By Stephen Juza
July 4th, 2022
Each January and February, the coaching carousel rotates as several head coaches are fired, and new coaches hired to replace them. Coaching trees expand with these changes, adding new branches, or forming their own tree altogether. While coaching trees are often open to interpretation, let’s take a look at the current NFL coaching landscape.
The largest coaching tree for the 2022 season belongs to Andy Reid. Five different active head coaches spent time on Reid’s staff, led by Sean McDermott's 12 years as an assistant. A few things stand out about Reid’s tree beyond the breadth. Among them, it is also the only active tree in which a child coach has won a Super Bowl.
I’ve written about Reid’s coaching tree before ( Success of Modern Coaching Trees, Top Trees in History), and for another year it ranks as the top in the league. This offseason saw turnover from his former assistants: Matt Nagy was fired by the Chicago Bears (and he subsequently re-joined Reid in Kansas City), while former assistant Todd Bowles was promoted to the top job in Tampa following Bruce Arians’ retirement.
His coaching tree seems primed to continue its top ranking in the league with the emerging success of the Buffalo Bills, led by former assistant McDermott. In his five seasons as a head coach, the Bills have made the playoffs four times. You have to go back all the way to the early 1990s to find a stretch of three consecutive playoff berths for the team.
Orange coaches not active head coaches
Coming off his first Super Bowl victory, Sean McVay has a burgeoning coaching tree. Three of the last four offseasons have seen one of his top assistants hired away to head coaching positions. Through these coaches, his coaching tree has also had an early burst of success.
His opponent in the Super Bowl was led by his former quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor. His former offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur has led the Packers to three consecutive 13-win seasons. Kevin O'Connell and Brandon Staley hope they can bring that level of success, or more, to their own teams.
With the Rams primed for continued success, his coaching staff will continue to get looks at head coaching opportunities, but the continued turnover may put a pause on his tree expanding for a few years. Key offensive coaches are entering the 2022 with limited coaching experience, which will likely give teams pause before handing over the reins of their franchise.
While Bill Belichick may be one of the best coaches in league history, his coaching tree continues to leave a lot to be desired. While this offseason saw two more coaches hired from his tree (Brian Daboll and Josh McDaniels), it will take a lot of individual success for them to balance out the disappointment from the other coaches.
Across the ten coaches in his entire coaching tree, they have combined for only two wins in the playoffs, or one fewer than Zac Taylor had individually by his third season as head coach. Not only that, but only one of the ten coaches lasted longer than four seasons with their first head coaching job.
Daboll could be the coach to break the trend. He’s spent almost as much time with Belichick in the NFL as without, coaching under several other head coaches. This is a significant break from other coaches in Belichick’s tree - few other coaches spent significant time away from New England. The additional perspectives could serve Daboll well as he hopes to rebuild the Giants into a consistent playoff contender.
Orange coaches not active head coaches
Kyle Shanahan/Frank Reich/Mike Vrabel:
These three coaches have two coaches each that have been tapped to lead their own team, although their relatively short tenures as a head coach in their own right have led these assistant coaches to spend most of their careers on other head coaching staffs. That said, both Kyle Shanahan and Frank Reich have lost a coordinator in each of the last two seasons, with Vrabel losing two coordinators in the two seasons prior to that.
However, if their individual success continues, there will be ample opportunity for these head coaches to continue and make a mark on the coaching ranks for years to come. Shannahan, Reich, and Vrabel have combined for nine winning seasons and three conference championship appearances over the last four seasons, giving assistants plenty of opportunity to coach in big games. While there is little relationship between a coach’s success and the success of their assistant coaches, teams generally hire coaches coming from successful teams.
Not every coach in the league can tie their assistant coaching career to a current head coach. In some instances, like Matt Rhule or Kliff Kingsbury, they have spent their years prior to their NFL head coaching role in the college ranks. As I wrote last year, college coaches have a far more boom-or-bust nature to their coaching careers compared to a head coach from the NFL ranks. While Rhule has struggled in his NFL career thus far, Kingsbury has managed to improve the Cardinals record each of his three seasons with the team.
Other coaches, such as Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin, have simply been coaches long enough that their parent coaches have long since retired from the NFL. Despite their long, successful careers, they have no active head coaches that have spent time on their coaching staffs.
Coaching trees are often open to interpretation, but throughout the website we automatically place any coach in the tree of a head coach up to their first head coaching opportunity. This allows coaches to be in multiple trees, without limiting them to only one coach that they spent the most time with.
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