ENGLEWOOD, Colo .– Wade Phillips, who spent more than four decades as an assistant or head coach in the NFL, has once been asked why it seemed like the road to the big helmet – the job of head coach – seemed a bit longer and a lot more bumpy for those with defensive resumes.
âSometimes the perception among people who are hiring or talking about hiring is that the defense guys aren’t that smart, and I don’t think they are at all, by far, but I think it is. It’s their way of thinking when they sometimes hire people, âPhillips said.
When the Denver Broncos and New York Jets play Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS), there will be two defensive coaches in charge – Vic Fangio of Denver and Robert Saleh of New York. Fangio was an NFL assistant for more than three decades before he got the chance to be a head coach, and Saleh, 42, is now in his first season with the Jets.
The two spent a season together on the same staff – with the Houston Texans in 2005 – when Fangio was the defensive coordinator and Saleh was a trainee coach.
âWe have kept in touch over the years,â Fangio said this week. “When he was in San Francisco I would visit him a lot and we played golf a few times together, so yeah, we’ve kept in touch over the years.”
âHe doesn’t like words very much,â said Saleh de Fango, ââ¦ But I took a lot from Vic – he’s one of the most detailed men I’ve ever been around. a huge conviction in his philosophy … it was a great ride and a pleasure to know him. “
Fangio also said of their season together that Saleh had a “great work ethic and had a good feel for the game. You could tell he has a bright future as a coach.”
But in a fleeting league, the next big thing among attacking players often has the indoor track to become a head coach. Defensive assistants often need to have a longer, more fleshed out resume and need to overcome the perception that they aren’t embracing analysis or pushing tactical boundaries.
“I’m not going to pretend to know or understand what property is looking for when they hire people, I really don’t,” Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I know defensive coaches and managers are capable of leading football teams, and I think that shows up week after week in stadiums, regardless of the current climate.”
Tomlin, now in his 15th season as Steelers coach, was a 34-year-old defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings when the Steelers hired him in 2007. Bills coach Sean McDermott was a 42-year defensive coordinator. years for the Carolina Panthers when he was hired in Buffalo. But in the past offseason hiring cycle, only two of the seven vacancies were filled by coaches with largely defensive backgrounds – Saleh and former Broncos assistant Brandon Staley with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Overall, there are now 19 head coaches in the league with predominantly attacking backgrounds, 11 with predominantly defense backgrounds and two former special team coordinators. If you count the score: three current coaches with offensive backgrounds won the Super Bowl (Andy Reid, Sean Payton and Bruce Arians), which is matched by coaches with defensive backgrounds (Bill Belichick and his six rings, Tomlin and Pete Carroll).
Asked if he thought it was even more difficult for defensive coaches to get the green light as head coaches, Fangio said: “It was, for sure. , but I think it’s coming back [to closer to 50-50] a little … I think it’s coming back. “
“Young defensive coaches are going to catch up,” said former Bengals coach and current Arizona State Special Advisor Marvin Lewis. “They will adapt to the way the attacks play out, the way the rules go with it and get their opportunities.”
Fangio is now in his third season with the Broncos, and the team’s 2-0 start means for the first time in their tenure that they will move through October without having to dig a hole. Broncos players say Fangio has kept his straightforward approach since taking office, but they have seen changes, such as training schedules, as he progressed in his job.
“If there’s something he’ll bring it up in front of everyone,” Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “You can’t have pride or ego when it comes to Coach Fangio. I love that he wants this team to be a tough football team. We’re crushing.”
Broncos safety Justin Simmons said, âVic has such a strong defensive spirit, and his outlook on the game is unprecedented. That’s why you’ll see different variations in the league defense, but Vic isn’t. at the bar. “