ENGLEWOOD – John Elway broke the mold.
The Denver Broncos general manager bucked this year's trend when he hired his former backup QB and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as his head coach.
Every other head coach vacancy that's been filled has gone to men with defensive roots: John Fox in Chicago, Jack Del Rio in Oakland, Jim Tomsula in San Francisco, Rex Ryan in Buffalo and Todd Bowles with the Jets.
Oddly, every one of those teams also had trouble on offense in 2014.
So did the Falcons, the only head coaching vacancy that hasn't been filled.
It appears that offensive coordinators Josh McDaniels of New England and Adam Gase, Peyton Manning's co-architect in Denver, will have to keep waiting as defensive coordinators Dan Quinn of Seattle and Detroit's Teryl Austin are the only candidates to get follow-up interviews with the Falcons.
If Quinn is the choice, the Falcons will have to wait to offer him the job until after Seattle plays New England in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.
Quinn's star rose with the Seahawks' 43-8 walloping of Elway's Broncos in last year's Super Bowl, something NFL Network analyst Terrell Davis believes has driven this defensive shift, along with the aerial fireworks show the league has become.
“One, you look at who won the Super Bowl last year. They've got a formula people want,” Davis said. “They've got a good quarterback and their offense was good; it just wasn't as good as their defense. If you have a good defense, you can mask a lot of deficiencies on offense. And two, it really is about offenses in this league and if you can stop them.”
Then again, Davis said, it could just be coincidence.
“Maybe it just happens to be the best candidates are defensive coaches,” Davis said.
There's no ambiguity about it, insisted former NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian.
“Each hire, each situation is different. That's one part of the puzzle,” Polian said. “The second part is the pool of candidates is what it is. In any given year, you might have more people who come from the offensive side of the ball as opposed to the defensive. And third, anybody that's asked for my advice, I have said, 'Hire the best person regardless of orientation.'
“Because what you're hiring is a head coach. He's going to hire a defensive coordinator. He's going to hire an offensive coordinator. They're the ones that are going to determine largely the scheme. So, hire the best person whose philosophy of football fits how you want to operate.”
The only other factor that should come into the equation is previous head coaching experience, Polian said.
That certainly burnished the resumes of Fox, Del Rio and Ryan. Fox was 49-22 in four seasons in Denver even though the Broncos came up short in the playoffs each year.
“Guys who have been a successful head coach before, there's probably something to be said for that,” Polian said.
New Bills owner Terry Pegula said experience was the tilting factor in Ryan's hiring. In San Francisco, it came down to Tomsula or Gase, but the deciding factor wasn't their backgrounds, CEO Jed York said.
“You're not the head coach of the defense. You're not the head coach of the offense,” York said. “You're the head coach of the entire team.”
Interestingly, teams led by head coaches with offensive roots had an average rank of 16.1 in points per game this season to 16.0 for defensive coaches (excluding the Raiders, who switched mid-season from defensive to offensive). The season started with 16 offensive and 16 defensive coaches.
So, there was essentially no difference in performance on average based on the expertise of the head coach.
“Yeah, if you want to use that metric,” Polian said. “When you use the word 'expertise' of the coach, would you presume that Bill Belichick knows only defense? OK, so that's my point. If you hire a good coach, he understands both sides of the ball, how it fits, how he wants to do it, how it fits his personnel, etc. etc. We're hiring head coaches here, not coordinators.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis was initially looking for an offensive-minded coach to help quarterback Derek Carr develop, something he told Del Rio in their first conversation.
“And Jack said, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop! I know about offense as well,'” Davis said.
Labels don't matter when you're a head coach, Del Rio said, because if you're a “defensive guy,” quickly “you become an offensive guy as well.”
He pointed to the two coaches who are in the Super Bowl.
“Bill Belichick was a defensive guy and he's doing a pretty good job with his offense,” Del Rio said. “Pete Carroll is a defensive guy in his background, but he's doing a pretty good job up there in Seattle with their offense and with their team. So, I think when you hire a head coach, you get that — you get a head coach.”