All of the NFL’s vacancy signs now have a glowing no next to them. Tennessee wrapped up the NFL coaching carousel by retaining Mike Mularkey and removing his interim tag. Now that all of the dust has settled, it is time to rank each of these new coaching hires. I am evaluating the hires based on situation, personnel fit and long-term projection.
Hue Jackson (Previously OC for Cincinnati)
Cleveland is no stranger to coaching changes, as they make their fifth coaching change since 2010. Hue Jackson arrives from Cincinnati, having helped build one of the best offenses in the NFL. Jackson found a system that worked well for Andy Dalton and made him look like a Pro Bowler before his late-season injury. Even without Dalton, Jackson proved that he could be a creative play caller, making things easy on inexperienced A.J. McCarron.
Some other key points that make Jackson such a high ranking hire is that he leaves a division rival and that he has previous coaching experience. It might only be one year, but Jackson was at the helm during the most successful season the Oakland Raiders put together since 2002. Give Jackson a little bit of time and I am sure that he will at least have the Browns heading in the right direction.
Adam Gase (Previously OC for Chicago)
This was the best coaching hire in paper by any team this season. Going into the coaching search process, I believed that Adam Gase was the best coaching candidate available. He is young at only 37 years old and worked with a great quarterback (Peyton Manning) and a great mentor (John Fox) before he arrived. Many in the media doubt whether Gase has what it takes and seem to discount the progress he made with the Chicago offense this season. Sure, the Bears still were not good and their rankings were fairly similar, but it was only one year that Gase had his system in place and he made the most of it. Getting Jay Cutler to cut down on his turnovers was huge and managing to keep this team afloat when many weeks they had a rookie running back and Eddie Royal as their primary target shows that Gase can make things work when he has limited options.
He enters the Miami picture with a quarterback in need of some rejuvenation and some other interesting pieces on offense. Ryan Tannehill can be productive enough and I believe Gase will get more out of him. I also think he will continue to find unique ways to utilize playmaker Jarvis Landry. If Lamar Miller returns to South Beach, I think Gase will make him a useful piece of the offense, rather than a sidenote as Joe Philbin did. The Dolphins made the right decision here.
New York Giants:
Ben McAdoo (Previous OC for Giants)
The Giants decided it was time to move on from Tom Coughlin and stayed in house while finding his replacement. Ben McAdoo spent the last two seasons as the Giants’ offensive coordinator and helped Eli Manning produce two of the best seasons of his career. That was helped some by the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., but that should not discount the immense progress we have seen this New York offense make over the last two seasons.
This grades out as a B because it keeps the same system in place and sometimes continuity can be a very good thing for a football team. McAdoo also has plenty of potential to turn the Giants into an annual playoff contender, having learned from Mike McCarthy before he arrived in New York. The reason why McAdoo does not rank higher is because of his lack of experience and his offensive background. The Giants need help on defense in the worst way. McAdoo will not bring that. I think it has to do a lot with the lack of talent on the defense, but the coaching plays a part too. It will also be interesting to see how McAdoo plans to revive the Giants’ ground game. Using four running backs this past season clearly did not work as New York finished 18th in rushing as a team, with only five ground scores.
Doug Pederson (Previously OC for Kansas City)
Philly needed a change after Chip Kelly and they went in a very different direction. Doug Pederson contrasts will Kelly greatly from a system standpoint. Pederson like to control the clock and ran something of a heavy running west coast system in Kansas City. This seems to be a good fit because of the depth and talent the Eagles have at running back, with DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Pederson will find a way to get the ball in each of these players’ hands several times a game.
There are some drawbacks to this hire. Pederson has zero previous head coaching experience. The other major thing that holds this hire back from being a slam dunk is where Pederson comes from. Current Kansas City head coach Andy Ried lead the Eagles for more than a dozen years before the Philly brass ran him out of town. Now they return to the Ried coaching tree to fix the fallout from firing Ried in the first place. Pederson is a great hire, but the circumstances surrounding his arrival hurts Philly’s grade.
San Francisco 49ers:
Chip Kelly (Previously HC for Philadelphia)
The San Francisco 49ers desperately crave stability, similar to what they had in the early years under Jim Harbaugh. Hiring Chip Kelly does not bring that. The 49ers have had an exodus of talent over the past few years as a result of the franchise not doing well at keeping players happy. Kelly had the same issues in Philly. That does not sound like a winning formula. Kelly also has not shown any ability to build a team. In fact, indications point to the exact opposite, as the Eagles went from a playoff team in Kelly’s first year to a joke this past season.
However, there might be a system fit here with Kelly and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick fits the prototypical role of a strong-armed mobile quarterback, who can run the read option and use his athleticism to create matchup problems. Kelly will need to fill some holes along the rest of the offense, but the quarterback is a huge piece of it. There are some concerns on defense, but whoever comes in as the defensive coordinator will be left to solve that problem.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Dirk Koetter (Previously OC for Tampa Bay)
I have talked about the Buccaneers at great length when it comes to their decision making. I still do not fully understand the firing of Lovie Smith. The team seemed to be heading in the right direction and Koetter was already part of the equation. It did not seem like Koetter was going to leave for elsewhere, but maybe the Bucs just wanted to be sure they did not lose their man.
There are a lot of benefits to hiring Koetter though, most notably being the consistency for franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. These first few years can break a young quarterback’s career. Keeping the same system will go a long way to ensuring that Winston improves on his rookie success. In the next few years, Koetter will have to take this team to the playoffs with consistency. I think he will be up to the task, but if he does not, then this is a huge flop and everyone will wonder what if Lovie had stayed.
Mike Mularkey (Previously TE coach for Tennessee)
Finally, someone is giving Mike Mularkey a real chance. He showed signs of promise in Buffalo ten years ago before resigning. He also had one year in Jacksonville before they showed him the door. Now Mularkey takes over in Tennessee after half a season with the interim tag with a shot at building this team. No one should be expecting the Titans to compete right away, as they finished with an abysmal 3-13 record in 2015. This team is in serious rebuild mode, which might make you think that starting fresh would be the right idea.
However, this is a similar situation to Tampa Bay in keeping consistency for a young quarterback. Marcus Mariota showed flashed of being special this season. Making him start over could stunt his growth. By keeping a familiar face in charge Mariota should have every opportunity. Mularkey is not going to have too long before the has to show some signs of progress in Tennessee, but with a completely blank slate (except for quarterback) he will have every opportunity to mold this team.