Robert Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich, New York Jets, Coach
Robert Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich, New York Jets, Getty Images

How to teach is so important in the NFL that the New York Jets have a coach to teach coaches how to do it

How relatable is the experience of having a teacher who “doesn’t explain a thing”?

(Yeah, I know, that was me not too long ago—on the teacher’s side of the desk.)

As bad as that teacher was, there was likely someone trying to do something about it. There is an attempted emphasis on the quality of teaching in schools.

The same cannot be said for NFL coaches, seemingly. A coach is rarely heralded for the way he’s able to teach concepts. Coaches are hired for their knowledge, leadership, and schemes, but not how they impart their ideas to their players.

Across the NFL, the recognition of that gap is starting to seep in. That’s why the New York Jets have a new hire for the 2023 season: John Vieira, instructional designer.

What is an instructional designer?

Per Rich Cimini of ESPN, Nathaniel Hackett said last year that the job of an instructional designer is to “teach teachers how to teach using cutting-edge technology.”

In leadership speak, that means teaching in a way that is digestible for players, making it easier for them to learn.

The same way that today’s teachers have had to adjust to shifting learning styles among students, coaches will need to change their ways of imparting information to their players. “Chalk and talk” doesn’t work in the classroom, and it doesn’t work so well in football meetings, either.

The gap between coach and players can become particularly problematic when the coach is an old-timer who does not want to adapt. (Think Bill Belichick.)

While the Jets’ head coach and coordinators are all in their 40s, there’s still a large generational gap between them and the majority of their players, many of whom are young Gen Zers.

Furthermore, even a younger coach may not fully understand how to design instruction for maximal retention and engagement.

When recalling one’s own experiences as a student, it’s easy to remember teachers who were engaging vs. ones who were not and what a difference that made in retention and commitment. The same applies to NFL players.

The job of an instructional designer is to teach coaches how to engage their players and make concepts stick.

Who is John Vieira?

Vieira held the instructional designer role in Denver and is now following Hackett to the Jets. Per Cimini, Hackett and Vieira have been friends since college at UC Davis. They majored in neurobiology there together.

Per Vieira’s LinkedIn profile, he was previously a biology teacher, educational technology coordinator, and video game design coordinator at Pacific Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California.

In 2020, Vieira shifted over to the NFL instructional design sector, working for the Packers. Last year, he followed Hackett to Denver with the title of “special assistant to the head coach.” His role was as an instructional designer with the Broncos. Now, he takes that official position with the Jets.

Whether this will help remains to be seen (and may never be detectable to fans). Conceptually, though, it makes sense for NFL teams to seek ways to gain an edge.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
2 months ago

Hackett has a rep as one of the best teachers in the league. If he likes this guy I’m excited to see what he can do.

2 months ago

Seriously? This hire seems like it’s one step better that when we hired clock manager Dick Curl to help Herm Edwards figure out how to use timeouts & the handle the game clock. LOL