While watching Ted Lasso with my wife, the idea of coaching archetypes popped into my head, and trying to figure out where Arthur Smith fit in was part of that thought process. Ted Lasso is a fantastic show about the ultimate player's coach who builds one of the better rosters, but he had help along the way from other coaches who fit the same kind of archetypes listed in this article.
He had to build a crew of coaches around him to really build the most competent team he could. Atlanta is hoping for Arthur Smith to try and do something similar in Atlanta. However, he's a very different coach than Ted Lasso. Trying to slot Arthur Smith into an archetype involves figuring out what the archetypes even are. So let's run through those and figure this one out together.
The Players Coach
Examples: Ted Lasso, Dan Quinn, Todd Bowles, Raheem Morris, Mike Tomlin
Ted Lasso is the ultimate player's coach. He relates to his players and tries to get the most out of all of them. He's someone who connects in every aspect of life, not just on the field. His greatest strength is in his positivity and how he is able to build a locker room culture early in his tenure. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the same kind of guy that Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris are. It's also very similar to what Jim Mora was in Atlanta as well.
However, Mike Tomlin and Todd Bowles are also players coaches but in a different way. They back their players, but they have more accountability to them than any of the Atlanta guys. The drawback on a player's coach is that they sometimes forget that they have to be the C.E.O. of the team and lack in the ways they can draw up schemes. Quinn was a great motivator, but his biggest drawback was the true simplicity of his scheme and how easy it was for teams to attack.
This is why the Falcons decided to move on from him during the 2020 season despite leading the team to a Super Bowl in his second year. It's a big reason why Jim Mora was let go after the 2006 season as well. Ted Lasso-type player coaches are great in theory, but in practice, very few are successful. And those that tend to hold more accountability over their players than Lasso and Quinn were able to. Quinn and Lasso were most successful by having counterparts who helped mask their weaknesses and accentuated their coaching strengths.
The Eccentric Schemer
Examples: Coach Beard, Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels, Dennis Allen, Sean Payton
Coach Beard is definitely the eccentric part of this one. But he's also a bit of a schemer as well. He has trouble connecting with other people and is almost the polar opposite to Ted Lasso as a coach. And that's part of what makes him work. While there's not much of his strategy shown on the screen, he's got a great understanding of what works and what doesn't. He makes calls that might seem off at first, but eventually end up working in the end.
Kyle Shanahan is a perfect example of this kind of coach working out for the positive. He's known for being tougher to work with, but at the same time, is a true genius. Listening to The Playcallers podcast that The Athletic's Jourdan Rodrigue put out and he was by far the most eccentric of the coaches profiled. By having such a genius mind, he sees the game in a different way and allows his team to be put in some amazing positions.
However, when it's as tough as it is for him to connect with his players, he needs someone to be a buffer. When Shanahan was in Atlanta, he needed Raheem Morris to be that guy for him. Josh McDaniels, Dennis Allen and Sean Payton have also had similar issues in the past with McDaniels and Allen missing buffers leading to their eventual demises. Payton had the benefit of Drew Brees as his buffer to really help him run the team. The real question is who the buffers for those three will be in their current locations. Without those guys, a schemer's genius won't be able to permeate through.
The Former Team Leader
Examples: Roy Kent, DeMeco Ryans, Mike Vrabel, Doug Pedersen, Ron Rivera, Dan Campbell
"He's here! He's there! He's every-bloody-where!" Roy Kent shows exactly why having a player move into the coaching role just makes sense for everyone involved. He has the respect of his fellow players as a former captain of his team. He leads them with blunt and brutal honesty that only a former player can give his old teammates or even other players in the league that didn't play with him. On top of that, when the player has done it, it's easier for them to coach players the way they wanted to be coached.
Former coaches tend to have positive results for the most part. And a big reason for that is the empathy they have for their players having actually been in their shoes at the highest level. Other great examples of this include Doug Pedersen who won a Super Bowl with the Eagles. It also includes talented coaches who have led playoff caliber teams in Ron Rivera and Mike Vrabel. Dan Campbell and DeMeco Ryans still have to prove themselves, but the track record for former players who worked their way into becoming head coaches is definitely worth monitoring.
To compound on this, the negatives of a former player come more from the fact that they may not know the schemes in and out unless they were a quarterback or middle linebacker. They may not know how to run a practice until they get some experience actually coaching. But bringing a player up through the ranks is never a bad idea and it never hurts to have someone like this on a coaching staff. This doesn't really apply as much in Atlanta for the head coach, but T.J. Yates, Michael Pitre, Justin Peelle and Matt Schaub are all on the offensive staff this year to give this kind of input.
Examples: Nathan Shelley, Sean McVay, Nick Sirianni, Zac Taylor, Mike McDaniel, Brian Daboll
Nathan Shelley was the young guru type of coach for Richmond FC in Ted Lasso, but he was more than that. He was an extreme example of what this type of coach looks like. Normally, this coach is someone who has a brilliant mind and understands how to scheme guys into the right spot at the right times to make the big plays. He sees the game in a different way and while he may have the ability to relate with his players well, sometimes, he can be too harsh with them.
(Spoiler alert if you haven't seen season three of Ted Lasso. Scroll past this next paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled here.)
When Nate finally got his own team, he was too militaristic. He wasn't able to adapt and had trouble handling the politics of being a head coach. With gurus, it's all about the game and how they can create the most interesting, entertaining ways to attack the opponents. It's all about creating the mismatches that need to be made. But the downfall of these guys will always come down to a lack of confidence in their abilities or being too harsh of a person to the people around them.
Sean McVay, Nick Sirianni, Zac Taylor and Mike McDaniel all fit this kind of coach. However, with varying types of results and locker rooms. The good coaches like this tend to be ones that have a softer personality and will gladly get along with their players. The bad ones in this type end up being overly accountable and unforgiving towards their players benching good ones for any sort of small mistakes. That kills their locker rooms and ends up with the teams falling apart.
Examples: Pep Guardiola, Bill Belichick, Phil Jackson, Andy Reid, Bill Walsh
In Ted Lasso, there's another coaching type that's not related to any of the coaches on Richmond FC. And that's Pep Guardiola. While he would typically be called a player's coach like a Ted Lasso, he also understood and ran the scheme known as total football like a schemer would have. He was also a former player like Roy Kent was. He is a guru like Nate. He is a mix of them all. And that's what has led him to winning five of the last six Premier League titles with Manchester City as well as many other honors like the UEFA Super Cup in 2023.
Guardiola's resume reads like a Bill Belichick or Phil Jackson of the soccer world. And his career as a coach isn't even close to ending since he's only 52 years old. This kind of coach understands when to be tough on his players and when to be understanding. Jackson was the "Zen Master" for the Bulls and Lakers and won 11 NBA titles. Belichick is a bit more militaristic than the other legends on here, but he's won seven Super Bowls.
Andy Reid may only have won two Super Bowls, but he looks like he's on track to win at least another one or two before he leaves the game. Bill Walsh won three Super Bowls but completely changed NFL offenses for decades. These guys have always been able to blend a mix of the prior four trees of skills into one complete package that allows them to really build a team, scheme guys into the right positions and totally build a culture that turns a losing team into a team that regularly fights for and wins championships.
How Arthur Smith Fits the Different Coaching Archetypes
As we know, Dan Quinn was a players coach. Mike Smith before him was also a player's coach. Both of them had downfalls due to the schemes around them being lackluster and losing their locker rooms. However, Arthur Blank went a very different way with Arthur Smith. Smith definitely profiles more as a guru with his extremely unique schemes and his concept of positionless football. He's trying to not just outthink or outsmart opponents, but he also is building around the players he has in every way.
Smith is unique in that he might come off as an abrasive guy to media, but his players all seem to love him and want to go to war for him. But at the same point, he has had players want to leave his coaching style, which will happen when coaches start holding people accountable in a way they hadn't before with guys like Quinn coaching them. The Falcons current head coach lost Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley during the time with the team as notable losses.
However, with Terry Fontenot being his partner in team building and getting the right kind of guys for him, that should be helpful as well. Great NFL coaches can build staffs with multiple of each archetype of coach as assistants down the line. Smith has been doing that as well. He could eventually become a legend if everything he's trying to build in Atlanta comes to fruition. The Falcons could end up being a multi-time Super Bowl winner with Smith as their coach. He's the right guy for the team because he's the correct archetype of a coach that they need at this time.
After years of players coaches, the Falcons have a guru to help change what they were building into something new and different. The most common archetype to transcend to legend status is the guru, and Smith really shows potential there. He just needs his schemes to hit.
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.