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The four types of NFL coaches

Michael Lombardi examines the four different types of NFL head coaches

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As young football fans, we all had our favorites teams. The choices were sometimes based on geography, the uniforms, or the players. Many of you still love that one team, whereas for me, because of my professional journey, a separation occurred. What began as a love affair with the Washington Redskins ended the day that I was officially hired in April of 1984 by the San Francisco 49ers. From that moment, my favorite team was my employer. Money has a way of changing loyalties. Today, with my sons involved, I cheer objectively hard for their teams and for my close friend’s teams.

Once you visit enough NFL cities and talk to members of other organizations, you understand the landscape of how the game is played, and you begin to wonder why certain franchises never win. Why, for example, are the Lions one of those teams that never can put a consistent winner on the field? There was a time in my career — not any longer — that I wanted to be the general manager of the Lions, because as an overall organization they were a perfect match for my dream GM job criteria. I wanted a team with historic uniforms, played indoors, with a great fan base and an owner willing to let you work, under pre-determined ironclad guidelines. The Ford family through the years has always been willing to step back and allow the person in charge run the team. The problem has been who they trust — and who they chose. It’s never about money in Detroit, it’s always about choices and now they seem to be repeating the same errors, not finding the right strategist to lead their organization.

The betting community understands bad choices more than the average fan because when they lose money, it becomes more than a loss — it causes regret, consternation and grief, which results in a deeper analysis. Fans love their team — they may hate their coach, or quarterback, but they will remain lovers of their team. Bettors love making money and have no loyalty towards anything but the green stuff. They anguish over poor playcalling, a lack of attention to the details and bad game management. So, they recognize the importance of strategy and having someone oversee the game from a global perspective. When sharp betters understand a team lacks this element, they remove it from their betting card — which I have done with the Lions. How can you trust them to make the right decision if the line is seven or under? You can’t.

The 2022 season has given many betters grief with all the bad decisions and lack of awareness of the game. We no longer have game strategists as head coaches, we have scheme creators, playcallers, coaches who never understand the flow the of game, never understand who is in control and who is in the lead might be vastly different — or sometimes the same. Owners seemingly don’t feel the need to find a strategist as an important characteristic of their search. Colleges seemingly don’t either as they are always looking for the next bright offensive mind.

There are only four profiles of coaches that teams can potentially hire. The first and most popular is the schemer. Someone who has a good scheme — offense or defense — and can implement that scheme at their next job. They don’t have to be the originator of the scheme, only have learned the scheme from someone successful. (The Sean McVay syndrome.) The next type of coach is the caretaker, someone who must hire a good offensive and defensive coach and then watch them install their schemes with no direction. They watch the game as we do, and have little influence on the calls, they take care of the team. The “caretakers” coordinators are truly subcontractors and run their side of the ball with complete autonomy. Ron Rivera would be an example of this profile. The third coach is the recruiter, which is mostly limited to colleges. The NFL has no need to recruit, so hiring a brand influencer, is not important. The last — and best—type of coaches are strategists. Someone who coaches the coaches, run the game from start to finish, makes sure the game plans work in harmony with one another and makes smart in game decisions. He is the CEO of the team, the organization and prepares the teams to perform well weekly in the certain areas of the game that ultimately determine winning. Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel, Pete Carroll, Brian Daboll (this season) and John Harbaugh would all be examples of a strategist. Dan Campbell and many others wouldn’t.