Jets Coaching Search: Traits of Success – Maximizing Potential

Dan Essien on the traits that make a successful Head Coach and why Eric Bieniemy, Matt Rhule or Kris Richard could be strong candidates

The Jets fired Todd Bowles on Sunday and are now beginning their search for a new coach to lead the team from 2019 onward. We’ve already begun to see the list of names the Jets are rumored to be interested in, take shape. Let’s take a look at some traits of successful NFL coaches in today’s game and identify which candidates fit these trait best.

The common trait that fans and team media alike have stamped as a prerequisite for the Jets head coaching opening is “offensive mind.” However, that characteristic is both too vague and too easy to get wrong (SEE: Adam Gase in Miami). The Jets need to find a good head coach and they can use the traits of coaches performing at a high level in today’s game as a barometer. One of those traits is the ability to maximize potential. That’s a trait that will be especially important for the Jets because of the false steps of the previous coaching staff and the current front office. The Jets need a coach that can elevate the floor of the team, as hopefully the draft and free agency elevate the ceiling. Let’s look a successful head coach in the NFL that exemplifies this trait, and then let’s look at a few candidates for the Jets job that have shown this trait as well.

Successful Head Coaches Maximizing Potential

John Harbaugh

Of the coaches that have put their teams in the playoffs, John Harbaugh, Anthony Lynn, and Sean McVay display this trait perfectly. Let’s pick out Harbaugh’s season. Harbaugh’s latest masterpiece started with an injury to his starting quarterback and starting running back. He then revived his team, and particularly his slogging offense, with a rookie QB and a UDFA RB. Harbaugh had two different offenses prepared for this season because he’s wise enough to not try and force Lamar Jackson into an offense that wouldn’t utilize his skillset.

Harbaugh’s ability to pivot philosophy midseason and trust in Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and the Ravens’ defense is incredibly impressive. Jets fans are quite familiar with rookie QB growing pains. Harbaugh and the Ravens have been able to navigate those pains with ease in the midst of their 6-1 run post-Flacco. They’ve done all that despite what the Ravens offense lacks in talent, particularly at wide receiver. In addition, Harbaugh did all this while speculation flew around about his job security.

Candidates that have Maximized Potential

Eric Bieniemy, OC – Kansas City Chiefs

Bieniemy has shown he has the ability to make the most out of what he’s given. As a running backs coach with the Chiefs from 2013-2017, Bieniemy made strides that led to his promotion in 2018.  In 2013, the Chiefs were 10th in rushing, and Jamaal Charles had 1287 rush yards 12 TDs, and 70 catches 693 yards, 7 TDs. The following year, in 2014, the Chiefs were 6th in rushing with Charles and Kniles Davis. Then in 2015, after an injury to Jamal Charles, Bieniemy got to show his value. The Chiefs finished 9th in rushing and 3rd in yards per carry with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. The following year in 2016, he got 1368 total yards out of Spencer Ware alone. In 2017, the Chiefs finally got him a big time weapon with Kareem Hunt and the running game exploded once again. The Chiefs finished 9th in rushing and 2nd in yards per carry and Bieniemy was promoted to offensive coordinator.

It doesn’t end there, though. Despite many downplaying Bieniemy’s involvement in the Chiefs offense simply because Andy Reid calls the plays, Reid specifically pointed out last February that Bieniemy would be integrally involved in planning both the run and passing game for the Chiefs. He also said Bieniemy would soon be a head coach. With Bieniemy things are more than what they seem on the surface. Like clockwork, with Bieniemy in an increased role, the Chiefs’ offense finished 3rd in passing yards per game, and 1st in passing touchdowns. Despite the increased lean towards the passing game, Bieniemy’s impact on the running backs room still had its marks as the Chiefs finished 6th in yards per carry. In addition, former Miami UDFA castaway Damien Williams earned a new contract after the Chiefs offense didn’t skip a beat with Williams as the lead back after Kareem Hunt was released.

Matt Rhule, Head coach – Baylor

Rhule has a great track record of maximizing the potential of the teams he’s coached. He was able to resurrect two declining programs at Temple and Baylor. When he arrived at Temple, they were a program in the midst of a steep decline. They went 2-10 in his first season. But Rhule turned things around from his second year onward. They went 6-6 in year 2, 10-4 in year 3, and 10-3 in year 4 before he departed to coach Baylor. The Temple offense went from 88th ranked in year 1, to 44th ranked by the time he left. That’s quite impressive considering the recruiting pool he had. Along the same lines, he has 6 players that he coached at Temple that are making notable contributions on NFL teams right now: Tavon Young (BAL), Matthew Ioannidis (WAS), Haason Reddick (ARI), Dion Dawkins (BUF), and Nate Hairston (IND). That’s an incredible group in just four years at an non-power five conference school.

At Baylor, Rhule took over in 2017 after the school almost went under with the risk of the CFB “death penalty.” In his first season, Baylor went 1-11 as the stink of the previous regime hung over the team. In year two, this season, however, Baylor went 7-6 as Rhule led them to a bowl game appearance. If he stays, it’s likely Rhule would continue the upward trajectory at Baylor. Particularly, with how great he is at identifying talent and recruiting. Rhule got the very best out of Temple and he’s certainly impressing once again with how he’s rebuilding the Baylor program. He’s definitely someone that could instill new energy and provide stable direction to an franchise.

Kris Richard, Defensive Backs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator (Assistant Defensive Coordinator) – Dallas Cowboys

As we discussed at the start, restricting yourself to coaches with offensive background could lead you to miss out on special candidates. Kris Richard is a great example of a candidate who can bring out the best from a team. Richard got to work his way up coaching one of the greatest defenses we’ve ever seen in the NFL. He was a bigger part of that than many assume.

Richard was Richard Sherman’s cornerbacks coach during Sherman’s rookie season in 2011. The year after, in 2012, the Seahawks promoted Richard to defensive backs coach. With Richard in this new role, the Seahawks were considered the NFL’s most dominant defense. In that time Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and the aforementioned Richard Shermon, all ascended to the top of their respective positions. He also got great production out of players like Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane. Interestingly enough, Browner, Maxwell, and Lane all struggled to find success outside of Seattle.

The Seahawks promoted Richard to defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn left in 2015. That year, the Seahawks had the number one scoring defense in the NFL. The following year, in 2016, the Seahawks had the number three scoring defense in the NFL. The year after that, in 2017, the Seahawks had key injuries to both Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. Despite that, Seattle still finished 11th in scoring defense, and still had the 6th best defense in terms of passing yards allowed. In addition to all of that, under Kris Richard’s tutelage, Shaquill Griffin blossomed into a star as a rookie.

The Seahawks inexplicably fired Richard, after the 2017 season, as the team seemingly decided to try to erase all traces of the “Legion of boom”. But, Richard would not be quiet for long. He was hired by the Cowboys as basically an assistant defensive coordinator and has been a huge part of the defensive resurgence in Dallas. Under his watch, Byron Jones made his first Pro Bowl after switching from safety to cornerback. Also, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have had transcendent seasons. On top of that, Dallas has the 6th best scoring defense in the NFL. Kris Richard is not just any other defensive coach. Richard has proven he can bring out the best in players. I think its scary what Richard would get out of a player like Jamal Adams.