NFL Head Coach Preview

On Wednesday, March 29th, I visited the EA Tiburon studios in central Florida to get a sneak-peek and some hands-on time with NFL Head Coach, a new football title that EA Sports calls "the first-ever 3D sports strategy game".

Hosted by some of EA Sports' top football personnel (Jeremy Strauser, Wendy Spander, Jerrold Smith and Twe Hopkins, among others), it was obvious from the get-go that Electronic Arts is dead serious about creating a new product line to appeal to a different audience than Madden NFL in many respects.

Using a slightly-tweaked Madden engine for the on-field action, NFL Head Coach players will control the action solely from the sidelines. Think it's frustrating missing a last-second field goal in Madden? Try it when you've called the right plays to get you in position to win and Mike Vanderjagt shanks another one without your help on the gamepad...

Basically, NFL Head Coach is a souped-up and tricked-out version of Madden's Franchise mode with all the trimmings.

Most every detail you can imagine has been included. Create entire playbooks from scratch, massage the salary cap, manage your staff of scouts and coordinators, and even set the practice schedule. Want an offensive squad practice with no pads? Or do you want the third-teamers to line it up against the first-team defense in full gear and toughen them up? It's up to you, and there's a risk-reward factor involved in each decision. Practices will play out in front of you - you'll call the plays - it's not simulated.

When it comes to the NFL Draft, Mel Kiper, Jr. will be on-hand with detailed analyses of decades of pre-designed draft classes - and yes, the real 2006 class will be the first.

On game day, you can use your headset to call the plays by voice. It's simple and effective, and you'll hear your coordinators' advice through the headset as well. Adjust plays at the line of scrimmage before the snap to micro-manage the action on the field, or take some time away from the play to talk strategy or motivate the different units on your team. It'll be important to do both, because each player's attributes can vary wildly: on one day, the player can be rated a 90 and can do no wrong, but on a different day, he could be rated a 65 depending on how he's practiced, how he's played, and his relationship with you, the coach - and now he's throwing to the wrong team like he forgot what color uniform he's wearing.
Basically, it can be like coaching 53 Jake Plummers... and that's a challenge.

There's a real fluidity to each game, and after playing it for a while, it's something you sort of nestle comfortably into. The game moves in real-time, so if you're talking to your matador DBs, the offense will be running plays in the meanwhile. Of course, you'll also have to wait until those DBs come off the field to talk to them in the first place...

EA Sports is making what I believe to be a bold move - taking direct on-field control out of the gamers' hands, and instead giving them full control to direct the action itself. It's a much, much more cerebral game then Madden, and I can only imagine the frustration it will cause the gamer who relies on reflexes rather than knowledge and guile to win.

Of course, maybe that's why I'm so intrigued by it in the first place... NFL Head Coach is a game for the mind, not the fingers. And ask Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren or Andy Reid - you don't need to be an athlete to be a winner - smarts work just fine, thank you.

So you think you know football? In June, you'll get to see just how smart you really are...


Interested in more about NFL Head Coach? Then stop by our Forums and join in on my Q&A thread about the game!