The Whole ‘Keep The HC But Fire Everyone Else’ Thing, How Has That Gone In The NFL?

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Changes are coming for the Los Angeles Rams heading into the 2023 season.

At this point we know that Sean McVay will return as head coach, but offensive coordinator Liam Coen has already left for Kentucky (by the way, this move smacks as a move where McVay is like ‘please go, so I don’t have to fire you’) and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is likely also out the door.

The Rams finished 5-12 in 2022, the worst record ever for a defending Super Bowl champion, so it’s fair to say change is needed.

But does change work?

NFL teams usually have a handful of coaching changes on staff after each year, whether the team wins, loses or whatever. Assistant coaches move around to better positions, maybe they step back into a college position, or maybe they go back to a place they coached before.

It’s impossible to track down just whether wholesale changes on an NFL coaching staff – which is what the Rams are about to do – works or not. There’s no database of wide receiver coach changes in the NFL (by the way, that’s another total NFL lie, assistant coaches work wherever they’re needed, the titles are meaningless), but we can track what happens when a team with an established head coach changes both his OC and DC.

Since 2017, it’s happened 11 times in the NFL where a veteran head coach (in this case McVay) changed both his lieutenants. And would you believe it’s almost perfectly even whether it worked or not? The good news is one of the places it worked was for McVay and the Rams. No team changed both OCs and DCs heading into the 2022 season with the same head coach.

Here’s the list.

Washington 2017

The year before: In 2016, Jay Gruden was the Washington head coach. The OC was a guy named Sean McVay and the DC was Joe Barry. Washington finished 8-7-1 with Kirk Cousins as starting quarterback. The offense ranked 12th in the NFL, the defense was 19.

Next year: Gruden made himself the OC, and Greg Manusky stepped into the DC role. The team finished 7-9. Blah. Both the offense (16) and defense (27) sank in the rankings.

Did it work? No. Gruden got another year and a half before he was canned. Cousins went to the Vikings. McVay won a Super Bowl title. So it worked out for him.

Atlanta 2017

The year before: 28-3 happened. The Falcons made the Super Bowl but blew a big lead and lost to New England in OT. Kyle Shanahan was the OC, Richard Smith was the DC. The offense was No. 1 in the league with Matt Ryan as MVP, the defense was 27th.

Next year: Head coach Dan Quinn brought in Steve Sarkisian as OC (now there’s a name from the past) and Marquand Manuel as DC. The offense sank to 15th in the NFL, defense rose to eighth. 28-3 lingered, but the Falcons did go 10-6 and make the playoffs, losing to the Eagles in the Divisional Round.

Did it work? Short-term, yes, but long-term no. You’ll see.

Seattle 2018

The year before: Seattle went 9-7 with Darrell Bevell as OC and Kris Richard as DC. Bevell was the scapegoat still for the Super Bowl loss. In 2017 with a young Russell Wilson, the Seahawks offense ranked 11th and the defense was 13th in the NFL.

Next year: Brian Schottenheimer was the Seahawks OC in 2018 and Ken Norton was named the DC. Both units improved and Seattle went 10-6 and lost in the wild card round to Dallas.

Did it work? Yes. You have to say it did.

Green Bay 2018

The year before: This is the year Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone and everything in Packerland went to heck. They finished 7-9 with Edgar Bennett as OC and Dom Capers as the DC. Packers coach Mike McCarthy had to do something.

Next year: Bennett went to the Raiders (he was kind of fired) and Capers retired for a few years. McCarthy brought in Joe Philbin as new OC and Mike Pettine as new DC. The Packers went 6-9-1 and McCarthy was fired late in the year.

Did it work? Obviously not.

Carolina 2018

The year before: In 2017, Cam Newton was still big and strong and the Panthers went 11-5 and made the playoffs. Mike Shula was the OC and Steve Wilks was the DC. The Panthers offense ranked 12th and the defense was 11th.

Next year: Shula became OC with the New York Giants and Wilks became the head coach of the Cardinals. Carolina started 6-2, but then collapsed and lost seven in a row with Norv Turner as OC and Eric Washington as the DC.

Did it work? No. Both the offense and defense were worse in 2018. Rivera hung on for one more year before getting fired late in the 2019 season.

Atlanta 2019

The year before: Yes, the poor Falcons are back on this list. In 2018, Matt Ryan started to decline. The Falcons went 7-9 with the offense ranking 10th and the defense 25th.

Next year: Quinn said he would call the defense – oh that’s just never good – and hired Dirk Koetter to run the offense. The Falcons started 1-7, but rallied to finish 7-9. Both the offense and defense sank in the rankings.

Did it work? No…no…no. Quinn would be fired early in 2020 and the 28-3 hangover still hangs on the franchise.

Rams 2020

The year before: In 2019, the Rams went 9-7 with McVay calling the plays and Wade Phillips was the DC. They missed the playoffs – Jared Goff had started to regress. The offense ranked 11th in the NFL and the defense was 17th.

Next year: McVay changes things up. Kevin O’Connell becomes the OC and Brandon Staley becomes the DC. The Rams went 10-6 and made the playoffs. Aaron Donald had 13.5 sacks and the defense was No. 1 in the NFL, but the offense sank to 22nd in the NFL.

Did it work? You’d have to say yes, but by 2020 it was clear Goff needed a change of scenery no matter who the OC was.

Vikings 2020

The year before: The Vikings went 10-6 and reached the playoffs. OC Kevin Stefanski became head coach of the Browns. DC George Edwards left for the Cowboys. The offense ranked 8th in the NFL and the defense ranked fifth.

Next year: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer brought in Gary Kubiak to become the OC and Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson became co-defensive coordinators. Again, Kirk Cousins is on this list as he was the Vikings starting QB. The offense dropped to 11 and the defense fell all the way down to 29th. The Vikings finished 7-9.

Did it work? No, not short-term or long-term as Zimmer was fired in 2021.

Dolphins 2020

The year before: In 2019, the Dolphins went 5-11 and finished last in the AFC East. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the QB. The Fish started 0-7. The offense ranked 25th and the defense ranked last.

Next year: Coach Brian Flores brought in Chan Gailey to fix the offense and Josh Boyer to run the defense. Tua and Fitz played quarterback and the Dolphins went 10-6, with the defense rising to sixth in the NFL.

Did it work? Yes. Clearly, except for Flores and the Dolphins would have a terrible, messy divorce after the 2021 season.

Titans 2021

The year before: The Titans went 11-5 and lost to the Ravens in the Wild Card round. The offense ranked fourth and the defense was 24th.

Next year: Arthur Smith left his OC post with the Titans to be head coach of the Falcons. Todd Downing became OC and Shane Bowen took over for Vrabel as the defensive coordinator. The Titans went 12-5 and were the top seed in the AFC playoffs but lost to the Bengals in the first round.

Did it work? Absolutely. The Titans improved defensively and the offense stayed about the same.