’Tis the season for coaching and regime changes around the NFL. We’ve already seen the Rams, Jaguars and Bills get a jumpstart on the job market by dumping their coaches; there will surely be more to follow, accompanied by the musical chairs of coaching interviews and hirings.
With that in mind, let’s play a little fantasy off-season football. What follows are the seven most likely head coaching openings along with our dream fits from the pool of likely available coaches.
Los Angeles Rams
After five straight losing seasons under Jeff Fisher (bottoming out with this 4–11-and-counting campaign), the Rams finally fired him—a choice they should have made two years ago. Complicating this situation is the fact that GM Les Snead is still running personnel, but team president Kevin Demoff said Snead’s future has not yet been determined. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff may get mixed reviews, but candidates will be enticed by the location, deep pockets and owner Stan Kroenke, who is fairly hands off.
Best fit: Sean Payton, current head coach of the Saints. He’s had a successful 11-year run with the Saints (including a Super Bowl win), but after three-straight losing seasons, plus Drew Brees nearing the end of his contract/career, instability with the ownership and a team mired in salary-cap hell, it’s a good time for Payton to move on and start fresh. The question is, what kind of compensation would the Saints want in return? After the Goff trade, the Rams have limited draft resources, but perhaps second-round picks the next two years could do the deal. As an added bonus for Payton, he could fire defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who pointed the finger at Payton in the bounty scandal that cost Payton a year on the sidelines and millions in salary.
After three-plus seasons and a 14–48 record, the Jaguars moved on from Gus Bradley and have reportedly interviewed former Giants and Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin for the head coaching position. This job is promising because the team features young talent on both sides of the ball, an owner with patience and loads of cap space. But the QB position needs to be fixed, as Blake Bortles’s future is up in the air.
Best fit: Josh McDaniels, OC, Patriots. McDaniels, the former Broncos coach, and Jaguars GM David Caldwell were teammates in college at John Carroll. Caldwell is well liked by the ownership in Jacksonville and has done a good job upgrading the roster and fixing a financial mess. Caldwell also worked in Atlanta under Thomas Dimitroff, who previously was with the Patriots, so they’ll see things in similar terms. Bortles will be entering the final year of his contract if the team doesn’t pick up the fifth-year option, and McDaniels could bring Jimmy Garoppolo with him in a trade, or wait for his free agency after 2017.
This job could be viewed as Browns-level toxic because owner Terry Pegula has shown he has no idea what he’s doing in the NFL and NHL (Sabres). If Pegula were smart (new owners take a while to smarten up), he would clean house and hire a football czar to fix this mess. But that won’t happen—sure, he axed Rex Ryan already, but they kept GM Doug Whaley.
Best fit: Anthony Lynn, interim coach, Bills. The way things are currently constituted, and it doesn’t appear the situation will change, the Bills are going to have a hard time convincing someone to come in and serve under Whaley, who will have a strong hand in selecting his third coach in five seasons. Current Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who directed the Bills defense before Ryan was named head coach, would be a top outside candidate.
Should be open
San Diego Chargers
Even though the Chargers, despite suffering some brutal injuries this season, have been able to remain in every game, it’s still hard to see the team retaining coach Mike McCoy after back-to-back losing seasons, including Saturday’s loss to the winless Browns. The team has a cloudy future with the messy issue of relocation lingering, but working with QB Philip Rivers will be attractive to anyone.
Best fit: Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Chiefs
The Chargers have already gone the offensive coordinator route with Norv Turner and Mike McCoy, and that hasn’t worked. Going with a defensive coordinator like Sean McDermott or Jim Schwartz runs the risk of negatively affecting Rivers. And would OCs Frank Reich or Ken Whisenhunt be all that different from McCoy? It’s time to go in a different direction and take the league’s best special teams coach. Maybe he likes the schemes on both sides of the ball and keeps the status quo, but Toub knows how to manage different personalities. No NFL coach has to deal with as many changes on the fly as a special teams coach.
Could be open
There is speculation that Marvin Lewis’s 14th season with the Bengals could be his last after his first losing season in six years and an 0–7 postseason record. It could be retirement, as former Redskins TE Chris Cooley reported, or Lewis could be bumped up to a front office role.
Best fit: Paul Guenther, DC, Bengals. Cincinnati doesn’t tons of change under owner Mike Brown because it costs money, and this move would provide continuity. There are plenty of in-house candidates (Kevin Coyle, Jim Haslett) to take over for Guenther. Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph would be a top candidate but the Bengals wouldn’t let him out of his contract when Gary Kubiak wanted Joseph as his coordinator in Denver, and there might be some hard feelings there.
New York Jets
Reports are starting to surface that Todd Bowles is safe, and he should be. The Jets are in the midst of an entire rebuild, and the deficiencies are in the personnel, not the coaching.
Best fit: Bowles should be retained. Of course, things won’t get much better next year, but people don’t realize the size of this personnel mess.
If the Lions lose their third-straight game and miss the playoffs, there will be a lot of heat for Detroit to fire Jim Caldwell. I’m not his biggest fan, but he’s assembled a good staff and the team has played above its ability for much of the season.
Best fit: Caldwell should be retained. It’s very tempting to oust Caldwell and insert a Patriots coordinator (Josh McDaniels or Matt Patricia) to work with GM Bob Quinn, a former New England personnel executive, but the Lions are going in the right direction.
Owner Jim Irsay should have blown up the GM Ryan Grigson-coach Chuck Pagano tandem after last season (or at least just Grigson), but instead he signed them to contract extensions and the team marginally improved. Will Irsay swallow all that money? Doubt it. But he should.
Best fit: Likely the status quo for one more season... But if Irsay were smart, he’d hire Chiefs VP of player personnel Chris Ballard and let him figure out who should be the coach, with one favorite being Chiefs ST coordinator Dave Toub. That would be a good start at salvaging the rest of Andrew Luck’s career.
New Orleans Saints
If the Saints decide to let Payton leave for another job, they’ll have plenty of in-house candidates to fill the spot, including coordinators Pete Carmichael and Dennis Allen, while giving the team continuity in figuring out how to deal with the end of Drew Brees’s career and the inevitable rebuilding period that will follow.
Best fit: Dennis Allen, DC, Saints. Carmichael has been there longer but this setup gives New Orleans the best chance to be successful the next couple of seasons.
Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing NFL storylines this week:
Go crazy, folks
The Bills are a mess: No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you—the Bills really are as much of a mess as they seem. After firing Rex Ryan following two mediocre seasons mostly due to personnel issues (E.J. Manuel and the injured trio of Sammy Watkins, Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, anyone? Don’t even get us started one some players calling Ryan’s scheme “too complicated”), the brilliant ownership of Terry and Kim Pegula decided that not only should GM Doug Whaley be retained, but he should lead the search for his third coach in five seasons. Then, the front office makes the decision that Manuel should start in place of Tyrod Taylor (who actually played well most of this season) because of money, and made interim coach Anthony Lynn explain that to the media. What a joke. This is Cleveland East. What is it about NFL franchises along Lake Erie that makes their leadership so inept?
RIP Bruce DeHaven: Bruce DeHaven, a longtime NFL special teams coach with the Bills, 49ers, Cowboys, Seahawks and Panthers, died Tuesday night at 68 years old after a long battle with prostate cancer. There aren’t many coaches as universally beloved and respected around the league, but DeHaven was one of those rare people. A better man than a football coach, he will be missed by many in and out of the game.
Slow your roll
The criticism of Bradshaw over the Tomlin quote is way over the top: To recap, Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw said the following about Mike Tomlin: “I don’t think he’s a great coach at all ... He’s a nice coach. To me, and I’ve said this, he’s really a great cheerleader guy. I don’t know what he does. But I don’t think that he’s a great coach at all. His name never even pops in my mind when we think about great coaches in the NFL.”
Substitute “really a great motivator” for “really a great cheerleader guy,” and what’s out of line here? Bradshaw thinks Tomlin is a nice (my interpretation: solid or decent coach) coach, but not a great coach—what’s wrong with that? Tomlin has taken the Steelers to two Super Bowls, winning one. Tom Flores, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin all went to two Super Bowls and won two, and they’re also not widely considered to be great coaches. Mike McCarthy, Seifert, Bruce Arians, Barry Switzer, Mike Martz, John Harbaugh and Chuck Pagano all have comparable winning percentages to Tomlin (.642). Are they considered great? Let’s also remember that the Steelers have won one playoff game (against Marvin Lewis and the Bengals) in five years since losing Super Bowl XLV (Steelers trailed 21–3 and never took a lead) after the 2010 season.
Also, despite being fairly healthy this season, the Steelers needed to beat the offense-less Ravens in Week 16 to win a bad division. And let’s not forget that the Steelers, under Tomlin, are perennially one of those teams that can just as easily beat anybody (Chiefs, Giants) as lose to anybody (Eagles, Dolphins). Is that lack of consistency the trait of a team with a great coach? Probably not.
Rex shouldn’t go to the booth: After getting fired again, the popular sentiment is that Rex Ryan should just go straight to the broadcast booth. But Ryan is still too good of a defensive mind (when the general manager actually gives him players that can understand his scheme, sorry Marcell Dareus) to be away from the game. I made the pitch two years ago that after the Jets, Ryan should take a step back, learn from a more offensive-minded coach, and then give it another whack. No one listens to me. My dream team last time around stands. Mike McCarthy and the Packers (if Dom Capers retires or moves on) would be a perfect fit. Another possible destination: Washington. Jay Gruden needs help on that side of the ball, and there are actually some decent pieces (Josh Norman can be Ryan’s new Darrelle Revis). Some smart offensive coach should jump at the chance at bringing Ryan in.
10 thoughts on Week 17
1. The Lions, already without nickel CB Quandre Diggs, are likely to be without top CB Darius Slay for the showdown with the Packers. Detroit is down to Nevin Lawson, Johnson Bademosi and Asa Jackson who will try to slow down Aaron Rodgers. Good luck.
2. Lions WR Marvin Jones had 206 yards and two touchdowns on six catches in the first matchup at Lambeau in Week 3. He’s only had 32 catches the rest of the way.
3. Packers OLB Clay Matthews looked fantastic against the Vikings, but so does everybody. This matchup against Lions LT Taylor Decker will be a much better indicator if Matthews will be an impactful player during the postseason.
4. The Packers should win this game going away. If they don’t, things could get interesting in Green Bay. One rumor making the personnel rounds is that general manager Ted Thompson is preparing to step aside for Eliot Wolf sooner rather than later, but no one knows when that will be.
5. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals pull an upset against the Ravens. Bengals played very hard against the Texans and have extra motivation given the rumors about Marvin Lewis’ future.
6. If the Texans are to pull an upset in the postseason, and they have a better chance than in recent years because QB Tom Savage takes care of the ball, Savage has to get the ball out quicker, especially in the red zone.
7. If there’s one player that could a difference maker as the Giants head into the postseason, it’s RB Paul Perkins. As opposed to Super Bowl years in 2007 and ’11, these Giants don’t have a good enough running game to take the pressure off QB Eli Manning. But Perkins had shown flashes he could make a difference.
8. The Raiders are not as bad off as some would lead you to believe after Derek Carr’s injury. Matt McGloin isn’t as talented as Carr, but he has the same type of fire and his third-and-eight completion to seal the game against the Colts showed he’s not afraid of throwing the tough pass in the clutch.
9. I’m all for fun and games in the NFL, but it was quite a curious decision by Chiefs coach Andy Reid to call that jump pass by nose tackle Dontari Poe with a 27–10 lead and 1:52 to play against the Broncos. It’s one thing to do that to a team you see once every four years. But a division rival? That tends to come back to bite you, and it could this week. The Broncos could lay down against the Raiders, assuring that the Chiefs have no shot at the No. 2 seed.
10. This week in FootballOutsiders.com brilliance (and fuel for Terry Bradshaw in his war of words with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin): the Steelers are third in the league to Dallas and New England in total DVOA and weighted DVOA (team efficiency). But Pittsburgh is the second-most inconsistent team in the league (variance) to the Bills.