Andy Reid's time as coach of the Eagles is down to just a few days. Speculation about who will replace him is rampant. Oregon's Chip Kelly is a hot name. Some people focus on NFL offensive coordinators like Mike McCoy or Greg Roman. Defensive gurus like Mike Zimmer and Vic Fangio get plenty of attention.
Set aside the names for a minute. In some ways the question should not be who to hire, but what to hire. I think too often we get caught up in offense vs. defense and focus on schemes, plays, and statistics. Let's look at the big picture.
The head coach does a heck of a lot more than choose between the West Coast offense or power run game. The head coach is the face and voice of the organization. He must be able to lead people, not just players and coaches. He works with the owner. The coach works with the personnel department. He works with the public relations department. And so on.
Think about how important it is for the coach to have a good relationship with the medical staff. The coach and head trainer must completely be on the same page. Bill Parcells is famous for how he dealt with injured players and the training room. When he was hired in Dallas, Parcells went to the training room to see what it was like. He found a place where players were comfortable, if not even happy. Parcells immediately put in strict rules and had the temperature lowered in the room so that it was unpleasant to be in there. Parcells felt too many players were milking injury situations.
The head coach works with every member of the coaching staff. He works with all 53 players. Some guys can't handle this. Buddy Ryan was a defensive genius, but struggled when dealing with his offense and special teams units. Steve Spurrier was clueless outside of running his offense. The head coach must be able to work with every part of the team and not play favorites.
Dealing with the media is a big part of the job these days. The head coach will have his own television and/or radio show. He'll have postgame press conferences, as well as another couple of media sessions during the week. It is important for the coach to be able to handle this. Andy Reid drives many fans crazy with his approach, but it is safe. Bombastic coaches like Rex Ryan open themselves up to a lot of scrutiny when things go wrong. The jokes and funny comments are great when you win, but make you look foolish when things don't go well. There have been times over the years when Parcells antagonized members of the media. This can be dangerous because you're directly making enemies. I think Jeff Fisher is about as good as it gets in terms of media relations. He answers questions and shows some personality, but avoids saying anything too revealing.
The owner is basically hiring someone to come in an run the organization 24/7/365, not just to be "the guy" on Sundays. Having a great playbook is important, but having a vision for the organization is more important. The coach must understand he's very similar to a CEO. Andy Reid got this and did a great job of running the Eagles in his tenure.
The new coach will inherit a pretty good infrastructure. He doesn't need to be someone who can build an organization from the ground up. He really will need to be someone who can rebuild things. Think of him more as a fixer than a builder. The new coach will need to have a specific vision for the Eagles.
The Packers are the most homegrown team in the NFL. That organization believes in developing players. They make great use of undrafted free agents. The Niners have the most first round players of anyone in the league. Some are their own, but others were added (Justin Smith, Randy Moss, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, etc.). The Niners are hesitant to play rookies. They prefer veteran players. Contrast that with the Seahawks, who play rookies every year. These aren't accidental trends. Someone wanted the teams to operate this way for a specific reason.
There are plenty of other questions to consider. 3-4 or 4-3? 1-gap or 2-gap? Massive offensive linemen or athletic blockers? Size or speed? The coach must have an idea of how he wants to build his team. The scouts need to know what kind of players to find. The general manager needs to know where to focus his resources. The Texans offensive line has just one first rounder. The Niners line has three first rounders. Both teams can run the ball and control the line of scrimmage, but they do it in different ways. Again, this isn't an accident. This is by design.
Arguably the most important thing a coach must do is hire the right staff. Reid hired a great coaching staff when he first got to Philly. The team won big. Mike Holmgren had an amazing coaching staff in Green Bay and the team won big. Jimmy Johnson had a great staff in Dallas and that team dominated. Johnson didn't have as good a staff in Miami and wasn't able to win big. Holmgren didn't have a great staff in Seattle. He got to the Super Bowl, but couldn't win it and had trouble sustaining success. Reid has not gotten the same results late in his time in Philly with a rebuilt coaching staff.
Hiring the right people isn't an easy task. You can't just go with friends. Heck, you may hire guys you've never even met. Jim Johnson was a stranger to Reid when Johnson interviewed, but he became Reid's most important hire and a great defensive coordinator. The head coach must constantly evaluate his staff to see if changes need to be made. If the team wins, his assistants will leave for better jobs. The head coach must constantly be on the lookout for new coaches to hire.
Some college coaches and NFL assistants don't understand just how all-encompassing a job being an NFL head coach is. You become the central figure in a billion-dollar organization. The futures and job security of staff, coaches, and players are all on your shoulders. The fans of a city or an entire region will live and die with your every move.
As you think about who you want as coach, ask yourself how you think the guy would do with these tasks. Has the coach been part of a successful organization so that he can see how things need to be done? Would Chip Kelly put together a good NFL staff? How would Greg Roman deal with the Philly media? Does Mike McCoy have a specific vision for a team? Would Mike Zimmer be able to help a young quarterback? Taking over as coach of the Eagles is a daunting task.
Owner Jeff Lurie needs to find someone who sees the big picture and is capable of handling the pressure of being the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He needs to get someone who can lead the organization. He needs to get someone who can change the culture. Aside from a hot finish in 2011 and a hot start in 2012, the Eagles have played bad football in the last two seasons. You don't want losing ways setting in. The right coach can get this situation turned around quickly. The wrong coach can make things worse and set the organization back another few years.
Lurie doesn't need to find the perfect coach, he just needs to find the right one.