Wednesday, September 16, 2015

New NFL Head Coaches and Their Unexpected Success

Every offseason, no matter the team sport, there are coaches fired and new ones hired.  The hope of these franchises is that these new leaders can put the team in a position to win games and be a successful organization on and off the field. But success is not always an automatic result with a new Head Coach. Some coaches are not right organizational or roster fit while others are not best prepared for the role they are undertaking.

During Week One of the 2015 NFL regular season we saw three new Head Coaches get wins in their first game who many expected to lose opening week. These men are looking to bring change in their new organizations and a winning culture back to franchises whose fan bases who feel like playoff success is a distant memory. Ironically, in an age of high powered offenses, all three of these head coaches come from defensive backgrounds.  I am speaking of Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, and Dan Quinn.  Let us dig a little deeper into each situation.

-Rex Ryan, Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have not been to the playoffs in over 15 years, since Doug Flutie had his career resurrected in northern New York.  The Bills have shuffled through multiple Quarterbacks and Head Coaches; they have been on the short end of multiple poor roster moves and draft choices for years. The Bills needed a head coach who was more than just a good qualified candidate. They needed a man who could change the culture in Buffalo.  In hiring Rex Ryan, the Bills gained a Head Coach who changed the attitudes and expectations of another franchise, a coach who has shown consistency as a defensive coach with great defenses.

In week one the Buffalo Bills won a game against a team led by one of the top five Quarterbacks in the NFL. They did not just win their game versus Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, the Bills executed well in all facets of offense and defense. With starting Quarterback Tyrod Taylor the Bills offense displayed a solid balance between running and passing attacks as Taylor was composed, leading the team on productive possessions over and over again.  On the defensive side, the team kept frustrating the Colts offense, putting them in difficult situations while pressuring the Quarterback multiple times.

The Bills have the opportunity to build on their week one success as they head into another tough matchup versus the Patriots. The positive is that it is another game being playing at home so they will have the crowd behind them.  Rex Ryan has captained teams to the playoffs before and this Bills team may be the most talented offense he has ever worked with.  As a defensive minded coach, Ryan takes the most pride in his defenses so we can expect the Bills to continue to execute each week and frustrate many offenses.

-Dan Quinn, Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons

Some people were surprised when Dan Quinn got the job with the Atlanta Falcons.  Not because he wasn’t a qualified or good candidate, but other “big names” were considered for the job. According to reports, Quinn was the Falcons number one choice because of the organization he was coming from. Quinn has spent four of the last six seasons on the Seattle Seahawks coaching staff, a franchise that has played in two straight Super Bowls and been a consistent winner for the last few years.

The Falcons have experienced sporadic success over the last 18 years with three trips to the NFC Championship game and a Super Bowl appearance. But this playoff success has not been consistent under the leadership of any previous head coaches. The Falcons win over the Philadelphia Eagles in week one of the season displayed something that has been missing from Atlanta for years: a defense that executes consistently.  With Quarterback Matt Ryan no one denies the Falcons ability to put up points offensively from week to week; it is the defense that has been left with the big question mark hanging over it. Slowing down a potent Eagles offense was a big step forward for the Falcons.

Maintaining playoff success is always predicated on a team’s ability to execute on both offense and defense. If the Falcons can maintain their level of play and even improve it as the season goes along, they could be playoff bound.  Dan Quinn knows what it takes for a team to be a successful franchise and he is incorporating that down in Atlanta.

-Todd Bowles, Head Coach of the New York Jets

This will be the fourth straight head coach the New York Jets have hired with a defensive background. Each coach has come with different strengths to the Jets, but Todd Bowles is different in the fact he already has some head coaching experience.

Todd has served as an interim Head Coach on two different occasions so he is familiar with the management responsibilities of the job.  In the Jets week one win, their defense was very good and the offense ran the ball efficiently. Some may say that has nothing to do with Bowles since these are “Rex Ryan’s players” and the Cleveland Browns were without their starting Quarterback for most of the game.

The truth is that Todd Bowles has changed the attitude of the Jets on and off the field.  Bowles has gotten both veterans and young players to buy into the team concept.  Under previous head coaches the team was coached by disciplinarians or coaches players liked so much they wanted to hang out with “the boss”. Todd does a great job of balancing between structure and discipline along with creating a positive environment and locker room players want to be in.

Having the right attitude for a team is more than just one or two aspects; it is more than just chemistry, coaching style, and organizational structure.  Success is bred from example and the one who sets that example is the leader. In the NFL the Head Coach sets the standard for the entire organization.  The Head Coach is the face of the team in front of the public and media. A Head Coach has to know how to handle players and put them in a position to be successful.

In week one of the 2015 NFL season we saw these three men bring out the best in their teams and put them in a position to win games. In Buffalo, we see Rex Ryan taking a defense with talented players and make them a cohesive unit that executes well from down to down.  Also, Ryan is a confidence builder who gave Tyrod Taylor the vote of confidence as the starting Quarterback. That confidence from the Head Coach allowed Taylor to have the repetitions in practice to be able to excel on game day and that confidence from the top filters down to the other players on the team.

In Atlanta, we saw a defense that was able to hold a high powered Eagles offensive in check for most of the game. That can be directly correlated with their Head Coach, Dan Quinn, who knew how to game plan against the Eagles in a way to put his team in a position to win the game. On paper, the Falcons defense looks average at best according to NFL standards. A good coach knows how to bring out the best in his team so they can perform at their best on game day. On Monday Night, Dan Quinn may have been more excited during the game at how his team played overall than anyone else.  That positive attitude is infectious and gives his players the confidence knowing this man is interested in them being successful.

With the Jets we saw a team with discipline that executed well on both sides of the ball.  This team played for each other, putting the interests of winning the game ahead of individual achievements. There are many talented players who are top tier at their position who went out of their way to use their experience and skills to better the team.  The Jets played as a cohesive unit and even when the coaches had to talk to players about mistakes, those players are receptive to instruction.

In life, the leadership sets the standards for those they work with and the NFL is no exception. Good coaches know how to uplift their players, put them in a position to do their best work and create a positive environment for success. Time will tell how Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles, and Dan Quinn do in the long run, but week one is a positive sign of what the future holds for those coaches and their teams.

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