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NFL teams shift strategy when it comes to hiring coaches

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The end of an NFL season often brings unemployment in a sense. Teams that feel like they underperformed fire their head coaches, hoping for a shakeup. Well, the Super Bowl is still to come, and already eight teams who got rid of their coaches have hired new ones. That tells us something about where the league is headed. To talk about it, let's bring in Lindsay Jones, senior NFL editor for The Ringer. Hi, Lindsay. Welcome to the program.

LINDSAY JONES: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

MCCAMMON: So I want to start off by talking about who did not get hired. Bill Belichick, who won many Super Bowls leading the New England Patriots, was newly on the market, but he remains unemployed. Why do you think that teams stayed away from him?

JONES: It really is the most interesting part of this head coaching cycle, to me - is the fact that everybody assumed that somebody, one of these other teams, was going to want Bill Belichick. Of course you would want Bill Belichick, right? He's widely considered the greatest coach of all time. I think this comes down to what NFL owners - what sort of power structure they want and who they want leading the organization. And he's also kind of an all-powerful coach - top-down control, everything starting and ending with Bill Belichick. And it seems like, at least this cycle, teams didn't want that.

MCCAMMON: You know, another thing that stands out - 5 of the 8 new coaches specialize in defense. And the trend for years has been that offensive-minded coaches have been preferred, typically. Is there a shift in the works here?

JONES: Yeah. I mean, I think there was a little bit of a difference here where the trend for the last five years or so has been to hire the hottest, youngest offensive coordinator, a play caller who worked for Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan, who was really on the cutting edge of offensive football. And a couple of those candidates this year didn't get jobs. That's a notable shift to me. I see that NFL owners are looking for something different. I think they were looking around the league at maybe some of what's been happening in terms of some of the best coaches, what the best defenses are doing to the Shanahan and McVay offenses and looked for something different this time.

MCCAMMON: Another shift that's happening is in terms of diversity. You know, for years the NFL has struggled with coaching diversity. Players are majority Black and people of color, but head coaches have mostly been white. But I gather there's been a shift in that this off-season as well.

JONES: Well, I think if we look at the numbers when we talk about the ethnic breakdown of this new head coaching class, there were eight new head coaches hired. Four are from racial minorities. There are three new Black head coaches, and one, Dave Canales, the new coach in Carolina, is of Hispanic descent. So, you know, league officials, I think, will look at this and say it's a win, right? I mean, there's been some progress, but I don't think it's the end goal by any means.

MCCAMMON: We're also seeing a continuing trend toward younger coaches, people in their 30s and early 40s. What's that about? Why do you think that is?

JONES: Yeah. I mean, I think it's just becoming much more commonplace. Assistants are rising the ranks faster, and we've seen success from some of the younger coaches who have been hired in recent cycles. NFL owners are more comfortable, I think, turning over their franchises to guys in their late 30s, early 40s than they were before. And now there really is this fraternity of guys who really kind of came up together coaching against each other. And it's just - it's becoming a little bit more of a of a younger coaches' game, especially in an off-season when Bill Belichick lost his job, Pete Carroll - I mean, these are coaches that are in their 70s - are not going to be coaching next year. So the big question becomes, do they reenter the fray next offseason and get jobs for 2025?

MCCAMMON: That's Lindsay Jones, senior NFL editor for The Ringer. Thanks so much for talking with us, Lindsay.

JONES: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAC MILLER SONG, "DANG! (FEAT. ANDERSON .PAAK)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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