You Can’t Trust An Offensive Minded Coach

The big news out of the sporting world today concerned which NFL coaches are leaving their respective teams.  I’m not actually going to blog about that per say, but I am going to talk about coaches, and that opening felt like it made for some kind of attention getter.

I think one of the more understated issues when it comes to evaluating football coaches is that each of them falls fairly easily into one of two categories:  offensive minded and defensive minded.  It is almost always simple to categorize a head coach as one of the two; even if his play-calling doesn’t give it away, chances are he was an offensive or defensive coordinator before he was a head coach.  There is rarely a coach who falls in the gray area.

In the last ten years, the trend in the NFL has been to match teams with coaches that will compliment their strengths.  The best example occurred in 2002, with Jon Gruden taking over at Tampa Bay, and Tony Dungy moving from Tampa Bay to Indianapolis.  Dungy is a defensive minded coach, and had created an amazing defensive team in Tampa Bay.  Gruden is an offensive minded coach, which appeared to give the Bucs the extra intangibles they needed to win the Super Bowl the very year he took the helm.  Meanwhile, Dungy joined forces with Peyton Manning to form a unit that has continually forced members of the ’72 Dolphins into cardiac arrest ever since.

The majority of NFL (and probably NCAA) head coaches fall on the defensive side.  This makes sense, because we all know “defense wins championships.”  As some of you may remember, the BiCoastal Bias has a great deal of respect for Bill Belichick, who only NFL coach to win three Super Bowls in four years; and it’s little surprise that he is a defensive minded coach.

But how does this affect the game?  I would claim that defensive coaches make more predictable decisions.  For instance, a defensive coach is much less likely to go for it on fourth and short in a tight situation, for the simple reason that he trusts his defense and believes they’ll win the game on that side of the ball.  

An offensive minded coach, on the other hand, can be much harder to nail down – and this is what made the 2007 Fiesta Bowl an instant classic.  After scoring a touchdown in the first over time, a defensive minded coach wouldn’t even consider going for two.  A defensive coach is going to tie the game with the extra point, and trust that his defense will out play the other team’s defense in the second overtime.  

For the sake of football lore, I’m glad Boise State’s Chris Petersen is an offensive minded coach.  After scoring a touchdown on a fourth down play, he decides to go for the win, with a statue of liberty play no less.

We can’t quite say that offense won Boise State a championship, but we can say that offense won this year’s Fiesta Bowl.


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