Analyzing The AFC Coaching Trees

I am writing this pre-launch, to accomplish a few tasks, actually, but I hope it's a value-adding piece of content, and not just a throwaway for taxonomy building's sake.  I was talking to my father over Christmas about coaching trees, and their associated ideologies, and it struck me as something worth exploring, and writing about.  For all 32 teams, each coach came from somewhere, and learned distinguishable strategies and schematic ideas.  We're going to look at each team, and try to make some sense of this landscape.

Buffalo Bills -- Perry Fewell (Interim Coach)

Fewell comes from the tree of the man he replaced, Dick Jauron, and has worked for him for years, in Jacksonville, Chicago, and Buffalo.  He worked for Mike Martz and Lovie Smith in St. Louis too, but that's a secondary relationship.  It's a little bit tough to place Fewell, because it's tough to place Jauron.  Jauron worked for Hank Bullough (a key figure in 3-4 history), Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, and Tom Coughlin.  That's 4 totally unrelated coaching philosophies there.  I'm going to have to decline to declare Jauron as being part of any tree, because his roots go so many different directions, and say that Fewell is not part of a specific tree either.

Miami Dolphins -- Tony Sparano

There's no question that Sparano comes from the Bill Parcells Tree.  He worked briefly for Chris Palmer in Cleveland, Marty Schottenheimer in Washington, and Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville, but his career took off when Parcells hired him in Dallas in 2003.  Parcells, of course, continues to be his boss in Miami.  This one is a no-brainer.

New York Jets -- Rex Ryan

He worked under Brian Billick and Mike Nolan for a lot of years, and under Jim Harbaugh for one, but Ryan seems to be most influenced by his father Buddy.  He isn't particularly related to many other coaches in the NFL nowadays, and his approach to defense is very original.  I'll give his dad, Buddy, his own Buddy Ryan Tree, because another branch or two will hit there as well.

New England Patriots -- Bill Belichick

Belichick could be called part of the Parcells Tree, and it would be true-ish, but it's more appropriate to give him his own Bill Belichick Tree.  The two men aren't particularly close (read David Halberstam's excellent Education of a Coach,) and Belichick has departed from the Parcells way of doing things in a lot of ways.

Baltimore Ravens -- Jim Harbaugh

I'll call Harbaugh part of the Bill Walsh Tree, because of the fact that he coached for so long under Andy Reid in Philadelphia.  The Ravens don't run a west coast offense, but they have defensive similarities to Philadelphia.  Harbaugh's father Jack is also a longtime college coach, and undoubtedly influenced his son.

Cincinnati Bengals -- Marvin Lewis

Lewis is from the Chuck Noll Tree, having really learned the NFL game during his time working for Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh.  He has used a 40 front mostly, but a lot of the coverage principles he's favored have come from his time in Pittsburgh.  Lewis also worked under Brian Billick in Baltimore for a number of years.

Cleveland Browns -- Eric Mangini

Mangini is definitely part of the Belichick Tree, even though the two don't particularly get along well nowadays.  Mangini is the quintessential example of a guy who tries too hard to be like his mentor, rather than being himself.

Pittsburgh Steelers -- Mike Tomlin

Tomlin comes from the Tony Dungy Tree, pretty clearly.  He worked for Dungy in Tampa Bay, before spending a year as Minnesota's defensive coordinator.

Houston Texans -- Gary Kubiak

I think you have to give Mike Shanahan his own tree, because he hasn't really been similar to Dan Reeves (who goes back to Tom Landry), and his time in San Francisco was too short to call him a disciple of Bill Walsh or his successors.  Really, Shanahan came to the 49ers to replace Mike Holmgren as Offensive Coordinator, and didn't come up through their system.  Kubiak is definitely part of the Shanahan Tree.

Indianapolis Colts -- Jim Caldwell

It depends where you want to place Tony Dungy, where you place Caldwell.  He could be called part of the Chuck Noll, Marty Schottenheimer, or Bill Walsh trees.  (He played and coached in Pittsburgh, and coached under Schottenheimer in Kansas City, and Dennis Green in Minnesota.)  Really, though, I give Dungy his own tree, because he has a lot of branches, and I make Caldwell a clear part of the Dungy Tree.

Jacksonville Jaguars -- Jack Del Rio

Del Rio can loosely be called part of the Walsh Tree, by virtue of having done most of his assistant coaching work under Brian Billick.  Billick came up under Dennis Green, but neither man uses the west coast offense made famous by Walsh.  This is an example of how a 20 year old tree can start getting convoluted.  Edit:  Upon further review, I decided to move Del Rio to a newly created Brian Billick Tree.

Tennessee Titans -- Jeff Fisher

Fisher is a defensive coach, and he's part of the Buddy Ryan Tree, with some Walsh influence as a secondary factor, owing to two years working in San Francisco.

Denver Broncos -- Josh McDaniels

There's no question that McDaniels is part of the Belichick Tree, right down to his hoodies.  There are personality differences, but he's running the program he learned in New England, no question about it.

Kansas City Chiefs -- Todd Haley

Haley worked under Ken Whisenhunt (Schottenheimer Tree) in Arizona, and now works for Scott Pioli (Belichick Tree).  It's very clear, though, that Haley is a full-fledged member of the Parcells Tree.  He's taken some criticism, much of it deserved, but I think you have to love a guy who says unapologetically that he isn't a players' coach.

Oakland Raiders -- Tom Cable

It's hard to put Cable in a group.  He was offensive line coach for one year in Atlanta with Greg Knapp, and followed Knapp to Oakland.  He became Head Coach when the Davis-Kiffin War boiled over.  I actually think Cable has improved his stature as a coach during his time in Oakland (though not as a person).  He has done a fairly solid job, but he doesn't fit a tree, particularly.

San Diego Chargers -- Norv Turner

Turner goes back to a really old tree, the Don Coryell Tree.  He came up in the NFL under the highly respected Ernie Zampese, who was a Coryell disciple.  Turner stays true to his roots in employing the most vertical passing offense in the NFL.

What do you think?  Did I mis-classify anybody?  I'll have a similar feature on NFC coaches within a day or two, and maybe a visual mapping of the trees.  I'll be interested to read what you think in the comments.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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