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Two More Head Coach Hirings: Fangio in Denver, Kitchens in Cleveland

Two more head coach hirings have made the news this morning, from very opposite poles of possibility. Cleveland will be elevating interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to premanent head coach. He had never been anything more than a position coach until midseason, but he led Cleveland to 23.5% offensive DVOA from Week 9 onward. The Browns essentially had no choice here... if they kept Kitchens as OC with a different head coach, and then had a good season in 2019, another team was almost guaranteed to hire Kitchens away. So they might as well just give him a try at the head job now.

On the other side, Vic Fangio is 60 years old and has been a defensive coordinator for five different NFL teams, plus assistant to the head coach for Baltimore from 2006-2009. But he'll get his first-ever head coach position now with the Denver Broncos after coordinating the No. 1 DVOA defense of 2018. Rumors say that Gary Kubiak will be returning to the coaching ranks as Fangio's offensive coordinator.

(In retrospect, I probably should have just created one running Extra Points discussion thread for head coach hirings, considering there will be eight of them. Whoops!)

Comments

47 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2019, 8:40pm

1 Denver

by jtr // Jan 09, 2019 - 1:56pm

Oh man, a Kubiak return? Somebody in Denver needs to take away Elway's keys to the franchise before he achieves his ultimate vision, which is a coaching staff of guys he played with, overseeing a roster of exclusively his buddies' sons and nephews.

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3 Re: Denver

by dank067 // Jan 09, 2019 - 2:38pm

I wonder how many coaches have returned to a team where they were formerly the head coach to take a coordinator role. Only other one i can think of is Gunther Cunningham in KC. And like Kubiak in Denver, he had been a coordinator for the Chiefs prior to becoming head coach too.

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5 Re: Denver

by _Adam // Jan 09, 2019 - 3:06pm

It's happened before in Denver -- Wade Phillips

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7 Re: Denver

by dank067 // Jan 09, 2019 - 3:53pm

Ah - and he too had been Denver's DC before becoming head coach

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15 Re: Denver

by jackiel // Jan 09, 2019 - 8:13pm

Agreed. He obviously was looking for a HC who would accept his recommended OC. This is not the way to empower the HC, who has effectively given up any influence on that side of the ball, since the GM will side with the OC in any dispute. Don't think that the players and staff won't know this either. In short, Fangio has significantly increased his likelihood of failure.

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16 Re: Denver

by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2019 - 9:32pm

I was really searching the ol' memory banks to think of the exception, and I think I have one which proves the rule; when Halas hired Ditka, and insisted that Buddy Ryan remain d.c.. Obviously, there was great success, but those guys were at each other's throats for 4 years.

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18 Re: Denver

by jackiel // Jan 09, 2019 - 10:27pm

Good point. You can overcome the inevitable tension if the coordinator is top notch and there's a ton of talent on that side of the ball. Based upon what happened during his Denver tenure, unless Kubiak has adjusted is MO during his time away and/or the Broncos upgrade at QB, OL, and WR, this won't end well.

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33 Re: Denver

by dbt // Jan 10, 2019 - 6:54pm

Yeah but Ryan and Ditka were both ornery with everybody, not just each other.

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21 Re: Denver

by jtr // Jan 10, 2019 - 9:01am

Now apparently Kubiak's kid is the top candidate for Broncos' QB coach. Why bother looking for fresh faces and ideas when you can just build a grand nepotocracy out of your buddies and their relatives? The Broncos are a freaking Game of Thrones novel right now, with the ruling Bowlen family too busy attacking each other in a vicious ownership dispute for anybody to apply any oversight to Hand of the King Elway running amok.

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22 Re: Denver

by Will Allen // Jan 10, 2019 - 9:19am

It would be cool, however, if they drafted a tackle who was nicknamed The Mountain. On the other hand, I'd avoid all elaborate wedding banquets.

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29 Re: Denver

by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 10, 2019 - 12:43pm

+1

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32 Re: Denver

by rageon // Jan 10, 2019 - 5:04pm

There's an inappropriate Adam Gotsis joke to be made here, isn't there?

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37 Re: Denver

by facw // Jan 11, 2019 - 6:55pm

And now the Kubiak returns sounds dead, apparently over disagreements over the coaching staff (Kubiak wanting to hire former assistants the Broncos didn't want back, as well as his son)

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2 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Steve in WI // Jan 09, 2019 - 2:34pm

Oh man. I don't know how Fangio will be as a head coach and I wish him luck, but I think this is a blow for the Bears. A lot of fans and local media seem to think "eh, they have Kahlil Mack and a lot of young talent on defense, they'll be fine," but coaching still has an impact. They could promote Ed Donatell to defensive coordinator, but he is a free agent so he could also choose to follow Fangio if Fangio wants him. (Of course, if the title and salary are equal you would think that Chicago would be a more desirable spot to be defensive coordinator, but who knows).

My concern as a Bears fan with Fangio leaving is that if the defense regresses to be, say, the 6th best defense in the league (which could happen with injuries, etc anyway), then the offense had really better take a leap in Nagy's second year or the team is not going to win the division again.

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6 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Chip // Jan 09, 2019 - 3:39pm

Agreed. The Fangio loss hurts me today more than the double doink on Sunday. Had Fangio given up on the HC dream, he could have created a HOF legacy in Chicago with a very young defense while partnered up with Nagy.

I used to think that coaching is relatively fungible (the Brian Burke school of thought) and that the vast majority of W/Ls is due to the underlying talent. That is that all coaches are of a similar level of proficiency (they are professionals after all) and that the difference between any one coach was stylistic more than performance based. Maybe that the difference between the top decile of coaches and the bottom was 0.5 wins or something.

But my views have changed significantly after having watched Fangio completely change the Bears defense from a bottom 3 unit when he started to the best defense in the NFL in the last 5 years. Nagy’s introduction to the scene further cements the idea that coaching does matter. Being able to use players to their best abilities, scheme / tactics, strategy, player development all matter and that the difference between the top and bottom decile of coaches is something more like 2-3 wins.

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8 Re: Fangio in Denver

by jtr // Jan 09, 2019 - 3:55pm

>Had Fangio given up on the HC dream, he could have created a HOF legacy in Chicago with a very young defense while partnered up with Nagy.

There's no such thing as a HoF coordinator. Every modern-era coach in the Hall made it as a head coach. Legendary, revolutionary coordinators like Buddy Ryan and Don Coryell have been left out in the cold.

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23 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Jan 10, 2019 - 9:26am

That's not true.

LeBeau made it as a player.

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25 Re: Fangio in Denver

by jtr // Jan 10, 2019 - 9:51am

Right, he made it as a player, not as a coach. Coordinator work hasn't gotten anybody into the Hall.

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27 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Jan 10, 2019 - 11:01am

The issue is of eligible coordinators, LeBeau is the one most likely to gain entry as a coach. But he's already in as a player. It's unlikely that even if he was Belichick instead of LeBeau, he's made it separately as a coach as well as a player. Going in twice means he's robbing someone's spot.

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28 Re: Fangio in Denver

by jtr // Jan 10, 2019 - 11:46am

I would personally put LeBeau on the second tier of all-time coordinators, with guys like Wade Phillips. I'd put Buddy Ryan and Don Coryell on the next tier up. If those guys can't make the hall, no coordinator can.

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34 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Shattenjager // Jan 11, 2019 - 11:12am

There is a slight problem with Don Coryell as a coordinator: he never was one. In his entire 37-year career coaching at all levels, he only spent two years as an assistant at all and those were both in college (and seem to have been undefined assistant roles). In the NFL, he was a head coach for 14 years and held no other positions.

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9 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2019 - 5:32pm

I've a lot of respect for Burke, but anybody who thinks any coach could have stepped into, say, the situations Parcells faced, and was likely to obtain as much success, well, to quote Parcells, a person who really believes that doesn't know if the ball is blown up or stuffed.

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10 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 09, 2019 - 5:59pm

I haven't read the Burke article in question, so I don't know the exact claim he's making, but I would argue that a lot of the difference in coaches' levels of success is due less to coaching per se, and more to personnel moves.

If you look at Parcells, whenever he would take over a new team, the first thing he would do is purge several players from the roster, and replace them with some of "his guys" from previous teams. And, of course, he also certainly had major input in the draft strategy.

I would say that the difference between a very good coach and a very bad coach, given the exact same set of players, is likely no more than 1 or 2 wins per year.

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12 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Will Allen // Jan 09, 2019 - 6:52pm

In good measure agree, but I'd put it at 4 or 5. There really are differences in efficient preparation by the staff., which of course the head coach is responsible for. It is not hyperbole to say really bad NFL coaching results in teams that sometimes can't even get lined up right.

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13 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Mr Shush // Jan 09, 2019 - 7:01pm

I appreciate that the players were not identical, but I think there is pretty good reason to suspect that Bruce Arians is worth more than 1 or 2 wins per year more than Steve Wilks...

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30 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 10, 2019 - 3:57pm

I'm not sure about that. Last year, with Arians, the Cardinals went 8-8, but only 6-10 in Pythagorean wins. Now, you can argue whether that disparity was due to coaching or to luck (personally, I'd say a bit of both), but regardless, teams that outperform their Pythagorean projection by that much tend to regress the next year. Throw in some bad injury luck (especially on the offensive line) and the growing pains of a rookie QB, and I'm very skeptical that Arians does better than 5-11 with this year's bunch.

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14 Re: Fangio in Denver

by PTLove // Jan 09, 2019 - 7:06pm

Counterpoint: Hue Jackson.

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31 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 10, 2019 - 4:00pm

Well, the Browns went 2-5-1 under Hue, but that included 4 OT games, in which they went 1-2-1. Change the tie and one of the OT losses to wins, and that's 4-4, which isn't much different than the 5-3 they went under Williams. (And their first half schedule was probably a bit tougher than their second half schedule.)

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38 Re: Fangio in Denver

by Noah Arkadia // Jan 11, 2019 - 10:29pm

Now change the tie and one of the OT wins to losses and that's 1-7, which is very different from the 5-3 they went under Williams. Why would you even say that?

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39 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 11, 2019 - 10:58pm

You seem to have missed the point, so let me phrase it a bit differently. Close games (which obviously include all OT games) are statistically coin flips, for the most part. A bounce of the ball here, a blown call there, and lots of other small things can make the difference between a win and a loss. So while 2-5-1 sounds a lot worse than 5-3, if a few small things had gone a bit differently, their record under Jackson would have been almost identical to their record under Williams. It's not like they went from a terrible team that was getting destroyed every week under Jackson to a very good team that was consistently competitive under Williams, which is what the conventional wisdom says. It's more accurate to say they were a slightly below average team under Jackson, and became a slightly above average team under Williams.

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43 Re: Fangio in Denver

by herewegobrowniesherewego // Jan 12, 2019 - 4:12pm

But you can't just say "if things would've gone differently," especially when a HC has a very real impact on how to finish off those close games, as noted by how Arians was able to coax 8-8 out of the Cards as mentioned and, again, exceed his Pythagoreans.

Hue's squads were also destroyed many weeks in the previous 2 years-they had an ATS record that is basically unheard of for a "reverse public team" - even if a lot of it can be attributed to very poor drafting by Farmer/Sashi that fortunately Dorsey has made enormous progress in undoing, i.e. some truth to Hue's infamous "have to coach a perfect game" cop-out.

Those among the losses in 1-31 that were closer can be pinned largely on poor coaching/preparation/gameday decisions, i.e. nearly doubling up the Jets in yards in '17 but not being able to call redzone plays.

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44 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 12, 2019 - 5:08pm

Well, as I said above, it's debatable whether a team's record in close games is attributable to good/bad coaching or simply to good/bad luck. My view is that it's a mixture of the two, with luck generally playing a larger role than coaching. In order to change my mind about that, you would have to find some examples of coaches who, over a large sample, have won a lot more or a lot less than 50% of their close games. There may well be such coaches. But until I see evidence that there are, I will continue to assume that a coach's record in close games is mostly a product of luck.

To be clear, I'm not saying that Hue Jackson is a good coach, or that he shouldn't have been fired. On the contrary, I think he's a bad coach, and not only did I agree with the decision to fire him, if I were in charge, I would have fired him even earlier, after the 0-16 debacle.

Rather, my point is more along the lines of saying that his bad coaching is much less responsible for the Browns failures than the poor personnel which he had to work with (which, of course, he may have had a hand in selecting, but which I'm not counting as "coaching" per se). In other words, given the exact same set of players that Jackson went 0-16 with, I'm very sure that no coach could have gone 8-8, and I'm fairly sure no coach could have gone even 4-12 (barring extraordinary luck in close games).

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46 Re: Fangio in Denver

by LionInAZ // Jan 18, 2019 - 5:31pm

I would guess that the Browns players would disagree greatly with your assessment.

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47 Re: Fangio in Denver

by MC2 // Jan 18, 2019 - 8:40pm

Perhaps, but Packers fans and Jaguars fans would likely agree with me, now that they have gotten a chance to see DeShone Kizer and Cody Kessler.

Those guys were both terrible this year (-262 DYAR, -102.8% DVOA for Kizer; -457 DYAR, -59.6% DVOA for Kessler). Should Hue Jackson also be blamed for that?

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42 Re: Fangio in Denver

by herewegobrowniesherewego // Jan 12, 2019 - 3:54pm

I'd argue the difference between Belichick or, more precisely, just a 90th percentile HC, and Hue Jackson is much, much bigger than 2-3 wins.

Edit, didn't yet see the discussions just above in the later replies.

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4 Re: Two More Head Coach Hirings: Fangio in Denver

by Cythammer // Jan 09, 2019 - 2:44pm

It's pretty odd for a guy to leave a team as the HC, then return after just two seasons away to be a coordinator for the same team. I wouldn't be surprised if something like that has never happened before. For Fangio, this means that any struggles could increase the likelihood he gets fired, since there's a very obvious replacement candidate already in the organization.

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11 : Fangio in Denver, Kitchens in Cleveland

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // Jan 09, 2019 - 6:14pm

Lots of sensible hires around the league

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19 Re: : Fangio in Denver, Kitchens in Cleveland

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // Jan 09, 2019 - 10:50pm

I spoke too soon: Jets hire Gase

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17 Broncos Thoughts

by TimK // Jan 09, 2019 - 10:10pm

No idea what to make of the likely Kubiak return. I hope for his (and his family’s) sake that his health holds out and that he is able to stress less in the OC role compared to working himself to early grave in the HC role. The health issues are at least an explanation for why he stopped being HC and is coming back at a less stressful position (though being OC with any of the QBs in Denver recently probably isn’t exactly low in stress).

As a Broncos fan I’d rather not have such shenanigans that scream out warnings for bad office politics going on. Can only hope Kubiak has been paying attention to all the new ideas around for offences, though not that optimistic. I have seen reports though that Kubiak was more involved in the draft class last year, so if that helps coaching take more draft control from Elway that probably doesn’t hurt.

Fangio might do a good job, at least he was an assistant HC for a time as well as DC so likely has some idea what changes with the new job. Personally would have preferred someone younger (no idea who), but of the older options better try someone new Fangio I think than reroll the Munchak or Pagano dice.

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20 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by Chip // Jan 10, 2019 - 12:35am

You will be really happy with Fangio. I bet that he’s the best HC is this class.

He should turn that Def into an elite unit (#1, -20% DVOA) and even if the Off is mediocre, the team overall should be top 10.

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35 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by BJR // Jan 11, 2019 - 12:49pm

Kubiak has been a good, probably underrated offensive coach for quite a long time IMO. He put some really good years together in Houston with Matt Schaub, produced easily Joe Flacco's career year in Baltimore, and although he received criticism for trying to shoehorn zombie Peyton into his system in Denver, he was also responsible for making Brock Osweiler appear as a viable starting QB.

The health scares would worry me, as would the too-cosy relationship with Elway. But his track record is very solid.

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36 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by mrh // Jan 11, 2019 - 6:30pm

I do not think Osweiler looked like a viable QB in 2015 in DEN (his only year w/significant playing tiem there). He "went" 5-2 so the idiots in HOU signed him to a FA deal so good they paid the Browns to take him off their hands. But he didn't look viable to me. In fact, his stats that year bear a remarkable resemblance to Blake Bortles that season. DVOA/DYAR/QBR put him around 21st or 22nd that year, so maybe that makes him look viable. But there was a reason that the Broncos played Peyton over Osweiler even though Peyton wasn't very good at that point. Although Peyton's ANY/A was over a full yard lower than Osweiler in 2015, Osweiler took far too many sacks (7.7% sack rate) compared to Peyton (4.6%) and sacks and turnovers were the biggest things that Broncos team needed to avoid.

As a Chiefs fan, I'm glad the Broncos hired Kubiak as OC.

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40 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by Mountain Time ---- formerly Ninjalectual // Jan 12, 2019 - 7:19am

They didn't hire him (thankfully, IMO)

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41 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by Will Allen // Jan 12, 2019 - 11:15am

Hey, Kyle Shanahan has a 7 year old son! Get him started in the industry!

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45 Re: Broncos Thoughts

by Mr Shush // Jan 13, 2019 - 12:44am

Honestly, if you can make Osweiler look as good as Bortles, you're doing something right.

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24 Re: Kitchens in Cleveland

by Aaron Brooks Good Twin // Jan 10, 2019 - 9:29am

What's a premanent head coach?

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26 Re: Kitchens in Cleveland

by Will Allen // Jan 10, 2019 - 10:21am

One that the owner bothers to inform the media about being safe in his job, before assembling a press conference to announce his firing?

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