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Effective Leaders: Traits of Successful NFL Coaches

Coaching Often Determines Success

Few teams in the NFL experience success without quality coaching. We constantly see loaded rosters disappoint due to poor coaching. Some teams also overachieve thanks to exceptional coaching.

The Dallas Cowboys are one team that comes to mind. It’s an annual tradition for the Cowboys to underachieve. Despite impressive rosters, Dallas has not been able to get it done due to poor coaching. Or what about the San Francisco 49ers? They dealt with several injuries at quarterback in the 2022 season. The 49ers were down to their third-string QB Brock Purdy. It didn’t matter. San Francisco continued to win, as coach Kyle Shanahan has established an excellent system with the 49ers. Great coaches will always impact NFL betting.

Effective Leaders: Traits of Successful NFL Coaches
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the game//Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images/AFP

But what makes a coach great? What leads to success in the NFL? Let’s look at common traits among the NFL’s top coaches.

Honesty Forges Strong Relationships

Ahead of the 2020 season, Jim Trotter of NFL.com asked players what are the most valuable traits of a head coach. Veteran players participated, like running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and cornerback Richard Sherman. One trait seemed to ring true: Honesty.

Gore stated, “A coach being straight up with a player is critical. We’re all men at the end of the day, and I hate when a coach isn’t 100 percent real with you. I might not like what you have to say, but I respect that you’re straight up with me.”

Fitzgerald shared the same sentiment, saying a coach should not tell players what they want to hear. This makes perfect sense. This is a professional league full of grown men. Teams will not get where they want if the head coach is not honest with players. The coach has to put the right players in the correct spots to have success. This could be anything from playing time to a slight position switch.

Honesty also gains players’ trust. If a coach cannot be trusted, it’s unlikely players will rally around each other. Football requires excellent teamwork. Units must work as one with a common goal. We often hear the phrase, “These players would run through a brick wall for him.” It’s absolutely true. The bond between coaches and players on successful teams is evident. The two sides fully trust each other and players are willing to battle to the last whistle.

During an interview with Rod Maaddi on the AP Pro Football Podcast, Patrick Mahomes discussed what Andy Reid means to him, “He’s meant the world to me. He’s just the best. He’s the best coach, obviously, one of the best coaches of all time, but he’s just one of the best people of all time. He’s learned how to get the most out of me every day. He doesn’t let me be satisfied with where I’m at. He teaches me a ton.”

Coaches must build great relationships with their players, and that goes hand in hand with honesty. Being truthful could be the building block to creating special relationships that spark success.

Gotta Know the X’s and O’s

Building relationships with players will always be important. However, this doesn’t mean coaches will be successful. Coaches must perform well too. This is where we get into the X’s and O’s.

Think about the best coaches ahead of the 2023 season. This includes Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs, Shanahan of the 49ers, and Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams. What do they all have in common? They are excellent play-callers with an established system.

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Belichick has built a reputation for being a defensive mastermind. NFL odds have the Pats priced at +240 to make the playoffs in the 2023 season. The roster has clear holes, which is partially Belichick’s fault as general manager. But as a coach, there’s no doubting Belichick. He is the greatest NFL coach of all time and consistently proves it on the field.

For example, Belichick consistently set up edge rusher Matthew Judon for success during the 2022 season. New England would utilize an under front, stacking four pass rushes on one side of the defensive line. The opposite end would leave Judon on an island for one-on-one opportunities. The opposing offensive line had no choice but to react, directing its attention to the stacked front. This let Judon dominate by winning his one-on-one matchups. Judon finished the 2022 season with 15.5 sacks. Here’s an example of a stacked front, leaving Judon one-on-one:

We could go on and on about Belichick’s defense. He does an excellent job of using stunts on the defensive line. The unit has excelled in many one-high looks despite most of the NFL moving towards two-deep looks. One thing’s clear – Belichick knows the ball. He is going to win his coaching matchup more times than not.

This is an obvious trait that teams want. Of course, NFL franchises want smart coaches. But that doesn’t mean most teams have excellent coaching. Nathaniel Hackett was a great offensive coach before the Denver Broncos hired him as the headman in 2022. Hackett was clearly not cut out for the job with a dysfunctional offense and questionable decision-making. His game planning lacked, his flexibility lacked and you could question if players wanted to rally around him. The bottom line? Not everyone is cut out to be a head coach.

No Trait Guarantees Success

Reid and Shanahan are two geniuses on offense who have established reliable systems with the Chiefs and 49ers. Reid is about as creative as it gets, and Shanahan’s West Coast offense sets nearly any quarterback up for success. Successful coaches establish systems but also have the flexibility to adapt to their roster.

Ultimately, there is not one “magic” trait that guarantees a successful coach. The best head honchos in the NFL excel at many things, including building relationships with players, being excellent play-callers, and having flexibility. Coaches also have to land in fortunate situations. Take McVay for example. He won Super Bowl 56, but the Rams struggled in the 2022 season due to various weaknesses and injuries.

At the core of successful coaches, relationship building, establishing good systems, and creating exceptional game plans are usually present. Perhaps these are the traits that lead to the most success in the NFL. Which coaching traits will you look for when placing NFL predictions for the 2023 season?

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