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NFL Head Coach Review

By Brian Beck, 6/28/2006

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The months after the Super Bowl are a horrible time for football fans. Months of no football are only broken up by the draft at the end of April. Outside of that, we just sit around and wait for any little tidbits of news about our favorite team. Arguments over what Free Agent will be a boon to our team or complaining about that new Quarterback are common on various team message boards.

Thankfully, pre-season football will start up again in August. Fans will be able to watch our favorite team play again and see that we were indeed right when we said that our new running back was a good pickup. Of course, there’ll be times when you and I sit there and yell at the coach for making such a horrible play call on Fourth-and-one – why didn’t he just kick the damn ball?

Well, for those like us, there is a new game out. NFL Head Coach puts you in the shoes of a, well, NFL Head Coach. You’re not going to be taking control of Steve Smith here and catching tons of touchdowns – you’ll be sitting on the sidelines instead and yelling at him for making the early cut on his route. You’ll also be making all of the decisions on who will throw that ball to him, be it Jake Delhomme or that hot new rookie you drafted back in April. However you look at it, NFL Head Coach is definitely a different type of game than what most Madden players are used to – and that’s a good thing.

I’m going to save some of you some time with this: this game is not for those who simply want a Madden-type game to play for a couple of months until Madden 07 comes out. NFL Head Coach is a straight-up simulation – a simulation with nice, shiny 3D graphics. If you find yourself spending most of your time in Franchise mode and simulate a lot of the games, though, read on.

NFL Head Coach starts off after the Steelers win the Super Bowl. You, the player, were a coordinator for the championship team and a few teams are looking for a new Head Coach. You’ll answer some questions that will help to determine your style of coaching – do you like to motivate your players by encouraging them or really riding them hard? Do you really like the West Coast Offense or would you rather focus on running the top defense in the NFL? All of these questions will dictate your coach’s stats for the game.

So, just what does a coach in the NFL do, anyways? If we take what the game portrays as gospel, you spend a ton of time in your office. Sure, you’ll meet with your coordinators and such a couple times over the week but, until practices start, you just sit around your office. Now, don’t get me wrong – I realize that coaches probably do spend a good bit of time in their offices – but, well, I’m sure they can actually work on things other than sitting on their butt.

See, your time is pretty rigorously scheduled – you have to take a good chunk of time to do something simple like change your clothes. Why can’t you just change things like that in your office? Instead of the turn system that the game uses, base things solely off time. The “30 minutes” that are scheduled for office hours and split into two turns could instead just be a 30-minute span of time. Granted, it would have to tick off faster, but it would make for a much more genuine experience – you wouldn’t be able to sit there and design plays all day and may even get interrupted while doing so. Really, I’d just like to see the experience be more interactive – let people call me randomly while the clock ticks and give me the chance to either ignore them or answer the phone. A more real-time feel would add a lot to the game. Being limited to two ‘actions’ feels artificial.

All of the game doesn’t come across as a strange turn-based simulation, though. One of the neater elements of the game is the draft. The presentation here is incredible – you actually see Mel Kiper introduce the draft and host it just like he would on the real draft day. There is a reduced amount of time between picks but you can use these minutes to look through scouting reports on the rookies to help make your pick easier. You can also try to pawn off players or a package of picks to move up in the draft. These elements serve to make the draft one of the more entertaining aspects of the game.

The actual scouting, though, could use some work. You’d think that, as a coach, you’d go personally check out some of the bigger prospects. No can do, though – only your scouting guy can check them out. I’d have loved to have some sort of minigame where I go to watch the Combine or some other way to scout out my potential rookie – give me in-game clips or something to give me an idea of how the rookie’ll perform along with the stats. It would be fun to be able to watch the prospect practice and use that information to decide if you want to make the gamble of blowing a first round pick on him.

After you have your team together, you’ll get a chance to practice. A lot. Then a bit more. And when you’re done with that, you’ll get a chance to practice. If you couldn’t tell, practice is a huge part of this game. In the Madden series, practice was just a chance for you to slightly improve your stats before the game and run through some plays to get ready for the next game. In Head Coach, you’ll need to practice a lot to help your players unlock their potential. You can motivate them during practice or discuss strategies for certain plays with them. Want Jake Delhomme to scramble when he can’t hit Steve Smith on a quick pass? Tell him to do that every time you run the play. You’re the coach here – you don’t have direct control over your players or anything but can encourage them and tell them how they should run things. EA didn’t cheapen the experience by letting you control the players or anything – you literally control the coach.

Gameday, though, is where this game really shines. Once the game starts, you’ll tell your team captain if you want the ball early and when you want the wind to be in your favor (depending on if you win or lose the coin toss). You’ll then call each and every play for your team. You have a ton of ways to modify the play – line shifts, formation shifts and audibles are all options. Also, after you’ve called a play, you can turn around to either yell at their players or compliment them on their performance so far. You can also tell them to change up their strategy here – you might want to tell your defensive backs to hang back a bit so they don’t get burned by deep passes as much.

Online play, though, is somewhat limited. While you do get to play the actual game, that’s all you really can do. While the whole Gameday stuff is fun, part of what makes it fun is seeing those players you’ve coached get out there and nail the quarterback with a bone-jarring hit. It does run well, though.

Another small touch: no EA Trax! While the music can sometimes be good, there is often too much rap that doesn’t feel like it fits with the Madden series. The music used will be familiar to most football fans.

The sound and everything else contributes to giving this game the feel that it needs – that of making you think you’re actually the coach of an NFL franchise. You’ll mess with lineups, help train players, draft new team members, design new plays, and trade off problem players all to be ready for the 16-game season (with hopes of making it to and winning the Super Bowl).

Like I said at the beginning of the review – this game isn’t Madden. If that’s what you are looking for, look at NCAA Football 2007 when it comes out to keep you held over until early August. However, if you enjoy building your team more in Franchise mode than you do actually playing the games, give NFL Head Coach a shot – the game definitely has a lot to offer despite some shortcomings.

Overall: 80%



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