So to start off the year, let’s go through all the coaches from newest to safest:
First year coaches always have a honeymoon period – it is almost unheard of for a coach to be fired after one year. The last one I can remember is Cam Cameron in Miami after Nick Saban left precipitously the year before. However, in these days of a hyper-competitive NFL it is not out of the question. In particular, coaches that have failed in previous head coaching stints can more easily be canned. (Ray Rhodes(GB); Norv Turner(OAK), Wade Phillips)
Here are the first-year Head Coaches from most to least stable.
Gary Kubiak (DEN) – Easily the most surprising team with a new coach in 2015 is the Denver Broncos. See the write-up on John Fox to get a good reason for this to happen. How much of that had to do with the 3 game stretch in November when Peyton threw more passes than any other QB had thrown in any other 3 game stretch? The only other QB who had done as much was Matt Schaub in 2012, after which he turned into a pick-six machine and the Texans went 2-14. Regardless, it was notable that Kubiak had already said that he would stay with the Ravens. This was the right decision, not only for his career, but because none of the other HC openings were worth taking (with the possible exception of the Atlanta job, but it appears that they had decided pretty quickly on Dan Quinn). Of course, once the Denver job came open there was no question that Elway would offer it to his old back-up and OC during the Super Bowl wins. Nor any question that Baltimore would not hold him to his previous proclamation for the only job that he would ever have gone back on his word for.
However, this sets up a curious situation. I can’t believe that Elway thought that Peyton would be back after his disastrous second half of the season. He now no longer has the arm-strength to compete at the NFL level – even with his superior knowledge and experience. That would almost certainly be true even if they were running the same offense that he has run his entire career. But they’re not. Kubiak is bringing back the version of the west-coast offense that he and Mike and Kyle Shanahan developed during the years when Mike was the Broncos HC and Kubiak was his OC and then when Kubiak became HC of the Houston Texans and Kyle became his OC. Elway was a good bit younger than Manning when he learned this system and still had a much stronger arm. He almost certainly still did when he retired – it was his knees that had gotten too bad for him to continue, not his arm – which was always one of the league’s strongest.
So, I have no idea how this is going to work out this year. I’ve heard both that Peyton’s arm looks good, but also that he has struggled with the new offense. Brock Osweiler anyone?
Dan Quinn (ATL) – Mike Smith took over the same year as John Harbaugh did in Baltimore and they both drafted franchise QB’s known for the unflappability (Atlanta got “Matty Ice” Ryan with the 3rd pick while the Ravens picked up “Joe Cool” Flacco with the 19th pick). While the Ravens have been to the playoffs every year since (except for their SB hangover year), the Falcon’s have one playoff appearance in that same time. After two straight losing seasons, it was time for a change in Atlanta. The Falcons are the latest team to try and copy the Seahawks success by hiring their Defensive Coordinator. Unlike Jacksonville, they have a franchise QB and a nucleus of players to go with him. Bringing in Kyle Shanahan as their OC will undoubtedly improve their offense to the point where I again expect them to be competing for the NFC South – and not just at 7-9. Only a revamped NO offense stands in their way.
Todd Bowles (NYJ) – Bowles has been working wonders with the defense under Bruce Arians in Arizona the last couple of years. It’s time to see if he can continue that magic in New York for possibly the worst franchise in the league. He inherits a team that was horribly mismanaged under previous GM’s John Idzik and Mike Tannenbaum, but now has former Texans’ scout Mike Maccagnan running the show. Good luck trying to right Woody Johnson’s folly, you’re gonna need it.
John Fox (CHI) – The best description of John Fox is that he can take a bad team and quickly make a good team out of it and he can take a great team and quickly make a good team out of it. Although he’s not even on the Marty Schottenheimer level with this, the Chicago Bears are tailor made for him to take over. The key question is how they decide to manage Jay Cutler. Josh McKown dissed him publicly before he even started and ended up having to trade him. Last season the OC (Kromer) started talking about him behind his back and Cutler proceeded to turn into arguably the worst QB in the league. This was after Cutler had a career year the previous year which was Marc Trestman’s first year as an NFL Head Coach (after several years in the CFL). I’m guessing that they figure it out and the Bears bounce back to contend for their division.
Rex Ryan (Buf) – Rex is unquestionably a good DC, probably a very good one and maybe even great, but he has consistently shown over the last 4 years in NY that he doesn’t have the aptitude to run an entire NFL team. I expect that the Bills will do well with him as their coach – winning some tough games while losing other embarrassingly easy games – but ultimately, the Bills’ new owner, the Pegulas, will see what everyone else already knows: that neither Rex, not GM Doug Whaley have the slightest clue about how to run an NFL franchise and replace the entire front office. Unless, of course, the idea is to dispirit the entire fan base in order to facilitate a move to Toronto, a scenario that (to quote the NFL’s “independent” investigator) is “more probable than not”.
Jack Del Rio (OAK) – Although I’ve always liked Del Rio, I’m always skeptical about coaches who jump into their first NFL HC gig when they’re obviously not ready (He had one year as an OC in Carolina after 2 previous years as LB coach in Baltimore). This was the case in Jacksonville, although he did do a decent job there, I’m not sure how I feel about him as a HC. He takes over a Raiders team that has some interesting pieces, a few good journeymen and a mess at most other positions. Tack onto that the distraction of the team trying to move to LA and you have a disaster in the making. Of course, improving from a 4-12 season when you have Khalil Mack, DE, Amari Cooper and a second year of Derek Carr should make things a lot easier.
2nd Year Coaches
- Jay Gruden (WAS) – New GM Scott McCloughan not withstanding, any coach who has been under Dan Snyder for more than a year is in jeopardy. The getting normal pre-season hullabaloo about RG3 just continues to show how clueless Snyder is and how unwilling he is to let his football people run the team. They finally got RG3 benched, but he’s still on the team which means that Snyder is still in his camp. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t the hammer that Snyder uses to fire Gruden when the ‘Skins struggle.
- Bill O’Brien (HOU) – I’m not on the Houston Texans bandwagon. Their wins have been shaky against mediocre teams. Although they do get to play in the AFC South, they can’t keep up with the “big boys”. Robert McNair is an admirably patient owner. However, even Bill Belichek couldn’t win without a Tom Brady at QB. GM Rick Smith has been the anchor dragging this ship down for the last 15 years. When he’s replaced, we can find out if Bill O’Brien is anything other than another Bill Belichek protégé dictator.
- Lovie Smith (TB) – I still can’t see why anyone would hire Lovie as a Head Coach. He’s obviously a gifted DC, but has continually proved that he can’t head the organization. Unfortunately, the Glazor kids seem enamored, and getting Jameis Winston just gives them another reason to give him another year to “develop”.
- Ken Wisenhunt (TEN) – Ken Wisenhunt may be another man gifted with the NFL rabbit foot like the Irsay family who had the bad ”luck” to have historically bad seasons the year before 2 of the best QB’s to ever play the game graduate (Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck). Marcus Mariota is (unsurprisingly) the real deal and is going to make the entire Titans organization look like geniuses, regardless of their general incompetence.
- Andy Reid (KC) –
- Jim Caldwell (DET) – After calming this team down from the Jim Schwartz tenure and leading them into the play-offs, I expect the Lions to take a step back this year. Minnesota looks poised to compete for the division title and Chicago will be much improved with John Fox and Vic Fangio
- Mike Pettine (CLE) – It’ll be interesting to see how Pettine does in a year that he doesn’t get to play the AFC and NFC South divisions – the 2 worst divisions. I’d be much more comfortable with Hoyer as QB than either McKown or Johnny Football, but maybe if they can keep Alex Mack healthy all year they won’t swoon half-way through. Anyway, Pettine has proven that he deserves to stay, and it will be interesting to see how owner Haslet reacts if they don’t play as well as the rest of the AFC North.
- Mike Zimmer (MIN) – A tumultuous time for the Vikings: Losing the best offensive player in the league (Adrian Peterson) for domestic abuse preceded a bad loss to the Patriots; losing Matt Cassell to injury has now issued in the Teddy Bridgewater era – for now; TB played well enough to win in his first start, against the up-and-down Falcons. Let’s see how long it takes for the league’s D. Coordinators to get the amount of tape on him that they need.
- Chuck Pagano (8-4) –
- Tom Coughlin (retires) (3-9) – Another strong game from Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants. This looks like Coughlin will go out a winner after all. But I still think he retires this year.
- Joe Philbin (7-5) – So what was that with Philbin NOT endorsing Tannenhill as the starting QB going forward. After starting off with a bang against the Patriots, Philbin is starting to pick up where things were at the end of last season. Things are not looking good in Miami.
- Ron Rivera (3-8-1) – Another coach who’s suffering due to the absolute incompetence of his GM. Unless Jerry Richardson decides to stick with Rivera over Gettleman, he’s gone.
- Jeff Fisher (5-7) – I have no idea what is going to go on in Saint Louis. They’re as hard to figure out as any team in the league.
- Sean Payton (5-7) – Even with the team below .500, they are still in first place in the NFC South and Payton’s previous success will insulate him from another bad year or two.
- Chip Kelly (9-3) – This again points out the necessity of good Offensive Line play. A recurrent theme this week.
- Mike Tomlin (7-5) – Wow. You’re not supposed to lose to (arguably) the worst team in the league if you’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tomlin is downgraded from safe again this year.
- Jason Garrett (8-4) – With the improved O-Line (There it is again!) and having a real coach as a DC (Rod Marinelli as opposed to the retired 187-year old Monte Kiffin), Dallas is really looking like a serious football team. Meanwhile, Manziel is still on the Cleveland bench. Maybe Stephen Jones knows a lot more about the personnel side of NFL football than his old man, Jerry.
- Mike McCoy (8-4) – It’s amazing how bad QB’s start to perform when one of the best OC’s of all time (Norv Turner) becomes the head coach. Two years ago, under Norv, Phillip Rivers was being thought of as done. Now he’s the best ever.
- Marvin Lewis (8-3-1) – From looking like the best team in the AFC at one point, to getting blown out at home by Cleveland, this team is having a slow, painful implosion. Marvin Lewis has been with the team for so long it’s hard to believe that he’s had so little success. Unless they do something dramatically different, he could be in jeopardy.
- Bruce Arians (9-3) – The runaway winner of the Coach of the Year for a second time. Why did Pittsburgh not want him again?
- Mike McCarthy (9-3) –
- John Harbaugh (7-5) – Super Bowl Winner in 2012. Harbaugh has led the Ravens into the playoffs every year he’s been there except one.
- Pete Carroll (8-4) – Super Bowl Winner in 2013
- Bill Belicheck (9-3) – Super Bowl Winner