Grading the NFL’s Head Coach Hires for 2013
Find out what we think of the Chip Kelly decision and the other seven new hires
By: Mark Ross | 2/1/13, 7:20 AM EST
Eight NFL teams, or a quarter of the league, have hired new head coaches since the first of the year. The seemingly flush job market was initially created on Dec. 31, the day after the regular season ended, when Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, Philadelphia and San Diego all fired their head coaches.
Those seven firings, on what is referred to as “Black Monday” around the league, alone were more than the total number of head coaches fired on the same day in the last three seasons combined. And that wasn’t the end of the openings either, as Jacksonville made the decision to part ways with its head coach earlier this month following the hiring of a new general manager.
The end result is that 25 percent of the league has a new head coach, as all but one of the eight divisions have been impacted by this hiring frenzy. That division is the NFC South, and even then you could make the argument that New Orleans will have a “new” head coach next season with Sean Payton’s return from his year-long BountyGate suspension.
Here are the eight teams that are truly under “new” management and our grade for each franchise’s new hire. Please keep in mind that grading these new hires is an inexact science, but previous experience, state of the roster/franchise, makeup of the coaching staff, and how well we think they fit their team factored heavily in the rankings and letter grade. That is why, for example, just because Philadelphia made the most headlines by luring Chip Kelly away from Oregon, that doesn’t mean that’s the hire that received our top marks.
Grading and Ranking the NFL's Head Coach Hires for 2013
1. Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Predecessor: Norv Turner (7-9 this season, 56-40 overall in 6 seasons w/ SD)
What’s to Like: Plenty. McCoy was one of the most sought-after candidates during this hiring frenzy, so he had the luxury of choosing the job that seemed to be the best fit. An offensive mind with 12 years of coaching experience in the NFL, McCoy had spent the past four seasons in Denver as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. Starting out with Jay Cutler, McCoy was then able to adapt the Broncos’ offense to get the most out of Kyle Orton and then Tim Tebow, before helping Peyton Manning resurrect his career this season. Now he gets the opportunity to do something similar with Philip Rivers, who despite his declining production is only 31 years old and just three seasons removed from a 4,700-yard, 30-touchdown campaign. Bringing in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator should only help Rivers even more, while retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano will provide continuity for a young defense that should only continue to develop and improve.
What’s Not to Like: Call us optimistic, but we really think San Diego nailed this one on the head. The only real reason for concern that we can see is that this is McCoy’s first head-coaching gig. That’s not to say he won’t thrive in his new role along the lines of a Jim or John Harbaugh for example, but there are also plenty of examples of those so-called “hot shot” new head coaches who had trouble adjusting to the added responsibilities and pressure. There also have to be some concerns about Rivers’ steady decline in production and whether or not his problems can be “fixed,” along with the nagging health issues that seem to plague two of Rivers’ most important weapons – running back Ryan Mathews and tight end Antonio Gates.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Predecessor: Romeo Crennel (2-14 this season, 4-15 overall in 1+ seasons w/ KC)
What’s to Like: Once Reid and the Eagles parted ways, it was widely believed that he would land on his feet as long as he didn’t want to take a year or two off. And that indeed was the case as the Chiefs snatched Reid up before any other team, notably Arizona, could, making him the first new head coach to be hired. Even though Reid was fired by his previous employer, who can really argue with the Chiefs’ decision considering he won 130 games in his 14 seasons in Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to six NFC East titles and one Super Bowl appearance. Kansas City is by far an easier place to coach in than Philadelphia (weaker division, less media scrutiny, more gracious fan base), and this change of scenery may be just what Reid needs to re-energize him and re-ignite his love and passion for the game. If anything, Chiefs fans and supporters alike have to agree that Reid is a significant upgrade from the previous two holders of the job – Crennel and Todd Haley. That’s a start, right?
What’s Not to Like: Tell us who Kansas City’s quarterback will be in Week 1 next season and it’s entirely possible the “minus” above could go away or the “A” could be replaced by a “B.” Our guess is that the Chiefs’ 2013 starting quarterback isn’t currently on the roster, as there will probably be other options available on the market (Alex Smith? Matt Flynn? Michael Vick?), and it’s likely the team drafts one in the early rounds. We don’t expect them to take one with the No. 1 overall pick, however, nor do we like their chances of fully maximizing the pick’s value in a trade, like what St. Louis did last year trading the No. 2 overall pick to Washington for a bevy of picks.
3. Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns
Predecessor: Pat Shurmur (5-11 this season, 9-23 overall in 2 seasons with CLE)
What’s to Like: The 44-year-old Toledo, Ohio, native said the Cleveland gig was his “dream job.” Chudzinski previously served as the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2007-08, so he should be well aware of what he is taking on. He helped develop Cam Newton into AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011. He made great hires with Norv Turner as offensive coordinator and Ray Horton as defensive coordinator. Browns have pieces to build around, including running back Trent Richardson and a young, improving defense. Chudzinksi also was the Browns’ offensive coordinator when Derek Anderson put together his lone Pro Bowl season in 2007.
What’s Not to Like: Faces a tough uphill climb being in the same division as the AFC Champion Ravens, Cincinnati, who has earned Wild Card berths in consecutive seasons, and Pittsburgh, who has played in two of the past six Super Bowls. Jury is still out whether or not quarterback Brandon Weeden is the long-term solution, and the Browns still need more offensive weapons to complement Richardson.
4. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Predecessor: Lovie Smith (10-6 this season, 81-63 overall in 9 seasons w/ CHI)
What’s to Like: Brings more than 30 years worth of coaching experience on both the collegiate and professional levels, including five seasons as a head coach in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Led the Montreal Alouettes to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and ’10. Offensive-minded coach who has served as offensive coordinator for several NFL teams and tutored numerous quarterbacks, including Bernie Kosar, Steve Young and Rich Gannon. Has several offensive pieces already in place on the roster starting with quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Brought in Aaron Kromer, who was with New Orleans, to serve as offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, which was one of the Bears’ biggest weaknesses last season.
What’s Not to Like: Once considered a hot coaching prospect in the NFL, Trestman had to go north to the CFL to get his first head-coaching gig. There probably will be some adjustment for Trestman as he comes back to the NFL after his tenure (2008-12) in the CFL. He is the only new head coach taking over a team that finished with a winning record last season. Trestman was unable to convince defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to stick around, so new DC Mel Tucker is now tasked with maintaining unit’s production, while dealing with some tough personnel decisions related to having a mostly veteran unit.
5. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Predecessor: Andy Reid (4-12 this season, 130-93-1 overall in 14 seasons with PHI)
What’s to Like: A 46-7 record in four seasons at Oregon that included three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl appearances. The architect of one of college football’s most explosive and prolific offenses during his Oregon tenure, one that put up ridiculous numbers and was a lot of fun to watch. A bright mind known for his creativity, it seems like an ideal time to see if he can be successful at the next level. Appears to have some players (Bryce Brown, Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy) who should fit his offensive scheme well. Brought in Pat Shurmur, who was Browns’ head coach previously and offensive coordinator for the Rams before that, to help adapt his offensive style for the NFL. Kelly seems to be comfortable with Nick Foles, who he coached against in college, as his quarterback moving forward.
What’s Not to Like: Collegiate success doesn’t necessarily translate to the pros, and this is especially a concern considering Kelly is an offensive-minded coach. Has yet to hire a defensive coordinator, which could cause this grade to go up a tick or two, or go down. His Oregon offenses seemed to struggle with some of the more pro-oriented defenses, such as Auburn’s in the national title game in the 2010 season and Stanford’s this season. Can’t “recruit” to find the personnel to fit his system, so the key for him will be finding what elements will work in the NFL. Could be a longer than usual adjustment period as Kelly will have to adapt to the NFL, and his team will have to adapt to the new offense. He also has some tough decisions to make, namely at quarterback and whether to stick with Foles, who finished the season as a starter, or to retain Michael Vick and have the two compete for the job during training camp.
6. Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
Predecessor: Chan Gailey (6-10 this season, 16-32 overall in 3 seasons with BUF)
What’s to Like: An under-the-radar hire, Marrone has seven years of previous NFL coaching experience. After starting his coaching career with numerous stops in the collegiate ranks, Marrone served as the Jets’ offensive line coach from 2002-05 before heading to New Orleans as offensive coordinator/line coach. Marrone’s first season in New Orleans was also quarterback Drew Brees’ first with the Saints and together, along with head coach Sean Payton, the three laid the offensive foundation for the eventual 2009 championship team. Marrone wasn’t around to enjoy the fruits of his labor, however, as he left the Saints near the end of the 2008 season to become the head coach at Syracuse, his alma mater. Taking over a team that had won just three games the season prior, Marrone led the Orange to a 25-25 mark and two Pinstripe Bowl wins (2010, ’12) in his four seasons. No stranger to taking on challenges and orchestrating turnarounds, Marrone seems to be a good fit to try and reverse the fortunes of a franchise that has posted eight straight losing seasons and has the longest current playoff drought in the NFL (13 seasons).
What’s Not to Like: An under-the-radar hire, many were left scratching their heads when Marrone was named the Bills’ sixth head coach since 2000. His college head coaching resume pales in comparison to some of his recent peers who have made the jump to the pros, such as a Greg Schiano or Chip Kelly. Marrone’s offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, was with him at Syracuse but doesn’t have significant NFL experience. The Bills also have to decide whether Ryan Fitzpatrick, who still has more than $40 million left on his contract that runs through the 2016 season, is the long-term answer at quarterback or not.
7. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Predecessor: Ken Whisenhunt (5-11 this season, 45-51 in 6 seasons w/ ARI)
What’s to Like: Long-time coach with more than 30 years of experience paid his dues and earned his shot after leading Indianapolis to the playoffs as the interim head coach for an ailing Chuck Pagano. Offensive-minded coach who helped Ben Roethlisberger win a Super Bowl and Andrew Luck break the record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback. Arians has experience in helping teams turn things around, as Colts went 2-14 in 2011, improving to 10-6 this season.
What’s Not to Like: For starters, how about Arizona’s quarterback situation? Do they even have a viable option on the roster right now? The Cardinals do have a solid defense that should continue to get better, but they lost the man largely responsible for developing it, former coordinator Ray Horton. The job now falls to Todd Bowles, who got his first taste as a defensive coordinator for Philadelphia last season, but only following the dismissal of Juan Castillo in October. Arizona’s offensive line was a disaster last season and there are far more questions compared to answers when it comes to that side of the ball. Arians has a first-year offensive coordinator in Harold Goodwin and a 74-year-old offensive line coach in Tom Moore to help him overhaul the offense. Overall, Arians’ staff to this point appears to be one of the weakest of the new head coaches.
8. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Predecessor: Mike Mularkey (2-14 this season, only season w/ JAC)
What’s to Like: He’s relatively young (46) and helped build and develop one of the league’s best, young defenses as Seattle’s coordinator from 2009-12. Has some young talent (Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts) to build around and will more than likely add some more with the help of early draft picks. He also has an owner in Shahid Khan that has the money to spend to improve the team, if he so chooses.
What’s Not to Like: This grade is more a reflection of the state of the Jacksonville franchise than Bradley himself. Well respected in the business among his peers, Bradley has the toughest task of any of the new head coaches ahead of them. As it stands now, the Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill throughout their roster, starting at quarterback. The team’s best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, is looking to get paid like a franchise cornerstone, but doesn’t have the best of relationships with the team itself and is coming off of an injury-plagued season. No fault of Bradley’s, but the Jaguars probably should have focused more on hiring a “bigger” name, like an Andy Reid or Chip Kelly for example, which would have given a dwindling fan base something to get excited about. Fan involvement is tepid at best and the franchise itself faces somewhat of an uncertain future in Jacksonville. Honestly, if we were grading just the franchise, the grade would be no higher than a D right now.
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