Defense or Offense for Head Coach: The Debate

So there seem's to be a definite line being drawn in the Head Coaching search threads. One side says pure Defense is better. You have the other side convinced that only Offense will work. Who is right? Well, no one is really. Looking at the Super Bowl era, you will see a clear shift from Defense to Offense to mix and back and forth. So, with that, let's start looking into the facts.

Argument: Only Offense wins the Superbowl. Answer - wrong. Since the Super bowl has started, there have been a total of 29 coaches who have won it. Of those coaches, 17 have been offense related coaches, 12 have been defense related. Out of that figure, 25 Super Bowls have been won by Offense minded coaches, 22 by Defense. Not much of a difference and not one that shows a distinct advantage either. Of repeat winning coaches, it is a dead heat at 15 for both offensive and defensive coaches. Now, looking at the history, you do see distinct "era's" in the Super Bowl dealing with Offense and Defense coaches. The early years were won by Offensive coaches. Super Bowls I through V to be exact. Then in the 1970's, from Super Bowl VI to XIV, it was all defense. The 1980's saw a swing back towards the offense, Super Bowls XV to XXIII were won by offensive coaches save for Super Bowl XXI, which was the lone Defensive coached Super Bowl victory. The 1990's were even at 5 Super Bowls for either side of the ball. The 2000's were just in slight favor of the Defense, 6 - 4. Since 2010, the offense has the lead 3-1. So other then decades, there really is no overall winner, unless you figure 3 more Super Bowls a blowout, in which case you might want to follow baseball

Argument: Defensive coaches will automatically improve the defense: Again, wrong. One does not need to look past the last 3 seasons with the Vikings. The Vikings defense under Childress had a very good front, mediocre back. While age had started taking it's toll, there had been a decrease in the Defense during Frazier's tenure. For a supposed Defensive minded coach, there was a hesitancy to try out rookie's as well. Which makes one wonder if more of these players had slowly been phased in starting in 2012, if things would have improved? Also, Jerry Burns had one of the top defenses in the late 1980's. He had been an Offensive Coordinator with the Vikings for around 18 seasons. Mike Ditka, offensive coach minded coach, had a well known Bears defense in the 1980's as well. Chuck Knox, offensive geared coach, was head coach of the L.A. Rams. Yet during this stretch of time of Knox running the Rams, they had a mediocre offense, yet stellar defense known as the "New Fearsome Foursome" or the "Fearsome Foursome II". Note, this is not to be confused with the original Fearsome Foursome of Olsen, Jones, Grier and Lundy. I would also have too mention the great Bill Walsh. Many who call the father of the West Coast Offense (though some disagree). Yes, the 49ers had perhaps the greatest offense during the 1980's and and early 1990's. However, the 49ers defense was considered one of the top defenses of the 1980's as well.

Note: I do not have rankings for Offensive coaches vs. their defense. If I find them, I will try to post.

Argument: Only Offensive coaches can develop a QB: Again, the answer is wrong. Going back into the earlier history of the "Modern Era" of the NFL, you can see very well that has never been the case. Earl Morrell was a average, at best, journeyman QB in the NFL until joining the Colts in 1968. That year, Johnny Unitas tore arm muscles rendering him to the bench for most of the year. Shula, a defensive coach, and his staff were able to work out a 13-1 record out of Morrell as well as earn him the NFL MVP. Of course, between working with Bob Greise, though he was drafted before Shula took over at Miami, and a certain QB in the 80's and 90's, we know Shula had a touch for offense. We can also mention many past great such as Chuck Noll and Tom Landry to name a few. Also, you don't need to look further then some current situations. Marvin Lewis has had the correct staff to squeeze out decent play from an average QB in Andy Dalton. Of course, you can look at Belichick with Tom Brady. And no, don't even go there with the whole "He has Brady to make him look good". No one in the NFL saw Brady being the QB that he is, no one. All these people have in common.......they surrounded themselves with the right coordinators and coaches to get the job done correctly. How well did Childress work out developing a QB for the Vikings? A supposed QB guru. Philip Rivers didn't seem all that great under Norv Turner. Shanahan has looked lost at QB since Elway retired. These guy's are all offensive guys, yet failed in the QB department. If offensive guys were the ones that could only develop QB's, there would be no Defensive coaches as Head coaches.

Argument: The Vikings have had enough Defensive coaches, we need to go back to offense, that's what has been successful to the Vikings. Has it really been that way, always successful? Norm Van Brocklin was an offensive coach, but had a 29 - 51 - 4 record with the Vikings. Jerry Burns was the Vikings offensive coordinator from 1968 - 85, taking over HC in '86. He garnered a 52 - 43 record with a NFCCG appearance. Some consider him not that great, but I wonder how hampered he was by Mike Lynn? Lynn's era of running the Vikings I consider the darkest period for the team. Even worse then penny pinching Red McScrooge. Then came Denny Green. Another offensive guy who you think would have been able to develop a QB. Yet he had a undeniable fetish for aging to over the hill QB's that gave us about two years at best. That will sound familiar a few years down the road. Mike Tice, offense, went 32 -33. Some say he was over his head, some say horrible. I say he was screwed from the start by McScrooge. Could he have done better with more personnel? We will never know. But I wouldn't have been surprised. Would he have approached Grant figures, no, but would he have been as bad as Frazier? He proved to be better with alot less. Then we get to Baldy Brad. Yeah, another offensive "genius" who knew all it was to make a QB A #1! That really worked out didn't it? So much so, he had to go crawling to an aging veteran (sounds familiar?) who got us to the NFCCG, and then that was all it wrote. Then Frazier came in. Sadly, he undid himself with a reliance to shaky, at best, coordinators. Oh, Frazier was a defensive guy, our first true defensive coach the Vikings had. So yes, he didnt end well, with a record of 21-32-1. Oh, I didn't mention a certain one year wonder coach we had, an offensive one, that went 3-13 some years ago. So while Frazier didn't do to well, this team certainly has not had enough with defensive coaches. If anything, this team has stuck with offensive coaches. Though Bud Grant was neither pure offense or defense, as will be explained a little later for those who are scratching their heads right now. So maybe it is time to try defense for a little while longer? But yes, I know there are those who want offense, and offense only.

Argument: Offensive coaches win more games: And the Urban Legends just keep on coming. So, I looked at both Wikipedia and Pro Football Reference on this one. Spent a few days actually going over the data. Talk about dry reading folks! But also, some very interesting results as well. Now, before I begin this part, I looked through he coaches and had to eliminate several from being used. One of those, sadly, includes our own Great Bud Grant. You see, when Bud was playing football, he played both offense and defense, WR and DE. After he retired from playing, he was immediately hired as head coach. No assistant job at all, just right into it. So if I included him, I would have had to add him to both coaching stats, which of course, would have canceled him out. So instead, I dropped him from the data. Also, there were a few coaches whose backgrounds were either special teams or whose history was incomplete. With the latter, they only would have effected one or two years of data, and I can count on two fingers the amount of coaches this involved. I dropped them as well. I did include the coaching stats for interim coaches however. There were quite a number that eventually became head coaches or were former head coaches. The data starts with the current Super Bowl era, starting with the 1966 season and actually ending with last season, 2012. I did this as to not include the current post season which could skew results as well as being incomplete as of writing this.

NFL Coaches 1966 - 2012, 228 Coaches in all


99 Coaches

4,738 W - 4,358 L - 70 T

.520 Percentage


129 Coaches

4,750 W - %,370 L - 78 T

.469 Percentage

So, as you can see, during the regular season (stats do not include playoffs), defensive minded coaches have a higher winning percentage yet fewer Head Coaching positions. And looking at the figures, there is a significant difference. This is not a poll or anything like this. This is gathered from actual historical fact/stats. Now, I know there are going to be those that will say right off the bat that the game has changed since the start of the data. Well,yes it has. However, we did start seeing the beginnings of the West Coast, Pass orientated offenses, the now prototypical QB and so on back then. Things were just in their infancy where as to now, common place. "Well smart ass, I bet it's changed alot since then. I bet it's all QB and offense now!" Again, you might be surprised. The current notion is that this is a QB driven league, an offensive driven league. You need a QB to win it all. The running game and defense is not going to do it for you. "Exactly, so why bother bringing up figures from 40 years ago, why don't you show us something more recent, what are you afraid of? We triple dog dare you!". Well, let me say, I am more then happy too.......

NFL Coaches 2000 - 2012, 91 Coaches in all


46 Coaches

1,701 W - 1,652 L - 3 T

.507 Percentage


45 Coaches

1,557 W - 1,453 L - 3 T

.517 Percentage

Now, here the offense coaches hold a slight advantage. But a .010 advantage the offense coaches have here is significantly less when compared to the .051 the defensive coaches have overall. So, when it comes down to it, there is truly no instant advantage when it comes to an offensive mind being a Head Coach. Though, what does help, both sides, is having the right people under them helping to run the team and assessing the needs of the team and relaying those needs back tot he head coach, who in turns develops a plan either for game day, or relaying said plans to the GM come draft day. You have one chink in the armor, like we have had with Childress, Frazier and really, most of the coaching staffs since Bud Grant, those needs break down. We get what we have had the last 30 plus years. Whats worse, is you get to a point the Cleveland Browns are experiencing. A complete and total melt down of anything remotely functional. While some will still see this and continue to push Roman, Zimmer, Bowles, Bevell and so on, if any of those guys are hired and gets just one coordinator wrong, it won't matter. Ask Lovie Smith about not having the right coordinator.

Note: I will probably be adding more info here over the next few days concerning QB's and their coaches, drafting players and so on.


List of National Football League head coaches

List of Super Bowl head coaches

Pro Football Reference

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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