As we go into the 2014 NFL Conference Championships, there is one commonality between the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers: the head coach and the quarterback are the face of their team, franchise, and ultimately, the fan experience.
The NFL is known as a quarterback’s league, but I’d take it a step further. The NFL is a quarterback AND head coach’s league. The quarterback was embody the leadership, personality, and playing approach of his head coach. And to take that one step further, the brand of an NFL team, its identity, relies on the same two components.
The Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, and 49ers all run different styles of offense. Their defenses are dominant to varying degrees. But the faces of the franchise are still the quarterback and the head coach.
Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning’s journey to the Denver Broncos is well known. Cut by the Indianapolis Colts in 2011, there was serious concern whether Manning would ever play another down in the NFL again. And on top of that, there was concern about how much he still had left in the tank. Lead by Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, the Broncos made a push to sign Manning that offseason, question marks included. 2012 was his comeback season. 2013 was a revelation, and arguably Manning’s greatest season. Head coach John Fox has had a quieter, more stable presence behind the scenes, letting Manning flourish. The duo are two veterans with an understanding.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are already synonymous with one of the greatest eras the NFL has known. The duo, together for their 14th year, have won three Super Bowls together. Whereas Manning is the gunslinger, Brady is more controller of the offense, especially in their recent power running resurgence in the playoffs. And Belichick is Belichick – always adjusting, always probing, and always finding ways to win.
Seattle Seahawks: Whereas the quarterback/head coach duos of the AFC are old schools, their counterpart duos of the NFC are decidedly new age (or in the case of the 49ers, just newer). Pete Carroll’s new age practice techniques has gotten its fair share of media attention, but it only works if the quarterback buys in too. Throw in the unflappable leadership of Russell Wilson and it is perhaps the second best fitting combination in the league behind Belichick and Brady.
San Francisco 49ers: In contrast to the laid back cool of Carroll and locked in Wilson, the combination of Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick are polar opposites. The difference between Harbaugh and Carroll’s approach are well documented – this is a real rivalry featuring two different ideas of how to run a football team. While Kaepernick doesn’t have the calm of Wilson, he does have another gear of playmaking that Wilson can’t reach.
The four teams left in the playoffs are the best teams in the NFL. While the Broncos have dominated on offense, the Seahawks did the same defensively. But the pieces at QB and head coach fit the best out of all the other teams in the league. For owners trying to build a team identities, and make it deep into the playoff run, the relationship between the two is the foundation of success.