2019 NFL Coaching Carousel

Black Monday came and went in the NFL, leaving eight head coaching vacancies throughout the league. Each team has a bit of a different approach to filling the opening and unique factors to consider, making this a fun exercise. This is who I think each team should hire as their head coach, not necessarily who they will hire. Let’s take a look at the best fits for each opening across the league.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Previous coach: Marvin Lewis
New hire: Vic Fangio

After 16 years, Marvin Lewis is finally out in Cincinnati. Lewis turned around the Bengals, but never managed to secure a playoff win. It is a result-driven business and the results have not been Lewis’ friend in recent years. This is a team that might be about to undergo a complete overhaul on offense. Rumors persist about the futures of both A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. There are plenty of holes on that side of the ball for the new head coach to fill. Let’s make something clear, Hue Jackson is not the answer to the offensive problems. It sounds like Cincy might go this route, which would be a massive mistake.

However, the defense has been even worse. Cincinnati allowed the most yards per game and the third most points per game. That’s where Vic Fangio comes in. Fangio has overseen the incredible transformation of the Chicago Bears defense. His defense allowed the third fewest yards per game and fewest points per game. At age 60, Fangio is far from a young option, but has 32 years of NFL coaching experience at different levels. Fangio deserves a shot to lead a team. For a team searching for an identity, the Bengals could find one with this defensive guru.

Denver Broncos (6-10)
Previous coach: Vance Joseph
New Hire: Kris Richard

John Elway made it very clear he wants a coach that is an expert on his side of the ball. The Denver Broncos should be very familiar with Kris Richard’s expertise when it comes to coaching defense. He coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle en route to a Super Bowl victory at Peyton Manning’s expense. That was the best statistical offense in NFL history and Richard stymied it.

Over the course of this season as the defensive backs coach in Dallas, he has helped develop Byron Jones into a true lockdown corner. He dealt with all kinds of personalities in that Seattle locker room and learned under Pete Carroll. Richard has a good resume for a first-time coach. The damage he could do with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Chris Harris Jr. would be fun to watch. The team needs to figure out a long-term solution at quarterback, but finding a way to get this defense back on track is a huge step to pushing this team in the right direction.

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
Previous coach: Hue Jackson
New hire: Gregg Williams

It has been 15 years since Gregg Williams was a head coach in the NFL, leading the Bills during the early 2000s with no avail. His successes as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, winning a Super Bowl in 2009, are a bit fresher in our minds. He was excellent in that role, save Bounty Gate. Now, he took over as the Browns coach midseason and led the team to a 5-3 record and much-improved overall play. There is no question Williams and offensive coordinator Perry Kitchens have been essential in that. Cleveland won more games under the duo in the second half of the season than it had in the previous three years combined.

For the sake of the development of Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett Nick Chubb and some of the other young prospects, it makes sense to keep some stability. No one is going to be better-suited to continue Mayfield’s development than Kitchens other than maybe Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who signed a contract extension with the Sooners on Tuesday. Plus the level of turnaround this team saw was incredible. The three losses under Williams came against the Texans, Chiefs and Ravens, all playoff teams. Belief is this club could be a playoff team next year. Keeping this coaching staff in place would be a wise move.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Previous coach: Dirk Koetter
New hire: Eric Beinemy

The biggest task for whoever takes over for the Buccaneers is figuring out what to do at quarterback. Jameis Winston does not seem like a guaranteed long-term solution. The former first overall pick in the 2015 draft will be under contract for 2019, but is not guaranteed anything past that. That leaves the franchise in a very tough position with no other even potential long-term solution at quarterback on the roster.

There is no question that finding an offensive-minded coach to mentor Winston will be crucial. Enter Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Every team will be looking for the next Sean McVay with their newest hire. Bieniemy might not be McVay, but he is a former NFL running back, so there is that understanding of what it is like to be a player in the league.

Concerns with Bieniemy start and end with his experience. This is his first season as offensive coordinator and he is not the one calling the plays. However, the league places a high value on Andy Reid assistants and Bieniemy was Kansas City’s running backs coach from 2013 to 2017. In that span, the Chiefs produced two different 1st-team All-Pro backs and several good role players, including Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Tampa needs a coach to revitalize the franchise and maximize the talent already existing on the roster. I trust Bieniemy to do just that after helping Patrick Mahomes become the 3rd quarterback in NFL history to toss 50 touchdowns in a season. It is time to give him a chance.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Previous coach: Steve Wilks
New hire: Jim Caldwell

Arizona made the perplexing decision to fire Steve Wilks after one season, meaning it is time for a second straight offseason coaching search. This time, the Cardinals would do well to bring in a veteran coach with plenty of experience developing and fostering quarterbacks. Jim Caldwell fits the bill. Caldwell led the Colts to a Super Bowl berth in 2009, and took the Lions to the playoffs twice in four seasons. If you scrub the year where he coached the Colts without Peyton Manning, Caldwell’s record is 60-36. Needless to say, he deserves another chance in the NFL.

With Josh Rosen in need of some real guidance, Caldwell worked with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Manning. He also helped Matt Stafford become a much more efficient passer in Detroit. Former Colts center Jeff Saturday described Caldwell as being more laid back as well, an approach that could work well for a team that has Larry Fitzgerald on the roster. Caldwell is good at fostering the culture the players create. Fitz does it better than anyone else. Don’t overthink this and bring in a coach with real experience to oversee this rebuild.

Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Previous coach: Adam Gase
New hire: Dave Toub

There are a number of reasons why Dave Toub may be the best option for Miami. For one, he comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has produced Matt Nagy, Sean McDermott and Doug Pederson most recently. The last Reid special teams coordinator who landed a head coaching job was John Harbaugh, who through 11 seasons is 114-77 including a 10-5 playoff record and a Super Bowl ring. I’m not saying Toub is guaranteed to be Harbaugh, but don’t sneer at the idea of a special team’s coordinator taking the top job. He did a stellar job in 2018, as the Chiefs ranked 2nd in special teams DVOA.

The other reason Toub makes sense is because this roster needs a complete overhaul. He is not a specialist, but a good teacher. That is something the Dolphins desperately need. Outside of a handful of defensive pieces, Miami lacks talent. I actually think Adam Gase deserves a ton of credit for the success the offense did have this season. He had to get creative with a middling offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver, 36-year old Frank Gore as his top running back and the combination of Brock Osweiler and a banged up Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The bigger decision here will be building the roster. Toub will be good at teaching everyone when they get some better young talent in the locker room. He has the experience teams want in a head coaching candidate.

New York Jets (4-12)
Previous coach: Todd Bowles
New hire: Jim Harbaugh

It’s time to bring some bravado back to Broadway. This is a really young team in New York in desperate need of discipline and leadership. Todd Bowles was a players coach through and through, but the Jets were one of the most penalized teams in the league during Bowles’ final two seasons. Harbaugh also has a pretty good track record at developing quarterbacks. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Under Harbaugh, Kaepernick threw 50 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes. In college, he helped develop Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh would probably be interested in working with Sam Darnold. He is a former NFL quarterback with a great coaching record at 44-19-1 during four seasons with the 49ers. It will take a decent amount of effort to pull him away from Michigan, but the critics have been out in full force after Jim failed to beat Ohio State for the fifth straight year. (Fun fact: Michigan has beaten Ohio State just twice since 2000.) Harbaugh represents a good teacher, with previous NFL head coaching experience and the personality to thrive in the New York market. This is the closest thing the Jets are going to find to the offensive-minded version of Bill Parcells, the last time they had a great head coach. If Mike Macagnan is serious about doing things differently, this is the route to go.

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)
Former coach: Mike McCarthy
New hire: Josh McDaniels

After what he did to the Colts last season, teams are likely wary of the Patriots offensive coordinator, but he fits well with this Packers team. He is bit more fiery than Mike McCarthy, which is something I think fans will relish. He does have some head coaching experience in Denver, which didn’t go too well, but you would have to think he learned from his mistakes. The Packers also have some good offensive weapons for McDaniels to work with in Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and a solid offensive line.

There is a bigger reason why McDaniels to the Packers rumors will persist. He would have the opportunity to work with possibly the only quarterback in the league comparable to the one he worked with in New England. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in a league of their own in terms of talent and personality. It is no secret they both possess egos that sometimes makes headlines. McDaniels’ experience working with Brady makes him one of the best candidates to work with Rodgers. He might even be able to bring some Patriots assistants with him to help turnover the defense with some good young pieces, but in need of a better system. Overall, it is time for McDaniels to get another chance, and for him to actually take it this time.

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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.