Realistic Expectations for Every New NFL Head Coach in 2014
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (thank you, David Bowie).
So what do we expect from these men and their teams during their first year on the job?
Let’s go back to the start and finish of 2013. Eight teams made head coaching changes and three of those clubs, the Kansas City Chiefs (Andy Reid), Philadelphia Eagles (Chip Kelly) and San Diego Chargers (Mike McCoy) all reached the playoffs. The Arizona Cardinals, under Bruce Arians, finished 10-6 after a 5-11 season in 2012 and just missed out on the postseason.
So what magnificence are we expecting from these seven men with new jobs in 2014? Our best guess (for now as it’s the first day of June) for each team follows.
Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns
Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan
Defensive Coordinator: Jim O’Neil
2013: 4-12 (4th Place, AFC North)
It’s a tradition unlike any other. And it’s getting really old, really fast.
In late January, Mike Pettine became the eighth head coach of the Cleveland Browns since the franchise re-entered the league in 1999.
Taking over this franchise is a daunting task. Over the past 15 seasons, the team is 77-163, has enjoyed just two winning seasons and been to the playoffs only once. Pettine inherits a club that has lost at least 11 games each of the last six years and brings a seven-game losing streak into 2014.
Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the well-traveled defensive assistant has made his presence felt in a few ways after only four months on the job.
The Browns have their share of talent with Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Josh Gordon, tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack and cornerback Joe Haden.
Free agency brought linebacker Karlos Dansby, strong safety Donte Whitner, running back Ben Tate and a bunch of new wide receivers in Miles Austin, Earl Bennett and Nate Burleson. The first round of this year’s draft brought cornerback Justin Gilbert and some quarterback named Johnny Manziel.
Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer has the latest on Gordon, whose availability in 2014 is certainly in doubt.
Expectations: Pettine should make the Browns a little more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. And Tate should help improve one of the league’s worst ground attacks from a year ago. We shall see how the quarterback situation plays out with Manziel and Brian Hoyer. Is the team headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2002? You have to crawl before you can walk.
2014 Record: 7-9
Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Lombardi
Defensive Coordinator: Teryl Austin
2013: 7-9 (3rd Place, NFC North)
It’s been anything but quiet for the usually reserved Jim Caldwell.
Now, he’s the latest man in charge to attempt to “Restore the Roar” in the Motor City.
We are talking about a Detroit Lions team that has made one playoff appearance since 2001 and hasn’t won a postseason game since 1991. The franchise has also not won a division title since 1993.
We all know the Lions have talent. From quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Calvin Johnson to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy.
But these recent second-half collapses have got to go. This past season alone, the Lions dropped six of their final seven games in 2013 after a 6-3 start.
Enter Caldwell, who took the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl XLIV and won a ring as the Baltimore Ravens' newly-appointed offensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLVII.
Expectations: The Lions won only one less game than both the Green Bay Packers (8-7-1) and Chicago Bears (8-8) this past season. But the difference was that while those teams had problems keeping their quarterbacks on the field, Stafford and company were busy committing 21 turnovers during their 1-6 finish. Still, Caldwell’s presence stands for something and rookies such as tight end Eric Ebron and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy may open some eyes early.
2014 Record: 9-7
Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
Offensive Coordinator: Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator: Romeo Crennel
2013: 2-14 (4th Place, AFC South)
Once upon a time, the Houston Texans were 2011 AFC South champions and one season later, owned a gaudy 11-1 record after 12 games in 2012, the best mark in the league.
And then it all came apart. Including a pair of playoff games in 2012, the franchise is just 4-18 in its last 22 outings and brings a horrendous 14-game losing streak into the NFL’s 95th season.
One-time New England Patriots assistant and recent Penn State University head coach Bill O’Brien became the franchise’s third head coach this offseason.
When it comes to talent, Houston doesn’t have a big problem. There’s stars in running back Arian Foster (who missed the final eight games of 2013), frustrated veteran wideout Andre Johnson, defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel could do some wondrous things, especially with the first pick in the 2014 draft in defensive end/outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney.
Expectations: Will the third time be the charm for teams coming off a two-win season? Both the Indianapolis Colts (2012) and Kansas City Chiefs (2013) went from 2-14 finishes to finish 11-5 and grab wild-card berths the last two seasons. O’Brien should bring some stability to the quarterback position and help cut back on the mistakes. This is not a team lacking talent but this may also be a dramatically-improved AFC South.
2014 Record: 8-8
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner
Defensive Coordinator: George Edwards
2013: 5-10-1 (4th Place, NFC North)
There’s change all over the place when it comes to the team from the Twin Cities.
First, the Minnesota Vikings have a new head coach in Mike Zimmer, lately the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. Second, there’s a new home this season as the Purple Gang will play at the University of Minnesota (TCF Bank Stadium) until their new home opens in 2016.
But what about the team on the field? New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and rookie Teddy Bridgewater at his disposal. Veteran running back Adrian Peterson shows no signs of slowing down after seven magnificent seasons. Second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson certainly bears watching.
On defense, gone are defensive line mainstays such as Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. Sturdy defensive tackle Linval Joseph came over in free agency from the New York Giants and the draft brought outside linebacker Anthony Barr and intriguing defensive end Scott Crichton.
Still, this is a team that despite its obvious positives has managed to surround a playoff appearance in 2012 with three last-place finishes in the last four seasons.
Expectations: Moving up in the NFC North won’t be easy but it is certainly far from impossible. All four clubs were far from impressive on the defensive side of the ball in 2013 and Zimmer is bound and determined to change that with his team this season. But it might take some time for all the pieces to come together on each side of the ball, especially when it comes to finding a reliable quarterback as well as a middle linebacker.
2014 Record: 7-9
Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Tedford
Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier
2013: 4-12 (4th Place, NFC South)
Here we go again.
Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opted to let go of Super Bowl-winning head coach Jon Gruden following the 2008 season, the Bucs haven’t stopped making changes when it comes to the job.
Three years of Raheem Morris and two seasons of Greg Schiano now brings Lovie Smith back to Tampa. He was part of Tony Dungy’s original coaching in 1996 and as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, he took that franchise to Super Bowl XLI.
After a year out of the NFL, Smith takes over a club that has finished last in the NFC South each of the previous three seasons. But first things first and that’s getting this club up to speed on defense, a liability for the club in recent years.
There’s new talent on this side of the ball with free-agent pickups in defensive end Michael Johnson and Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, as well as a pretty sturdy defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy. Smith said of McCoy, via Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
Gerald has been just the perfect student, No. 1, to just buy into the coaching that he’s getting. He’s a great player, that’s established, he’s a great player, but what do you do from there? And he comes out every day, he’s the first guy in every drill, he’s running to the football, you can’t ask for anything more in a defensive lineman than what Gerald McCoy is doing.
Jeff Tedford is Tampa’s new offensive coordinator and he has veteran quarterback Josh McCown at his disposal. There’s a revamped offensive line, a new rookie wideout in Mike Evans, veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson and hopefully, a very healthy running back in Doug Martin.
Expectations: While the defending division champion Carolina Panthers certainly look vulnerable, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints look like improved football teams. Still, the arrival of Smith brings a lot of credibility and the infusion of talent on both sides of the football can’t be ignored.
2014 Record: 9-7
Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans
Offensive Coordinator: Jason Michael
Defensive Coordinator: Ray Horton
2013: 7-9 (2nd Place, AFC South)
Back in 2008, Ken Whisenhunt was busy leading the Arizona Cardinals to an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That same season, the Tennessee Titans owned the best record in the league with a 13-3 mark.
As everyone knows, the Cardinals came up just short of an NFL title in that game. As some may not know, that was the last time we saw the Titans in the playoffs.
Since then, head coaches Jeff Fisher and Mike Munchak have been and gone. Enter Whisenhunt, who helped get San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' career back on track in 2013.
Now he takes over the Titans, who looked like they might be turning the corner this past season before dropping eight of their final 12 games. It’s a club that has bolstered its offensive line in recent years and figures to play a lot of smashmouth football with running backs Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey.
Whisenhunt’s biggest task may be keeping quarterback Jake Locker in one piece. The former first-round pick has not been able to stay on the field on a steady basis each of the last two seasons.
Expectations: Keep an eye on the Tennessee defense, now being run by Ray Horton while making the switch to the 3-4. Last year’s 3-1 start wound up not meaning much when it was all said and done and the Titans have been woeful versus the division (3-9) the last two seasons combined. But this looks like the one team that could push the Indianapolis Colts for the division top-spot in 2014. You may be looking at the AFC’s surprise team this season.
2014 Record: 10-6
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Offensive Coordinator: Sean McVay
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Haslett
2013: 3-13 (4th Place, NFC East)
The Washington Redskins are just one season removed from a division title. In 2012, the team bounced back from a 3-6 start to win its final seven games and capture the NFC East for the first time since 1999.
But that has proven to be the big exception rather than the rule. In five of the last six seasons, the Redskins found themselves in the division basement.
Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden takes over from Mike Shanahan as head coach and knows that a 3-13 finish in 2013 includes an eight-game losing streak to close the season.
The big news this offseason in D.C. was the addition of a DeSean, as in Jackson. The big-play wideout was no longer welcome in Philadelphia and the ‘Skins scooped him up, much to the happiness of quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris and the rest of the Redskins offense.
Again, this is a team capable of a bounce back, especially if the defense can finally get its act together. But capable and closing the deal are two different things.
Expectations: The fact that Washington was the only team in the league this past season to go winless within their division is somewhat troubling. It will be interesting to see what version of Griffin we see this season, while don’t be surprised if Morris makes a run at a rushing title. But Jim Haslett’s defense remains a concern and although doubling their win total from a year ago may not seem like much, it’s at least a start.
2014 Record: 6-10