While four teams remain to fight for a place in the Super Bowl, seven teams rebooted their respective franchises this (early for them) off-season with new coaching hires. Here is a look at the seven NFL head coaching hires, ranked from least to most inspiring for each respective fanbase.
7. Tennessee Titans: Mike Mularkey
Maybe it was the rumblings about a potential sale of the franchise that scared away some of the hotter commodities, but more often than not, there won’t be much excitement over a team elevating an interim head coach… especially when the team finished 2-7 with that guy running the show while averaging under 20 points per game.
Mularkey has now been a head coach for three teams and has compiled a 18-29 record.
Oh, and a team in the Titans’ division, the Jacksonville Jaguars, hired him in 2012 after a “successful” stint as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator… but fired him after one, dreadful 2-14 season.
Yes, Mularkey is the only man in NFL history go one-and-done as a head coach, then later be named the head coach of another team in the same division.
He has an offensive background, which I guess probably helped his candidacy because of Marcus Mariota.
But, at this point, Mularkey is clearly a head coach who’s almost fully at the mercy of the talent he has on his roster, and actually, there’s a stronger argument suggesting he hinders his team more than he enhances it.
What could help Mularkey… the Titans hired a new GM, Jon Robinson, who was member of the New England Patriots scouting department from 2002 to 2013.
But strictly considering who Tennessee named to be its next head coach, Mularkey is easily the most vapid hire of the year.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dirk Koetter
To me, Koetter is another “my teams will only be as good as the roster you give me”, middle-of-the-bell-curve head coach.
I like the hiring based on the idea of continuity for Jameis Winston, because nothing’s more important in pro football than having an effective quarterback. And it’s smart to attempt to make the developmental process as smooth as possible for a signal-caller as inherently talented as Winston.
But how is Koetter going to manage the rest of the team — which is arguably the most integral aspect of being a head coach in the NFL — while still devoting the necessary amount time to the 2015 No. 1 overall pick?
Koetter went 66-44 in two stints as a head coach in college, including a decidedly mediocre 40-34 in six seasons as Arizona State.
His days as an offensive coordinator date back to 1985; however, after a successful first season with the Jaguars in 2007, his offenses averaged finishing a little worse than 23rd in points per game and 21st in yards per game.
The Buccaneers are now onto their third coach in four years, so you’d think they’d have gotten to a more established guy with a stronger track record at this point.
What Koetter does have going for him — Winston under center and Mike Evans out wide.
5. Philadelphia Eagles: Doug Pederson
Pederson’s Andy Reid following began when he was a backup quarterback for the Eagles in 1999, and he latched onto Reid a decade later as an offensive quality control coach in Philadelphia.
This is quite a meteoric rise for Pederson, but plenty of head coaches have been hired with far less impressive resumes.
We will probably never fully know how impactful Pederson was on Alex Smith in Kansas City as the Chiefs offensive coordinator since 2013. I really wish we could find out, because with a team that had transcendent running back Jamaal Charles and not much else in terms of super-threatening offensive weapons, the Chiefs were pesky and productive every season.
Reid, and likely with input from Pederson, designed an ideal system for the limited Smith to operate efficiently.
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) January 18, 2016
Although that system had an ultra-conservative foundation, loaded with checkdowns and throwaways when pressure mounted, Smith’s yards per attempt and QB rating increased each season with Pederson as his offensive coordinator.
Surprisingly, Smith’s 2015 comprehensive stat line was very comparable to Jay Cutler’s.
Hopefully for the Eagles, Pederson has learned from Reid’s routine clock- and- game-management issues.
What I’m pretty sure he’s learned under Reid, especially while in Kansas City, is how to tailor an offense to a quarterback’s specific skill set and get the most out of the talent on that side of the ball.
Pederson’s defensive coordinator hire will be paramount.
4. New York Giants: Ben McAdoo
So the Giants thought it was time to part ways with Tom Coughlin — it was — but they wanted to keep the offensive coordinator he handpicked two years ago and basically all of his relatively long-tenured assistants?
Yeah, a little weird… although I do think Coughlin’s age, two magic Super Bowl runs, and frankness with the media led to him being slllliiiiiightly overrated, but expanding on that thought isn’t for this column.
Anyway, McAdoo’s West Coast Offense has been a godsend for Eli Manning, who spent years in Kevin Gilbride’s vertical, purposely boom-or-bust, lower-completion percentage attack.
Coughlin’s emphasis on punctuality and discipline are good coaching points that’ll likely continued to be preached by McAdoo, but the main issue with New York was and, for a while, has been its defense.
Sure, Odell Beckham Jr. will probably average about 15 targets per game with McAdoo in full control. How will he influence the defense though?
The Giants were one of the more appealing head-coaching destinations, yet they ultimately promoted from within. Ehhh.
3. Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase
Because of his recent work with Tim Tebow and Cutler — can’t really “count” Gase teaching much to Peyton Manning — Gase was arguably the hottest name on the market, and he was the first head-coach hire.
Essentially, Gase got his new gig with the sole responsibility to get the absolute most out of Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins quarterback who’s been wildly inconsistent during his first four NFL seasons.
Gase is under 40, but he has extensive experience dealing with quarterbacks, and I’m sure Miami was happy to know he spent time as an assistant under Nick Saban at the college ranks.
At this point, Gase appears to be willing to tweak his offense in order to accentuate specific players’ talents rather than uncomfortably trying to fit players into a rigid, unchangeable scheme… which is encouraging news for the Dolphins.
How much will he touch the defense? Despite what on paper appeared to be a plethora of talent, Miami’s defense finished 27th in points allowed and 26th in yards allowed per game in 2015.
If Gase “fixes” Tannehill, he’ll be lauded by Dolphins ownership and fans for years. I’m just a bit leery of how ready he is to be a head coach of an NFL team right now. He doesn’t turn 38 until March.
2. San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly
Kelly’s a polarizing figure, therefore I’m sure other lists ranking the head coach hires of 2016 have him near the bottom.
But much of the reason why many hated this hire pertains to the thought that after firing the boisterous, power-hungry Jim Harbaugh following the 2014 season, the 49ers grabbed another big-name head coach who just had basically complete control of the Eagles’ personnel department. Here’s the thing though — after his precipitous downward spiral in Philadelphia, there’s no way Kelly can come in with any sort of bravado or leverage to demand immense power or a significant amount of say in how the roster should be built.
And, based on what we know about GM Trent Baalke, there’s not a chance Kelly would be hired if he was even hinting at threatening the powers that be in San Francisco.
I’m not insinuating his ego and confidence were entirely erased by what happened with his Eagles, but I do think he was humbled by the experience as the defacto CEO of the roster. No, I didn’t go to Oregon and was a harsh Kelly critic during the past two (off)seasons. However, to me, he’s a smart, progressive and innovate coach. He definitely was not ready to make comprehensive roster transactions.
His spread, uptempo, multiple-option offense isn’t exactly ahead of the curve in the NFL anymore, so it’ll be interesting to see how Kelly adjusts and evolves.
I think he will.
Unfortunately, the 49ers roster has gone from probably the best and deepest in football to one in desperate need of rebuilding. With Baalke, who loves acquiring extra draft picks by trading back, running the personnel department, Kelly has the ideal GM to start a team overhaul.
1. Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson
Since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999, they’ve been, yes, the Factory of Sadness. Cleveland has gone 87-185 with four times as many 12+ loss-seasons (8) than winning seasons (2).
They started this offseason by realizing… “Hey, what we’ve been doing for almost two decades now, yeah, it isn’t working” although Jimmy Haslam has only been the owner since 2012. So they elevated Sashi Brown, a front office member with an analytics background, and hired Paul DePodesta, of “Moneyball” fame, from the New York Mets to be the “chief strategy officer.”
For as unorthodox as those two acquisitions were, I can’t blame the Browns for completely flipping the script on how they should be run as an organization. And Jackson is the optimal head coach to start this brave, forward-thinking rebuilding expedition. He’s been on the offensive side of the ball since he coached wide receivers at his alma mater, Pacific, in 1988, and has been in the NFL since 2001. Also, he’s undoubtedly known for his creative formations, trick plays, and, most importantly, not forcing square pegs into those annoying round holes on offense.
Beyond that, Jackson has working knowledge of both the Baltimore Ravens and, obviously, the Cincinnati Bengals.
In 2015, Hue squeezed the most out of Andy Dalton, which led to the signal-caller’s first QB Rating above 100, a career-high 6.5 touchdown percentage and career-low interception percentage of 1.8. The Bengals were 15th in points and yards per game in 2014 with Jackson as the offensive coordinator, and their scoring rank jumped to 7th this past season. Don’t forget, during his stint in Oakland with the Raiders — 2010 as the offensive coordinator and 2011 as the head coach — Jackson’s offenses finished 16th and 6th in points per game respectively and 10th and 9th in yards per game. And he didn’t exactly have a multitude of All-Pros at his disposal.
By all accounts, he’s loved and respected by his players, and after a coaching carousel of epic proportions over the past five years, I have to expect Jackson will be given plenty of time to get things right with the Browns.
He and his analytics-based front office will start by making the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.