What happens during interviews with potential NFL head coaches? Enter the room

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Gas up for private jets.

From next week, the NFL head coach hiring cycle will be screwed up, with anything from three to seven teams expected to be on the market. (Jacksonville Jaguars have already started after firing Urban Meyer in December.) Candidates will pack their best suits and cross the country, meet in mahogany conference rooms and private airports while trying to convince billionaire team owners that it will be best since hiring them. their first shout-out on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans.

Needy teams will often make franchise-changing decisions based on the outcome of those interviews, which “is like saying, ‘I want to marry the most beautiful girl in space,'” former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said.

To the candidates: Win the interview, land your dream job and get paid millions to coach football.

Talk about high stakes.

In the coming weeks, warnings will appear on your Twitter feeds as an increasingly voracious media tracks and talks about top candidates’ travel plans. A year ago, seven teams submitted 59 interview requests for 27 people (not including college coaches), according to NFL data.

Who is ready for another round of musical graduates?

Better question: What really happens in the room where it happens?

ESPN spoke to half a dozen people involved in the interview process to formulate a picture, and there were two prevalent takeaways: The coaching candidates, already known for discerning game preparation, use the same obsession to prepare for the interview. And teams recognize the importance of building relationships throughout the organization and in the locker room and value leadership as much as the football sense. Some believe it is more important.

“It’s not about the Xs and the Os, it’s about the CEOs,” said agent Bob LaMonte, who has represented 53 head coaches over a career spanning more than 30 years.

With that, let’s pull back the curtain and take a look into head coaching interviews.

A typical first conversation is three to five hours, although some have been known to last eight hours. When that happens, it usually means dinner too.

Where do they occur? Short answer: Where it is convenient.

Many happen at the team facility, but sometimes teams have to go on the move if they meet a candidate who is still involved in the playoffs. In many cases, this means a meeting room at a five-star hotel.

Or not.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy once met with a team of one … well, let’s call it a less than smart hotel, inside a room with limited seating. Looks like all the good hotels in the area were booked, so the interested team had to settle for a midway property.

When Rex Ryan interviewed for the New York Jets ‘head coach vacancy in 2009, he met team officials at a small airport near the Baltimore Ravens’ facility in Owings Mills, Maryland. Ryan, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, was preparing for a playoff game. That same offseason, the Jets met with Arizona Cardinals assistant Russ Grimm in an aircraft hangar in Arizona.

Appropriate, right? Jets to Jets.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the teams relied on virtual interviews last season, especially for the first round of interviews. It was cost and time efficient for teams, but the downside was the impersonal nature of having to talk through laptops.

“It was so absurd last year with Zoom interviews,” said LaMonte, whose clients include Kansas City Chiefs ‘Andy Reid and Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay. “You don’t feel like someone in a Zoom interview. It’s like watching a Netflix show. If you don’t like it, turn it off and get another one.”

Do not be surprised if to some extent they remain part of the process. The teams this season were allowed to interview candidates virtually during the last two weeks of the regular season with the consent of the candidate’s club – as long as the head coach job was vacant.

In a normal setting, a candidate is interviewed by the owner, general manager, team president, and sometimes the attorney general. Some teams hire a head-hunting company or a consultant who brings more people into the room. Ryan said there were nine people at his interview for the Atlanta Falcons’ vacancy in 2015.

The teams are armed with questions, lots of questions. Angelo always tried to be proactive and sent 10 questions to candidates in advance. That way, they could think seriously about important philosophical issues before discussing them in the interview. How do you see your role – and the role of your assistants – in staff, vacancies and drafts? How do we make big decisions?

“You want to make sure you see things the same way,” Angelo said. “Otherwise, things can get tough.”

Once the interview starts, teams have a few hours to figure out if the person across the board can lead a billion-dollar company. So they investigate. Some typical questions, according to those who have participated in the process:

  • What is your discipline policy?

  • Do you want the last word on the staff?

  • What happens if your star player skips volunteer offseason training?

  • What is your rating of our quarterbacks?

Former Jets and Miami Dolphins director Mike Tannenbaum always tried to dig a little deeper and asked uncertain questions to gauge the candidate’s mindset and abilities as a problem solver. In fact, I have hired professional firms that have asked questions and advice for interviews. Some of his questions were doozies:

What is your biggest pet? If you could invite three people to dinner, dead or alive, who would they be?

Tannenbaum was so thorough that he sometimes asked the limousines transporting the candidates, hoping to get a useful nugget of gold. He had a sense of it; he hired three head coaches who reached the playoffs in their first season.

A team, in the study of candidates, assigned its department heads to dig for information by contacting the corresponding person in the candidate’s home organization. Example: The equipment manager questioned the equipment manager and asked about the candidate’s work ethic, personality, etc.

“You want someone to come in and in a very meaningful way be your CEO,” said Tannenbaum, now an ESPN analyst. “They come in as the most important person in your organization. Regardless of the structure of your football team, the most important person you want to hire – outside of QB – is your head coach. They have the greatest influence. On the outcome, and they are by far the most important in relationships. to how everything is handled. “

So yes, their answers in the interview are important. How they respond is also important.

“You have to expel the ‘it’ factor,” said longtime agent Brian Levy, whose client list includes Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “You have to go into the room and command the room. If you can not command the room in an interview, you certainly will not be able to do it in front of 53 guys all week, every week for an entire season. That’s a critical thing. “You have to go in there and sell your vision. What is your vision? Be honest about it.”

Staffing is another key component. Teams want to know the names of coordinators and position coaches of the candidate’s potential staff. They want to know if the candidate is willing to keep top coaches from the former staff. This can be a big obstacle. In 2019, The Jets were interested in hiring Baylor coach Matt Rhule, but they did not like his proposed staff.

“The process is thorough,” said Ryan, an ESPN analyst. “You realize that this is an important decision, because whether you want to be or not, the head coach is often the face of the franchise.”

This may surprise some people, but there is usually not much X’s-and-O’s talk. They will touch on general philosophy and can get into position requirements (height, weight, speed), but the candidate will not use a whiteboard to break down flash packs from third down. The focus is management and whether the candidate has the human competencies to encourage the organization.

The interview is not a one-way street; candidates come up with their own set of questions. They need to know what they can go into.

For example: In 2009, Raheem Morris was hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he thought he was inheriting a veteran team. Shortly after, they dumped most of the veterans and began rebuilding with a rookie quarterback, which was not what Morris had imagined. He held out for three years before being fired.

Another key question for candidates to ask: If there is not a documented quarterback in the building, then how do you plan to get one? Many promising coaching careers have been ruined by quarterback instability.

Candidates are not surprised too often because they are so well prepared by their agencies. Levy’s company, Goal Line Football, is holding an offseason workshop for its customers. He hosts about 150 coaches and puts them through various exercises to prepare them for interviews. He actually hires former GMs to run fake interviews. I have hired body language specialists to criticize them on camera. (Careful, no cradle back and forth.)

By the time Levy’s clients come to the actual interview, they will have been provided with detailed reports that include the team’s cap situation, team needs, scouting reports and an explanation of what went wrong with the former coaching staff. Levy’s teams use their coaching and player connections around the league to gather information for the reports. This is especially useful for a graduate meeting with multiple teams who do not have time to do all the research on their own.

“You always have to know what’s in the closet,” Levy said.

LaMonte’s company, PSR Inc., has a 70-page handbook for its customers that is legendary in the industry. It contains relevant articles and tips, all the way down to how to handle the media. Some candidates bring a personal ring binder to the interview, which provides the team officials with reference material. When he first started interviewing for head coach jobs, Ryan had one that included a resume, a day-by-day training plan, a plan for analysis, typical scouting reports, and testimonials from players he had trained.

However, this practice is going out of fashion. Coaches now consider some of this information to be proprietary and they do not want to leave it in the hands of the enemy. Techies have been known to include this material on computer tablets, which are distributed and collected at the end of the interview. You can not be too careful.

“They do not leave a book there with their recipes,” Levy said. “It’s like a chef going to an interview at a restaurant and leaving his recipe book behind so they can see them through. Now guys keep it close to the west. They’d rather show a PowerPoint that they don’t have to go from there. . “

Not every interview is a homecoming. Sometimes there is no chemistry. Sometimes it’s just a bad fit. Once, a candidate withdrew in the middle of an interview with the Jets. Apparently not happy with his performance, he politely informed team officials, who declined to identify him for this story, that he was not ready to become NFL head coach.

Years later, he told friends that his interrupted interview with the Jets was a valuable learning experience. He is now a successful head coach.

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