D-coordinators bring head coaching chops to NFL title games

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Buffalo Bills Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier walks the field before an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. All four defensive coordinators who will be trying to shut down high-powered offenses in the NFL playoffs this weekend have been head coaches before, providing valuable experience in the conference championships.(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

All four NFL teams playing in the conference championships have a defensive coordinator who flopped as a head coach but who has the chops as a lieutenant to help his team and his head coach get to the Super Bowl.

The NFC championship pits high-powered offenses led by Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, who is making his 14th title game appearance, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, who is starting in his fifth conference title game but first at Lambeau Field.

Which of the iconic quarterbacks makes it to Super Bowl 55 in Tampa next month might come down to the chess moves made by Mike Pettine of the Packers and Todd Bowles of the Buccaneers on Sunday.

In the third consecutive AFC championship contested at Arrowhead Stadium, it’s Steve Spagnuolo trying to outwit Bills breakout quarterback Josh Allen and Leslie Frazier tasked with prying the Lamar Hunt trophy from the grip of Chiefs young star QB Patrick Mahomes.

Together, the four defensive coordinators won just 33.6% of their games as head coaches in the NFL and made it to a single playoff game (Frazier's Vikings lost to Green Bay in a wild-card game in January 2013). But all are credited with providing a steady helping hand, a sturdy shoulder and a willing ear to their team’s current head coach.


Pettine went 10-22 (.313) as head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2014-15, before joining Matt LaFleur, who was named Packers head coach in 2018 after just two seasons as an offensive coordinator, a year each with the Rams and Titans.

Pettine, 54, has provided LaFleur, 41, not only advice on the bigger things but suggestions on the day-to-day routines, as well.