Ranking the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires
While the focus in the NFL these days is on the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers and each team’s path to Super Bowl 50, there’s other football business to be had for some of the other clubs.
For the fifth straight year, the league will see at least seven teams change head coaches from the start of the previous season. And this year’s class has a very offensive feel to it.
While it’s incredibly early in the process, how do these seven men stack up in terms of a hire? We’re not here to say that any of these additions are poor, because that would be silly. But we will rank these new sideline leaders in terms of fit with their newest clubs—or in a few cases, a promotion from assistant to head coach.
It’s a bit of a look into the future for seven franchises looking to rebound from a disappointing season.
7. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
As first reported by Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News late last week, the City of Brotherly Love has found its latest solution at head coach.
Doug Pederson will be officially named the Eagles head coach perhaps as early as Monday. Operating as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator for the past three seasons, he returns to a franchise that he’s more than familiar with…at least in theory.
It’s safe to say former skipper Chip Kelly dramatically changed the makeup of this club over the past three years, so Pederson, an assistant under Andy Reid with the Birds from 2009-12, certainly has his work cut out for him.
Bowen also tells us that current ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski had some input when it came to the Eagles’ newest sideline leader, serving as a special adviser to owner Jeffrey Lurie. Jaworski explained the process:
We weren’t hiring a line cook at a restaurant here—we were hiring a head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. The interviews with Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo were eight, nine hours. They were intense…everybody was focused, everyone stayed the course.
The goal was—this came right from Jeffrey Lurie, when we first got together—‘I don’t care if it’s an offensive guy, a defensive guy, a special-teams guy, I want the best coach for the Philadelphia Eagles’…I think we got the best guy for the Philadelphia Eagles in Doug Pederson.
Once the “Is” are dotted and the “Ts” are crossed, the real critiquing will begin in Philadelphia.
6. Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans
Mike Mularkey has now been down both paths when it comes to leading a team in this league.
The former NFL tight end has had the label of both head coach and interim head coach. This year, he owned the latter for the Tennessee Titans over the final nine games of the season, and the club managed a 2-7 record.
Now he has the job full-time in Nashville, and the Titans, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008, are hoping he can get the job done. Back in 2004 with the Buffalo Bills, he led the club to a 9-7 record. But that was followed by a 5-11 showing and his tenure in Orchard Park ended.
In 2012, Mularkey was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and that less-than-talented team managed only two victories. He would be one-and-done with that club before joining Ken Whisenhunt’s staff in 2014 as an assistant.
Now he’s the Titans’ fourth different head coach since 2010. And Mularkey and the team are certainly hoping that he and young quarterback Marcus Mariota can give the team some continuity over the next few seasons.
5. Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins
The proof is in the pudding. And so is a resume that has seen Adam Gase make his share of stops around the NFL.
But you could make a strong case for the well-traveled assistant following his stint as offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears in 2015.
Much-maligned Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler threw 28 touchdown passes and committed a league-high 24 turnovers in 2014 under head coach Marc Trestman. This past season, under new head coach John Fox as well as Gase—the Bears' offensive coordinator following a three-year stint with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos—Cutler looked like a more confident player and often rallied his team in the fourth quarter. Even with a late-season slump, the 10th-year quarterback threw for 21 scores and coughed up the ball only 16 times.
Now Gase hopes to elevate Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s game. More importantly, he looks to lead the franchise to its first winning season and playoff berth since finishing 11-5 and capturing the AFC East in 2008.
4. Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers
Well, that didn’t take very long.
It was a rocky year for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, and it ended badly. After 15 games and a 6-9 record, he was dismissed prior to the team’s season finale against the New York Giants.
It was certainly understandable. In his third season on the job, Kelly was given more power within the organization in terms of personnel management, and perhaps he wasn’t prepared for that challenge. Who could after only two seasons in the NFL?
Following a 10-6 record and an NFC East title in 2013 and a 9-3 start one year later, Kelly led his club to 7-12 record in his last 19 games before being let go by the franchise.
In San Francisco, Kelly won’t have to worry about picking the players—or more specifically, getting rid of them. That will be up to general manager Trent Baalke. And that could be the best news possible for a 5-11 San Francisco 49ers team coming off its worst season since 2007.
3. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants
In this day and age of offensive football—and in this team’s case, a definitive lack of defense—OC Ben McAdoo seemed like the logical candidate to replace two-time Super Bowl winner Tom Coughlin as head coach of the New York Giants.
With quarterback Eli Manning in the final phases of his impressive career, McAdoo and the Giants are hoping that the 12-year pro still has some good years left in him. And given his performance over the past two seasons in the current offensive system, it’s hard to argue that logic.
Over the past two seasons under McAdoo, Manning has connected for 65 scores and been picked off only 28 times in 32 games. That’s in stark contrast to his performance the season before McAdoo’s arrival, when he threw only 18 touchdown passes and served up an NFL-worst 27 interceptions.
Of course, all of those numbers are well and good. Except for the fact that no team in the league gave up more total yards and more passing yards than the Giants this past season. Whether defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo returns to the team in 2016 is another story, per Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
2. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Perhaps a second chance as an NFL head coach will pay off in a big way for not only Hue Jackson, but the Cleveland Browns as well.
We are talking about a franchise that owns an 87-185 win-loss record and has gone through 24 different starting quarterbacks since the team returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. Jackson will be the Browns’ ninth different head coach over that span.
Of course, this is not the former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator’s first go-around at the position. He led the Oakland Raiders to an 8-8 record in 2011, one of only two nonlosing seasons the Silver and Black has enjoyed since 2003. But things did not end well in Oakland, and now he’s getting a second chance with an organization that is once again starting from scratch.
1. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Apparently one year on the job was enough to convince the hierarchy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it was imperative that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter be promoted to head coach before another NFL franchise hired him for the same job.
And that appears to be the real reason Lovie Smith lost his job after just two seasons despite the fact that the club went from 2-14 in 2014 to 6-10 this past season.
As team co-chairman Joel Glazer told Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com:
Dirk has established himself as one of the top offensive coaches in our game while enjoying success at every stop during his college and NFL career. His success with our offense last season, along with his familiarity with our players and our organization, makes Dirk the right man to lead our team moving forward.
After stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2007-11) and most notably with quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons (2012-14), Koetter came to Tampa and had the luxury of working with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. And it’s that relationship that made it hard for the Bucs to let the coach get away.
Talk about making strides? The first overall pick in 2015 finished the season with 4,042 passing yards and also rushed for 219 yards. Winston threw 16 touchdown passes compared to only eight interceptions and ran for five touchdowns in his last 12 games, losing only one fumble in the process. That offset a four-game start that saw the rookie signal-caller throw for six scores and rush for another while committing eight turnovers.
It will be fascinating to see what Winston is capable of after another offseason under Koetter.