Exploring why so few Chiefs’ coaches find jobs on other teams

Under Andy Reid, Kansas City has been successful enough for coaches to move elsewhere. Why don’t more do so?

Syndication: USA TODAY

When the San Francisco 49ers decided not to hire the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive back coach Dave Merritt as their defensive coordinator a couple of days ago, it was hard not to notice that four other San Francisco assistant coaches were headed elsewhere. Bay Area newspaper The Mercury News laid out the openings.

This offseason’s staff shakeups include these assistants leaving for posts elsewhere, according to Shanahan: pass-game coordinator Klint Kubiak (now the New Orleans Saints’ offensive coordinator), defensive line assistant Darryl Tapp (now the Washington Commanders’ defensive line coach), offensive line assistant James Cregg (now the Las Vegas Raiders’ offensive line coach), and running backs assistant/associate head coach Anthony Lynn (now the Commanders’ run-game coordinator).

This isn’t new, right? It’s well-understood that after a team wins a Super Bowl (or even appears in one), it’s very common for members of its coaching staff to land jobs with other teams.

Even so, according to head coach Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs currently have just one vacancy on their coaching staff: that of 69-year-old outside linebackers coach Ken Flajole, who has decided to retire from coaching after collecting the third Super Bowl ring of his 26-year NFL coaching career.

After winning Super Bowl LVII a year ago, the Chiefs announced more than 10 changes to their coaching staff — but of those, just four involved bringing in a new employee. Only offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and running backs coach Greg Lewis had been hired by other teams. One other opening was created when strength and conditioning coach Rick Rubin chose to retire after a long association with Reid.

And that was the biggest change in the Chiefs’ coaching ranks since the 2019 offseason, when five new coaches (including defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) were brought in. From then until the 2023 offseason, there have been only a handful of new faces each offseason.

Still, after losing Super Bowl LVII a year ago, the Philadelphia Eagles lost offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to the Indianapolis Colts. They promoted quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson to fill that role. Their defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon went to the Arizona Cardinals. He was replaced by Seattle Seahawks’ assistant head coach Sean Desai. Defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson parted ways with the team after being passed over to become the defensive coordinator — and then almost immediately became DC of the Tennessee Titans. Just before the NFL Draft, the Eagles hired four more assistants from the college ranks to fill out their staff.

The bottom line is that while other successful teams routinely have members of their coaching staffs leave for positions elsewhere, it happens to the Chiefs less often.

Why is this so?

Since there’s no NFL salary cap for coaches — and therefore, no third-party sites like Spotrac or OverTheCap to keep track of coaches’ salaries — we can only speculate about how Kansas City’s coaches are paid relative to other teams.

We could consider the NFLPA’s recent low grades for the Chiefs’ facilities as evidence that the team doesn’t pay its coaches well. But if that’s true, then why do so few coaches use the team’s success as a pathway to bigger paychecks?

There has been plenty of success to go around. During head coach Andy Reid’s 11-year tenure, Kansas City has the league’s best regular-season record — and in those years, has appeared in more playoff games than any other franchise. (Under Reid, the Chiefs rank third in postseason winning percentage behind the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos — but could surpass both in 2024).

Some have suggested that NFL owners just want younger, more energetic coaches to lead their teams. It’s certainly true that coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Sean McDermott, Sean McVay and Mike McDaniel — none of them a day over 50 — have been successful with their respective franchises.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Might it be that owners simply believe coaches like Pete Carroll, Bill Belichick, Steve Spagnuolo, Dave Toub and Eric Bieniemy are too old? The record, however, suggests they might be wrong. Reid is now the league’s oldest active coach. He and his assistants — many of whom are now eligible to carry AARP cards — have just collected the first back-to-back league championships since… well, since they were younger than Shanahan, McDermott, McVay and McDaniel.

Maybe the explanation can be found in another of the NFLPA’s revelations: that among players, Reid is the league’s most highly regarded head coach. It’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that a coach who is loved and respected by his players is also loved and respected by his assistants.

Could it be as simple as that? That the Chiefs’ organization is simply a great place to work?

The only thing we know for certain is that whatever the reason, the team’s coaching staff continues to be one of the big reasons for the team’s success — and for the time being, relatively few of its members seem interested in going elsewhere.

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