The Coaching Staff in American Football
Almost every American football team has more than one coach. Including strength and conditioning coaches, the typical NFL team averages 15 assistant coaches. (A college football team generally has 9 full-time assistants and 2 graduate assistants, not including strength coaches.) Here’s a common NFL coaching staff:
Head coach: The main man who gets most of the credit for winning — and most of the blame for losing. Most head coaches are more than 40 years old, have 20 or more seasons of playing and coaching experience, and are experts on one side of the ball or the other.
Styles of coaching vary. Some head coaches demand control over what alignments and plays the team uses on defense and offense. Others delegate one aspect of the game plan, preferring to focus on their particular expertise, whether it’s defense or offense. Depending on the franchise’s power structure and ownership, the head coach may have a lot of flexibility and control over personnel, or he may have a rather limited role.
Offensive coordinator: The coach in charge of the offensive players. He usually calls the plays and works directly with the quarterbacks. He’s responsible for developing the offensive game plan (the plays he believes will be successful against the upcoming opponent) and works with the head coach on how practice is organized, especially if some of the plays are unusual or somewhat unfamiliar to the offensive personnel. Some coordinators do all the work and are almost as valuable as the head coach.
Defensive coordinator: The coach in charge of the defensive players. He usually decides what defensive schemes to run. Like the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator meets with half the team on a typical practice day and prepares them for the upcoming opponent. The best defensive coordinators are the ones who are really flexible and simply strive to put their players in the best possible situation to succeed.
Special teams coach: Supervises the kickers, punters, kick return team, field goal protection team, punt return team, and so on. Generally, he’s coaching the younger players on a team, and he must find a way to motivate them to do their jobs. Many of the special teams’ stars are backups and reserves — they’re players who aren’t yet talented enough to be offensive or defensive starters.
Quarterback coach: An assistant coach who monitors the physical and mental aspects of a quarterback’s game. He works on the quarterback’s footwork, pass-drop technique, and throwing motion. He makes sure a quarterback doesn’t fall into bad mental or physical habits.
On some teams, the quarterback coach serves as a sounding board between the quarterback and the head coach. On NFL teams, the head coach and the quarterback are usually under the greatest scrutiny.
Offensive line coach: Works with the offensive linemen and generally has a solid understanding of the team’s running game. He and the offensive coordinator spend time discussing what running plays may work, depending on what the offensive line coach views as his unit’s strengths and weaknesses against the upcoming opponent.
Defensive line coach: The guy who works exclusively with the defensive linemen. He works on individual technique (run stopping, gap control, pass rushing, and so on) and whatever stunts the defensive coordinator wants from these players.
Linebacker coach: Works with linebackers and, depending on the team’s style of defense, ranks a step below the defensive coordinator. This coach must work on tackling, pass-rushing off the corner, and particular pass coverage drops.
Secondary coach: The coach who works with the defensive backs. He must have a total understanding of pass offenses. He works on all aspects of pass coverage, from footwork and deep zone drops to how to prepare players for the particular receivers they’ll face.
Strength coach: Specializes in weight training and conditioning. He makes sure the players are strong and in shape throughout the season, and he often coordinates off-season training programs. A strength coach also works with team doctors to prepare and monitor rehabilitation exercises following player surgeries.
A team may also have coaches for specific positions, such as a receiver or running backs coach, depending on how many coaches the team can afford to keep on staff. On smaller staffs, the head coach may also serve as the offensive coordinator, or the special teams coach may also be the strength coach. On some large NFL staffs, the head coach, not the offensive coordinator, calls the offensive plays.