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A look at the largest (and smallest) coaching staffs in the NFL

While the college football world is trapped inside a debate with the fury of a thousand suns about just how large a personnel staff can or should be, the NFL operates without such restrictions.

Coaching staffs in the 32-team league can vary by up to 60 percent; the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks lead the league with 24 coaches apiece, while the Pittsburgh Steelers have the league's smallest staff with 15 coaches. (Does anyone find it interesting that the Eagles, Seahawks and third-place Buccaneers, all with head coaches who came directly from the college ranks, have the NFL's largest coaching staffs?)

In addition to the standard positions (offensive coordinator, defensive line coach, strength and conditioning coach), the Eagles feature an assistant offensive line coach, an assistant defensive line coach, an assistant tight ends coach, an assistant defensive backs coach, two assistant special teams coaches and a well-publicized sport science coordinator. Of course, it's too early to tell whether bigger will be better for Kelly; judging from his track record, we have no reason to think otherwise. But what about everybody else? Does employing more coaches really help? What about employing less coaches?

Research from Field Yates of says that 17 of the NFL's 32 teams employ either 20- or 21-member coaching staffs. With those numbers set as the median, we'll take a look at each end of the spectrum to see if any hard conclusions can be drawn.

NFL's Largest Staffs
1. Philadelphia Eagles - 24
Seattle Seahawks - 24
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 23
4. Arizona Cardinals - 22
Kansas City Chiefs - 22
Jacksonville Jaguars - 22
St. Louis Rams - 22
Minnesota Vikings - 22

NFL's Smallest Staffs
1. Pittsburgh Steelers - 15
2. Carolina Panthers - 17
New England Patriots - 17
Atlanta Falcons - 17
5. Washington Redskins - 18
Cincinnati Bengals - 18
7. Detroit Lions - 19

Four of the eight largest staffs are brand new, so it's far too early to draw sweeping conclusions about them. The other four - Seattle, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and St. Louis - were a who's who of the NFL's most improved teams from 2011 to 2012. The four jumped by a total of 19 wins from year to year, and each club improved by at least three wins. Seattle improved from 7-9 to 11-5 and came within a whisker of playing for the NFC championship, while Minnesota leaped from a 3-13 mark to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. Of course, there are many more factors contributing to those improvements than just a large coaching staff. We're just trying to establish there isn't a "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario going on here. 

On the other side of the coin reside three of the NFL's most consistent winners of the decade. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs for the first time in what feels like a millennium last fall, while both New England and Atlanta reached their respective conference title games. Washington made its first playoff appearance in half a decade, and Cincinnati completed a run of back-to-back playoff trips since 1981-82. Of course, there are many more factors contributing to those teams' success than their smaller coaching staffs. We're just trying to establish they're not battling a competitive disadvantage by having fewer chairs in the meeting room. 

In all, half of the NFL's 2012 playoff teams came from the largest and smallest coaching staffs, while the other half resided firmly in the 20-21 coaches median. If anything, we've established that winning football depends more not on the five extra coaches your team does or does not utilize, but getting the most out of the 15 essential staff members that every team employs. Having better players than the other guy never hurts, either.