I know it can sound like a broken record, but it's not easy being a coach in the NFL. And being a first-year head coach is even harder. It's all new to you, including the difficulty of handling the chaos of an NFL game. Everything looks good in practice when people are running around in shorts, but once you get between those white lines, it all changes.
Game day for an NFL coach is all about communication, managing players and their emotions, and making smart decisions. And that's the toughest thing for new head coaches -- they aren't used to the speed of coordinated decision-making in an NFL game. People might watch the game and think the head coach isn't doing anything but calling timeouts, but there is so much that goes on behind the scenes. I remember the difficulty of remaining intensely focused for three hours in my first game with New York Jets in 2001. There's no way to replicate that experience in practice or as a coordinator.
As a head coach, you must have clear lines of communication both between you and your coordinators and between the coordinators and players. Because it's chaos on the sideline. You have trainers telling you about injuries and how long guys are going to be out. You need to manage your timeouts. You need to settle disputes between the players regarding assignments. And you still need to pay attention to what's going on out on the field. Is our game plan working?
Communication is all about timing, like knowing when to approach the offensive or defensive coordinator to say something isn't working. You can't do it on second down during a key offensive drive or right before a big third down on defense, but you want to take information from the players on the field and trust what you're seeing as a coach. Head coaches always have the most information of anyone on the team. You must learn to trust your decision-making and not be afraid to be wrong.
Another key I found was not looking at what just happened on the field but asking why it happened. Was it the call or the execution? That's always the most important thing. I remember players coming up on the sideline and saying, "Coach, we can't cover this guy," or "That protection, throw it out. They're beating the corner every time." As much as you want to stay true to your philosophy and the game plan you devised during the week, good head coaches need to know when to tear it up and adjust as the game goes along.
All of this comes with experience, which is something you obviously lack as a first-time head coach. Although no one gets it completely right the first time, trust me that every coach remembers his first game and the decisions he made – right and wrong. And winning definitely cures a lot of the mistakes made on game day. Let's take a look at how the six first-time head coaches did in Week 1.