On gameday, Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel gets a better look at things from the coaches' booth
Where do offensive coordinators work best? Les Steckel likes the view from above
(by Vic Carucci, NFL Insider for NFL.com)
Les Steckel steps off the elevator carrying a briefcase. It is another day at the office, although he is not headed for his usual digs at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training complex.
It is game day and Steckel, in his first season as the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator, enters one of two coaching booths on the stadium's press-box level. He takes his regular seat on the far left and unpacks his briefcase, laying out 10 charts (from which he will call Tampa Bay's offensive plays), a pencil, a highlighter, and a red pen.
A headset is Steckel's only link to those with whom he communicates below - head coach Tony Dungy, the rest of the team's offensive assistants (including one who relays the plays through the quarterback's helmet receiver), and, when necessary, the players.
Sherman Lewis walks onto the field, making his way to the sideline in front of the Minnesota Vikings' bench. It is another game day at the office for him, too. But Lewis, in his first season as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, doesn't carry a briefcase or any other accessory.
Whatever notes he makes will be mental. A headset connects him to the Vikings' other offensive coaches, including those who sit in a booth on the press-box level. He delivers the plays directly to the quarterback and his in-game conversations with players are face-to-facemask.
Two NFC Central coaches are performing the same job from different locations. So which is better, upstairs or downstairs?
The answer varies with different offensive coordinators (most defensive coordinators work from the field). But based on informal polling by NFL Insider, this doesn't seem like a matter of right or wrong. Mike Martz is on the sidelines this year as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, but as their offensive coordinator last season he sat upstairs as he orchestrated the third-highest scoring team in NFL history. Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore is on the field, from where he guided the AFC's top-scoring club in 1999.
"I think you can have success with both," Lewis says. "I don't think there's any one way to do it."
Lewis should know. Before this year, he spent eight seasons in the booth as the Packers' offensive coordinator. He moved to the Vikings' sidelines because head coach Dennis Green wanted him closer to first-year starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
For the most part, head coaches determine where offensive coordinators are stationed during games. But personal preference is a factor. Those who work upstairs on the press-box level say the biggest advantage is the view.
"You can see eleven people from above so much easier than from down below," Steckel says. "From field level, I just don't think you can see all of the substitutions or what people are in the huddles. From above, you know which linebackers are coming and the gaps they're hitting. You know how far off the corners are really playing or if they're flip-flopping. Sometimes you see the coverage so much easier than the quarterback does."
Another attraction to being upstairs is the calmer, less chaotic atmosphere than typically exists in front of the bench. Coaches find it easier to concentrate and make pressure-packed decisions when, as Steckel says, "the emotion of the game is removed."
But emotion is precisely what draws some coordinators to the field.
"Being downstairs, you get a better feel for what's going on," Lewis says. "You can look in the players' eyes and see who's got that look of confidence and who's got that look of maybe not being sure of themselves."
When Gary Kubiak became offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in 1995, he worked upstairs. But after two games, quarterback John Elway asked Kubiak to move downstairs where they could have more direct contact. Kubiak remained on the sideline for five seasons, helping the Broncos win two Super Bowls before Elway's retirement after the 1998 season.
Coach Mike Shanahan kept Kubiak on the field through quarterback Brian Griese's first season as a starter in 1999. But when Shanahan moved him upstairs this year, it was a welcome change. "Basically, it's like sitting at your desk," Kubiak says. "Up there, you see things much quicker and you react much faster."
Of course, any coordinator will tell you that game-day location matters far less than the work he does during the week.
"Most of your thoughts and most of your planning are done before you ever get to the game," Lewis says. "On Sunday, you just follow your preparation."