NFL 2012 Preview: Which New Head Coach Has Steepest Hill to Climb?

Scott ReighardAnalyst IJanuary 11, 2012

NFL 2012 Preview: Which New Head Coach Has Steepest Hill to Climb?

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    Doesn't it seem like the end of every NFL season is like the St. Valentine's Day massacre? They seem to line up the coaches and then comes the drive-by with GM's or owners toting the dreaded Tommy gun of the NFL, the pink slip.

    The latest to get the ax was Hue Jackson of Oakland. Honestly, I did not see that one coming. This is the same guy who had no problem shedding tears in a victory that followed the death of the owner Al Davis. I don't know, maybe that's not Raider like.

    Jackson joins a bevy of coaches who got the pink slip. Some positions have already been filled while other teams like the St, Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Bucs, and possibly the Indianapolis Colts (based on the new GM's assessment) have yet to get their man.

    With the seven teams that have not yet, or only recently, filled their coaching vacancies, the challenge for the new head coach can be a daunting one. Each team has their separate challenges, but not all teams are treated equally or have the same problems. Let's take a look at easiest to most difficult challenges that await each of the new head coaches assuming their new position for 2012.

    The following teams are being assessed for this article: Bucs, Dolphins, Jaguars—wow, it just hit me, all three Florida teams, weird—Chiefs, Raiders, Rams and possibly Colts.

7. The Easiest Job Goes to the Miami Dolphins

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    The Dolphins started out 0-7 but acquitted themselves by going 6-3 the rest of the way. Right or wrong, Tony Sparano was let go, and now the Dolphins are in search of a new head coach. Yes, Jeff Fisher has interviewed for this job, and of all the teams in this article, the Dolphins would turn the corner the quickest.  

    The past few years the Dolphins have been like yo-yo’s. They go 1-15, then go 11-5, then some consistency with back-to-back 7-9 campaigns before this year’s 6-10 season. No offense against Sparano, but Miami seems to have good talent and are just a good head coach and consistent quarterback away from being playoff contenders.  

    Speaking of which, I have offered that Miami would be a good place for Peyton Manning. You can check out that article by clicking on my name above. Matt Moore was pretty solid toward the end, but he is in a division with Tom Brady, the enigmatic Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can look brilliant at times, and the spoiled slacker in New York.  

    I see a drop off with the Jets next year, and the Bills are, well, the Bills. Miami could easily slip into a run for the division, especially with someone like Manning and Fisher.  

    Even if those acquisitions do not happen, Miami is sitting pretty solid in terms of personnel, and this would be the quickest sustainable turnaround job for a new head coach.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Yes, the Chiefs have already declared Romeo Crennel as their head coach, and good for Romeo. He had a tough deal in Cleveland, but I think he will do better in Kansas City because the franchise is stable.  

    If they re-sign Kyle Orton, they have two quality quarterbacks who could battle for No.1. They have key players returning from injuries and have a young nucleus on defense.  

    Kansas City has a few holes to fill at O-Line and at DB. Depending on Dwayne Bowe, who will be a free agent, they may need to look at WR again in the draft, but they have a few solid receivers in Steve Breaston, Jonathan Baldwin and Jerheme Urban.  

    I think Miami is the easiest turnaround, but Kansas City is a very close second, and the Chiefs can easily be playoff bound next year.

5. Oakland Raiders

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    I have to be honest: I was very surprised to hear of Hue Jackson’s firing. Perhaps I am not where I should be in regards to Raiders information. Nonetheless, the Raiders are now searching for what, their seventh coach in 10 years? Wow!

    Despite looking for a new coach, the Raiders are not that far off, especially when you examine the unpredictability of the AFC West. It came down to the last week of the season and basically all four teams had a shot to win the division. How bizarre is that? Next year may play out the same.  

    The new head coach inherits a Pro Bowl quarterback, a stout running game, dynamic receivers and with some tweaking on defense, a pretty intimidating defense.  

    I do not think this is the easiest job to take because it is the Raiders, and sometimes there is as much volatility in Raider nation as there is in Syria right now.  

    All kidding aside, the new coach has his work cut out for him. But if he can control the locker room and discipline, the Raiders will be fighting for a playoff spot next year.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Mike Mularkey is now the man in Jacksonville. Isn’t it funny, usually when a franchise fires a coach who has experience on one side of the ball, the successor is someone on the other side, and in this case, offense.  

    I think Mularkey has his work cut out for him because he has a rookie quarterback who looks like he could easily become the next Ryan Leaf or the next Matt Ryan. He has a solid running game but no passing game.  

    The defense is pretty solid, ranked in the top five last year, so there is an advantage there. Personally, I would keep Mel Tucker as my DC, but you know how these things go, retread coaches hire their retread buddies. And we think cronyism exists only in DC?  

    Jacksonville is an intriguing prospect, but unless Mularkey gets Blaine Gabbert on the path to consistency and being a solid quarterback, his tenure could be short lived there.

3. Indianapolis Colts

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    As of this publication, Jim Caldwell is still the Colts head coach, but let’s go ahead and analyze the Colts whether he remains or if they hire a new guy.  

    Admittedly, the Colts are an aging team. Even if Peyton Manning returns, there are still some serious concerns there.  

    In most key positions, their players are on the wrong side of 30. There are too many to list, but if you want to see their roster, click here. Going into next year they will have 11 starters at 10 years experience or more. In today’s game, that’s an older team.  

    Again, I have chronicled that Peyton Manning could wind up somewhere else, and even if Andrew Luck does come in, don’t expect miracles next year. They clearly are going to have to rebuild around this kid. Expect a few years of drop off from the Colts before they can get pieces around Luck.  

    If Manning comes back, they may be able to stem the tide for next year. There are a lot of questions here, and if a new head coach comes in, he is going to have to be patient and intelligent about how he handles Manning and Luck, should that be the scenario.

2. St. Louis Rams

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    Man, what a mess. Just last year the Rams were one game away from winning the NFC West and hosting the Saints. By the way, the Rams beat the Saints this year. Now that was their Super Bowl for this season, I am sure.  

    Steve Spagnuolo was quickly dismissed, and now the search is on. Once again, Jeff Fisher is the name being heavily considered, but if I were Fisher, I would go south to Miami. The Rams organization is in somewhat of a quandary.  

    The biggest question for this franchise is whether they do, in fact, have their franchise quarterback. They spent a lot of money on Sam Bradford, and although I like Bradford, this sport is about results and staying on the field.  

    Sam Bradford took a step back this year, and hopefully it was just injuries, but the Rams really need a lot of things. Two or three poor drafts have set this franchise back.  

    Whoever comes in as head coach has a tall task. There are some players to build around, most notably Bradford, if he can stay healthy and get the right offensive coordinator. They have some playmakers on defense, but there is still a lot that they need.  

    Good luck to whomever gets this job.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    It was close between the Bucs and Rams, and I am sure there are some of you out there saying, “The Bucs had 10 wins two years ago.” Yes, they did, but they had four this year, and that was supposedly with better talent on defense.

    Maybe it really was Raheem Morris. For Bucs fans, you had better hope so.

    There is no doubt that Josh Freeman took a big step back this year. And yes, when things go bad they come in bunches, but Freeman just looked lazy and unenthused when I saw them play.

    Also, the running game came to a stunning halt this year. LeGarrette Blount does not seem to be that 300-plus carry guy. Josh Freeman had the second-most carries on the team. Even with a Trent Richardson, this team still has so many other needs.  

    The Bucs have some players on the outside, but I still believe that many of their draft choices have been questionable, and some of the good players who are free agents are likely to split town.

    To make matters worse, why would free agents be attracted there, other than the weather? They play in a division with the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and the surging Carolina Panthers.

    To finish this off, their defense ranked No. 30 this year. They were 29th in rush defense and 21st in pass defense. And this is a team that drafted several defensive line players. The offense fared a little better, ranked No. 16. Their scoring average was 18.2 PPG.

    I do not envy the new coach who comes to Tampa.

    My guess is three years from now, the Bucs are yet again looking for a new coach. Sorry, Tampa fans, but your team is the most difficult job right now.