Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The 5 o’clock club is published several times per week during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I’m not looking at this as a one-off article; I intend to write a series of fill-in-the-blank articles over the coming weeks: Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach of the Washington Redskins. Previous articles in this series have considered a college coach in Matt Rhule, a former NFL head coach in Ron Rivera, and two offensive coordinators in Greg Roman and Eric Bieniemy.
Today I’m looking at the special teams coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dave Toub.
Click here to see other articles in the Who is ____________ and why should he be the next head coach group of articles
Before you are tempted to write a comment or send me an email to say that I should be reviewing GM candidates instead of head coaching candidates, for any of the several reasons you think that’s the case, let me head you off.
Firstly, the Redskins have an opening for a head coach right this very minute, and that opening is likely to be filled some time in the next few weeks. Looking at some likely candidates seems to make sense, since this is a fan blog and these articles won’t actually impact on the decision-makers in Ashburn.
Secondly, despite any rumors that may be swirling around, the Redskins front office hasn’t seen any changes announced, so it seems premature to start a series on front office candidates at this time.
Thirdly, identifying and researching head coaching candidates is relatively easy to do. Identifying and researching top GM and other front office candidates requires being fairly well ‘plugged in’ to NFL front offices. Last year, I wrote an article about potential front office candidates. That list may still have some relevance. You can access it by clicking here.
That article was based on research done and published by Dan Hatman, an NFL scout with a keen interest in tracking and evaluating front office executives. I have been in contact with him within the past week to ask him if he will be publishing a similar 2020 analysis of top front office candidates; he replied that he hopes to do so soon. If he does, I expect to publish an article that will attempt to identify top candidates that the Redskins could look at in a front office re-organization.
In the meantime, if you feel that an analysis of the strongest front office candidates needs to be published on this site in anticipation of the long-awaited firing of Bruce Allen and the hiring of a GM or other key executive, then I invite you to take the bull by the horns, do the research, write the article, and share it in a Fan Post. Your time will be better spent on this research and writing than on sending me emails exhorting me not to put the cart before the horse.
Dave Toub’s background
Dave Toub has been on the list of potential head coaches for a while now — since at least 2012, when he interviewed with the Bears. In fact, I remember commenting back in 2014, with respect to the search that eventually brought us Jay Gruden, that I thought Toub should be on the Redskins’ interview list.
Now, heading into the 2020 season, the 57-year-old Toub is probably reaching the latter part of his “window” for being hired for or promoted to a head coaching position.
Going all the way back to the start of his coaching career, after getting his feet wet at UTEP from 1986-88, Toub spent eleven years at the University of Missouri, the first 8 as a strength and conditioning coach, and the final three as the defensive line coach.
In 2001, Toub joined Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia as a special teams/quality control coach, and his career ever since has been linked to special teams.
After three seasons, he took a step up in position when he joined the Bears as the special teams coordinator in ‘04.
The Bears’ special teams unit was highly successful in 2006; kicker Robbie Gould, return specialist Devin Hester, and gunner Brendon Ayanbadejo were each voted to the 2007 Pro Bowl, and in April 2007, Toub was voted special teams coach of the year by his peers. His special teams unit was ranked at the top of the league for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Toub has demonstrated a lot of career stability. Having worked for 11 years at University of Missouri, he did eight years with the Bears, and, when he left, went back to work for Andy Reid, albeit at his new home in Kansas City.
Following the 2012 season, Toub interviewed for the Bears’ head coaching position vacated by the firing of Lovie Smith; however, the Bears hired Marc Trestman for the position. Though Trestman and the Bears offered to retain Toub for the upcoming season, on January 15, 2013, Toub announced that he would leave Chicago.
Reuniting with Andy Reid has been good for Dave Toub. After 4 years as the special teams coordinator for the Chiefs, In 2018, he received the assistant head coach title as a complement to his ST coordinator duties.
The case for hiring a special teams coordinator as the head coach
Many years ago, I read an argument for why a former special teams coordinator would make a good head coach, and I planned to recount that argument here in this article about Dave Toub. But KyleSmith4GM recently published an article on that very topic, and I have decided to quote extensively from his work rather than do a lot of my own writing on the topic.
Of the current 32 NFL head coaches…[o]nly John Harbaugh of the Ravens had a primarily special teams background before becoming their head coach.
What is odd, however, is if you look back over the last 30 or so years at some of the winning-est coaches during that period, many of them have a special teams background. Harbaugh and Belichick have already been mentioned, but Marv Levy (Bills), Bill Cowher (Steelers), Dick Vermeil (Rams), and Mike Ditka (Bears) all had significant special teams experience before becoming head coaches. Between them, they won 10 Super Bowls and lost 9 more.
Special teams coaches are often the only coaches on the team who are working across domains. Sure, they have the kicker, punter, and long snapper to themselves, but they’re also working with safeties, linebackers, running backs, and wide receivers as part of their coverage and return teams. On top of that, they’re likely often more familiar with the bottom of the roster (the guys who are playing in multiple roles) than they are with the upper echelon talent. The best are often charged with finding diamonds in the rough, guys like Tyreek Hill (a 5th round pick) or Steven Sims, an UDFA, to catalyze their squad.
In a solid piece on Chiefs’ special team coach Dave Toub, Bill Cowher offered the following:
”When you think about the special teams coach, outside of the head coach, you’re the only person on staff who is speaking to the whole team,” Cowher, an analyst on CBS’s The NFL Today, said. “A lot of what you’re doing is more about motivation than it is schematic. And as a head coach, that’s what you’re trying to do as well.”
”I think owners are looking for sexy (names),” Arians said.
[L]et’s take a look at the most talented coaches out there, and be sure to give guys like Dave Toub … a real shot to interview for the job.
While I’m relying on other people’s hard work, the information below about Dave Toub is from an article published by our sister SB Nation site, Stampede Blue:
Dave Toub is a problem solver. He doesn’t allow adversity and obstacles to keep him from finding success. From an early age, that kind of attitude defined him and has opened the door to the man he is today.
“I was into weight lifting big time,” Toub explained of his younger days. “We didn’t have a lot growing up, so I just made my own weight room. I made my own leg press, my own bench press, everything.
“I wanted to be the best I could be and I needed to get bigger and stronger. That’s how I had to do it.”
It was there, in 1987, that he met Andy Reid. It was a relationship that would have long-term ramifications on Toub’s career. Reid was coaching the offensive line, and Toub was doing what he enjoyed, coaching strength and conditioning.
In 1989, he made the move to the University of Missouri to follow Coach Bob Stull who had been offered the head coaching position there. Reid went as well, and both continued in their same roles with the new team. The position suited Toub well, as Kissel states:
Even though he was just 27 years old, Toub had already made a name for himself as a strength coach.
”He was phenomenal,” Reid explained. “You could put him as one of the top strength coaches in the nation at the collegiate level.” It was the right fit for Toub in Columbia.
“That was a great opportunity for me,” Toub explained. “I was really young and moving up, going to become the head strength coach at a Division I school at 27 years old.”
Toub was there as the head strength and conditioning coach until 1998. With the unexpected death of the team’s defensive line coach, an opportunity arose. Toub was asked to step into a role as the defensive line coach. He accepted it and said it changed the course of his career.
“Moe Ankney, the defensive coordinator, asked me if I would step in and take the D-line for a year.
“So that’s how I ended up moving over to coaching.”
It’s the move that officially brought Toub over from a strength coach to a football coach, and while it transpired from a terrible event, the path it laid out for Toub changed his life.
”That changed my whole career,” Toub explained. “I was getting out of the weight room and out to the football field.
“It changed everything for me.”
Toub had worked closely with both offensive and defensive coaches as an assistant but had not been responsible for a positional coaching role himself. He took the responsibility on with his usual approach, throwing himself into the job completely. After three years, however, he was met with disappointment. He, along with the rest of the coaching staff was let go after the end of the 2000 season.
Fortunately for Toub, his old friend Andy Reid had been given the head coaching position with the Eagles the year before. In 2001, Toub was brought in as the Special Teams/Quality Control coach. This quote from Reid describes what that meant exactly:
“He was the first quality control special teams coach in the National Football League,” Reid noted. “So he worked under (the special teams coach) John Harbaugh and (the defensive line coach) Tommy Brasher at the same time, which was awesome.
“At that time, you could just tell he was going to be a good special teams coach. He could teach the fundamentals of bases and balance. You’re not born in a three or four-point stance, and I think if you can coach the offensive line and defensive line, you can probably teach anything.”
Toub himself talked about how significant that time spent in Philadelphia was in his development as a coach.
”I just like the fact that you work with the offense, defense and the kicking game,” Toub explained. “You’re coaching blocking, tackling, everything about the game. Really and truly, it was a lot bigger than what I thought it was. The fact that I would talk to the whole team—that was big.
“You’re your own coordinator and you run your own show—that was huge for me.”
In 2004, Toub was offered the job as the special teams coordinator for the Chicago Bears. While there, he did some pretty amazing work. For example:
He helped develop Devin Hester into the NFL’s all-time leader in kick return touchdowns (17), while also compiling the fifth-best punt return average (12.1 avg.). Hester set an NFL single season record with 5 kick return touchdowns in his rookie campaign in 2006 and surpassed that mark one year later with 6.
Toub was named Special Teams Coach of the Year in 2006 as voted on by his NFL coaching peers. He guided five different Bears players to eight Pro Bowl berths, including Devin Hester’s three selections (2006-07 and 2010) Johnny Knox (2009), Brendon Ayanbadejo (2006-07), Robbie Gould (2006) and Corey Graham (2011).
Reid had nothing but good to say about the prospect of Toub becoming a head coach:
“He can do everything,” Reid said with a smile. “I mean, he’s a guy that builds his own homes. He built his house in Columbia from scratch, and it was a phenomenal house too. He’d be good at anything.
“If he was a head coach, he’d be good at that. That’s just how he’s built.”
What Toub has built is a successful career laid upon a foundation of hard work, dedication and a passion for what he’s doing.
It’s what separates the good coaches from the great coaches and Toub has it in spades.
Trying to quantify performance
One of the more interesting qualitative measures of performance is DVOA, a measure that was developed by and is used extensively by Football Outsiders.
Here is their “short” explanation of DVOA (for the longer explanation, click here).
DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: Five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative.
Based on DVOA, Football Outsiders has Dave Toub’s 2019 Kansas City special teams unit ranked 6th in the NFL at the time of writing.
Here is a more comprehensive list of rankings by Football Outsiders for Toub’s ST units in recent years:
- 2019 – 6th
- 2018 – 2nd
- 2017 – 4th
- 2016 – 1st
- 2015 – 9th
- 2014 – 3rd
- 2013 – 1st
Now, that’s what I call a record of success! In his 7 years in Kansas City, Toub’s ST group’s lowest finish is 9th overall, with two first-place seasons, a 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th, and a 6th.
That’s the kind of excellence that is usually borne of attention to detail, consistent messaging, and great teaching and motivation skills. These are the traits that I want in a head coach!
Also, as I mentioned in my profile on Eric BIeniemy, the opportunity to pick from the Andy Reid coaching tree has generally paid off for teams looking for head coaches in the NFL:
Reid’s former assistants have combined for a regular-season record winning percentage of .512, which is better than that of other 2018 coaches who have had at least four former assistants move on to become head coaches. That list includes Jon Gruden, Marvin Lewis, John Harbaugh and the man he’ll be standing across the field from on Sunday, Bill Belichick.
Of Belichick’s many disciples, only Bill O’Brien (Texans) and Matt Patricia (Lions) were NFL head coaches this season, and only O’Brien coached a team into the playoffs — though Nick Saban made yet another appearance in the college football national title game at Alabama.
Reid had seven former assistants working as head coaches this season: Nagy, Doug Pederson (Eagles), John Harbaugh (Ravens), Sean McDermott (Bills), Pat Shurmur (Giants), Ron Rivera (Panthers) and Todd Bowles (Jets). Harbaugh and Pederson have won Super Bowls as head coaches. Nagy, Pederson and Harbaugh coached playoff teams this season.
Toub and the Redskins
While Dave Toub is undoubtedly a very talented NFL coach, and one who has both benefited from Andy Reid’s mentorship and who enjoys Reid’s confidence as to his ability to run a team, there are at least two factors that may hurt him as a candidate.
Firstly is the fact that his background is special teams. While I personally feel that being a special teams coach is more advantageous than coming from either the offensive or defensive sides of the ball, NFL owners as a group — and this certainly applies to Dan Snyder — typically like to hire coaches with name value to excite the fan base. Despite Dave Toub having proven to be far more than simply competent, his name will not be well known among NFL fans, which may lead a number of franchise owners to pass on him.
The second factor is his age. At 57, Toub isn’t “old”, but he’s rapidly approaching the point where the window on his head coaching aspirations may slam shut — especially in the recent climate of Sean McVay, Matt LeFleur, Kliff Kingsbury hires that feature young, energetic offensive savants. With a bunch of kids under 40 years of age running teams, the thought of a 57-year-old first-time head coach, not so unusual just a few years ago, is now largely out of fashion, despite the best efforts of Bruce Arians to prove that 60 is still an appropriate age for first-time HCs, and Pete Carroll’s seeming agelessness. Once again, Toub may not seem ‘sexy’ or ‘trendy’ compared to younger candidates who may seem ‘fresher’ and more exciting to owners wanting to reignite the passion of a fan base grown used to losing.
While a Dave Toub hire might be out of character for Dan Snyder, his age and background could prove to be a great match for the Redskins, who might find themselves taking the scraps that are left after other more appealing jobs have been filled.
It could be that Dave Toub, the talented but unsexy candidate, and the Washington Redskins, the red-headed stepchild of the NFL, are meant for each other. Out of necessity, Washington could find itself with the most highly qualified and skilled candidate available in Dave Toub — an outstanding coach with a history of success and longevity in every NFL coaching job he’s ever had.