How Have Teams Fared When They Replaced A Defensive Head Coach With An Offensive One?

Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro (USA TODAY Sports)

For the past 11 seasons, the Minnesota Vikings have been led by head coaches who spent their entire coaching careers focusing on the defensive side of the ball. And with just four seasons with more than eight wins to show for it, it’s becoming clear that this formula is not working.

Before hiring Leslie Frazier in 2011 and Mike Zimmer in 2014, the Vikings went 25-straight seasons with an offensive-minded head coach: Jerry Burns, Denny Green, Mike Tice, and Brad Childress. From 1986 to 2010, the Vikings won more than eight games 15 times. I’m no mathematician, but the Vikings have a much better success rate when the head man has an extensive background on the offensive side of the ball.

Could you imagine if the United States of America elected two different presidents from the same political party for three consecutive terms? Or what about four different presidents from the same party across seven-straight terms? Me neither. Life in the National Football League is similar because change is not only habitual, but necessary.

That’s especially true when considering a franchise that has only won two playoff games since firing Childress in 2010.

With a bevy of offensive-minded head coaching candidates available, it’s fair to presume that most of the following candidates would be champing at the bit to lead a franchise with Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Kirk Cousins:

  • Joe Brady – Carolina Panthers OC
  • Kellen Moore – Dallas Cowboys OC
  • Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs OC
  • Brian Daboll – Buffalo Bills OC
  • Byron Leftwich – Tampa Bay Buccaneers OC
  • Doug Pederson – Super Bowl LII Champion, former Philadelphia Eagles HC
  • Greg Roman – Baltimore Ravens OC
  • Todd Downing – Tennessee Titans OC
  • Nathaniel Hackett – Green Bay Packers OC
  • Joe Lombardi – Los Angeles Chargers OC
  • Mike McDaniel – San Francisco 49ers OC

While some folks would hesitate to overhaul a franchise’s identity by going from a defensive head coach to an offensive one, let’s take a look at how the rest of the league has fared recently when making this organizational shift.


Los Angeles Rams: Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay

  • 31-45-1 (.409) under Fisher
  • 50-22 (.694) under McVay
    • 2018 NFC Champions
    • 2017 & 2018 NFC West Champions
    • 2020 NFC wildcard berth
    • 2017 NFL Coach of the Year
    • 3-3 postseason record

Chicago Bears: John Fox to Matt Nagy

  • 14-34 (.292) under Fox
  • 31-25 (.554) under Nagy
    • 2018 NFC North Champions
    • 2020 NFC wildcard berth
    • 2018 NFL Coach of the Year
    • 0-2 postseason record

Indianapolis Colts: Chuck Pagano to Frank Reich

  • 53-43 (.552) under Pagano
    • 2013 & 2014 AFC South Champions
    • 2012 AFC wildcard berth
    • 3-3 postseason record
  • 31-25 (.554) under Reich
    • 2018 & 2020 AFC wildcard berth
    • 1-2 postseason record

Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders: Jack Del Rio to Jon Gruden

  • 25-23 (.521) under Del Rio
    • 2016 AFC wildcard berth
    • 0-1 postseason record
  • 22-31 (.415) under Gruden
    • Resigned after Week 5, 2021

Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis to Zac Taylor

  • 131-122-3 (.518) under Lewis
    • 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2015 AFC North Champions
    • 2011, 2012, and 2014 AFC wildcard berth
    • 2009 NFL Coach of the Year
    • 0-7 postseason record
  • 11-28-1 (.288) under Taylor

Arizona Cardinals: Steve Wilks to Kliff Kingsbury

  • 3-13 (.188) under Wilks
  • 20-19-1 (.513) under Kingsbury

2020 Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera to Matt Rhule

  • 76-63-1 (.546) under Rivera
    • 2015 NFC Champions
    • 2013, 2014, and 2015 NFC South Champions
    • 2017 NFC wildcard berth
    • 2013 and 2015 NFL Coach of the Year
    • 3-4 postseason record
  • 9-15 (.375) under Rhule

Since 2017, four of the seven scenarios where a franchise shifted from a defensive head coach to an offensive one resulted in an improvement in winning percentage. It’s important to note that two of the remaining three that didn’t see improvements (Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders) are currently 5-3 and 5-2 respectively, with the Raiders leading the AFC West. Obviously, Gruden is no longer the head coach in Las Vegas, so those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

There are nearly a dozen viable candidates that the Wilfs can choose from when the hiring frenzy occurs in January. Considering the immediate improvements offensive coaches have made over their defensive-minded predecessors, there is a lot to be excited about if the long-overdue change occurs within the Vikings’ coaching staff.

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