Football Defensive Coordinator

football defensive coordinator

What is a Defensive Coordinator?

The defensive coordinator in football is the coach in charge of the defensive unit. The responsibilities of defensive coordinators include leading the defense during practices, designing plays and strategy, and calling defensive plays during football games. Defensive coordinators report to the head coach.

Defensive Coordinator Roles and Responsibilities

Although the defensive coordinator reports to the head coach, they are basically the “head coach” of the defense. This means that the other defensive coaches are under the guidance of the defensive coordinator. The following coaches fall under this umbrella:

Play Calling

Throughout a given game week, the defensive coordinator will work with their defensive assistants to go over the game plan and to get ready for their opponent. The defensive coordinator will also call the defensive plays if the head coach does not do it. This means that they will set up the schemes that their team will run.

Defensive Schemes

Defensive schemes vary from team to team, with two standard formations that most teams run. The defensive coordinator will typically pick between running a 4-3 base defense or a 3-4 base defense. A 4-3 defense means there are four defensive linemen and three linebackers in the formation. On the other hand, a 3-4 defense means there are three defensive linemen and four linebackers used. The type of players that the coordinator likes to use depends on their preferred scheme. Defensive schemes can also involve man to man defense, zone coverage, or a hybrid of the two.

Roster Management

The defensive coordinator will also assist the head coach in setting the lineup for games. Since the defensive coordinator oversees the defense during practices, they are trusted by the head coach to provide input into which defensive players should be on the field each week.

Communicate with Other Coaches

During a game, defensive coordinators will communicate with the other coaches on the field, and with their players. To do so, they will use a variety of equipment, such as headsets, electronic tablets, playbooks, which assist them in calling plays, conferring with other coaches and the booth reviewers, and developing strategies.

Defensive Coordinator Salary

Due to being the deputy of the team, the salary of the defensive coordinator is often very similar to the offensive coordinator and is only below that of the head coach. The salary of a defensive coordinator in the NFL averages around $1 million per season. In comparison, the annual salary for a college football defensive coordinator depends on how big of a school the coach is at. Currently, the highest paid college defensive coordinator makes $2.5 million a season while some of the smaller Division I defensive coordinators make $75,000 a season.

Notable NFL Defensive Coordinators

  • Leslie Frazier
  • Dan Quinn
  • Dennis Allen
  • Rahim Morris
  • Josh Boyer
  • Joe Barry
  • Shane Bowen
  • DeMeco Ryans
  • Lou Anarumo
  • Steve Spagnuolo
  • Vance Joseph


What is a defensive coordinator in football?

A defensive coordinator is one of the three major leaders of a football team who operate beneath the head coach. Just as the offensive coordinator manages the team’s offensive player and plays, the defensive coordinator is tasked with supervising the defensive squad and their playbook. Defensive coordinators are vital elements of a football team, because the defense is crucial in preventing opponents from scoring points.  

What do defensive coordinators do in football?

Defensive coordinators command the defensive unit of a football team. Among their many roles are calling defensive plays, constructing and implementing defensive schemes, and managing the team’s roster of defensive players. Defensive coordinators will exercise these duties during games, but also during practices, and will report to the head coach on everything regarding the operations of the defense.

Who is the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL?

The highest paid defensive coordinator in NFL history is Todd Bowles, who made $3 million a year as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator. Bowles would later be given a new five-year contract by the Bucs to take over the role of head coach from Bruce Arians.