Managing the game under pressure is how NFL head coaches leave a mark, good or bad

Two rookie NFL head coaches had starkly different experiences in their first official appearance as game-management executors.

Kevin O’Connell made his relatively stress-free debut in the Vikings’ double-digit Week 1 win over the Packers.

O’Connell faced fourth-and-first from the Green Bay 5-yard line in his first series as an offensive caller. Not only did he go for it, but O’Connell scripted some clever play design to free Justin Jefferson for a touchdown catch. After that, everything was basically routine.

Kirk Cousins ​​then gave his new coach a match ball in the locker room.

A day later, Denver coach Nathaniel Hackett did not receive a match ball after his disastrous debut. Broncos fans were ready to give him a one-way ticket out of town after Hackett botched the final drive of a Seattle loss with bizarre decisions that had people screaming at their TVs coast to coast. other.

Hackett went against football logic by choosing to let his kicker go for a 64-yard field goal rather than trust quarterback Russell Wilson to convert fourth-and-fifth. Hackett admitted a day later that he would have handled this situation differently had he been given another chance.

Things got even worse with Hackett’s handling of Houston’s game on Sunday, to the point that frustrated Broncos fans tried to help by counting the seconds on the game clock to avoid late game penalties. The honeymoon period did not last long.

The hot seat grants no redesign, only scrutiny and second guessing. Hackett’s shaky departure reinforced the idea that despite all the extensive research and vetting that organizations do to hire a coach, they cannot fully explain how a coach will handle running a game once the ball is kicked. and the pressure of the moment skyrockets.

A coach’s acumen in handling those critical game situations – end-of-half streaks, challenges, time-outs, fourth-down situations, etc. – often defines his reputation and ultimately determines whether he earns enough to keep his job.

Coaches talk all the time about the practice time they spend rehearsing those moments, which is undoubtedly true. But too often coaches fail the test with these opportunities in games. Mike Zimmer’s game management routinely left observers furious, particularly his late-half clock management.

An NFL sideline can seem chaotic. The emotion, intensity and noise of the stadium add stress to a situation that requires mental clarity. It’s easy to see why coaches can get distracted or not think clearly when they only have seconds to make a decision that seems painfully obvious to those of us who won’t be guessing if it goes wrong.

But that’s their job. The good ones thrive in these times, or at least have fewer instances where their decisions backfire.

In assembling his first coaching staff, O’Connell did something that should be standard procedure for every organization: he hired a match management coordinator, Ryan Cordell, to help him out in those situations. O’Connell also tapped former Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine to serve as assistant head coach.

O’Connell is smart enough to realize that he needs help dealing with those bang-bang decisions that influence wins and losses.

“We can sit down, really week to week, and have a dialogue about what it will take to win a football game,” O’Connell said this spring after finalizing his squad. “Situationally, how do you want to play the end of the first half? The end of the game? How aggressive do you want to be, depending on how the game is going, but who’s the quarterback on the other side ?”

O’Connell said the goal for himself, his staff and his team was to become “masters of the situation”. This includes dissecting and reflecting on different situations from various games that impacted the outcome.

“You’re going to see five, six, seven scenarios pop up in a game that maybe you haven’t thought of, or maybe it’s not a page from the playbook, but we better discuss it. “, did he declare. “We better talk about it because it could very easily happen.”

O’Connell believes game management is a year-round exercise that provides him with data and philosophical principles to draw on to make split-second decisions. He could encounter one or more of those moments Monday night in Philadelphia in a nationally televised game. The reaction from these warm and welcoming Eagles fans will let him know how he is doing.

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