An inside look at interview process when NFL teams seek a new coach

Rams coach Sean McVay, center, and  Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, left, walk through the halls during 2019 NFL meetings.
Rams coach Sean McVay, center, and former Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, left, impressed in their interviews to become coaches in Los Angeles.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

One of the major considerations when NFL teams hire a head coach is not just who that person is, but also what kind of staff can that coach assemble. Who will be coming with him? That part is often overlooked when people are speculating who might fill one of these coveted 32 jobs.

Candidates are always asked this during interviews, and frequently give pie-in-the-sky answers. “I’ll have Jon Gruden as my offensive coordinator, and Bill Belichick as my defensive coordinator,” or something of that nature.

Hey, it sounds good.

An NFL team executive shared that during one hiring cycle, at least five different candidates said they intended to bring Dan Quinn along as defensive coordinator. He said it was almost comical.

Sometimes a candidate will hand over a proposed list of hires that comes straight from his agent and is populated with fellow clients of that representative. That’s as transparent as it sounds, and screams, “I don’t have a mind of my own,” or, “I haven’t really thought this through.”


When Stan Kroenke and his top brass at the Rams were interviewing Sean McVay, they asked the young coach who he envisioned as his defensive coordinator. McVay said Wade Phillips. That was easy enough to check, because Phillips had been fired by Denver and was free to talk to anyone.

In spite of the Rooney Rule requiring NFL teams to interview minority coaching candidates, the league still has a problem with too few Black head coaches.

Jan. 6, 2021

So, during the course of the interview, the Rams called the agent of the seasoned defensive architect and asked if Phillips would indeed be interested in working with McVay. The agent confirmed that Phillips would.

That told the Rams a few things. First, McVay wasn’t blowing smoke in the interview; he could actually deliver Phillips. Second, that Phillips had given McVay his stamp of approval. And third, that McVay was self-aware and confident enough to bring in someone with far more experience — including head coaching experience — and wasn’t threatened by that.

So, just as it is in every hiring cycle, deciding on a new head coach does not just mean bringing on one new personality at the top.