We are reader supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Fans new to football have to wonder why the sidelines are always packed with people ~ whether they’re wearing pads and helmets or not. Only 53 of those sideliners are players per team. How many of them will be coaches?
Unlike some other major team sports, there is no limit to how many coaches an NFL team can have. The average is about 16 in total, including the head coach, his assistant, and various coordinators or assistants.
Some may even have assistants to assistant coaches. If you thought the assistant to the regional manager in the television series “The Office” (Dwight Schrute) was a joke, well … inspect some NFL coaching rosters closely.
If a template or chart existed for how to structure an NFL coaching staff, it probably would include the following:
1 Head Coach in charge of everything
2 Coordinators (1 each for offense and defense; and under each the next item)
5 Assistants to help the Offensive Coordinator: for the quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, and tight ends
4 Assistants helping the Defensive Coordinator: for the defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs/secondary, and special teams
As you can see, that’s only 12 coaches, and we stated earlier that the average is 16, which means some teams have a lot more.
Some NFL coaching gigs that some teams engage, while others see it as optional:
- Assistant Head Coach. You could slip this position between Nos. 1 and 2 above. Some head coaches like to have a trusted sidekick near him at all times. The duties of these coaches depend on the coaches they work for.
- Consultant. See below for this rather undefined member of the coaching staff of some NFL teams.
- Special Assistant to the Assistant of the Tight Ends Coordinator. Just kidding, but you get the point.
Generally, head coaches who want to be involved with as many elements of a football team will have fewer assistant-type coaches on the sidelines. Bill Belichick is a great example, as he usually carries just 16.
These types of coaches may consider themselves assistant to the assistant coach of other elements of the team ~ and therefore ridding the need for a new person entirely to do it.
The number of coaches allowed in the NFL has been debated consistently over the years, but, unlike baseball, to date there is no cap on the number of coaches or coaches’ salaries.
With no limit on how much teams can pay for coaches, head coaches come up with novel ideas to try new concepts out. Very successful Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, for instance, spared no expenses in hiring former Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress as “spread game analyst,” whatever that means.
Actually, coaches like Reid know exactly what it means: having another person around to keep a close eye on a part of the game the head coach deems important enough to have more than a couple of eyes on it.
A guesstimate at the start of a recent NFL season was that there were over 600 coordinators and assistants for the 32 teams. Including, of course, plenty of assistants to assistant coaches.
A new NFL head coach almost immediately must decide who he wants to hire to help out, and how many. Unless an NFL club has management that wants to control everything, head coaches are free to design their own coaching staffs.
Here is some insight into the thinking of some NFL coaches who have found success:
- The offensive line is important, so break the responsibility in half, with the center and guards under 1 assistant, the tackles who play on the ends of the line with another assistant.
- The secondary can have a couple of coaches, with 1 looking over the safeties, another watching the cornerbacks.
- For quarterbacks, perhaps have a main assistant in charge of training and game management for the QBs; but also another to kind of serve as the field marshal’s personal assistant. This latter person can be in charge of everything from easing anxiety, to monitoring mental health, or just chasing down a water bottle if called upon.
- A coach may want different people responsible for punts vs. kicks.
Coaching staffs in the National Football League have developed and grown along with the league. Major advancements in the pro game, like strict rules on holding along the line of scrimmage, have triggered a need for specialist players and coaches.
For some of the base 12 coaching spots we included in the “template” above, some head coaches would automatically double up on the coordinators, or specific assistant positions. There are a lot of assistant offensive and defensive coordinators out there.
Some coaches, like the aforementioned Reid, say they instantly make the special teams slot good for at least a couple of coaches, because that element of the game is that important to them.
Then there is the segment some people call “technical staff,” and this term is so generalized it can mean coaches for the technical aspects of blocking, or coaches who are really good with computers and statistics. (Though baseball is more known for having coaches for the latter).
Some notable names include a “sports science coordinator” (head coach Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles).
Types of NFL Coaches and Their Responsibilities
The head coach (often abbreviated as HC) is in charge of everything involved with his or her NFL team ~ and thus carries the ultimate responsibility for success or failure. The plays you see on both sides of the line of scrimmage and on special teams all link back to the head coach. How each top coach delegates to offensive, defensive, or other coordinators is up to the individual. Aside from game management, this position typically engages with the club general manager often about personnel and strategy.
The NFL is not terribly creative when it comes to naming coaches. The offensive coordinator is, of course, the person asked to drive the part of the team responsible for moving the football forward and scoring points. This means the offensive line for blocking schemes, the quarterback for on-field leadership, and all the various positions that can catch or carry the ball. Offenses in the NFL are extremely complicated, and it’s rare today for an OC to work alone or near-alone. Some head coaches insist on calling offensive plays, others let the OC call them.
The defensive coordinator is the person responsible for the squad within an NFL team charged with stopping the other team from moving the football forward, and thus scoring points. Typically the DC is slotted just below the OC in terms of importance, but some head coaches let their defenses dominate team strategy (e.g. Mike Ditka and 1985 Chicago Bears). This coordinator also directs a troop of assistants who help various positions like defensive linemen or in the secondary.
As stated above by Reid, the special teams coordinator often holds a high spot among the hierarchy that is NFL team leadership. This person is charged with designing kicking strategies for games, and helping to train his specialized personnel accordingly. This person oversees kickoffs, field goals, and punts, with groups of players called “units,” as in punt unit.
From there, each coordinator can carry as many assistants as the club will agree to pay for. In recent decades, NFL rule and structure changes have resulted in considerable parity, meaning any team could win the championship. As playoff spots depend upon winning every game, and winning often involves single-digit point differences, winning teams pay very great attention to details.
While the number of NFL coaching assistants reflects this demand, another has surfaced in recent years: consultants. These are experienced people very knowledgeable of a certain NFL aspect that a team wishes to pay for the right to tap his or her mind, but not necessarily need that person at practices or during games.
That doesn’t mean consultants can’t be on the sidelines.
The sidelines for NFL games, where opposing teams stand on opposite sides of the elongated sections of the rectangular field, are pretty much capped only by available space. Active players alone drive 53 men into that elongated box, then tack on injured players, alumni, team officials, and of course coaches and you see a small army on the sidelines.
Unlike college football which has specific rules for how many coaches teams may have (9 allowed to give on-field instruction and recruit), the NFL does not.
Major League Baseball (MLB) rules let a manager and 7 coaches to be dressed for games; the National Basketball Association (NBA) lets only the head coach and 3 assistants on the front row of benches courtside; and the National Hockey League has no restrictions.
Q.: What does “secondary” mean?
A.: It comes from “secondary line of defense,” or a weapon designed to get to the ball after the offensive line and linebackers get the 1st chance. This means safeties and cornerbacks are after them, or secondary.
Q.: Are special teams considered offense or defense?
A.: This is kind of a weird one. You would think offense since the punt team typically operates on the last down left for an offensive series, and therefore could try to get a 1st down. But special teams include kick teams too, and kickers either are trying to score points, or do something on kickoffs to prevent points. Yet, some assign the punt unit to defense for statistical purposes.
Q: Why do NFL coaches wear camouflage clothing during games?
A: NFL coaches wear camouflage attire to honor Veterans Day in November and to participate in the NFL’s annual “Salute to Service” campaign, which takes place during Weeks 10, 11, and 12.