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Coaching Staff Chemistry

Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

As the William Carlos Williams poem goes, “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.”

In the NFL, so much depends upon coaching staff chemistry.

It’s like links in a chain, if one link cracks, the whole chain can break.

As time went by, such was the case with Bruce Arians in Arizona. Arians refused to believe that there were some cracked links in his coaching chain. And the more Arians defended his coaches as being ‘brilliant,” more and more credibility was lost among Arians’ players.

When Michael Bidwill announced the firing of Steve Wilks, he owned the failure and professed to “get it right this time.”

Just a couple of days ago, John Elway went public to offer a mea culpa. He conceded that hiring Vance Joseph “was a mistake.”

The reasons that Elway gave as to why hiring Vance Joseph was a mistake are worth scrutinizing. Elway said,

“The key thing I learned in the coach-selection process: Cover your bases thoroughly and get the best candidates that you can and don’t make your mind up going in. Don’t draw any conclusions before you go into the coaching interviews. Take each interview in the moment and do not pre-draw it. Don’t combine it with the other ones and don’t make your mind up when you walk out. Be as thorough as you can and try to find the right guy that fits your job at that point in time. So that’s what I learned. I’ve probably pre-drawn my thought process going in before. I talked to [Vance Joseph] before the process a couple of years ago, and knew him, and going in, I had an idea that he was kind of our guy. I admit it. I was wrong on that one. I don’t like to say it out loud because I don’t want to offend VJ, who is a good football coach. But things didn’t work out.”

What Elway is implying here is that he gave a young, rookie head coach the autonomy to hire his own staff.

We are not talking about a veteran here—-we are taking about a rookie.

This would indicate that hiring Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator was Vance Joseph’s idea.


McCoy was Elway’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2012. His success with the Broncos was the springboard to being appointed the head coach in San Diego in 2013.

It’s hard to believe that John Elway didn’t influence the hiring of McCoy—-who was fired in mid-season and replaced by QB coach Bill Musgrave.

At the end of the 2017 season, Joseph also fired his first special teams’ coordinator, Brock Olivo and replaced him with Tom McMahon.

The only original coordinator that Vance Jospeh kept into year two was defensive coordinator Joe Woods—-and with good reason—-as the Broncos still has a top 5 defense in 2017.

Elway’s caveat to Joseph about the staff hirings was to take his time, to be thorough and don’t jump to conclusions or pre-determinations.


When you have the chance to hop on one of the best available assistants, you have to act quickly. It’s not like you can pluck these coaches off the tree whenever you want.Tthe competition to hire the best possible assistants is fierce.

Now—-to the main point.

In Arizona this year with the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury, Steve Keim is orchestrating the search for assistant coaches. Kingsbury has admitted that he wants to lean on Keim because he, coming from the college ranks, doesn’t have Keim’s knowledge of NFL assistant coaches.

This makes perfect sense.

One of the new coaches whom Kinsgbury actually knows is the new defensive coordinator Vance Jospeh. Here is what Kingsbury said recently about Joseph,

“I’ve known Vance for a little while and it was great to sit down with him the past couple of days and see where his head was at and kind of tell him my vision. He’s a veteran presence, he was just a head coach, so I can lean on him for certain aspects and pick his brain on ideas. He’s a great leader, obviously a great defensive mind, and I really think our players are going to respond well to him on that side of the football.”

The fact that Kingsbury and Joseph already have a rapport is a significant plus for the Cardinals.

In essence, Vance Joseph is the assistant head coach. He is going to have to be a key figure in the present and future success of the team.

Kingsbury also spoke very highly of special teams’ coordinator Jeff Rodgers, citing Rodgers’ track record of success as a STC in the NFL.

The most important mission for Kingsbury, Joseph and Rodgers is to galvanize the coaches they are going to be working with—-most of whom they have never worked with before.

First there needs to be a “buy-in” by the coaches to the lead coaches’ philosophies and their systems. When you have coaches who are used to working with other lead coaches in other systems, it’s not easy to get assistant coaches completely on board and on message.

Kingsbury is going to have to teach his offense to all of his assistant coaches. Where teams often fail is when one coach is teaching something different than another. The coaches have to be extremely well versed. They need to know the play calls well before the players do. Not only the calls, but every detail of the design and the expected execution of the plays.

When players perceive that their own coaches are not completely on the same page, it undermines the integrity of the head coach or the coordinator.

Vance Jospeh is going to have to teach his version of the 34 to his coaches. if you recall, when Todd Bowles came in, his version of the 34 was different from the Steelers’ Dick LeBeau’s—-ILB Larry Foote was quick to point that out.

Jospeh just hired his DB coach, Marcus Robertson (13th NFL season) for the same position in Arizona. That is a huge plus. Robinson is already ready well versed in Joseph’s approach and in the nuances of his system.

On the flip side, Steve Keim elected to hire LB coach Billy Davis before he had even hired a defensive coordinator. Davis, who was once the DC in Arizona, may have very different ideas about how the 34 should be run. While Jospeh may welcome Davis’ thoughts, Davis is going to have to coach the LBs precisely as Jospeh wants him to. And—-let’s face it—-the Cardinals’ linebacking play in recent years has been sub par.

Kingsbury was able to land WR coach David Raih who was let go by the Packers. That is a plus because Raih helped Kingsbury coach the QBs back at Texas A&M. Raih is an instant system fit.

Perhaps, the biggest coup was hiring of OL coach Sean Kugler, who was one of the bright spots on the Broncos’ staff last year. Kugler, like Kingsbury, was a college head coach who wished to bring his talents to the NFL.

The biggest question right now is who the OC or “offensive assistant” is going to be. In recent days, Ben McAdoo, John DeFilippo and Jim Bob Cooter have been interviewed. All three have been NFL OCs and McAdoo has been a head coach.

Kingsbury has said that he want to “mesh” his ideas with some of the more popular NFL plays. It’s going to be somewhat difficult for a previous OC to accept not being asked to call the plays—-but it also should be a tremendous learning experience for one of these coaches and way for them to expand their play calling repertoires for when they are given their next opportunity.

McAdoo is intriguing because of his prowess in the passing game. DeFilippo is intriguing because of his ability to groom young QBs. And Cooter is intriguing because he helped Matt Stafford take his game to a higher level when he allowed Stafford to go no-huddle and call plays at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals lost to Stafford the last two times because of his success in that no-huddle offense. Previously the Cardinals seemed to have their way with Stafford when he was in a more conventional offense.

In conclusion—-what matters most is how well the coaches will buy-in to Kingsbury’s and Joseph’s philosophies, teaching points and schemes. Teams are at their best when assistant coaches leave their egos at the door and do everything in their power to perform their jobs at the highest possible level.