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01-04-2013, 12:24 PM
Jim Bob
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Join Date: Feb 2002
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This feature appears in the January 11, 2010 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

There must be something wrong, a fatal flaw in the research that led me here. Because, according to the best data available, gleaned from multiple studies, the unassuming man sitting opposite me in Philadelphia on a late-December afternoon -- the one sporting a Philadelphia Eagles hat over his thinning brown hair -- could morph into the next great NFL coach.

The regular season is nearly over, which means the season of firing and hiring will soon begin. In the coming weeks, six teams are likely to make head-coaching changes. This year's candidate crop -- more than any in recent memory -- seems loaded with talent: big-name free agents like Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan, and hot assistants like New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. It seems virtually impossible for needy front offices to whiff with any new hire. Yet many owners will probably do just that. Unless, of course, they rely on cold, hard data to make their decisions.

Don't laugh.

Over the past few years, a number of NFL teams and independent researchers have been working hard to devise a quantifiable method for finding a great coach. In analyzing more than 100 bench bosses, they have considered the presence of every imaginable factor, from Super Bowl victories to experience as a pro player to coaching trees to race.

But in the end, the majority of the most successful NFL headmen -- past and present -- have possessed at least one of the following four characteristics:

1. They were between ages 41 and 49.

2. They had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.

3. They were assistants on teams that won at least 50 games over a five-year span.

4. They had only one previous NFL head-coaching gig.

Accordingly, I applied those conclusions to this year's assistants and most-discussed candidates, looking for guys who met all four of the criteria. My research led to a man who's not on any owner's radar: Marty Mornhinweg.

That's right. The same coach whose record at the helm of the 2001 and 2002 Lions was a laughable 5-27. The same offensive genius who benched Charlie Batch in favor of Ty Detmer (who repaid that show of faith by throwing seven picks in his first start). The same strategic mastermind who once won an overtime coin toss and elected to kick off. (Sounds ridiculous, but reams of convincing data prove otherwise.) But before you snicker, take a long look at the 14-page study on coaching hires that the Eagles commissioned 10 years ago or at the 50-page report the San Francisco 49ers compiled in 2005. Better yet, peruse a 72-page analysis on the 84 NFL head coaches since 1992 conducted by two New York University researchers.

All of these documents point to a guy very much like Mornhinweg. For starters, the 47-year-old has spent 15 years in the league, including the past four as Eagles' offensive coordinator. According to Robert Boland, the sports management prof who spearheaded that 2007 NYU study, those two data points represent the ideal intersection of age (41-49) and NFL coaching experience (at least 11 years). Boland found that these coaches win more often than their younger -- and older -- counterparts; he included in his study Cowher, Shanahan, Bill Belichick and Mike Holmgren, who each won Super Bowls under those circumstances. The reasoning is simple: A coach in his 40s with more than a decade of NFL experience has the ideal mix of managerial competence and personal confidence to lead a team. He's young enough to relate to players but old enough to command respect.
I wonder if anything has changed in the past two years....

Well, other than MM turning 50yo. LOL

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