The NFL coaching carousel is starting to slow down. Six of the seven teams appointed new head coaches over the last two weeks; some of those coaches are ex-players, some are genius coordinators while others bring a ton of experience. It is a varied coaching class; different types of characters will stalk the sidelines next season.
Some teams will hit the jackpot, while others could be searching for another head coach; it is an uncertain time; nonetheless, it is time to hand out some grades’. It’s time to examine the hires made in the NFL:
The Falcons hired Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as their new head coach. Smith arrives in Atlanta after two stunning years in Tennessee. The Titans finished top-ten in scoring offense in the last two years. Smith gets credited with much of that; he unleashed Derrick Henry, the former Alabama player who ran for over 2000 yards in the previous two years. Previous coordinator Matt Lafleur failed to do that; Smith completely changed the Titans’ offense.
With Henry rumbling, Smith unlocked Ryan Tannehill. The Miami reject developed into an elite quarterback under Smith. Tannehill’s QBR in 2020 was an excellent 78.4. Under Smith, the Titans transformed into a brilliant play-action passing team. It is that offensive turnaround that attracted Atlanta to Smith.
Atlanta still owns powerful tools on offense. Calvin Ridley is emerging into an elite wideout, while Julio Jones still has juice. The more significant issues surround Matt Ryan and Todd Gurley. At 35, Ryan is now in the closing stages of his career; change is looming at the quarterback position. I fully expect Atlanta to draft a quarterback in the draft.
The more concerning question is Todd Gurley; the once electrifying runner looks lost. 678 yards was by far his lowest rushing total in his career.
No More Henry
It seems as if Gurley has lost the explosive burst that he possessed in LA. Unfortunately for Smith, Gurley is not the bell-cow that Henry is. Gurley will get broken in half if Smith uses him like he used Henry. Luckily, Smith owns a lot of experience working in different systems under various coaches; Smith must create a new offense.
There is no Derrick Henry, and that was when trouble arose for Smith in Tennessee. He’s worked on both sides of the ball; therefore, he should have a good grounding in understanding why the Falcons defense is not good.
Overall, Smith is an experienced tactician with a strong understanding of the game. There are questions over his leadership; however, we must give him time on that front. He should get that; the Falcons look set for a rebuild, with a young quarterback likely on the menu, Smith should do well.
GRADE – B
Dan Campbell announced his return to Detroit with a big bang. Campbell’s initial press conference demonstrated the tremendous energy he owns. Add that to the intensity and honesty of his answers, it looks like Detroit got their leader of men. In one 90 minute press conference, Campbell fired up an entire city. Detroit’s been desperate for a leader that shares their values, in Coach Campbell it seems they’ve found it.
Campbell doesn’t provide any play-calling experience, although he does bring previous head-coaching experience to the Motor City. He served as interim head coach in Miami in 2015.
Campbell’s no-nonsense attitude meshes well with Detroit as a city, specifically Lions fans. He was right, Lions fans don’t want to hear any more coach-speak. The former tight-end had a fanbase ready to run through ten brick walls. Campbell’s most recent experience comes from New Orleans where he was an assistant to Sean Payton. Now, he gets the big chair. Saints defensive back coach Aaron Glenn joins him as defensive coordinator.
The Lions roster requires major surgery; questions are surrounding Matthew Stafford’s future. It will be a long road to success; nevertheless, when the head coach gets teary-eyed about seeing his old practice field, the Lions have someone who’s heart is in the project. Several questions still need answering, yet, for the time being, it is a good start.
GRADE – C
The Jaguars landed the big-ticket head coach in Urban Meyer. The college legend finally steps up into the NFL, with arguably the most desirable opening in the NFL. The Jags will draft Trevor Lawrence in the draft; they also are in good shape regarding the salary cap. With Meyer’s appeal, Jacksonville should attract talented free agents.
Darrell Bevell is closing in on becoming the new offensive coordinator. He is a smart man who can design top offenses around a good ground game. James Robinson could take another step under Bevell’s offense.
There are, however, a few caveats. Owner Shahid Khan said he wanted some say in roster construction. Also, Meyer came on board before GM Trent Baalke. No-one knows how that dynamic will play out, Baalke struggled as GM in San Francisco. Moreover, there are concerns about a team’s discipline under Meyer. During his various stints in the college game, ill-discipline plagued his teams.
Ultimately, it is the Hollywood hire, Meyer knows football, and he knows how to build winning programs. However, everyone will need to keep their egos in check. It could go brilliantly, or it could blow up.
GRADE – A-
Brandon Staley got a new job at a new team, yet his office is the same. Well played Mr. Staley. The young defensive coordinator is now the head coach of the Chargers. As coordinator, Staley excelled in his rookie year as he led a defense that finished second in scoring. Staley repeatedly coached up gems in games against big-time offenses. Now, he gets to take charge of another excellent defense.
The Chargers possess players on that side of the ball that can be game-wreckers. With Staley at the helm, they should excel. Staley also played quarterback at Dayton. He understands that side of the ball, which should be a great help to Justin Herbert. Staley is the young, dynamic defensive guy that the Chargers needed.
He speaks similarly to Sean Mcvay; it will be fantastic to see these two guys work at SoFi Stadium in 2021. Hopefully, Staley hires some experience around him. One of the critical parts of being a head coach is managing the game, using your timeouts as well as challenges. All things that the Chargers got wrong under Anthony Lynn. It is hard to be a play-caller and a game-manager as a first-time head coach. Overall, Staley seems the right guy for LA, although he does need some help alongside him.
Grade – B +
New York Jets
The Jets got Robert Saleh. Everyone wanted Robert Saleh; Gang Green landed him. The intense defensive coordinator is the man charged with leading New York to the top. Saleh is the first Muslim-American head coach in the NFL. Don’t get it twisted that he got the job due to his minority status.
Saleh got the Jets job due to two incredible years at the 49ers. His defense balled out in 2020, despite a slew of injuries—Saleh’s passion, paired with his ability to game-plan, made him the number one target. Mike Lafleur joins him from San Fran as the offensive coordinator. Lafleur comes from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree that spawned Mcvay, Kyle Shanahan, and Lafleur’s brother.
Hiring Saleh was the home-run pick; it can’t go wrong. For once, the New York Jets made the obvious decision; it could turn out to be inspired.
Grade – A+
The Eagles came into the hiring race embarrassingly late. Many top candidates were off the board by the time Philadelphia started. They hastily arranged interviews with Robert Saleh and Eric Bienemy; those interviews amounted to nothing. The Eagles hired Nick Sirriani to be their next head coach. It is a strange decision as Sirriani is very inexperienced as a play-caller.
Furthermore, it is odd because he is of the Andy Reid/Doug Pederson school of coaches. One doesn’t need play-calling experience to be a good head coach, that is not a pre-requisite. Nevertheless, I do hold concerns about Sirriani’s ability to deal with the Philly locker room.
Clearly, he knows his x’s and o’s, yet head coaches need more than that. Don’t forget several Eagles players lobbied for Duce Staley; it is a tough spot for Sirriani. One day he will become a good play-caller and head coach; it just feels like it is too early for him. It is a poor decision from the Eagles front office.
Grade – D
Where to start with the Texans? The franchise is at rock bottom. The GM search was a sham, the head coach search descended into a farce, and Deshaun Watson wants out. Today, Houston interviewed Josh Mccown for the job. Chaos is ensuing at Reliant Stadium.
Eric Bienemy should not touch that job; the Texans are a toxic franchise. The only way they will get a new head coach is if they pay someone silly money. You’d need a combination of Bill Walsh, Chuck Noll, and Don Shula to save the Texans’ sinking ship. The Texans are a disgrace; good coaches like the aforementioned Bienemy or Brian Daboll should go nowhere near the place. What a mess.
Grade – U (Unclassified) they don’t even deserve an F