As annual offseason coach hires go, this latest round didn’t exactly have the NFL buzzing about the next Lombardi, Shula, Walsh or Belichick emerging any time in the near future.
In all seven cases, the chances of a turnaround happening fast enough for the respective teams to avoid going through the same process after a couple of years (or perhaps even sooner) reside somewhere between slim and none.
Here is one man’s assessment, ranked in order from worst to best:
7. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants. I understood the Giants’ desire to do a reboot after 12 years of Tom Coughlin. They wanted a fresh perspective, a younger and more dynamic leader than the one who would turn 70 by the start of the 2016 season.
What I don’t like, though, is the resounding statement this hire makes that the Giants’ recent struggles are all Coughlin’s fault. McAdoo was their offensive coordinator and the team retained Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. General Manager Jerry Reese, who assembled these underachieving rosters, gets to keep his job, too.
I think it’s a stretch for the Giants to believe that simply parting ways with Coughlin will suddenly make everything better. McAdoo might have familiarity with quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the offense, but he’s still a rookie head coach. He also won’t get much slack from fans, because they’re familiar enough with McAdoo to attach him to the losing and not view him as they would someone from the outside with a whole new set of ideas.
6. Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins. This looks like yet another uninspiring hire by the Dolphins. What, exactly, has Gase done to merit a head-coaching job? He made himself a rising star as the coordinator of Denver’s explosive offense in 2013, his first of two seasons in that capacity with the Broncos, but that was with a healthier Peyton Manning and an abundance of weapons. Being offensive coordinator for Manning is more of an administrative assistant role than the position of a boss. There’s only one true boss: Manning.
I also think the widely held view that Gase proved he was much more than Manning’s caddy by helping Jay Cutler become less mistake-prone as the Chicago Bears’ OC in 2015 is a bit of a myth. Yes, Cutler was more efficient, but his statistics (a completion percentage of 64.4, 3,659 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a passer rating of 92.3) are pretty much in line with what he has done for his career. And the Bears were awful.
It just feels like the Dolphins are betting way too much on Gase’s ability to fix Ryan Tannehill’s game. As a head coach, Gase must devote his attention to places other than quarterback and the offense as a whole. That’s where things could go sideways in a hurry.
5. Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans. I like this one better than the majority of NFL observers, who pretty much are universal in choosing the Titans’ decision to remove the interim tag Mularkey wore through the final nine games as the worst of the seven moves. I’m sure more than a few Bills fans, still unhappy about what Mularkey did as Buffalo’s head coach before quitting, would agree. He has an 18-39 career record and is never going to live down that loss against Pittsburgh’s backups to cost the Bills a playoff spot in the 2004 season-finale.
However, Mularkey has proven more than capable as an offensive coordinator, showing a particularly deft hand at working with young quarterbacks. He did that with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. The Titans are counting on him to do the same with Marcus Mariota.
Mularkey carries the burden of a 2-7 record as the Titans’ interim coach, but that isn’t entirely fair. The team he inherited from Ken Whisenhunt was a mess. With Dick LeBeau running his defense, I think Mularkey has a decent shot at doing a little bit better than expected.
4. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Every year, there’s a coaching change almost no one anticipates, and this was it. The Buccaneers’ reason for suddenly dumping Lovie Smith – so that Koetter wouldn’t be snatched up by the San Francisco 49ers – feels a bit flimsy. They were worried that their best hope to escape futility, top overall draft pick Jameis Winston, would regress without Koetter and the scheme he put in place for him.
It’s true that Winston showed a good deal of promise as a rookie, but deciding that the head-coaching job was the price for maintaining continuity in one area of the team is curious because saying goodbye to Smith after only two years is just the opposite of that in terms of the big picture.
Koetter is no rising young star. At 56, he’s less than a year younger than Smith. I’m also not buying the assumption that Smith’s defensive scheme simply doesn’t work any longer. A more legitimate argument could be made that he wasn’t given enough time to fully put it in place. And who’s to say that the Buccaneers couldn’t have found another quality offensive coordinator eager to work with Winston?
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles. Right off the bat, he’s going to be a welcome change for players who had problems dealing with his predecessor, Chip Kelly, who was too robotic and strident about putting his systems and advanced sports-science training methods ahead of human beings. Everyone in the building is going to be happy about the fact the more affable Pederson won’t be a constant annoyance by having to always be the smartest person in the room.
Pederson brings a strong reputation for the job he has done getting the most out of quarterbacks, the past three seasons as offensive coordinator in Kansas City and two years before that as quarterbacks coach of the Eagles. His handling of two-minute play-calling for the Chiefs in 2015 left plenty to be desired, especially with the inexplicable clock-bleeding approach to the final minutes of the divisional-round playoff loss against New England.
But Pederson draws high marks for coaxing Jim Schwartz out of his one-year hiatus after his strong 2014 season with the Bills to become his defensive coordinator and picking up Frank Reich to help him with the offense.
2. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns. For a franchise that seemingly can’t get anything right football-wise, this might very well be the biggest upset on the list. Jackson was regarded as one of the hotter candidates who would pretty much be able to pick his team after the impressive work he did as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s a dynamic leader who has long been recognized for innovation with his scheming. Plus, he chose an organization that’s taking a radical deep dive into analytics in the player-acquisition process.
It’s debatable about how many head-coaching options Jackson actually had. But kudos to the Browns for doing something they failed to do in previous coaching searches: when they found the guy they wanted, they were relentless in making sure he didn’t get away. The problem here is that it’s still the Browns, and as talented a coach as Jackson might be, fixing them any time soon could be impossible.
That, of course, will likely lead to the inevitable fan/media uproar that taps into the notorious impatience of club owner Jimmy Haslam … and that revolving door just might be spinning once again at the other end of Lake Erie.
1. Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers. Sure, in many ways Kelly was a jerk in Philadelphia. He never figured out how to handle NFL egos, especially the extra-large ones belonging to guys such as LeSean McCoy (whom he foolishly gave away to the Bills for Kiko Alonso) and DeSean Jackson (whom he allowed to join division-rival Washington). Kelly also apparently didn’t have a sense of just how overbearing he could be to those around him, which made it difficult to build and/or retain support from ownership when things turned sour on the field. If he can only learn from those mistakes, following the blueprint that allowed Bill Belichick to reinvent himself with the Patriots after his tumultuous stint with the Browns, he could do something special.
But the larger problem Kelly had with the Eagles was trying to do too much by doubling as the GM. He will be only the Niners’ coach. Coaching is something Kelly seems to do fairly well, as reflected by his 26-21 record in three seasons and an offensive scheme for which opposing defenses have a hard time preparing. He made his offense work with quarterbacks such as Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, so it’s reasonable for the 49ers to think he has a shot at salvaging Colin Kaepernick.