By BARRY WILNER
AP PRO FOOTBALL WRITER
Eight head coaching openings, seven hires from the offensive side. Sure looks like a trend.
Scoreboards filled up with points at a record pace in 2012. Defensive gurus scratched their heads trying to deal with read-options and spread attacks. Defensive players had their tongues hanging out trying to keep up with fast-tempo offenses.
So when coaches got fired in Kansas City and San Diego, Jacksonville and Cleveland, Arizona and Chicago, Buffalo and Philadelphia, the rush to sign up brilliant offensive minds looked like J.J. Watt going after quarterbacks.
Single-minded and relentless.
“I think what has happened is they have gone to the fact we need to be able to score points to compete,” says NFL consultant Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys general manager who keeps close tabs on scoring stats. “Everyone realizes now how important scoring is and that you will not be able to stop people in the league these days.”
With rules that favor offenses, especially passing games, and a stronger emphasis on calling pass interference and holding on defensive players, the NFL has become even more of a quarterbacks league. Brandt notes that in last week’s divisional playoffs, the average points scored was 69. Teams scoring 28 points would not have won any games; in the 2011 playoffs, 28 points would have won three of the four contests.
“And from 2004-2010, 28 would have won all the divisional round games,” Brandt said.
So offense is the flavor of the day.
“The fact of the matter is that points scored win football games, so I think there could be potentially a higher emphasis put on offensive coaches,” Arizona’s new general manager Steve Keim said. “But as we’ve seen before, defensive football teams have kept them in contention in the playoffs and that sort of thing. But for the most part, if you can score points, it gives you a chance.”
That Andy Reid would get one of the openings was a given, and his move from Philly’s cheesesteaks to KC’s barbecue was the first this month. Reid is a proven commodity, as his superb record with the Eagles until the last two seasons shows.
Otherwise, the scramble to grab offensive coaches benefited a slew of coordinators or former coordinators.
Bruce Arians, who at 60 and after 20 NFL seasons gets his first shot as the main man, moves to Arizona from Indianapolis. Arians went 9-3 as interim coach while Chuck Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia, and on Friday he finished off the flurry of hirings.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly, whose sprinter’s-pace offense was all the rage in the college game, replaced Reid in Philadelphia. He was the only choice with no NFL experience.
Another college coach, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone, got the job in Buffalo. But Marrone previously worked for the Saints and Jets.
Marc Trestman, like Arians a longtime quarterbacks coach and coordinator in the league, left the CFL and landed in Chicago. Carolina OC Rob Chudzinski was chosen in Cleveland. Denver OC Mike McCoy emerged in San Diego.
Only Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley got a promotion, taking the Jaguars’ job.
Falcons coach Mike Smith, whose own offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, withdrew his name from consideration for an opening early in the process, doesn’t see specific leanings in the hirings.
“When you become a head coach, you’re not an offensive guy, you’re not a defensive guy, you’re not a special teams guy, you’re the head coach,” says Smith, who comes from the defensive side of the ball. “You’ve got to come from a certain background, but the job description is much different as a head coach than you are as an assistant.
“I think you have to have a really good overview. The successful coaches, whether they’re from the offensive side or the defensive side, I think are the guys that have an understanding of the entire team.”
What they really need is an opportunity. Only Reid has been a head coach in the NFL.
Oh, and they certainly could use a productive quarterback. That’s another thing most of these coaches don’t have.
Reid must decide whether Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn are his guys after they led Kansas City to a 2-14 record. Unfortunately for Reid and the Chiefs, there are no slam-dunk QB prospects in this year’s draft, certainly no Andrew Lucks, RG3s or Russell Wilsons.
Marrone has a similar task with the Bills, where Ryan Fitzpatrick has a hefty contract but not the production to match. Kelly has a young arm in Nick Foles, but he might not fit the offense Kelly wants to run in Philly, and Foles didn’t distinguish himself as a rookie when he replaced Michael Vick.
Arians had worked with Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Luck. Now he has Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley in Arizona.
Bradley will rely on whomever he hires as offensive coordinator to figure out whether Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne should stay.
San Diego with Philip Rivers, Chicago with Jay Cutler, and perhaps even Clevleand with Brandon Weeden are set. But McCoy needs to rekindle the vintage Rivers and Trestman has to settle down the combustible Cutler.
“Owners are looking to find a bunch of offensive guys,” says Pat Kirwan, a former NFL personnel director who has taken part in many coaching searches and now is an analyst for CBS and SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Some have clear investments in quarterbacks and need to get returns on that investment. Or some don’t have any quarterback. It’s being at the extreme in quarterback land that drives them to offensive guys.
“I thought a few more defensive guys would get hired. I could make a case for lots of defensive guys, too. But I didn’t see a lot of defensive guys fighting for these jobs this year.”
Indeed, the most established of the fired coaches who didn’t wind up somewhere else, former Bears head man Lovie Smith, has a defensive background.
“I can’t recall before there being a gigantic lopsided offense to defense among head coaches,” Kirwan said. “There’s still (14) defensive guys in those jobs.
“It’s all cyclical.”
And the pendulum clearly has swung toward offense.
Associated Press writer George Henry in Atlanta and AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix, Ariz., contributed to this story.