The NFL is a hard place to get a head coaching job. There are only 32 positions available after all. So that fact makes it somewhat understandable that so many coaches do things one way….the same way every other NFL head coach has done them. No guy wants to be the black sheep that tries something out of the ordinary. It is one thing to lose a game making the traditional decisions, but quite another to lose after trying something out of the norm. Head coaches have strong personalities but even they don’t want the heat that comes with failure that happens after new logic is implemented in game plans. Coaches making millions don’t want pointed questions from $40,000 a year beat writers wanting to know why they didn’t take the safe field goal instead of going for six points.
There are guys that will change things up a bit. Chip Kelly is a good example. He brought in sleep experts along with nutritionists to make his players the best they can be around the clock, instead of just on game day. But Kelly’s on the field philosophy is not a total revolution. Sure, his offense runs at a hyper speed. But a fast paced offense is not a new concept at all. The Buffalo Bills were doing that back when they were going to Super Bowls four years in a row. The Eagles offense gets plays off faster than any team in history on average, but the idea was not Kelly’s. He just took it to the next level. I want to see a head coach come in to an NFL team and totally change a segment of the game. Not a mass overhaul. Just a portion of the game.
Last week the Rams beat the Seahawks based on two plays. They had a brilliant punt return for a touchdown. They faked out the Seahawks punting team with two guys back to receive. One acted as if he fell down while fielding the punt. The other returner actually caught the ball over his shoulder and had a clear path to the endzone as his teammate received all the defenders’ attention. The Rams also used a fake punt to get a first down to keep Russell Wilson off the field for a late drive, since that would have been a death sentence for most defenses. Trick plays won’t work every time obviously. And if they are tried too much they lose the element of surprise, which is what makes them work in the first place. But most coaches are scared to even try these types of plays at all. They would rather run the same offensive and defensive game plans all year long even if things are not working.
If I were a coach for a struggling team, I would rock the boat. By struggling, I mean no chance in hell of making the playoffs and a really good chance of losing 95 percent of the games this year. What does a team like the Raiders or Jaguars have to lose by trying something new and innovative? Their season is over in essence. Any games they win as moral victories only hurt their draft position for 2015. So coaches on teams going nowhere should try out some new ideas that pop into their heads during those 18 hour workdays we hear so much about. Surely they can come up with some trick plays here and there to at least excite their depressed fans for a while.
The type of innovation I am looking for will likely never happen in the NFL until years down the road. I am looking for the type of change that resembles the Arkansas high school coach who decided that punting was a bad idea…EVER. He goes for it on every fourth down and does onside kicks almost every time. It may sound crazy but his record during his time using these techniques is quite impressive. He had the courage to try something nontraditional and it actually worked.
What if an NFL head coach were to stop running the ball…EVER? That is not as far fetched as it sounds. There are stat experts outside the world of football who suggest that would be a better use of offensive plays. These number gurus may have a point and they are not influenced by decades of football tradition like NFL coaches. Head coaches are experts at football, no doubt. But they are so close to the game that they may miss possibilities. They see the game through the lens of their former coaches and mentors. Sometimes an outside prospective helps to bring in a better technique. Perhaps NFL coaches, present and future ones, should pick up the book “Freakonomics”. It could provide a flash of creativity that moves the game of football forward.
I love old school NFL football, but the game is changing. New safety rules, fines, and the erasing of defensive intimidation are giving the NFL a new feel. A creative coach here and there can strike while the iron is hot to make his own mark. The forward pass was once a novelty. Trick plays every series, no more rushing plays, or more fourth down tries could be the wave of the future. It just takes a coach with some guts to buck tradition.