Grading each NFL coaching hire

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
Cleveland is the third AFC North that Jackson has coached for.

Cleveland Browns:
Hue Jackson (Previously OC for Cincinnati)
Grade: A-

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
Gase coached Manning during his record breaking 2013 season.

Miami Dolphins:
Adam Gase (Previously OC for Chicago)
Grade: A

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.

 

Ben McAdoo
McAdoo was Aaron Rodgers’ quarterbacks coach in Green Bay before heading to New York.

New York Giants:
Ben McAdoo (Previous OC for Giants)
Grade: B

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
Pederson is a former NFL quarterback who played in Philadelphia just before Donovan McNabb took over.

Philadelphia Eagles:
Doug Pederson (Previously OC for Kansas City)
Grade: B

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.

 

Chip_Kelly
Kelly went 10-6 in his first two seasons with the Eagles before starting 6-9 this year.

San Francisco 49ers:
Chip Kelly (Previously HC for Philadelphia)
Grade: C-

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.

 

Dirk Koetter
Koetter arrived in Tampa Bay in 2015 from Atlanta to take over as offensive coordinator.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Dirk Koetter (Previously OC for Tampa Bay)
Grade: B

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
Mularkey has an 18-39 record as a head coach in the NFL.

Tennessee Titans:
Mike Mularkey (Previously TE coach for Tennessee)
Grade: B+

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.

Black Monday Preview

Next Monday is the latest edition of the NFL’s Black Monday. The NFL season is not officially over and this last week of the year could be the make or break position for some teams. Let’s take a look around the NFL at some of the coaches around the NFL who are on the hot seat.

 

Sean_Payton

Payton won a Super Bowl in 2009, but has only won two playoff games in the six years years since.

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Status: Safe
In all likelihood, Payton will still have his job at the end of this season. It has been a tumultuous for the Saints but this was deemed to be a retooling year. New Orleans shipped off their biggest offensive weapon and added a lot of new faces on defense. The team already made one coaching switch with the firing of Rob Ryan earlier this year. With Drew Brees still under contract, I don’t see the Saints looking to make a coaching switch. However, if next year looks the same as 2015 did for New Orleans, then no one in the Bayou is safe, and that includes Brees.

 

Tom Coughlin
In years where Coughlin hasn’t won the Super Bowl, the Giants have not won a playoff game.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Status: Undetermined
The Giants have had a very up and down season. They started very poorly and had some bright spots but altogether this season has been a disappointing one for Big Blue. Every week it seems like the Giants face the same problems of blowing games late and mismanaging the clock. Coughlin’s play calling and decision making has directly cost the Giants at least two games this season (against the Jets and Cowboys). If New York has another late-game meltdown or suffers a blowout against the rival Eagles, I think it might be the end of line for the veteran coach.

 

Dan Campbell
Campbell won a Super Bowl as a player on the Saints in 2009.

Dan Campbell, Miami Dolphins
Status: Will be fired
This week’s game against New England could be a huge resume builder for Miami if Campbell can somehow motivate his squad to a victory. However, it will most likely be too little, too late. Joe Philbin lead to the Dolphins to an abysmal start and lost his job after four weeks. Campbell came in and the Fins played inspired for two weeks, winning both games handily. Since then, Miami has only pulled off ugly wins against Philadelphia and Baltimore. Getting to six wins on the season won’t change anything for Miami’s assessment of the season and it will not save Campbell’s job.

 

 

Chip_Kelly
Kelly jettisoned notable players over his tenure in Philadelphia leading to very mixed results.

Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Status: Will be fired
When you take a team that won ten games and narrowly missed the playoffs in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions a season ago and turn it into a team that cannot surpass the .500 in the league’s second weakest division, you deserve to be fired. Kelly completely sunk the Eagles and his offseason moves have backfired. DeMarco Murray isn’t worth half of what the Eagles signed him to. Sam Bradford has been the model of inconsistency, Kiko Alonso looks underwhelming and it is clear that the team misses players like Evan Mathis, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin. I will be shocked if Kelly is not fired and I personally think that Philly already should have let him go. [Update: The Eagles have fired Kelly. Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur will be the interim head coach.]

 

 

Mike Mularkey.jpg
This is Mularkey’s third time being an interim head coach.

Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans
Status: Undetermined
This year was obviously one where the expectations for the Titans were low. That didn’t stop the Tennessee brass from firing Ken Wisenhunt. Wisenhunt’s 3-20 start with the team in the two years and change he was in charge. Mularkey hasn’t had much better success, only winning two of the seven games he has been the head coach. However, with Marcus Mariota having just completed his rookie season, the team might be wary about completely starting over and forcing him to learn a new system. This decision is still very unclear.

 

38th CAB Flag Presentation to Colts
Caldwell led the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009, but fell to Payton’s Saints.

Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
Status: Safe
Detroit pulled off the interesting midseason move in which it fired its president and general manager, but kept its head coach. If that isn’t head scratching, then I don’t know what is. The move seems to have worked though. Since their bye, Detroit is 5-2 with one of those loses coming on a hail mary against the Packers on the last play. The switch at offensive coordinator also helped the Lions turn their season around. For a team that to the playoffs last year, this was still a disappointing season, but the Lions are trending upwards for 2016.

 

Mike McCoy
McCoy has yet to lead San Diego to the postseason.

Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Status: Safe
The Chargers entered 2015 with playoff aspirations. They will likely finish with a top five draft pick. It has not been a pretty season out in sunny California and the team is rumored to be moving to Los Angeles but that should not effect Mike McCoy. This was the first real sign of struggles for a Chargers team that has always been in the mix for the playoffs under McCoy. San Diego had a lot of new faces at key positions and some major injuries bogged this team down. San Diego has also been close in just about every contest. Eight of their eleven losses have been by only one possession. McCoy will get one more chance to get the Bolts into the postseason. If he fails next year, then he will be packing his bags.

 

 

Jason Garrett
Garrett only has one playoff appearance in his five years of being the Cowboys coach.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Status: Safe
Jason Garrett found out the hard way this year that it is really hard to win games without your best offensive players. With Dez Bryant and Tony Romo hampered by injuries for most of the season, Dallas struggled mightily. It affect the Cowboys on all side of the ball. Way too frequently, the offense’s inability to move the ball with Matt Cassell/Brandon Weeden/Kellen Moore at quarterback put the defense in a tough position and eventually, the defense started to crack. There have been some rumors flying around regarding Garrett’s status considering how poorly the Cowboys played this season, but given the circumstances, I think Garrett will be sticking around for 2016.

 

What if Chip had stayed at Oregon?

The Eagles have been the most scrutinized team in the NFL since Chip Kelly arrived in Philly from the Pacific Northwest. He brought with him a college style of coaching and a new offense that many assumed could not work at the professional level. He has burned more than his fair share of bridges as well with many of his now former players.

Chip_Kelly
Kelly had a 46-7 record in his five years at Oregon before leaving for Philly.

For better or worse, Chip has completely changed the landscape of the NFL in his three years as head coach. But what if he had never left? What if Kelly had decided to stay out at Oregon and run his fast-paced offense? That is exactly what we are going to talk about right now.

Well first thing is first, the Eagles need a new coach when Andy Reid is fired following the 2012 season. So Philly brings in current Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer. Zimmer was tabbed by Minnesota in 2014 but because he is still a coordinator in Cincy in 2013, the Eagles snap him up instead.

The team approach for Philly completely changes. Zimmer brings in a defensive presence to an Eagles team that desperately needed it. Philadelphia had ranked tied for 29th in the league in 2012 for scoring defense. Needless to say, Zimmer would look to bring in some fresh faces. Needing a solid defensive end, Philly targets Michael Bennett from the Bengals in offseason and avoids letting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walk away.

Michael_Bennett
Bennett won a ring in 2013 with the Seattle Seahawks.

Already the defense looks better and some very important things happen for the Eagles offense. Zimmer never isolates DeSean Jackson so he stays and there is no push a year later for Jeremy Maclin or LeSean McCoy to leave. Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis never feel unwelcome either. Philly keeps together their core together instead.

2013 proves to be an excellent year for Philly as they once again capture the NFC East crown, but this time, Zimmer gets a playoff win against New Orleans, as his defense finds a way to limit Drew Brees on the road. The Eagles travel to Carolina the following week and pick up a big victory against the favored Panthers. Philly runs into a buzz saw in the form of Seattle in the NFC Championship game though and sit at home as the Seahawks blow out the Broncos. Overall though, it is a very positive start to the Zimmer era in Philly.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, the Ducks enter the season as a team with major National Title aspirations again but have a legitimate chance of getting the job done with Kelly at the helm. He and sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota manage to go the whole season with just one loss, a blowout defeat against Arizona. Kelly calling the shots proves to be enough for Oregon to beat Stanford and hold onto their title aspirations much longer. Instead of finishing 10th in the standings, the Ducks finish fifth and earn a spot in the 2014 Rose Bowl in place of Stanford.

Zimmer continue to prepare his team for a very important 2014 campaign though over in Philadelphia. His core of McCoy, Jackson, Maclin and rookie Jordan Matthews pace the offense and make life easy on Nick Foles. The defense, led by Michael Bennett, Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and rookie Bradley Roby, proves to do enough for Philly to make the playoffs in 2014 instead of just missing out. The team moves forward mainly due to avoiding a late season loss to Washington.

The Eagles enter the postseason with a matchup against Dallas on the horizon. The Cowboys split the regular season series with Philly but they lost at home then and they do again here. That mean Philly travels to Seattle for the divisional round and for the second straight year, the Eagles fall against the Seahawks in the playoffs.

Marcus_Mariota
Mariota was the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

Checking back in on the West Coast, Marcus Mariota is tipped to be the Heismann winner with Kelly at the helm. Oregon is coming off a Rose Bowl win and looks to be a lock for the College Football playoff. They finish the season with just one loss for the second consecutive year under Kelly, the loss once again coming against rival Arizona. Mariota bolsters his draft stock in his junior season and takes home the Heismann Trophy by a landslide. Oregon still ends up in the National Title game, still against Ohio State. The game ends a lot closer this time around but still in an Ohio State win.

The 2015 NFL draft rolls around and after his transcendent performance under Kelly at Oregon, Mariota leapfrogs Jameis Winston in the predraft build up. Mariota goes number one overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee is left to take Winston second.

Damarious_Randall
The Packers selected Randall with the 30th pick in the draft.

Later on in the first round, selecting after the would’ve this year, the Eagles instead take Arizona State safety Damarious Randall to bolster the secondary then draft the troubled Randy Gregory in the second round. Now, Zimmer has all of the pieces he wants to play with on defense and Philly enters the season as an early season favorite to win the NFC instead of a team with dozens of questions surrounding it.

McCoy never winds up in Buffalo, Maclin never joins Andy Reid in Kansas City. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews never join during the offseason. Instead, Mathews heads to Tennesee to help the rebuilding Titans. Murray takes his talent (or lack there of) to Baltimore.

Who would’ve thought that the NFL would change this much just because Chip Kelly decided to stay at Oregon.

NFL coaches under the most pressure

Sean_Payton

5. Sean Payton New Orleans Saints

It is starting to feel like a pretty long time ago now that Payton made that Super Bowl run with the Saints. In fact this will be the sixth year that the Saints are removed from that championship season. Only seven players still remain from that New Orleans Super Bowl team. In the five years since the Lombardi Trophy, Payton has only managed two playoff wins. After a mediocre at best year in 2014, the Saints seemed like they were starting to clean house as the core of the team ages. A youth movement is sure to be coming sooner rather than later in New Orelans. Payton’s fate is likely tied to quarterback Drew Brees. If the now 36 year old quarterback decides to hang it up soon, it is likely Payton will be gone as well.

Marvin_Lewis4. Marvin Lewis Cincinnati Bengals

It might seem a little odd for Lewis to appear on this list considering he has four consecutive winning seasons behind him. Then you might remember the Bengals post season woes under Marvin Lewis are well documented. In six tries now, Lewis has come up empty. That makes it 12 seasons now under Lewis that he has failed to win a single playoff matchup. As the Bengals come into the season with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, expectations should be reasonably high for Cincy. However, in a division with the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals are often an afterthought which is why Lewis only comes in at number four on this list. The only thing that might save Lewis is that he recently signed a contract extension through 2016. However, if he fails to win a playoff game this year, Cincinnati’s front office might pull the trigger anyway.

Jeff_Fisher3. Jeff Ficher St. Louis Rams

I read an article recently saying that Jeff Fisher gets more benefit of the doubt than anyone for absolutely no reason. He almost led the Titans to a Super Bowl victory in 1999 but came up a yard short. That is pretty much Fisher’s only claim to fame here. He is entering his fourth year as the coach of the Rams and St. Louis has actually posted a worse record every year under Fisher. The Rams have yet to post a winning season under Fisher and there has been no talk of the playoffs around the organization. This team has not challenged the top of the division Cardinals or Seahawks either. In fact, a Fisher coached team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2003. Even in the tough NFC West, you eventually have to see results. If Fisher fails once again to even come close then it could be game over for him in St. Louis.

2. Chip Kelly Philadelphia Eagles

Jerry Jones fills both the owner and general manager roll in Dallas and tends to come under a lot of pressure for it. Chip Kelly now occupies the position of head coach and general manager. That means that he is destined to come under a lot more fire than he already has. In his first two seasons in Philly, Kelly has seen good results. He has put up winning seasons and even earned a playoff berth in 2013. However, Kelly has done a lot of house cleaning in his two years, expunging the team of it’s starting quarterback, running back, top two receivers and a good chunk of it’s offensive line. Many have criticized Kelly for trying to coach a pro team as he would a college one. So far it has worked but after Kelly gambled big time this offseason trading away LeSean McCoy and letting Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency, he is going to have some angry fans to answer to if things go south. This is Philadelphia we’re talking about here, newly minted most hated fan base in the league. Don’t expect them to wait patiently while Kelly continues to toy with the makeup of the roster. Kelly is definitely on a short leash.

joe_philbin1. Joe Philbin Miami Dolphins

Joe Philbin joined the Dolphins from the Packers in 2012 with some expectations. He was the mastermind behind the Packers Super Bowl run on the offensive side. He was given a rookie quarterback to mold in Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins’ fans understood that the team needed a year or two to really compete. Now entering year four of the Philbin era, the rebuild seems complete with Tannehill well installed and some big name acquisitions on both sides of the ball (i.e. Ndamokung Suh, Branden Albert, DeVante Parker). However, Miami has been middling around .500 for three straight seasons and does not really seem poised to take down division rival New England. Many of the draft picks under Philbin have been a mixed bag as well. It might not be widely speculated but there is definitely a ton of pressure on Philbin and Miami to perform this season. If Philbin provides another merely average season finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs, the Dolphins could be looking to start fresh under some new guidance.