We continue with our rankings of the NFL head coaches, moving on today to the AFC South.
In terms of experience, it’s hard to find a division with less of it than this one.
Two franchises are starting fresh with new coaches this season—Jacksonville and Indianapolis—and their coaches have a combined two years of head coaching experience.
The Colts dipped into the Baltimore coaching staff to peg Chuck Pagano as their new head coach, and he’ll get his first crack at leading a team with a roster depleted of talent in the post-Peyton Manning era.
Gary Kubiak, who remains a relatively new head coach, is the most senior member of the group, and the only coach to have reached the playoffs (with his lone trip coming last year).
So how do the coaches stack up? Take a look.
(AFC North rankings here)
(AFC East rankings here)
It’s hard to overstate the work of Kubiak in 2011; although the AFC South was a weak division, he kept his team on track after losing two starting quarterbacks, star defensive end Mario Williams and offensive standouts Andre Johnson and Arian Foster for multiple games.
That left Kubiak with unknown and untested T.J. Yates leading the way. But the Texans managed to hardly skip a beat, earning the third seed in the AFC and giving Baltimore all it could handle in the Divisional round.
With Matt Schaub back under center, Johnson healthy, Foster signed to a long-term deal and an exciting young defense, Kubiak’s team is an early favorite to push New England in the AFC.
Hats off to Munchak for leading Tennessee to nine wins in 2011, as I was more than a bit skeptical about the talent on his team leading up to the season. Amazingly, Tennessee succeeded with an atypical season from Chris Johnson, who was a non-factor in an unacceptable number of games last year.
Munchak’s tough, workmanlike approach to playing the game (he’s already been enshrined in the Hall of Fame after a standout career as a guard for the Houston Oilers) has translated as a coach, and it showed in 2011.
You have to appreciate those in football who care solely about winning and losing, and not the attention their profession affords them. From all indications, Munchak is cut from that cloth.
This pick is a little bit of a leap of faith, as Pagano’s never been a head coach before and is staring a long season in the eyes with a roster that’s been severely trimmed in a rebuilding effort. Even so, Pagano was revered in Baltimore—where he coordinated the defense from 2009 to 2011—and brings a fire and passion to his craft that is contagious.
Chief amongst his tasks in Indianapolis is finding a way to surround Andrew Luck (assuming he’s the No. 1 pick) with enough talent to keep him on his feet next year, and implementing a defensive system that eventually yields results similar to what he accomplished with the Ravens.
In time, I truly believe the Colts will look back at the Pagano hire as a home-run pick for starting fresh.
Mularkey was underwhelming during his tenure in Buffalo as the Bills' head coach from 2004 to 2005, but has since beefed up his stock by tutoring Matt Ryan in Atlanta and turning him into a promising young franchise quarterback.
He’ll have his hands full trying to pull off a similar trick in Jacksonville, where he must soon decide if Blaine Gabbert—despite being a Top-10 pick just one year ago—is the quarterback of the future.
We know Mularkey will work hard to install a system that Gabbert can succeed in, but until both sides have flexed more muscle than what they’ve shown in the past, Mularkey remains up for judgment as a head coach.