The ins and outs of interviewing for an NFL head coaching job

Posted: January 15, 2013

What was supposed to be lunch for the Eagles with Oregon coach Chip Kelly last week turned into dinner and a marathon meeting that reportedly lasted nine hours. It was part job interview, part recruiting trip, and it illustrated the lives of the Eagles brass during the search for a head coach.

The Eagles' traveling party of owner Jeffrey Lurie, president Don Smolenski, and general manager Howie Roseman has crisscrossed the country on an interview tour of college coaches, NFL coordinators, and two former NFL coaches. Most interviews are shorter than nine hours, but what happens inside the room can determine the future of the franchise.

"What decision-makers are trying to find out is philosophy, ability to work well with other parts, and vision," said Andrew Brandt, an ESPN analyst who worked in the Green Bay Packers' front office and once was a consultant with the Eagles. "They're looking for someone who can represent the franchise. He's going to be the public face of this team."

Each interview varies, depending on the vacancy and the candidate. Sometimes, it's more akin to a recruiting trip. An established head coach has more of a track record than an ascending assistant, so the line of questioning is different.

"If you're Kansas City and you're trying to hire Andy Reid and you know he has other job interviews, a big part of it is going to be recruiting," said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, a former general manager with the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans. "If you're like the Eagles or the Bears right now, where you're going through a group . . . this is going to be more interview. But there's always going to be an element of recruit in it because as you go through it, you're going to want to sell your place."

In a video on the team's website, Roseman said the Eagles "discuss every aspect of the organization" during the interviews. He cited the way the coach runs meetings and conducts training camp; what he looks for in players and coaches; and even ideas for the training staff, strength and conditioning department, and equipment managers.

One former general manager shared with The Inquirer a document outlining the process, including an exhaustive list of questions that arise in interviews.

The questions included how to develop leadership on the team; what input scouts and staff have in the draft process; the coach's position on crimes related to alcohol, drugs, and violence; plans to deal with the media; and how preparation changes in a playoff week compared to a regular-season week.

Different people in the room will have different questions. Smolenski said last week that Roseman and Lurie might be more football-intensive, while Smolenski's role focuses more on leadership qualities and strategic thinking. Smolenski noted that the football operations and business operations of the Eagles must be "seamless."

There are generally three parts of a football operations staff: coaching, player evaluation, and financial management. In today's NFL, the coach must know how to weave all departments together. The organization's philosophy also must fit with the coach's.

The Buffalo Bills started an analytics department, and new coach Doug Marrone discussed in his news conference how he incorporates analytics into coaching. Brandt said the Packers emphasize young talent and drafting and developing, so a coach who prefers a veteran team might not be the ideal fit there.

Brandt remembers interviews in Green Bay with a significant chunk of time devoted to personnel, the players on the roster, and how they would be used. When the Packers considered Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton, Brandt was fascinated listening to discussion of potential schemes and offensive philosophies.

"Decision-makers, whether it's owners or general managers, also have a vision of how the team is going to play," Brandt said. "I think that's where Chip Kelly was so popular. He had this vision of fastbreak football that some people think is the hot thing right now."

The coach also must present ideas about his staff. In the document from the former general manager, one section was devoted to asking about assistant coaches, all the way down to the role of quality-control coaches and administrative assistants.

Decision-makers around the league often cite the composition of the staff as a major role in hiring a coach because it is central in the schemes utilized and how players develop.

"That tells you more than anything else, because the rest they can train for, they can script it," Casserly said. "But they can't script that part because once they give you names, you begin to interview them on the names."

Still, the interview is only one phase of the process. Lurie said last week that he spent the final month of the season "meticulously" researching the coaching landscape. Most teams have lists assembled by the time they dismiss their head coach.

But decision-makers can be swayed in interviews. Brandt remembers the way Mike Sherman swayed the Green Bay staff during his 2000 interview. Mike Tomlin won the Pittsburgh Steelers job in 2007 because of his interview. And the next Eagles coach might end up earning the job because he impresses Lurie, Smolenski, and Roseman with the right answers when they talk.


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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