Brian Daboll is red-hot, but is he the real deal?
The Bills’ offensive coordinator turned Josh Allen into a star. It’s up to the Bears to determine if that means he’ll have the same success with Justin Fields — and if the “hot coordinator” will be a successful head coach. That’s a hit-and-miss proposition for NFL teams.
If Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is your guy, is it the Brian Daboll who turned Josh Allen into a star? Or the Brian Daboll who struck out with Chad Pennington and Brady Quinn and coaxed a really mediocre year out of Brett Favre?
Even people who hire coaches for a living don’t always know, which is one big reason why there have been 35 coaching changes in the NFL over the past five seasons — an average of more than one per team. It’s why the Packers’ Matt LaFleur is already 12th on the coaching seniority list after just his third season.
Daboll’s ascent to the top of some candidate lists is one of the biggest cliches of coaching searches — the hot coordinator. In this case, Daboll is red-hot after the Bills’ record-setting offensive performance in a 47-17 rout of the Patriots that advanced the Bills to Sunday’s divisional round game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bills scored a touchdown on their first seven drives – before taking a knee on their eighth and final drive of the game. And they did it against a Patriots defense that ranked second in points allowed and fourth in yards this season.
And they did it to the NFL’s pied piper, Bill Belichick. Anything Belichick does well is emulated by other NFL coaches. And anything that works against Belichick is revered — that’s why the Wildcat offense is still around today, 13 years after the Dolphins flummoxed Belichick and the Patriots with it in 2008. So Daboll’s star predictably rose exponentially after the Bills’ scintillating performance against the Patriots.
The 46-year-old Daboll is given due credit for developing Josh Allen into a star. Allen, the seventh overall pick of the 2018 draft, struggled through his rookie season under Daboll, completing 52.8% of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. His 67.9 passer rating ranks 17th out of 19 rookie quarterbacks who have started eight games or more over the last five seasons — notably three spots behind Bears rookie Justin Fields (73.2).
In three seasons since, Allen has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL — a 107.2 rating in 2020 (4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) and a 92.2 rating in 2021 (4,407 yards, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions).
But while that’s a great credit to Daboll, is it a defining one? Or just a matter of being in the right place at the right time? With all due respect to his fine work with Allen, Daboll’s NFL resume was undistinguished prior to that — Chad Harrington with the Jets, Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson and Colt McCoy with the Browns, Matt Moore with the Dolphins, Matt Cassel and Quinn with the Chiefs.
With the Bears, though, Daboll would at least have a prospect in Allen’s class with Fields, who was the 11th pick of the 2020 draft and legitimately could have been the second pick behind Trevor Lawrence. So it’s not like the Bears would be asking him to do something he hasn’t done before.
But it’s still a crapshoot for even the best of teams when evaluating the hot coordinator or any hot prospect. Was he the beneficiary of circumstances the Bears cannot replicate? And is he a head coach and not just a coordinator?
It often comes down to intuition, something that challenges the McCaskey Bears more than others. In 2013, they interviewed Bruce Arians for the head coaching job and GM Phil Emery hired Marc Trestman.
With Bill Polian running their searches, the Bears are interviewing candidates who are wanted by other teams: Daboll (Dolphins and likely the Giants after they hired Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen on Friday), Dan Quinn (Broncos, Vikings, Jaguars, Dolphins), Doug Pederson (Jaguars, Broncos), Todd Bowles (Vikings, Jaguars), Nathaniel Hackett (Vikings, Jaguars), Leslie Frazier (Dolphins), Brian Flores (Texans), Matt Eberflus (Jaguars) and Jim Caldwell (Jaguars).
At Halas Hall, that’s progress — but no sure thing. Interviewing the right guy is one small step. Hiring the right guy is one giant leap.