be a head coach, special teams coordinators can succeed. The Raiders have interviewed Bisaccia for the permanent head coaching job as well. Bisaccia has earned the job and has support from the players to be named permanent head coach after having led the team through challenging situations including the release of both of their 2020 first round draft picks –  wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette – during the middle of the season. 

     Raiders owner Mark Davis now has the chance to make a hire that would hopefully change the narrative around the idea of hiring special teams coordinators as head coaches. Banner recently published an article and wrote about his time with the Browns, during which the team interviewed Bisaccia for their open head coaching job in 2013. Banner wrote, “to say that the other people involved in the process were skeptical would be a significant understatement,” and went on to describe how he viewed the interview and the perception of it by others.

     By making Bisaccia the permanent head coach, the Raiders can change this perception and narrative surrounding special teams coordinators and lead to deserving coaches getting head coaching interviews and chances to become a head coach that might not have happened in past years. 

     Coaches like Rizzi, Buccaneers special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, Cardinals assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers, Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel, Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton, Colts special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone and Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Dave Toub among others are qualified and very deserving of an opportunity to be a head coach.

     In the NFL special teams coordinators need to get the same hype and treatment that offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators get when discussing potential head coaching candidates. They need to be given the respect they deserve and opportunities to be a head coach which many current special teams coordinators have earned. It is time to start hiring more special teams coordinators as head coaches.