We add up all the factors to determine which open NFL head coaching jobs are the most attractive for the top candidates.
Black Monday means one thing: Some of the most coveted jobs in sports are now up for grabs, as a handful of NFL teams send their current head coaches packing and look toward the future. But just how coveted are those jobs? Yes, one may argue that getting a head-coaching gig in a bad situation is still a good thing, but there’s a pretty large variance in the overall attractiveness of the franchises currently hiring. With that in mind, here are the best and worst places for prospective head coaches to land, based on several factors concerning each team’s present and future. We’ve given a score to each category and combined the results to create an overall Desirability Index for each open job.
New York Giants
What happened: On Monday afternoon, Giants coach Tom Coughlin stepped down following a third consecutive losing season. At this time, there’s no word on the future of general manager Jerry Reese. Coughlin leaves the Giants with a 102–90 regular season record, an 8–3 postseason record and two Super Bowl titles.
Current/future roster: Over the last few years, the Giants have morphed from a team that set its sights on a pass rush and the running game to a franchise that is invested very much in the passing game. Some might say that the change in thinking has a lot to do with personnel deficiencies, and that’s a valid school of thought. Certainly, Reese and his scouting staff have struggled to replace outstanding pass rushers like Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck, and the G-Men have cycled through multiple running backs in hopes of making something work. At this point, the Giants have one quarterback in Eli Manning who has his moments, one receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. who can be the best in the league when he’s healthy and his head is on straight, and a whole lot of question marks everywhere else. The Giants have spent a lot of draft capital on offensive linemen who haven’t yet lived up to the billing just yet, and the pass rush has been a failure overall in the past couple of seasons. The Giants haven’t had a winning season since 2012, and though there have been injuries, that’s not a fluke. There’s some fairly major rebuilding ahead for whoever’s in charge. Score: 5.0 out of 10
Salary cap situation: The Giants come into the 2016 league year with a cap number of $114,642,900, which will give them a lot of room to reload. Eli Manning is the main cap strain, with a 2016 cap number of $24.2 million, and the oft-injured receiver Victor Cruz is second on the list, with a 2016 number of $9.9 million. There are several players the Giants could either restructure or release if need be. Score: 8.0 out of 10
Front office: The Giants are one of the paragons of stability in the NFL, and the Mara/Tisch families will continue that no matter who’s in charge. It’s hard to argue with those who would want to move on from Reese, and we’ll have to see how that shakes out. The Maras tend to influence league matters more than they involve themselves in day-to-day team matters, which is a plus. Score: 7.0 out of 10
Actual appeal of city: It’s New York City, and it’s the Meadowlands. It’s tradition, and though Coughlin will be a hard act to follow in a football sense and in an emotional sense, the right replacement could take the city by storm with a few major roster overhauls. Score: 7.0 out of 10
Desirability Index: 27.0
What happened: Chip Kelly, one year after the team agreed to give him full personnel control and three years into his five-year contract, was fired because his personnel moves didn’t work, the culture he established was toxic and he refused to split control.
Current/future roster: Start with the quarterback situation, because that’s the part the new head coach and personnel exec(s) will have to deal with sooner rather than later. Kelly traded Philly’s second-round pick in 2016 for Sam Bradford, who performed decently behind a patchwork line, throwing to decent receivers, with a below-average run game, in a system where he couldn’t audible. Bradford has said that his future in Philly is tied to the new coaching staff and his comfort in the system. Defensive end Fletcher Cox, the team’s best player on that side of the ball, will be a free agent after the 2016 season, and he’s going to cash in big, as he should. Defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, who played at a Pro Bowl level in a secondary where nobody else could claim that, will also be on the market after 2016. The Eagles have talent on both sides of the ball—this is not a rebuilding project just yet—but the new coach will obviously have to reinstall the positive culture that Kelly tore apart with his need for control. When you can start with the running back tandem of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, an above average left tackle in Jason Peters and defensive stalwarts like Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan, this may be the best overall roster of any team involved in the coaching carousel. The Eagles have the 13th pick in the draft, and that will obviously be crucial. Score: 7.0
Salary cap situation: The Eagles stand with a cap number of $133,483,600 (per OverTheCap.com), and with an estimated 2016 NFL cap of between $147 million and $155 million, there will be some flexibility. Kelly’s two biggest acquisitions—cornerback Byron Maxwell ($9.7 million) and Murray ($8 million)—have two of the team’s three biggest cap hits next season, with Peters rounding out the trio. The new personnel staff will have to pay for Kelly’s missteps for a while. Score: 5.5
Front office: Former GM Howie Roseman, exiled to an administrative role after Kelly’s coup, will work with team owner Jeff Lurie to bring a new coaching staff to Philly. In the building, Roseman will be the most powerful man, with senior director of player personnel Tom Donohoe as his second-in-command. As long as Roseman allows the collaborative approach Lurie endorses, it should be a pretty good starting point for Kelly’s replacement. Score: 7.0
Appeal of city: Yes, there was a courtroom and jail in the old Veterans Stadium. And yes, these are the fans who booed Santa Claus. And yes, Philly sports radio makes the sports radio of most other cities seem tame. But when you win, that passion generally turns positive. When you lose? Well ... you’d better win. Score: 4.0
Desirability Index: 23.5 out of 40
What happened: Joe Philbin was fired in October, an move that probably happened a year too late. Interim coach Dan Campbell did the best he could, but unless he ran the table, this was going to be an opening for a big name in the off-season all along. General manager Dennis Hickey was replaced by former director of college scouting Chris Grier.
Current/future roster: The Dolphins’ two best (or at least most important) players—quarterback Ryan Tannehill and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh—are under contract for years, and with very high cap numbers. Between them, Tannehill and Suh will take up about $40 million of Miami’s 2016 cap space, and there are questions in some quarters about Tannehill’s future as a top-tier quarterback, as well as Suh’s ability to affect opposing offenses over the long term. Pass rusher Olivier Vernon will be a free agent in 2016, and the Dolphins should do everything they can (within reason) to retain him. The Dolphins have a high-quality No. 1 receiver in Jarvis Landry and a potentially great running back in Lamar Miller, and safety Reshad Jones is one of the most underrated players in the NFL at his position. There’s a lot to like here, with the need for growth and depth along the offensive line, in the linebacker corps and among the receivers. This is a team with more talent than it has shown over the last few seasons, and that’s on Philbin most of all. The right kind of coach could build a legitimate long-term playoff contender with this base of talent and a few savvy moves. Score: 6.5
Salary cap situation: The Dolphins stand at $156,423,113, which means that no matter what the estimated cap number is for the 2016 season, they're going to be over it. Suh ($28.6 million) and Tannehill ($11.64 million) are the main offenders, and both players are obviously un-cuttable. High-priced veterans like Branden Albert, Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake and Jordan Cameron may be asked to re-structure or move along. It’s going to be a rough patch for the new guys in charge. Score: 2.0
Front office: Owner Steve Ross wants to change the culture of the Dolphins, which he’s been saying since he became the team’s majority owner in 2009. Ross’s latest change agent is executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, hired in January 2005 following an iffy turn as the Jets’ general manager and a time representing coaches as an agent. Executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte has been a rising star in the league for quite some time, but according to NFL.com’s Jeff Darlington, that may change. It looks like Tannenbaum will exit the current bloodletting with more power, and we’ll see how that goes. As an administrator, Tannenbaum has multi-level experience, but not all of it is great, and one wonders how willing this team is to bring in a coach with his own structure—one of the reasons Philbin was hired was that he would not rock the boat. Score: 4.0
Actual appeal of city: Well, it’s Miami. South Beach is pretty nice. And if you’re winning, people will actually go to games. For the most part. Miami has had its ups and downs as a football city, but there’s certainly enough sizzle to attract the right coach—if the right coach is in the Dolphins’ sights. Score: 6.0
Desirability Index: 18.5
San Francisco 49ers
What happened: The 49ers fired coach Jim Tomsula on Sunday after one season. CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke put the poor, underqualified man at the head of a depleted roster, and predictable things happened.
Current/future roster: Oof. Between Baalke’s uneven (to be kind) drafts over the last few years and an epic slate of player retirements before the 2015 season, the cupboard is pretty bare. There are those who will tell you that San Francisco’s roster is better than common perception, but it’s a pretty low bar to clear. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is probably out the door—the year-to-year nature of his contract makes this a relatively easy move—and we’ll have to wait and see whether the new regime thinks that Blaine Gabbert can be the answer at that position over a longer period of time. Outside of running back Carlos Hyde, left tackle Joe Staley and right guard Alex Boone (who will be a free agent this spring), there isn’t much elite talent on the offensive side. There’s a bit more talent on defense—defensive back Jimmie Ward has met expectations, and linebacker Aaron Lynch is a pass rusher with a lot of potential—but someone is going to have to rebuild this thing from the ground up, and it’s hard to assert that the people in the building are the right ones to do it. Score: 2.0
Salary cap situation: Well, here’s the good news. The 49ers have a 2016 cap number of $111,605,918, and they could free up another $8.493 million by moving on from Kaepernick. The question is, who can spend the money wisely? Score: 5.0
Front office: Oof, part two. York’s decision to stand behind Baalke when the choice had to be made between Baalke and Jim Harbaugh was ... regrettable. Baalke has a bad track record when it comes to assembling a team through the draft, and it could be argued that the teams Harbaugh guided to better success were almost entirely built by his predecessors. Nonetheless, York has seen fit to put Baalke in charge of football operations, with his own occasional underqualified shot across the bow. If the 49ers go with another yes-man as they did with Tomsula, it would be an inexcusable—and entirely predictable—move. Score: 2.0
Actual appeal of city: Northern California is, for the most part, a beautiful place. Northern California, for the most part, deserves better than this. Score: 8.0
Desirability Index: 17.0
What happened: What didn’t? The Browns fired head coach Mike Pettine and general Ray Farmer on Sunday, took another crack at reforming their front office, and keep talking about continuity as if it’s a word this ownership understands. Oh, and Johnny Manziel happened ... and happened ... and happened ...
Current/future roster: For a team with an epic series of blown first-round picks in the last few years, the Browns actually have a lot of talent. Cleveland is led by an offensive line that ranks among the league’s best when healthy, though center Alex Mack will probably opt out of his current contract unless ownership manages to put together the right people this off-season. Receiver Travis Benjamin has proven to be an explosive speed receiver, and tight end Gary Barnidge had a monster season. The defensive line and pass rush has a lot of potential with names like Paul Kruger, Danny Shelton and Randy Starks. The back seven and quarterback issues are the most glaring, but this is a team that did not play up to its athletic potential. The right coaching staff could turn that around quickly. The pieces are there in many ways. Score: 6.5
Salary cap situation: The Browns come into the 2016 season with a cap number of $134,379,766, which looks good until you realize that a) they desperately need a quarterback; and b) we have no clue who’s going to buy the groceries. In the abstract, however, this sets up nicely. Score: 5.0
Front office: Hoo, boy. Owner Jimmy Haslam officially bought the Browns in October 2012, and since then, he’s cycled through 61 coaches, two team presidents, three general managers and three head coaches. That’s a lot of work for a guy you might think was distracted by federal fraud charges, but no matter. After he fired Pettine and Farmer on Sunday, Haslam addressed the media, saying that he now sees the Browns as a “several-year rebuilding program” and, to his credit, admitting that he’s been in over his head.
“I will quickly say that this has been much harder than we thought it would be,” he said. “When you come into the NFL, you’re so excited just to have an NFL team that it takes awhile to understand how competitive it is, how much time it takes and the difficulty in putting together a winning organization. I hope we have learned a lot over the last two and a half years. It’s certainly been the hard way.”
[tile:11786751Haslam has hired Jed Hughes of the Korn Ferry search firm—Hughes helped bring Pete Carroll to Seattle, Bill O’Brien to Houston, Andy Reid to Kansas City, and Dan Quinn to Atlanta—to help find the Browns’ new coach. It’s a good move, but Haslam actually has to listen to the advice he’s given. To date, there’s not a good track record there. Haslam also named Sashi Brown to the position of executive vice president, football operations—an interesting title given Brown’s lack of personnel experience. He was the team’s EVP and general counsel before. The plan, Haslam says, is to find the new head coach first, with help from Brown, Hughes, and Haslam’s wife, Dee.
Until further notice, however, this is the most dysfunctional front office in the NFL, and the Browns may have trouble getting the best and brightest in the building as a result—something Haslam freely acknowledges.
“I spent a lot of time over the last several months talking to a lot of the names that you all have suggested we use as advisors [including Bill Parcells] because I worry about it,” he said Sunday. “The Browns’ track record and our track record as owner, you go, ‘Well why in the hell would anybody want to go there?’ and the response I get is the same whether it’s somebody that’s 45 or 75.”
It’s an unanswered question, and may be for a while. Proceed with extreme caution, candidates. Score: 0.0
Actual appeal of city: Great, patient fans, an underrated infrastructure ... Cleveland is actually a good city for the right coach. Believe it or not. Score: 4.0
Desirability Index: 15.5