NFL Black Monday: Bad Teams Make Things Worse, from Broncos to Jets to Dolphins

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 1, 2019

John Elway brought in Case Keenum before the season and fired head coach Vance Joseph after it.
John Elway brought in Case Keenum before the season and fired head coach Vance Joseph after it.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

NFL firing season is the time of year when the NFL's vicious cycle of mediocrity becomes even more vicious and mediocre. 

Six NFL head coaches were fired on "Black Monday," the official start of firing season that actually started on Sunday. Hue Jackson and Mike McCarthy already had been fired during the season, making a total of eight NFL head coaching vacancies: one quarter of the league is seeking new leadership.

Most of the fired coaches underperformed, so the dismissals did not come as a surprise. But many of the teams that fired ineffective head coaches retained the ineffective executives who hired them (and built talent-poor rosters for them) in the first place, setting the stage for another cycle of disappointment. 

Black Monday is the day when bad organizations find a way to make things worse. And this firing season promises to be the most counterproductive one in years.


The Elway problem

The Broncos fired head coach Vance Joseph after two seasons of failing to overcome team president John Elway's spectacularly misguided quarterback decisions and the famine-stricken draft classes of 2012 through 2017.

Joseph was an ineffective in-game coach and game-planner. But Vince Lombardi would have struggled to earn a playoff berth with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and one-year wonder Case Keenum under center. Joseph also started his tenure saddled with a coaching staff full of holdovers from the era of predecessor Gary Kubiak, who remains in the Broncos organization as Elway's vizier/majordomo/food-taster.

Elway remains atop an organizational chart in which all the arrows point directly to Elway, rendering the head coach almost irrelevant. That would be fine if Elway was a Bill Parcells-like personnel wizard and empire-builder. Unfortunately, Elway, who claimed that the Broncos only need to "bring the energy back" and vowed to "shake some trees out there for the quarterback" in Monday's press conference, is more like Dan Snyder with athleticism.


The Dolphins dilemma

Speaking of ineffective org charts, no team builds rabbit warrens of never-ending boardroom intrigue like the Dolphins, who fired head coach Adam Gase on Monday and reassigned Mike Tannenbaum from vice president of football operations to vice president of office parking spaces (or something), leaving general manager Chris Grier in charge of the football operations.

A full accounting of all of the decade-plus organizational machinations in Miami could fill an encyclopedia. At various times, Jimmy Johnson, Nick Saban, Bill Parcells and (for a few hours) Dan Marino held sway within the organization, often with their tenures (or those of their proteges) and their conflicting philosophies overlapping, so that half of the organization was in win-now mode while the other was rebuilding.

Vestiges of the Bill Parcells era remain present in the Dolphins' leadership.
Vestiges of the Bill Parcells era remain present in the Dolphins' leadership.JON WAY/Associated Press

Grier, while well-respected, is an old Parcells guy, which shows just how long remnants of old regimes retain power in Miami.

Gase was an ineffective coach—an alleged quarterback guru who never guru'd a quarterback who wasn't already Peyton Manning, and who reportedly rubbed both players (via ESPN's Cameron Wolfe) and ownership (SiriusXM's Craig Mish) the wrong way. And Tannenbaum's reassignment to the mail room will be lamented only by the agents who wrested market-setting contracts from him.

But after grinding gears for over a decade, the Dolphins have given power to someone who has had his foot on the clutch the whole time. That's a great way to ensure more of the same.


Jets being Jets

Mike Maccagnan retained his job as the Jets' top executive by shifting all of the blame for a three-year 14-34 record onto fired head coach Todd Bowles, a former top Dolphins assistant and interim head coach. AFC East also-rans are like guys trapped at the bottom of a well trying to get out by borrowing each other's shovels (which is why the Patriots can have a down year and still host playoff games).

Bowles, like Joseph, was a defense-oriented coach who never missed a chance to punt on 4th-and-1 near midfield while trailing in the fourth quarter. (Gase was more of the "screen pass on 3rd-and-30 to make the stats look good" type.) Also like Joseph, Bowles was saddled with meager talent, thanks to Maccagnan's knack for using second-round picks as bonfire kindling.

Executives like Maccagnan invariably hire head coaches who don't make them feel threatened, just as Elway-level philosopher kings seek obedient yes-men. If a franchise somehow assembles a perfect storm of omnipotent emperors, mediocre execs and obedient company men, they become the Jaguars.


(Meanwhile in Arizona...)

(At least Bowles got a few years to prove his limitations as a head coach. Steve Wilks was fired after just one tumultuous year with the Cardinals. General manager Steve Keim, architect of a minor league roster, Sam Bradford benefactor and DUI violator, will stay with the Cardinals and appoint Wilks' successor.)


Jags being Jags

Leonard Fournette seems to be on his way out of Jacksonville, but the Jags' bosses are staying in place.
Leonard Fournette seems to be on his way out of Jacksonville, but the Jags' bosses are staying in place.Michael Reaves/Getty Images

One of Black Monday's worst moves was one that wasn't made: The Jaguars retained the braintrust of coach Doug Marrone, general manager David Caldwell and grouchy patriarch Tom Coughlin, despite a 5-11 record and an expected mass exodus of the team's most recognizable players.

The Jaguars voided the last two years of running back Leonard Fournette's contract, signaling their plan to get rid of the 2017 fourth overall pick. If they don't want to deal with Fournette, the Jaguars are sure to invite trade offers for talented tension headache Jalen Ramsey. Blake Bortles, given a contract extension by the current regime entering this year, is about to embark on his failed-prospect Walk of Shame across the NFL transaction wire.

The Jaguars are cap-strapped, disgruntled, directionless and talent-poor, but they are retaining all of the decision-makers who made them that way in the hopes of improving. Make sense?


The usual suspects

The only upside to retaining Marrone and the Coughlin Crew is that it keeps the Jaguars out of a search season with many more openings than desirable applicants.

Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores is a hot commodity, even though the last Patriots defensive coordinator to get a head coaching gig (Lions coach Matt Patricia, spared the Black Monday ax) cannot even show up for meetings on time.

Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak is getting some buzz, per NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. Munchak is a fine position coach whose game-planning (his 2013 Titans ran Army's 1954 playbook) and team management (see: just about any story emanating from the Steelers locker room this year) don't exactly inspire confidence.

Also high on some coaching wish lists...Adam Gase, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

There are some promising up-and-comers on the head-coaching short list, including Cowboys defensive assistant Kris Richard and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. But the biggest names are either retreads or Baby Belichicks. NFL teams really do think they can go places by running in circles.


Talking heads, and headhunters

Jon Gruden and Raiders owner Mark Davis signed up NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock to be GM.
Jon Gruden and Raiders owner Mark Davis signed up NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock to be GM.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Then again, we shouldn't expect daring, creative decisions when some NFL franchises make their decisions by either hiring corporate headhunters or just grabbing guys they saw on TV.

Schefter reported that Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has enlisted a search firm called Korn-Ferry to help him select a new coach. Korn-Ferry, according to Schefter, is responsible for such coaching selections as Andy Reid for the Chiefs, Pete Carroll for the Seahawks and...Doug Marrone for the Jaguars.

Reid won 130 games for the Eagles and was unemployed for about 30 minutes before the Chiefs hired him, and Carroll was one of the most successful coaches in college football history. Korn-Ferry can be credited with discovering them if I get credit for discovering Metallica when I was 14.

Hiring outsiders to do what any beat writer with a functioning search engine could do in 45 minutes signals that a general manager is operating without vision or direction. But Licht drafted kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016, so we already knew that.

The strangest Black Monday news wasn't a firing, but a hiring: Former NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock is now the Raiders general manager, joining Jon Gruden in what could have been the greatest Monday Night Football announcing booth in decades but will instead have actual personnel control over one of the most legendary franchises in professional sports.

Give the Raiders credit for at least doing things differently. But owner Mark Davis appears to be making all of his decisions by watching television, at least when he's not leaving his team temporarily homeless by feuding with local government.

Let's put a pin in the Raiders situation before it becomes a political metaphor.


No clean sweeps

Black Monday offered a clearer-than-usual window into the inner workings of NFL front offices this year, and it wasn't flattering. It's easier than ever to spot the politicking (Dolphins), kowtowing (Broncos), scapegoating (Jets, Cardinals), wishful thinking (Jaguars) and buddy systeming (Raiders, everyone else) in a league in which yesterday's franchise secrets are today's trending topics.

Successful organizations would use firing season to make a clean sweep of the front office and coaching staff, turn the page on past failures and use new hires as a chance to rethink everything from the scouting process to cap management to the playbook.

But successful organizations are usually preparing for the playoffs this time of year, leaving the weak ones to play boardroom politics and pick at each other's leftovers.

There are rarely any winners during NFL coach-firing season. Just a lot of losing teams doing more of the things that made them that way.



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