Which New NFL Head Coaches Will Succeed in Their First Season?
The 2011 NFL season has come and gone, a champion has been crowned and now all sights are set on what is sure to be an exciting offseason.
Without the deterrence of an NFL lockout, teams should have a much easier time handling all of the changes that will be made this offseason. The biggest of those changes, for some teams, is the implementation of a new head coach.
This year, seven NFL teams hired new head coaches. Last season, it was San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh that provided a spark to his team and guided them all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
Can any of the new head coaches in 2012 accomplish the same feat? Here’s a preview of each head coach and their chances to be successful in their first year at the helm.
Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano enters his position with the most questions surrounding his Indianapolis Colts squad.
With uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning, a mess at nearly every position on the field and an infusion of youth sure to take over much of the roster, Pagano will have his work cut out for him in 2012.
At this point, anything will be an improvement to the abysmal campaign the Colts had in 2011, finishing with a 2-14 record.
The hiring of Pagano signals a change to a defensive-minded Colts team after years of substandard defense offset by top-notch play from Manning at quarterback and their perennially stellar offensive unit.
Despite the talented players still left on the offensive side of the ball, the Colts do not appear to be a team with a promising 2012 season in front of them. The Colts are in the beginning stages of the rebuilding process, and if Pagano is going to have success in Indianapolis, it’s going to be a slow, patient process.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Dennis Allen’s hiring with the Oakland Raiders is probably as baffling as any other hiring the Oakland Raiders have made in the last decade or so. Still, the former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator does boast some promising potential.
Oakland has the talent to compete, finishing 2011 with an 8-8 record, marred by inconsistency and injuries to star players like running back Darren McFadden. A healthy McFadden combined with a strong defensive unit under Allen’s guidance could prove to be just enough to sneak into the playoffs in the AFC West—a division consistently below average in comparison to the rest of the NFL.
Allen’s experience does raise concerns, however, and could impact the influence he has on his team. With just one year of experience at a coordinator position, does Allen have the ability to keep control of a locker room?
Only time will tell.
Right now, though, Allen has a roster full of bright, young talent that could develop into one of the AFC’s best squads with solid coaching. It’s unknown whether Allen will be able to outlast his predecessors in Oakland, but he certainly has the best shot at a postseason berth amongst his new head coaching peers in 2012.
Mike Mularkey, Jacksonville Jaguars
The news of a new owner had many Jacksonville Jaguars excited for the future. That excitement all died down when the Jaguars announced the hiring of Mike Mularkey.
While off-the-field issues (via Jacksonville.com) have already cast a shadow over Mularkey’s hiring, Mularkey and the Jaguars are optimistically looking forward to a relationship together.
Mularkey, a successful offensive mind in the NFL, has had one other job as a head coach when he coached the Buffalo Bills for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Though he finished with a 14-18 record, the Bills went 9-7 in his first season with the team and were seventh in the NFL in total offense.
And 2004 was the Buffalo Bills last winning season.
That kind of boost to the Jaguars offense could be a pivotal piece in helping turn around a franchise in such desperate need to do so. With Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars are on the right track.
If Mularkey and his staff can develop Blaine Gabbert, add some more offensive weapons and keep their top-10 defense strong, the Mularkey-Jaguars marriage could be a happy one.
The 2012 season will not be worth remembering, however.
Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Romeo Crennel’s stint as head coach of the Cleveland Browns was not a very successful one. Hopefully his stint with a much more talented Kansas City Chiefs team will be a bit more enjoyable for the former Bill Belichick protégé.
Crennel earned his job with an impressive stretch in the interim head coach position at the end of the 2011 season by guiding the Chiefs to two victories in their final three games. Those wins came against the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers in Week 15 and the surging Denver Broncos in Week 17.
Impressive accolades open up bigger opportunities. For Crennel, it’s an opportunity to redeem himself and prove that he can be a successful head coach in the NFL.
With a roster blanketed with talent on both sides of the football—including Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers—2012 will be as good as a chance as any for Crennel to show the NFL and the Chiefs front office what he’s made of.
In the AFC West—like his counterpart in Oakland, Dennis Allen—Crennel could have a better opportunity than in any other division to lead the Chiefs back into the playoffs. Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs walk away with the division in 2012.
Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins needed to make changes across the board after a long, unsuccessful venture behind the guidance of Tony Sparano. They found their man in the Green Bay Packers’ offensive mastermind Joe Philbin.
Philbin helped the Packers to rank within the top 10 in total offense and points scored each of his five seasons with the team. The Dolphins are hopeful he can bring much of that offensive prowess to a franchise that has craved something on that side of the ball for some time.
They just need to do something about the quarterback position.
Whether that means signing Packers backup Matt Flynn or taking another route, the Dolphins front office will need to provide Philbin with that franchise quarterback to take the Dolphins offense to the next level.
The defense must be a focus for the Dolphins in 2012 as well—especially when competing with teams in the NFL like the New England Patriots and Houston Texans, who can post huge offensive numbers.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins are a team still a step behind the Patriots and New York Jets in the AFC East coming into 2012. Philbin should pan out to be a very successful coach in Miami if surrounded by the proper talent, but it’s going to take a couple of years before they’re ready to dive into the race as one of the AFC’s top teams.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
I might catch a lot of flak for this, but I’m going to say it: Jeff Fisher is overrated.
In his 16 seasons with the Tennessee Titans organization, he won just four division titles. He was only able to guide the Titans to six winning seasons in those 16 seasons, all of which landed the Titans in the postseason.
Every other season, the Titans were lucky to finish 8-8.
His career winning percentage in those 16 seasons is a lowly .542. That's hardly over .500 with talent-laden rosters boasting players like Steve McNair, Eddie George, Chris Johnson, Derrick Mason, Jevon Kearse, Bruce Matthews and Albert Haynesworth.
The St. Louis Rams will win under Fisher despite this.
Fisher joins a team full of young talent that has been built up over the last few seasons through the draft, similar to San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
Unfortunately, Fisher has Harbaugh and the Niners to compete with in the NFC West. Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson should have good seasons in 2012 if they can stay healthy, but without any passing options for Bradford, the Rams won’t be able to keep up with the Niners.
With teams like the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons all battling for the wild-card spots, St. Louis’ playoff hopes are not positive in 2012.
Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The last of the 2012 hires, Greg Schiano’s addition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is also the most interesting.
Five years ago, Schiano insisted he would never coach in the NFL, yet here he is.
Schiano is responsible for one of the greatest turnarounds in recent history—transforming the Rutgers University football team from joke to contender in just a few years. In his last seven seasons, he guided the Scarlet Knights to six bowl games and won the last five.
Schiano helped to churn out dozens of NFL players, the most successful of them being Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Now, Schiano has a chance to make his own mark in the NFL. Unfortunately, college coaches haven’t always had the most success making the change to the pro game and nothing about Schiano indicates he could be an exception to the rule.
Despite this, the former Rutgers coach is inheriting a team that went 10-6 in 2010 behind superb play from quarterback Josh Freeman. With an easier schedule in 2012, anything could happen. If the Buccaneers can add a stud running back like Alabama’s Trent Richardson, success becomes even more likely.