Football Terms – Position Coaches and Coordinators
Assistant coaches in the NFL are responsible for preparing the players for each game and enabling the team to function as a unit. Since the head coach cannot do everything himself, he surrounds himself with skilled assistants. In many cases, the most successful assistant coaches will go on to become head coaches themselves.
The following are some of the most common assistant coaching positions in the National Football League:
- Offensive Coordinator – Develops the offensive game plan and often calls the plays.
- Quarterbacks Coach
- Running Backs Coach
- Wide Receivers Coach
- Tight Ends Coach
- Offensive Line Coach
- Offensive Quality Control
- Defensive Coordinator – Develops defensive schemes and will often call defensive plays.
- Defensive Line Coach
- Linebackers Coach
- Secondary/Corners Coach
- Secondary/Safeties Coach
- Defensive Quality Control
- Special Teams Coordinator
- Strength and Conditioning Coach
Examples of assistant coaches becoming head coaches include:
- From 1956 until 1959, Tom Landry was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. He would accept the head coaching position with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960.
- Bill Belichick served in a number of assistant coaching positions before landing the Patriots head coaching job. These include: assistant special teams, tight ends and receivers coach (Lions), assistant special teams and defensive assistant (Broncos), defensive assistant and special teams coach, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator (Giants), assistant head coach and defensive backs coach (Patriots), assistant head coach and defensive coordinator (Jets).
As you see, the path to a head coaching job can be long and winding, or short and dramatic. Tom Landry had five losing seasons to start his career (something which would get him fired these days), but followed those five years with a record 20 straight winning seasons.
Bill Belichick was considered a disaster as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns, and many people shook their heads when the New England Patriots paid a 1st round draft pick to get Belichick from the New York Jets (for whom Belichick worked as head coach for a day), but he went on to post 3 Super Bowl wins in 4 years — a feat matched only one other time.
Offensive Coordinator – Defensive Coordinator
Typically, the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator positions are the springboard for assistant coaches to become head coaches. There are few cases where a coach leaps from being a position coach to a head coach.
One case in the NFL was Mike Tice, who went from being Dennis Green’s offensive line coach with the Minnesota Vikings to being the team’s head coach — first on an interim basis (for one game in 2000) and then as the full time head coach in 2001.
A more recent example of the position coach-to-head coach transition is John Harbaugh, current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh was the defensive backs coach in 2007 for the Philadelphia Eagles, after nine years as the team’s special teams coach. After Dallas Cowboys OC Jason Garrett turned down the Ravens offer to become the head coach, the team offered the position to John Harbaugh, despite his lack of time as an NFL coordinator.