It took a 5-9 start and a 63-21 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders but the LA Chargers finally fired head coach Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco. Many fans expected these moves after the team's blown 27-0 lead in the AFC Wild Card Round last season but the news was delayed by 11 months.
Now the Chargers are kickstarting the process of building from the ground up. The team is going to need to hire a new GM and head coach, and can do so in either other. With the dawn of a new era upon the Chargers, many fans have created a wishlist of candidates for the vacant positions.
One familiar concern that seems to be shared throughout the fanbase is around first-time head coaches. Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is the hottest name in the coaching market (outside of Jim Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin and Bill Belichick, who might not even be 100% available) and seems like a prominent frontrunner for the position.
But because the last three head coaches — Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Brandon Staley — were first-time coaches, fans are worried that Johnson will flop as well. While those concerns are justified given how scarred Chargers fans are, Johnson being a first-time head coach shouldn't worry the fanbase.
Chargers fans' concerns over first-time head coaches are overblown
Yes, the last three head coaches for the team were first-time head coaches and yes, they did not work out. McCoy, Lynn and Staley didn't fail because they were first-time coaches, though. They failed because they were not good coaches. Those two things are mutually exclusive.
The Chargers did not do a good job at hiring the best coach for the job and that is the bottom line. In 2013 they could have hired Andy Reid (who, ironically, was not a first-time head coach) after they interviewed him. In 2017 they could have hired Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan (who they interviewed). In 2021 they could have hired 2022 Coach of the Year Brian Daboll (who was the favorite) or even Nick Sirianni, who previously coached on the Chargers staff for five years.
This isn't to say Johnson is the home-run candidate that will be the best, as Harbaugh probably deserves that distinction, but the Chargers shouldn't pass on Johnson solely for experience. If they do, they will make the same mistake as the previous three hires, this time just hiring a bad retread head coach instead of a bad first-time head coach.
Every head coach is different. Just because the previous first-time head coaches didn't work doesn't mean that the next one won't, either. This is like comparing cars based on the color of the paint instead of the engine that is under the hood. If I buy three lemons that have a red paint job, does that automatically mean that a red Ferrari is going to fail? Not at all.
Plus, even if we wanted to take the evidence-based approach, there is far more evidence to hire a first-time head coach. The recent history of retread coaches isn't great. The last one that truly worked out was Reid in 2013, but it still took him over half a decade to get a franchise quarterback to go on a playoff run.
Doug Pederson has won one playoff game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that is it thus far. But he also previously won a Super Bowl, which is a distinction that other retread options (such as Dan Quinn and Jim Schwartz) don't have. Mike McCarthy hasn't made it past the Divisional Round with the Cowboys. Sean Payton is probably going to miss the playoffs in his first season with Denver.
Just look around at the coaches who are having the most success in the league right now. Last year's Super Bowl had a first-time coach in his second season. The year before that had two first-time coaches with their respective first teams. Then you have the new wave of Mike McDaniel, Shane Steichen and DeMeco Ryans taking the league by storm.
The Chargers' job right now is to hire the best head coach prospect. And unless Harbaugh wants to jump to the NFL, Tomlin somehow gets fired by Pittsburgh, or Belichick is willing to coach without being a GM (the latter two definitely won't happen), Johnson is the most qualified option.
Don't judge these coaches on the paint job. Judge them on the engine that makes them run.