Most of the new NFL coaches have one thing in common — they were once quarterbacks
Five quarterbacks adjusting to unfamiliar NFL cities are in the spotlight this season.
They’re young and old, from big schools and small.
And they won’t take a single snap.
They are five of this season’s eight new coaches, and they all played quarterback in college: Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians (Virginia Tech), Cleveland’s Freddie Kitchens (Alabama), Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech), Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (Saginaw Valley State) and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor (Nebraska).
That so many struggling teams reached for a head coach who knows the quarterback position — and that’s not counting quarterback specialist Adam Gase, a receiver in high school — is more evidence of the importance of the position in a league increasingly infatuated by passing.
The lone defense-minded coaches among this season’s eight new ones: Miami’s Brian Flores and Denver’s Vic Fangio.
The most seasoned head coach in this group is Arians, 66, twice named NFL coach of the year — in Indianapolis as an interim, and in Arizona — after an illustrious career as an assistant.
But he contends that Kingsbury, having come straight from college football, actually has an edge over the competition because of the mystery factor.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt, especially if it’s September,” Arians said. “It definitely gives them the advantage. The unknown is the best thing you can have.”
But this spring, Kingsbury said coming to the NFL requires a major shift in thinking after six seasons as Texas Tech’s coach.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “When you’ve been in one place for six years, some of the terminology can run together and some things can start to not make sense to anybody outside of that building.
“To get back and break it down and try to simplify it as much as we can and make it all make sense and add new wrinkles, that’s been one of the more challenging parts of the job.
“We didn’t have a playbook in college. It was all video playbook. So, that’s different. We’re actually putting it together on paper and we’ll have something to hand out. In college, we went all video only.”
There’s also a significant generation gap among the coaches. There are Arians and Fangio, 61, and then the much younger Kitchens, 44; Gase, 41; Kingsbury, 40, LaFleur, 39; Flores, 38 and Taylor, 36.
What’s more, there are definite Sean McVay overtones in this group, with both LaFleur and Taylor having worked for the 33-year-old Rams wunderkind.
Fangio has spent more than half his life coaching, including 19 years as a defensive coordinator for five teams. His most recent, the Chicago Bears, surrendered the fewest points in 2018.
Did he ever give up hope he’d be hired as a head coach?
“I never gave it much thought one way or another,” Fangio said. “I was very happy being a defensive coordinator in the NFL, especially with Chicago the past four years. We finally had gotten that thing to where we were good. I would have been fine staying there too. I didn’t stress about becoming a head coach.”
But he was quick to add: “I’m glad it happened. I’m thrilled to be in Denver. Every day I’m happier than I was the day before being here.”
Facing the challenge of bringing along young quarterbacks are Kitchens (Baker Mayfield), Gase (Sam Darnold), Flores (Josh Rosen) and Kingsbury (Kyler Murray).
But even for those with a veteran quarterback at the helm — Taylor has Andy Dalton, for instance — moving up from an assistant’s role is difficult.
“Everybody understands that as a new coach, there’s a lot coming at you,” said Taylor, the Rams’ quarterbacks coach last season. “It never feels like you have enough time. But there is enough time, you just have to slow down and do one task at a time.”
Expectations are especially high in Cleveland, which acquired All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. this offseason, and will get running back Kareem Hunt after he serves an eight-game suspension.
But Kitchens said he’s not feeling undue pressure.
“To me pressure is waking up without a job, having a baby at home to feed, your wife just left you and you have no money in your pocket,” he said. “So that’s pressure. I don’t think what we do is pressure.”
When informed that sounds like a country song, he said: “Yeah, I listen to country music for a reason. Most of those songs it seems like was written for me.”
He’s just hoping this one’s a hit.
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