It’s interesting — and equally perplexing — that some rules are in place to restrict player movement and yet, there are seemingly no rules when it comes to coach movement.
As of last week, there were seven NFL Head Coaching vacancies. While this all seems normal to us, we should be asking, “Is it fair for teams to be interviewing coaches on other teams, especially when some of the coaches being interviewed are currently coaching in the playoffs?”
On the surface, it seems absurd another team could openly jeopardize or hinder another team’s chances in the playoffs. Before we get to the open season that is the coaching carousel, we should first talk about why there are barriers for players. Then, maybe we’ll be able to see if we can make sense of this whole situation.
When NFL teams see Eric Bieniemy tryna get a head coaching job pic.twitter.com/ajVSQN5ZHT
— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) January 15, 2021
Player movement restrictions: Why we have them in place
The reason we have restrictions on player movement approaching the postseason is simple. We don’t want teams stacking talent. The best players in the league reside on everyone’s 53-man rosters. If the Bears could’ve added Ryan Fitzpatrick to their roster for the Wildcard game, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s happening, and the outcome may have even changed.
In college, player movement was heavily restricted until just a few years ago. Coaches could recruit players, players would accept a scholarship, and then coaches would bail; leaving the players with a one-year penalty of sitting out the season if the players tried to transfer.
The reason is competitive balance and not giving an advantage to a team for altering the dynamic of player value from the mid-point of the season to the end of it.
Now that we’ve established the case for why player movement is restricted, let’s dive into why there is no restriction on coach movement.
The dilemma of the Coaching Carousel
A little over a week ago, the Jets and Chargers announced they would be interviewing Bills OC, Brian Daboll after the Wildcard game. A week before that, the Texas Longhorns announced they had hired Steve Sarkesian, the current Alabama OC, as their new head coach (just a week ahead of the National Championship game).
This is insane to me. Think about this if you’re the Buffalo Bills. You know there are other teams in the same league as you seeking a new head coach. Here you are, sitting here with the hottest offensive coordinator on the market; a guy who helped, in a historically successful result, to develop Josh Allen into an MVP candidate.
This upcoming game is the most important game for Buffalo in the past 25 years — the guy who was critical in helping you get there and essential for the upcoming game — and Brian Daboll has to be distracted beyond all measure through all this.
Even if he weren’t flying anywhere to visit as in other years — just a zoom call and that idea of having to decide on your future soon amidst all this — has to be a major distraction that affects the Bills from a competitive standpoint.
In the same way adding players could be viewed as an unfair advantage, are we supposed to believe coaches being courted while their team is in the most critical stage of the season isn’t a disadvantage for that team? The NBA has rules against tampering. The NFL is too big and there are too many players to monitor, but shouldn’t there be rules against organizations tampering with coaches?
The “This is just like any other business” problem
There is no doubt that coaches being interviewed for jobs represents a tremendous opportunity for coaches. Just like any other job in any other big business, this can be considered a typical decision most people in the corporate world deal with all the time.
“Should I leave this great company where I’m a star VP or should I take this CEO position with a worse company?” That’s what we’re dealing with here.
Unfortunately, the NFL is not like any other business, and this practice of stealing other team’s staff members is treated like any other business. The issue here is the dynamics of the NFL and how they’re unlike other businesses and markets.
We have an established period of time where profit margins can go from slim to fat in a period of a few weeks. During that time, we are allowing other teams to just hire away the most important pieces in determining an organization’s profits for the season. Something has to change.
We already have established periods of time for free agency in the league, for the players. So, why not have one for the coaches? We explained how coaches being lured away during the playoffs could have drastic performance and financial impacts on teams.
In one way, you can say, “well it’s only fair a team should be able to hire their new guy quickly to get things rolling for next season.” On the other hand, you can say, “Why should this team get a head start on next season when there are teams still focusing all their efforts on this season?”
It’s a simple counterpoint to the argument that teams should get all their pieces in place as quickly as they seem fit.
A good solution here is simple: Assign a designated date by which teams can interview and hire new coaches. That date can be a day after the Championship.
I get that some teams may want to hire guys on teams already knocked out of the playoffs, but to that, you want this process to be fair and equal. Therefore, we should allow the candidates who are still in the playoffs time to finish the playoffs so they don’t miss out on the opportunity to make a career-altering decision.
As much as we love to say the NFL is a business, that’s true but wildly misleading. The NFL is a business heavily dependent on time frames. With restrictions already in place during various time frames to prevent competitive advantages, we need not ignore the other side of that coin as well.