NFL Handicapping: Ranking The New NFL Head Coaches
by Robert Ferringo - 7/17/2013
The old adage in professional sports is that coaches are hired to get fired.
Heading into 2013, there are eight new NFL coaches who now have no place to go but down.
That also means that a full one-quarter of all pro football teams will be led by new taskmasters as training camps open at the end of this month. While that seems like an excessive amount of coaching turnover it is actually pretty average for what has become a churn-and-burn league.
Over the last five years – including this upcoming season – there have been 38 NFL coaching changes. That’s an average of nearly eight firings and hirings per season. Going back over the last 10 years there have been an average of seven new coaches per season, with a high of 11 changes prior to the 2009 campaign and a low of just three new head men going into the 2005 season.
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This year’s crop of first-year NFL head coaches features some familiar names, with Andy Reid and reigning NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians in new locales. The new leaders also include a pair of college football imports, with well-regarded Chip Kelly and surprise hire Doug Marrone attempting to make the adjustment. The remaining slots went to the proverbial Hot NFL Assistants, and we’ll see if they are up to the challenge of running a whole team instead of just one side of the ball.
Here are my rankings and breakdown of the NFL head coaching hires:
1. Andy Reid, Kansas City
It was time for Reid to depart Philadelphia. He had endured several off-the-field tragedies in recent years. Red was also shackled with horrendous quarterback Mike Vick and a roster full of overrated “talent”. And after 14 successful years, his schemes, systems and voice had fallen flat in the locker room and in one of the most vicious markets in the country. Change was welcome.
I, like many, assumed that Reid would take a year off before making a return to the sidelines. But he slid comfortably into Kansas City’s vacancy and seems like the right man at the right place at the right time. Over the past four years the Chiefs have teetered through the shaky leadership of hothead Todd Haley and clueless Romeo Crennel. But this franchise has been at its best under the steady veteran hands of venerable coaches like Dick Vermeil and Marty Schottenheimer. Now it is Reid’s turn.
The Chiefs are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. But they have six Pro Bowlers, a major upgrade at quarterback with new starter Alex Smith, and the optimism and confidence of a team ready to bounce back. Reid should be rejuvenated by a fresh start in a calmer Midwest media center. And I think he will pay immediate dividends.
2. Bruce Arians, Arizona
Arians was last year’s NFL Coach of the Year and did an amazing job of guiding Indianapolis to 11 wins and a stunning playoff berth. Granted, the Colts could thank some supernatural forces (as well as a shockingly easy schedule) for their success in 2012. But Arians was outstanding at the helm and pushed all the right buttons in Indianapolis last year. His game plans were sound, his play calling exceptional (he was the team’s offensive coordinator and head coach), and his command of the locker room showed a skill that can’t be taught.
Arians labored with the Steelers from 2004 to 2011 and is the second coach from the Pittsburgh pipeline that the Cardinals have brought in. Ken Whisenhunt led the Cardinals to back-to-back playoff berths and a Super Bowl before being scapegoated for Arizona’s pathetic quarterback play. They will see if Arians can top that effort.
The Cardinals and Arians will have an uphill climb in one of the toughest divisions in football. But I think he’s up to the task, and I think he’s a fantastic long-term hire. I saw enough out of him last year to believe that he will doing outstanding work to stabilize this shaky franchise.
3. Marc Trestman, Chicago
I am a lifelong Bears fan, so this one is a little personal. Lovie Smith didn’t deserve to be fired. Had the Bears front office even attempted to address their abortion of an offensive line over the past three years then Chicago could’ve had another Super Bowl appearance under Lovie’s watch. But Smith and his bend-but-don’t-break, good-but-not-good-enough, boy-am-I-confused-about-this-timeout-thing approach is out.
The wonkish Trestman is in, and by all accounts he is a well-respected, even-tempered, straightforward coach. His roots are from the 49ers heyday of the mid-90s, and he is a pupil of the West Coast offense. Trestman won back-to-back Grey Cups with Montreal in 2009 and 2010 in the CFL, and he finished his career north of the border with an exceptional 59-31 regular season record. That makes him and Reid the most accomplished pro coaches of this lot.
Trestman is an offensive coach. And there is no doubt that his primary task is to bring form and identity to a Bears attack that for 20 years has consistently been one of the worst in football. Chicago has finished in the Top 10 in yards gained just twice in 20 years and has finished in the Top 15 in scoring just four times since 1993.
I think that Trestman is the biggest wild card of this group. The Bears have talent, as their 29 wins over the last three years indicate. If Chicago’s defense remains a Top 10 unit and the offense blossoms under Trestman then this hiring could be a fantastic one. But if the Bears start to backslide after their best nine-year run since the 80s then things could turn ugly.
4. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville
Just eight short years ago Bradley was toiling as a defensive coordinator for North Dakota State. Now, thanks mainly to his success in the same position for the Seahawks over the past four seasons, Bradley is a head coach for the Jaguars. He built a stellar defense in Seattle, and his teams were marked by sound fundamental play and a conservative approach.
The Jaguars need personnel help all over the field, and they have the worst quarterback situation of any team in the league. Their ownership recently turned over, and their long-term future in the region is shaky. Bradley is the fourth Jacksonville head coach since the start of 2011 after the franchise had just two leaders through the first 16 years of its history. Things are the opposite of stable in North Florida.
Bradley has inherited a mess. So he will have a lot of slack as the organization tries to turn things around.
5. Mike McCoy, San Diego
If Trestman is the biggest wild card of this group then Mike McCoy is the biggest question mark.
Every report or analysis of McCoy focuses on the same qualification: McCoy has shown remarkable versatility as Denver offensive coordinator while working with three completely different types of quarterback in Denver for three straight seasons.
McCoy is credited with crafting offenses to fit the skill set of Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. Here’s the problem with that: Orton’s offense was mediocre (No. 19 in scoring, No. 13 in yards) and the team went 4-12. Tebow’s offense was pathetic (No. 25 scoring, No. 23 total) and that team’s success was an Act of God (and John Fox). And Manning’s offense was, well, Manning’s, and I don’t think McCoy can take much credit for it.
Can Mike McCoy properly manage the last four minutes of a three-point game? Can McCoy keep a locker room motivated and focused after a 2-5 start? Can McCoy properly scout, draft, develop and utilize a stable of players that can overcome personnel losses to injuries? Who knows? And that’s why it’s pretty much impossible to predict how this hiring is going to work out for the Bolts.
6. Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland
I had no idea that Chudzinski fit into the “hot young coordinator” category when head coaching jobs were being doled out this offseason. His two stops as an offensive coordinator, in Cleveland in 2007 and 2008 and in Carolina in 2011 and 2012, both followed a similar pattern: his offense exploded in his first season only to fizzle in his second.
Cleveland, stuck as a distant fourth place in one of the top divisions in football, would love any type of explosion, even if it were short-lived. The city has a miserable track record of coaching failures, and Chudzinski represents the latest gamble.
The best things that Chudzinski has going for him are two stellar coordinators. Norv Turner was a burnout in San Diego. But he is an offensive mastermind and will capably shepherd that side of the ball. Ray Horton left Arizona after being passed over for the Cardinals job. He did excellent work building up the Arizona defense and is another solid addition to this staff.
Having two capable coordinators will either be the best or worst thing that happens to Chud. If everyone does their job they could put the new head coach in a position to succeed. But if Chudzinski struggles with his newfound responsibilities then he has two prime candidates ready to take over his job.
7. Doug Marrone, Buffalo
In this sixth Buffalo rebuild in the last 10 years, the ignorantly optimistic Upstate New York fan base has been lauding the Marrone hiring. Because of Marrone’s roots in nearby Syracuse and NFL experience, he is the latest supposed Savior Of The Franchise. But in a place where people don’t like spending more than $4.99 for a sandwich or more than $2 for a beer, this maneuver struck me a small-minded, low-budget hire.
Marrone didn’t exactly “turn around” the Syracuse University football program, as he has been credited with. The Orange went just 25-25 in his four-year tenure. But if you eliminate wins over D-IAA schools and teams from the MAC then Marrone’s record was just 17-25.
As alum, I watched a ton of Syracuse games the past four years. Yes, he had the program heading in the right direction. But let’s not pretend that Marrone was some sought-after up-and-comer who the Bills pried away from a powerhouse college program. Instead, it looks like Marroneis set to screw over two Upstate football institutions in one fell swoop.
I have been saying for years that the Bills need a proven NFL retread. They have needed a Schottenheimer. Or a Turner. Or a Lovie. They should’ve begged for John Fox or Jeff Fisher. The Bills need someone with a proven track record that can overhaul and rebuild the foundation of this organization. Maybe no one wants to go to Buffalo. But if that’s the case, the Bills need to overpay and lure someone. This shouldn’t be a job for mediocre college coaches to cut their teeth.
8. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia
I’ve made my feelings about Kelly’s hiring well known here. Maybe I’m wrong and his long-term prospects are solid. But it doesn’t take much to read the tealeaves and see that the Eagles are in for a long season and that Kelly’s transition likely won’t be a smooth one.
Robert Ferringo is a lead writer for Doc’s Sports and one of the best handicappers in the country. Robert has posted two of three winning football seasons and five of six profitable NFL seasons. His 2013 football packages are up and available and you can sign up today to put The Ferringo Method to work for you. In fact, Doc’s is so confident that you’ll love Robert’s service that we’re willing to give you $60 absolutely free to use towards the purchase of his plays. Click here for your free $60 credit.
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