A night after writing about how you cannot always judge the quality of a coaching hire on the surface, how can I possibly do a ranking of the new coaches hired in the NFL this year? Simple, I do have some thoughts on the hires and the coaches. These are not final rankings. I could be wrong. These hires could all end up being better or worse than I thought. These are simply initial viewpoints.
I used three pieces of criteria.
1. My opinion of the quality of the coach.
2. The thought process behind the hire.
3. Attractiveness of the job. Some head coaching vacancies are easier to fill than others. Quality of the overall roster, quality of the current quarterback, cap situation, ownership, say over personnel, and a franchise's history of patience all play into this.
1. Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase
It pains me to say this, but I really liked the hire the Dolphins made when they signed Gase. By all accounts, he is a very bright guy and believes in adapting his style to his talent. He has had a successful career as an assistant. Becoming such a hot head coaching commodity before the age of 40 shows just how much respect Gase has in the league. I do have questions about the power structure in Miami. It seems pretty convoluted. Gase has control over the 53 man roster. The general manager controls the Draft and free agency. Somewhere Mike Tannenbaum is in there. This could spell problems, but I am only judging the coaching end of this equation.
2. Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson
A few weeks back, I somewhat jokingly wondered what qualified sports headhunters like Jed Hughes over me when filling a job when picking a head coach for each team with a vacancy. Well, the Browns actually did hire Hughes to run their head coaching search. They ended up picking the same guy I did, Hue Jackson. Jackson has been successful in a number of different jobs across the league. He also did a solid job during a one year stint coaching the Raiders. He got kind of a bad deal as a new general manager wanted to bring in his own guy. As I noted in that post from a few weeks ago, the Browns are a dysfunctional mess, but so was the Oakland organization when Jackson worked for it. There is something to be said about a guy who can operate under circumstances like that. Again, I have real questions about whether the power structure of this organization will allow Jackson to succeed. Cleveland has hired somebody to run football operations who on the surface appears wholly unqualified for the job. I liked the Jackson hire, though.
3. San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly
Part of the reason this hire rates so highly after Kelly's messy departure from Philadelphia is how underwhelmed I am by what the rest of the league did. I think the criticism is a bit overblown, though. The attention Kelly's bad personnel moves got kind of drew attention from how dysfunctional the Eagles have been the last few years. The whole reason Kelly became the general manager seemed to be due to an internal power squabble started by somebody else who is still with the Eagles. It never should have gotten to the point where Kelly got the powers he received. For all of his bad personnel moves, he did win 10 games in two of his three seasons without a quarterback who has anything resembling Colin Kaepernick's talent. At the very least, this might be the most fascinating situation of all the new hires. Kelly, Kaepernick, and Trent Baalke all have seen their reputations take a big hit over the last year. They were all the toast of the NFL just two years ago. Now can they save each other? This might be crazy enough to work. Kelly will not be in charge of personnel, which was his real undoing. Kaepernick has a coach who is capable of building a system around his talents. This also might be a total disaster. Either way, this is going to be interesting.
4. New York Giants: Ben McAdoo
The Giants have had a chance to view McAdoo up close over the last two seasons. Maybe they know that he's the NFL's next star head coach. That possible theory is the only reason I can put them so high. This is an organization that looks like it needs a complete overhaul, but they ended up changing very little. The general manager is still in place. The head coach was an internal hire. He is leaving the other coordinator in place. Are we to believe Tom Coughlin was the only problem or a roster with major personnel issues and coaching issues that went beyond the head guy? I do think it was past time for Coughlin to go, but the issues seem so much deeper. The Giants believe in stability. That has served them well at times. People were calling for Coughlin to be fired just before the two Super Bowls he won. That firm belief in stability has also hurt them at times. A head coaching change seems a few years overdue, and the Giants seem to have done this halfway. This is a really attractive job too. They could have had their pick. This is a storied franchise in the biggest market with good ownership.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dirk Koetter
The reports on this move seem to indicate the driving force behind the coaching change in Tampa seem to be that Koetter was getting head coaching buzz. If true, this is the type of impulsive, rear end backwards decision-making that has been a hallmark of the Tampa Bay organization for close to a decade. Koetter is a decent coordinator, but do you upend the direction of your franchise to keep a coordinator? Coaches do need a few years to fully implement their program. They need to find the players they want and get everybody comfortable with their culture. They need time to grow. The Bucs don't seem to get that with their head coaches. Koetter will be Tampa Bay's fifth head coach in nine seasons. Not so coincidentally, they have not made the Playoffs once in that span. Two years ago, the franchise made a big investment in Lovie Smith. They believed he was the right guy. Now after legitimate signs of growth, they throw him overboard. Koetter was available two years ago. If you thought he was such a dynamic coach, why was he not hired as the head guy then? Because the Tampa Bay ownership cannot stick with a plan. Koetter might have potential, but this ownership might have moved on to a shinier new toy before he gets a chance to succeed.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: Doug Pederson
Sometimes after a bad breakup, we are inclined to go to comfortable things we know. It feels like that might have happened in Philadelphia. After the Chip Kelly experiment went down in messy fashion, the Eagles turn to somebody off the Andy Reid tree. Reid's tenure with the Eagles was a more successful, more stable time. Pederson was Reid's offensive coordinator in Kansas City this year. One of Reid's first big moves after the Eagles hired him was to sign Pederson as a player. The new coach in Philadelphia is a blank slate. He does not have much coaching experience on the NFL level. It could go either way, but we do know he was not the first choice so that knocks him down a bit. Maybe they have uncovered a hidden gem before anybody else, but the process makes this look like the Eagles couldn't get anybody qualified and are settling.
7. Tennessee Titans: Mike Mularkey
For all of the other hires, I can at least understand the thought process, even if I disagree with it. This one just makes no sense. Mularkey has failed twice as a head coach. It's tough to argue he might have grown or that he knows how to get the most out of this team. He had a nine game audition as interim head coach. The team went 2-7 and ended up with the top pick in the Draft. The only theory that might make sense is maybe ownership is selling the team. Maybe they don't want the new owner to inherit a big coaching contract. That is the only thing I can come up with.