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.