In the modern NFL, the adaptable, innovative offensive coach is an attractive archetype. With the growing number of young quarterbacks in the league, teams are always looking to add coaches who can not only develop those quarterbacks but cater their offense to the signal-caller’s strength. This is a foundational aspect of offensive success, and it’s one reason that Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll might be a head coach in 2021.
Brian Daboll’s coaching history
Unbeknownst to some, Brian Daboll is actually a member of Bill Belichick’s coaching tree. After spending his first three coaching years at the college ranks, Daboll joined Belichick’s coaching staff in 2000 as a defensive coaching assistant. He’d then spend time as the Patriots’ wide receivers coach from 2002 to 2006, before moving on to the next chapter of his NFL coaching history.
Tutelage in Foxborough
In Daboll’s first stint with New England, the Patriots won three Super Bowls. The dynastic success made teams across the league covet Patriots coaches, and Daboll rode that wave. He became the New York Jets’ quarterbacks coach in 2007. Then, in 2009, he made the leap to offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns.
A lack of security at his early coordinating spots forced Daboll to hop around a bit. After two difficult years in Cleveland, he’d join Tony Sparano’s Miami Dolphins in 2011, overseeing modest improvement for the Miami offense. Then, in 2012, Daboll joined Romeo Crennel with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Daboll was familiar with Crennel, who’d been New England’s defensive coordinator from 2001 to 2004. But, the familiarity did not equate to success. Done in by the underwhelming quarterback duo of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, Daboll was let go along with the rest of Crennel’s staff at the end of the year.
After his tumultuous tour around the league, Daboll returned to Belichick’s staff in 2013, taking on a role as an offensive assistant. He’d win two more Super Bowls with them from 2013 to 2016. He’d then join the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2017 and help them to a National Championship as offensive coordinator. It looked like Daboll was starting to near his peak, but his best performance was still yet to come.
Daboll’s time as Bills offensive coordinator
After coaching up Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at the college ranks, Daboll went back to the NFL. In 2018, Bills head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane searched for an offensive coordinator. They hand-picked Daboll and officially announced his addition on January 14, 2018.
The Bills were clearly a team starved for playoff success, but the true stakes of Daboll’s latest NFL gig became clear months later. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills traded up into the top 10 to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. The move was met with criticism from many. Allen was viewed as an extremely raw prospect, and he was taken above Josh Rosen and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.
Daboll’s work with Josh Allen
Daboll’s first season as Bills offensive coordinator didn’t inspire much confidence. Allen’s offense, still without a complete supporting cast, struggled to attain consistency. At season’s end, Daboll’s unit was 30th in total yards and 30th in points per game. Entering the 2019 offseason, many of the same questions remained: was Allen the franchise quarterback, and could Daboll elevate his play?
In 2019, the Bills improved. Although the offense was boosted by an elite defense, Daboll’s influence started to make inroads in its performance. The team’s total offense improved to 24th, and the team’s rushing offense became a top-10 unit, using a diverse cast to chip away at opposing defenses.
The progression from Josh Allen was now tangible under Daboll. In 2020, the Bills went all-in, trading for Vikings star receiver Stefon Diggs. The addition of Diggs put together the Buffalo offense, and in 2020, Allen has ascended to a new level. With two weeks left to play, the 11-3 Bills have clinched the AFC East for the first time since 1995. Allen is an MVP candidate and a consensus top-five quarterback. The passing offense is consequently the second-best statistical group in the NFL. And Daboll, who engineered it all, is finally get the recognition he’s been working toward.
Teams rumored to be interested in Daboll as head coach
Brian Daboll’s success with the Bills as their offensive coordinator has earned him prestige. But not only that — Daboll’s success also proves he’s a coach who can adapt and innovate according to his personnel. That’s a coveted trait in coaches today, and thus, Daboll is a potential head coach hire in 2021.
Are any teams searching for head coaches connected to Daboll at the moment?
Although Daboll has buzz, however, there aren’t any publicly strong ties to specific teams yet. A tweet by a Houston reporter in October stated that Daboll would be considered for the Texans’ job along with Eric Bieniemy and Greg Roman. Still, beyond that, things remain quiet as Daboll focuses on maximizing the Bills’ Super Bowl aspirations.
Based on Daboll’s background, he could fill a need for several teams in need of a coach. The Jaguars and Chargers stand out as teams who could especially benefit from Daboll’s influence, however. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who’s athletic and has a rocket arm, could undergo a rise similar to Allen under Daboll. The Jaguars, after leapfrogging the Jets in the draft order, are now in the driver’s seat to select Trevor Lawrence, who also fits the imposing, athletic mold.
With that being said, other high-upside prospects like Justin Fields and Trey Lance could also benefit from Daboll’s influence. Thus, Daboll is truthfully a solid candidate for any team in need of an offensive overhaul and expedited quarterback development.
Daboll’s potential strengths as a head coaching candidate
Brian Daboll is just 45 years old. He’s been coaching in the NFL since his mid-twenties. Thus, he has a good mix of pre-existing experience and long-term potential as a head coach. Teams want hires to last for a long time. That’s the ideal outcome, and Daboll’s age helps with that.
Success as a coordinator
The Bills’ cast of weapons has improved in Daboll’s stint as offensive coordinator. However, Daboll’s work has played a large role in making that cast successful. Daboll is an analytically-driven play-caller whose understanding of game scripts has served his team well. That analytic acceptance indicates an ability to learn and evolve continuously.
Success as a developer
Some of the credit here goes to Ken Dorsey, who joined Buffalo as quarterbacks coach in 2019. But Daboll has undoubtedly had a powerful impact on Josh Allen’s career trajectory. One could argue that Allen wouldn’t be where he is now if he hadn’t been matched with Daboll.
Experience with exceptional coaches
Daboll has a surprising amount of experience with championship-winning coaches. Thus, he might have the inside track of composing his coaching staff, especially on defense. Daboll spent over a decade total with Bill Belichick. He’s coached under stellar defensive mind Sean McDermott for three years. His year with Nick Saban might also prove beneficial.
Brian Daboll’s potential weaknesses as a head coaching candidate
Unproven as a motivator
Brian Daboll is a personable coach, and Josh Allen has called Daboll “a competitor.” But there’s a difference between competing on a staff and being tasked with catalyzing energy in a locker room. Just as much as they need to be able to scheme and game plan, head coaches have to motivate and lead players through both success and adversity. We don’t know if Daboll can do that at the head coaching scale yet.
First-time head coach
This is a concern with every first-time head coach that goes through the process. But with Daboll, it’s slightly more worthy of attention.
Daboll first became an offensive coordinator way back in 2009, and he’s just now getting serious head coaching buzz. Although instability played a role in his initial lack of success, the fact that he wound up being demoted after putting more on his plate is notable. Most first-time head coaches need an acclimation period, but will it be extended with Daboll? Or is he finally ready to take the next step?
Questions will remain with Brian Daboll as coach, as they do with all candidates. But looking at his resumé as a whole, he might be one of the best options out there. He’s experienced and battle-tested. Yet, he’s still relatively young and innovative. He worked under numerous legendary coaches, and he may soon follow in their footsteps. And for teams looking to hit the reset button with a new quarterback, Daboll is on the short list when it comes to getting the most out of that investment.