Matt LaFleur, Kliff Kingsbury part of offensive guru trend

January 10, 2019

It was only a matter of time before other teams tried to find their own version of Sean McVay.

When the Los Angeles Rams hired the Redskins’ former offensive coordinator in 2017, they shocked the NFL community by hiring the youngest coach in league history.

But McVay’s success back-to-back playoff appearances thanks in part to his dynamic schemes of course, set teams scrambling to find the next perceived offensive genius.

Of the five clubs that have hired new head coaches for next year, four have gone with an offensive-minded coach. Two in particular the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals went with candidates that fit the McVay mold: young, somewhat unproven, with a reputation for innovation. The Packers hired Titans’ offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, while the Cardinals added former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury.

There’s a reason the NFL is known as a “copy-cat” league.

“Teams are realizing that they don’t want to be left behind,” NFL analyst Warren Sharp said.

Sharp, who does consultation work for teams, noted the four teams to have earned a first-round bye this season the Rams, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs all have explosive offenses and defenses that range from average to poor.

Teams with coaching vacancies know that offense is where the league is going.

“They want to be on the cutting edge and be able to keep pace with those types of teams in the future,” Sharp said. “So they’re looking to get a little more aggressive with the thought process of offensive coaches and a lot of these younger guys seems to be much more willing to create, adapt, even steal ideas from other teams and incorporate them into their gameplan.

“I think that’s what it takes to be successful in the NFL coaching offense right now. It requires a big open mind.”

Not everyone is on board with the shift. Kingsbury’s 35-40 record over six seasons at Texas Tech, including a just-completed 5-7 campaign in 2018, had many skeptical about whether the Cardinals made the right decision.

LaFleur also wasn’t the savior for Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota that some thought he would be. The Titans finished 27th in points per game and 22nd in offensive efficiency.

But “The McVay Effect”? That, at least, seems to be a real thing.

The Ringer, an online sports website, even jokingly put together a helpful “Do You Know Sean McVay” flowchart as a guide for teams looking for coaches with the McVay connection.

LaFleur, after all, was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017 and the Cardinals mentioned Kingsbury was “friends” with McVay in a write-up on the team’s website.

Of course, for every McVay, there’s a Marc Trestman an offensive guru that completely fails to make an impact as a head coach.

There’s no guarantee that hiring someone who is a talented offensive mind will pay off.

In 2013, the Redskins were loaded with offensive innovators including McVay and LaFleur, both then working as assistants under former head coach Mike Shanahan, and Shanahan’s son, Kyle, another playcaller who’s since gone on to become a head coach.

The Redskins, though, won just three games that year.

Even Redskins coach Jay Gruden, hired for his offensive reputation and guidance of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, hasn’t had explosive offenses over the last two seasons. He’s made the playoffs just once in his five years as coach.

“Keep hearing all about scheme, scheme scheme,” tweeted agent Mike McCartney, who represents Kirk Cousins among others. “Tell me about leadership, accountability and culture!”

ESPN analyst Damien Woody specifically criticized the Cardinals’ decision to fire first-year coach Steve Wilks before hiring Kingsbury, who took the job by resigning from his position at USC just a month after being hired.

“You work your whole way up the ladder, become a defensive coordinator, finally get your chance and you get fired after one season and get replaced by the guy who was the USC offensive coordinator for all of, what, 30 days?” Woody said in a video posted on Twitter. “Now I’m not anti-Kliff Kingsbury because I know where the league is. Everyone’s trying to find the next Sean McVay.

“But it does make you think long and hard about what the hell is going on.”

Still, as long as the quarterback is regarded as the most important position in all of sports, teams will undoubtedly hire head coaches who can get the most out of their signal-caller.

Last year, for instance, the Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy to salvage former second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky and the Colts hired Frank Reich to make sure Andrew Luck’s career wouldn’t be derailed by injuries.

In 2019, Kingsbury will be tasked with grooming quarterback Josh Rosen, who will enter his second season. LaFleur will be responsible for extending Aaron Rodgers’ prime and helping him win another Super Bowl, at least. The Cleveland Browns promoted offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to head coach to work with Baker Mayfield, while Bruce Arians came out of retirement to get the most out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston.

Of the hires so far, the Denver Broncos are the only team to have hired a defensive-minded coach in Vic Fangio.

“It’s hard at times to get a good offensive coordinator that you think has the track record to just be an offensive coordinator because a lot of these guys are being considered for head coaching positions,” Sharp said. “So a lot of the ownership is like, ‘Hey, we want to get a guy who is going to be great with our quarterback but they’re being taken for head coaching positions, so we can’t take a defensive guy and then find this guy to be an offensive coordinator. We’re just going to have make him our head coach.’”

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