Early NFL Coaching Carousel Predictions

Brent SobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 6, 2017

Early NFL Coaching Carousel Predictions

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The NFL coaching carousel came alive Monday once the New York Giants decided to fire Ben McAdoo. 

    Change is a fact of life in professional football, especially for coaches. Every offseason, multiple teams decide to go in another direction. Six more coaches are likely to be fired once the 2017 regular season ends on Sunday, Dec. 31.

    Who will replace them? 

    The coaching ranks are a close-knit community. Many of the same names will be considered for each of the available jobs. 

    A few names are mentioned every year even though they aren't likely to take over an NFL team. Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw aren't champing at the bit to leave the collegiate ranks. Jon Gruden already has a great gig as the color analyst for Monday Night Football. At least we're beyond the point where Bill Cowher's name is bandied about since he last roamed the sidelines during the 2006 campaign. 

    Instead, the NFL's next wave of head coaches will come from the coordinator ranks. The following play-callers appear ready to take over a program in each franchise's latest attempt to find success. 

Living on the Edge

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The following coaches are believed to be safe at this point in time. However, a late-season collapse could make their respective situations far more precarious. 

    • Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys built unrealistic expectations last season with a 13-3 record before falling to 6-6 this year. Garrett's status is rooted in Jerry Jones' current mood. The team losing three of its last four games doesn't play in the coach's favor. 
    • Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: A progression exists regarding a head coach's timeline. First, he'll get a chance to fire and hire new coordinators before his head is on the chopping block. Gruden already did so, yet Washington is still just 5-7. 
    • Todd Bowles, New York Jets: Bowles has his team outperforming expectations, but the Jets still aren't good. Does team owner Woody Johnson want to give Bowles a year with a top young quarterback prospect while building the rest of the roster? 
    • Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos: One-and-done coaches aren't the norm. However, the possibility exists in Joseph's case after he took over a 9-7 roster and turned it into a 3-9 squad. 

Chicago Bears: John Fox

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Overall Record: 12-32

    The Chicago Bears fired previous head coach Marc Trestman after he went 13-19 during his two seasons. The Bears' current head coach, John Fox, owns a 12-32 record. 

    Chairman George McCaskey has yet to make a final decision on Fox's future, but his choice seems obvious. 

    "I haven't heard anything one way or the other," Fox said Monday, per the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell. "I wouldn't ask. I'm doing everything in our power to put the best product on the field day to day, week to week. That's what I can control."

    That product isn't good, though. The Bears have lost five straight contests while fielding the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense. 

    Fox built his resume on quick turnarounds with the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. The same can't be said in Chicago, where the Bears are well on their way to landing their third straight top-10 draft pick. 

            

    New Hire: Pete Carmichael Jr.

    Organizational success is often a byproduct of a shared philosophy. General manager Ryan Pace should have an opportunity to bring in a head coach who best fits his vision. 

    The franchise's primary goal is to build around this year's second overall pick, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The rookie signal-caller hasn't been placed in a position to succeed due to conservative play-calling and a lack of weapons at wide receiver. Finding a talented play-caller is of the utmost importance.

    Carmichael Jr. has worked alongside New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the past 11 years. He started as the team's quarterbacks coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator, a role he's held since 2009. In late October, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas called Payton and Carmichael "geniuses" and lauded their detail-oriented nature, per ESPN's Dianna Russini

    Plus, Carmichael has a working relationship with Pace, who spent all of his professional career with the Saints organization before the Bears hired him in 2015.  

Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Overall Record: 123-110-3

    All good things must come to an end. Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say all mediocre things should come to an end when discussing the Cincinnati Bengals' relationship with head coach Marvin Lewis. 

    Yes, Lewis helped turn a moribund franchise into a perennial playoff contender, but his success haunts him. The Bengals are on the verge of missing the postseason for a second straight season. 

    Two stats demonstrate why it's time for a new voice to lead the organization. 

    First, the Bengals have yet to win a playoff game during Lewis' tenure despite making seven appearances. Second, after coughing up a 17-point lead Monday night, Cincinnati is now 2-15 at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2003, according to Pro Football Reference.

    A coach who struggles to lead his team to victory against its biggest rival or when the games matter most shouldn't be given the amount of leeway Lewis has enjoyed throughout his career. 

         

    New Hire: Mike Vrabel

    Hue Jackson is an obvious candidate if/when the Cleveland Browns relieve him of his duties. However, hiring him after his disastrous two seasons in Cleveland would be a difficult sell, even with his previous success as a coordinator under Lewis. 

    The Bengals wanted to make Jackson their head coach-in-waiting before he decided to join the Browns, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon. A reunion is unlikely considering Jackson's current predicament in Cleveland. 

    Instead, owner Mike Brown may stick to his Ohio rootsspecifically his ties to Ohio State—and pursue Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. 

    Houston's defense took a step back without Romeo Crennel calling plays and injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Vrabel's hire wouldn't center on his game plans, though. Communication and an ability to relate to those in a locker room as a former player is the 42-year-old's greatest asset. 

Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Overall Record: 1-27

    Josh Gordon's return to the lineup can't mask the complete ineptitude found within the Cleveland Browns organization. It isn't hyperbole to say the team's current incarnation is the worst in NFL history. 

    The 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers generally have been considered the league's standard-bearer for futility, yet those squads won one more game than the Browns over the same 28-game stretch, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith

    The pairing of Jackson with an unproven personnel evaluator in Sashi Brown and former baseball guru Paul DePodesta has been an unmitigated disaster. Jackson may not have stood a realistic chance due to the front office's questionable decisions, but that train of thought excuses poor in-game management, unacceptable lineup decisions and inferior game plans. 

        

    New Hire: Jim Bob Cooter

    Jimmy and Dee Haslam don't want to pull the plug on another regime, according to The MMQB's Peter King. Since they took over the franchise in 2012, four different general managers and head coaches have led the team. The Browns desperately need continuity to build something of substance, yet it can't occur when the current performance isn't worth retaining. 

    Thus, a coaching change and front office restructure appears to be forthcoming. The Browns are interested in installing Peyton Manning as a potential overseer of football operations, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, since he and the Haslams are friends. 

    Meanwhile, Detroit Lions offensive coordiantor Jim Bob Cooter may not be the hottest name among head coaching candidates, but multiple factors play into his favor.

    If the Browns do hire Manning, Cooter worked with the two-time Super Bowl champion as part of the 2013 Denver Broncos staff. Haslam is a strong supporter of the Tennessee Volunteers football program, and Cooter is an alumnus. Finally, the Browns require an offensive-minded coach with a track record of developing a franchise quarterback, and Matthew Stafford has played better than ever under Cooter.

Indianapolis Colts: Chuck Pagano

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    Logan Bowles/Getty Images

    Overall Record: 52-40

    The Indianapolis Colts have no choice but to dismiss head coach Chuck Pagano. After back-to-back 8-8 campaigns in 2015 and 2016, they fired general manager Ryan Grigson. Owner Jim Irsay doesn't have another direction to proceed after a 3-9 campaign where everything went wrong for his team. 

    Sure, having a healthy Andrew Luck likely would have made a significant difference. But the fact Colts quarterbacks have been consistently pressured and blasted by opposing defenses falls under the head coach's purview. 

    The problem persisted without Luck, who does have a tendency to hold the ball too long. Jacoby Brissett, who is filling in for luck, has been sacked a whopping 47 times through 12 contests. David Carr's unfortunate record of being sacked 76 times in 2002 isn't in danger, yet Brissett is on pace to be sacked 63 times, which would rank among the five worst seasons of all time, per Pro Football Reference

    A coach's primary objective is to place his players in a position to succeed. Pagano hasn't been able to develop or coach up the players on this year's Colts roster. 

        

    New Hire: Josh McDaniels

    With Grigson out of the picture, Chris Ballard stepped into the general manager role this past season. After the Colts fire Pagano, he'll look to make his mark with his first coaching hire. 

    The Colts have talent, and their quarterback situation should draw interest from the top available candidates. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is chief among them. 

    "Josh has had some opportunities, and anytime you are a great coach like him, you are going to get them," quarterback Tom Brady said during a Monday interview on Kirk & Callahan, per WEEI.com. "It's just a matter of time for Josh to get that opportunity, and he certainly deserves it. No one works harder than him, or is more prepared. Josh is a phenomenal coach. I am lucky to be with him for all these years, and I always hope we're together."

    McDaniels wasn't prepared to be a head coach when the then-33-year-old took over the Denver Broncos.  Seven years after his dismissal, he's now the No. 1 candidate on the coaching market.

Detroit Lions: Jim Caldwell

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Overall Record: 33-27

    A strong start to a head coach's tenure can be misleading. The Detroit Lions started 11-5 under Jim Caldwell. The team is 22-22 since. 

    On paper, there's no reason to make a change based on what is an average performance. However, the Lions have consistently placed themselves in predicaments with slow starts. 

    "It's all coaching," Caldwell said, per Tim Twentyman of the Lions official site. "You've never heard me say anything differently. I'll tell you the exact same thing today, tomorrow. We’ve got to do better."

    Considering the Lions have needed to claw their way back into games against most opponents, Caldwell's words are an indictment of his performance. 

    Yes, the Cardiac Cats were exciting to watch last season with an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comeback victories. But these sluggish efforts indicate a poorly prepared team. Caldwell's job is to have his team ready on a weekly basis, and he's failing. 

         

    New Hire: Teryl Austin

    A complete overhaul isn't necessary. Talent can be found on Detroit's roster, and the Lions are competitive. In fact, the squad still has an outside shot at making the postseason. 

    If the team doesn't make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, the onus falls on Caldwell. Fortunately, the Lions already have one of the top available head coach candidates on staff in Teryl Austin. 

    "What I can say is how he can put a player in his best [position] to be successful," cornerback Darius Slay said, per the Detroit Free Press' Carlos Monarrez. "He's really good at finding a way for that player to be successful."

    Statistically, the Lions aren't great defensively. The unit hasn't finished among the top half of the league in total defense since 2014, Austin's first season as Detroit's defensive coordinator. Although, this has more to do with roster limitations—such as a lack of a pass-rusher opposite Ziggy Ansahthan anything else. Otherwise, Austin's strength as a coach is exactly what the Lions lack as a whole. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dirk Koetter

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Overall Record: 13-15

    Being an NFL head coach is about more than calling plays and one's relationship with key performers. Coaches today must take a CEO approach. Many successful coordinators struggle to deal with the all-encompassing approach required to be the main man. 

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Dirk Koetter is a perfect example. 

    Koetter became the Buccaneers head coach after building a rapport with talented young quarterback Jameis Winston and creating one of the league's most dynamic offenses. But he didn't have any experience as an NFL head coach. Plus, his last stop in charge of a collegiate program could be defined as average at best (a 40-34 record leading the Arizona State Sun Devils). 

    The Bucs failed to live up to expectations this season after being a chic pick to win the NFC South. Winston hasn't progressed. And the defense is a debacle.

          

    New Hire: Matt Patricia

    Owners have a tendency to overcorrect each time a new coach is hired. When one side of the ball struggles, the interview process usually concentrates on that particular aspect. 

    In the Buccaneers' case, their defense ranks 31st overall and surrenders 385.6 yards per contest. 

    New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been one of the top available names during the past few offseasons, but the league trended toward offensive minds getting the top jobs. Patricia is highly intelligenthe graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with an aeronautical engineering degreeand a deft play-caller.

    Patricia has spent the last 14 years learning from the master, Bill Belichick. Belichick's proteges haven't been very successful, yet most teams would love to emulate his approach. This should include the Buccaneers since general manager Jason Licht spent 13 seasons working in the Patriots organization.