It's never been clearer: In order to succeed in the NFL, a team has to have a great head coach. Everything flows from the head coach: philosophy, X's and O's, assistant coaches and player personnel.
The head coach is the on- and off-field face of the franchise and has more media responsibilities than ever before. The head coach sets the tone, sets the bar and sets the table.
That's why one-quarter of the NFL—eight of 32 teams—fired their head coach after this season; they didn't have the right guy.
So how did the teams do in filling their vacancies? Did they make the right choice?
The Indianapolis Colts' resurgence was one of the best stories of 2012, and new Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was right at the center of it. By serving as caretaker while head coach Chuck Pagano battled cancer—and winning nine of 12 games in the process—Arians and the Colts accomplished something incredible.
But when Arians was offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2007-2011, he was not beloved. He also made a host of questionable decisions as the Colts' interim head coach. There were moments when it seemed as though rookie quarterback Andrew Luck looked like he was succeeding despite, not because of, Arians' game plans.
Looking at Arians' resume and comparing it to deposed head coach Ken Whisenhunt's, it seems the Cardinals committed the ultimate sin: hiring someone who isn't as good as the guy they fired.
Geographically, the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars are about as far apart as any two NFL teams can be. Philosophically, they couldn't have been much different either.
But with the release of ineffective veteran head coach Mike Mularkey and the hiring of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the Jaguars are going from a low-energy, offense-first coach to a defensive, high-energy, first-time head man.
But is "as different as possible" the same thing as an improvement?
Jacksonville, as fired GM Gene Smith said, lacks talent on both sides of the ball, so picking a young, first-time coach with low expectations is a smart move.
Now, let's hope second-year owner Shad Khan and new GM David Caldwell are patient and supportive enough to deal with the growing pains both Bradley and the roster are going to go through.
The San Diego Chargers made a terrible mistake when they fired Marty Schottenheimer in 2007 and brought in Norv Turner. But there's still time to salvage their talented offensive nucleus, and former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is the perfect man to do it.
It's true that McCoy gave over most of his game-planning to the simple offense Peyton Manning ran in Indianapolis, but it's the mark of a smart, humble man to agree to do it.
It's the mark of near genius when you consider McCoy engineered winning campaigns around Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton in the prior two years. Hiring an adaptable coach who won't let his ego get in the way of winning is the smartest hire you can make.
Former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone wasn't one of the hot names coming into this hiring cycle.
However, when you combine his taking Syracuse's record from a dismal 26-57 to 25-25 in just four seasons, along with serving as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator from 2006-08 Sean Payton, you have NFL teams knocking at your door.
The Buffalo Bills need a long-term vision built around a coach who's going to be there for years. They don't need expectations, and they don't need distractions.
Marrone, a native New Yorker and Syracuse grad, is in it for the long haul. They were wise to hire him; if the Bills want their new stadium plan to be a success, they need to invest in Marrone just as wisely.
The Chicago Bears went a little bit off the beaten path for their hire. OK, a lot off the beaten path: Montreal, Canada.
But former Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman isn't just a two-time Grey Cup-winning CFL coach. He's a highly decorated NFL veteran assistant, who learned at the knee of Bill Walsh while serving as George Seifert's offensive coordinator in San Francisco from 1995-96. Trestman's defensive counterpart at that time? Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
The Bears have been built around Lovie Smith's defense for ages, but they have the pieces on offense to be truly explosive. If the Bears are to take the next step, they need to get the most out of Jay Culter, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Trestman is a proven offensive mind and a breath of fresh air.
The Bears should be commended for taking this risk...but it is a risk.
It's tempting to dismiss the Cleveland Browns' second straight hire of an offensive-minded, first-time head coach. It's even more tempting to poke fun at his unusual name.
But Rob Chudzinski has done good work with quarterbacks. Just coming off two seasons serving as offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, Chudzinkski had actually previously served two stints as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2004 and 2007-08).
With powerhouse tailback Trent Richardson running behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines, the Browns just need to get as much as they can out of second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and they'll be tough to slow down.
"Chud" was also wise to secure the services of fired Chargers head coach Norv Turner to serve as offensive coordinator; the two of them together should have more than enough offensive brainpower to put the Browns' pieces back together.
It's still hard not to have lingering doubts about a new coach hiring that looks so much like their last coach hiring.
Andy Reid, all things equal, is one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Any franchise would kill for the decade-plus run of low-payroll success Reid engineered in Philadelphia. He achieved a 130-93-1 overall record while leading the Eagles.
Still, Reid is coming off a horrific year, personally and professionally. His Eagles finished the season at a lowly 4-12. Can he possibly have enough energy and enthusiasm to start rebuilding from scratch he'd spent most of his professional life building in Philly?
Reid probably should have taken a year off to wait for the right opportunity; it's difficult to see how the Kansas City Chiefs, with almost nothing in place on offense, were the right opportunity.
This is a poor fit for both parties.
The Philadelphia Eagles, finally, got their man. It took a little song and dance, but they finally got the architect of the so-called "blur offense," when they hired former Oregon coach Chip Kelly. Over the course of his career, the Oregon Ducks were 46-7.
I broke down what Kelly's offense means for the Eagles and the NFL, and I suggest you read that article.
But the Eagles got the best, brightest young offensive coaching mind available, and they're granting him wide latitude to put together the next great Eagles dynasty.
If it doesn't work out, it won't be because the Eagles didn't make the right move.