Grading every new NFL coaching hire
- The NFL head coaches who've been hired in 2017 range from 30-year old Sean McVay to the tested Doug Marrone. A closer look at how each team fared in filling its vacancy.
Of the six open NFL coaching jobs, five have been claimed as of divisional weekend. We've yet to see any big-name coaches return or move (Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan did not stage comebacks, and Sean Payton remained in New Orleans), but plenty of coordinators were given their shots, most notably the youngest head coach in NFL history, 30-year-old Sean McVay. Which teams made solid choices? Analyzing and handing out first-reaction grades for each move.
Taking the Chargers' job amid move to L.A. just the latest in Anthony Lynn's crazy year
- Anthony Lynn's had a heck of a year... from running backs coach to offensive coordinator to interim head coach to head coach of a storied franchise changing cities.
Quite a day for the San Diego ... er, make that, Los Angeles Chargers.
It started with Chargers owner Dean Spanos officially moving the franchise to Los Angeles for the 2017 season. It ended with the news, as reported by The MMQB’s Albert Breer, that Anthony Lynn would be the Chargers’ next head coach.
A whirlwind to say the least, although Lynn’s entire year has been a bit on the wild side. As of the start of September, he still was in place as the Bills’ running backs coach—the 14th consecutive season, spanning five teams, that he had held that post. Following the Bills’ Week 2 loss to the Jets, though, he was promoted to offensive coordinator (replacing Greg Roman) and then ahead of Week 17 was named the team’s interim coach (replacing Rex Ryan).
He initially seemed to be a decent bet to stick as Buffalo’s coach, too, but that all changed when the Bills hired Sean McDermott to man that post.
A day later, Lynn reportedly finalized his deal with San Diego.
To say that he has his work cut out for him is a massive understatement. Not only does he have to help oversee the Chargers’ messy move to L.A., he stands to inherit a team that has won a combined nine games the past two seasons while finishing a distant fourth place in the competitive AFC West.
Merely drumming up enthusiasm for the Chargers in their new locale will be a challenge. The Rams already have a year head start in the L.A. relocation derby, and early reports are that the Chargers plan play their 2017 games in the StubHub Center, a 27,000 seat MLS stadium.
All of it is enough to make one wonder if Lynn was the Chargers’ first choice, or if he was the first choice among those coaches willing to deal with all this. Other candidates confirmed by the club were Teryl Austin, Matt Patricia, Dave Toub, Mike Smith and McDermott.
That’s not to say Lynn is doomed to fail. He was a candidate for all six of the coaching openings that came available following the 2016 regular season. Bills players spoke highly of Lynn, with RB LeSean McCoy even going so far as to tell WIVB-TV’s Tom Martin, “[He’s the] type of coach we need. ... Dealing with him on a day-to-day basis, I fell in love with him. [I’m] excited he’s up for the job.”
Lynn’s personality ran in stark contrast to that of Ryan, a boisterous, in-your-face presence. From that standpoint, at least, Lynn may have the steady demeanor necessary to handle this tumultuous Chargers situation.
He also did yeoman’s work after taking over for Roman as the Bills’ play caller, helping to guide an attack that ranked first in rushing and 10th in points scored. For a Chargers team that has ranked 30th, 31st and 26th in rushing yards the past three seasons, respectively, Lynn’s commitment to the ground game bodes well; ditto for Melvin Gordon, who enjoyed a bounce-back 2016 season prior to injuring his hip and knee.
There’s certainly talent on the Chargers’ offense, led by veteran QB Philip Rivers. It remains to be seen exactly how Rivers reacts to the relocation news—his contract runs through 2019, but he’ll turn 36 next season so likely will not be all that thrilled if the Chargers lay out a multi-year rebuilding plan.
The defense’s future begins with likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa, who has the look of a perennial All-Pro up front. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday night that "the goal" for Lynn is to hire ex-Jaguars coach Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator, with Ken Whisenhunt as O.C. Bradley bombed as a head coach, but he enjoyed an outstanding run as Seattle’s defensive coordinator before that.
It is anyone’s guess how this plays out for Lynn in 2017, and beyond. The Chargers were highly competitive for much of the season, despite their 5-11 record. With a little better injury luck and a lot better knack for closing games, they could have been in the wild-card mix.
But there’s a lot happening right now.
Grade: B. While Lynn was relatively impressive in his time as offensive coordinator, those 14 games calling plays (including one, a loss to the Jets, as interim coach) are the only experience he has higher than special-teams assistant or RBs coach. Others like Patricia, Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan were believed to be ahead of Lynn in the coaching-promotion pecking order, so fair or not, Lynn will be expected to justify his leap to the top.
Lynn will need his coordinators to carry their weight, both so he can find his footing and so he can deal with the hectic San Diego-to-L.A. relocation. This upcoming season will be a very trying one for the entire organization.
Rams swing for the fences with Sean McVay, a fascinating hire for their future
- Will L.A.'s big bet on the youngest coach in modern NFL history pay off?
Even with their move to Los Angeles prior to the 2016 season, the Rams never emerged as anything other than stale and mediocre under former coach Jeff Fisher. They needed a move-the-needle hire to take Fisher’s spot, someone who could drum up a little excitement within the fan base.
Try this on for size: Thursday the Rams announced the hire of Sean McVay, who at 30 years old becomes the youngest coach in modern NFL history. McVay will turn 31 on Jan. 24.
As one might expect given his age, McVay has risen rapidly in the NFL coaching world. Shortly after wrapping his playing career at Miami (Ohio) in 2007, McVay latched on as a 22-year-old assistant with the Buccaneers. He then served as a tight ends coach for both the UFL’s Florida Tuskers and the Redskins, before being promoted to Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2014.
The Redskins had a top-11 passing attack in all three seasons under McVay and coach Jay Gruden—the first with Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy all drawing starts; the final two with Cousins at the helm.
And McVay has been credited with much of Cousins’s success. This year alone, he ranked third in the NFL in passing yards with 4,917, behind only MVP candidate Matt Ryan (4,944) and Drew Brees (5,208). Say what you will about Cousins, but he was a franchise-tagged player in 2016 and could bring home a $100 million contract as a free agent in the coming months. Prior to the arrivals of McVay and Gruden, that outcome would have been considered ludicrous.
It almost goes without saying that McVay’s hire could be great news for Los Angeles QB Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft. Goff spent much of the 2016 season on the bench behind Case Keenum, then looked overwhelmed when he did crack the lineup—the Rams’ unimaginative offense and horrid O-line certainly didn’t help.
McVay’s Washington offense spread the ball around impressively. Both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon topped 1,000 yards receiving, while Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Chris Thompson and even an aging Vernon Davis caught at least 40 passes each.
The challenges McVay faces in replicating that success in Los Angeles? Well, for starters, the Rams don’t have anywhere close to that level of talent at wide receiver. Kenny Britt led the Rams in 2016 with 1,002 yards, but there was not much production behind him. Perhaps McVay can figure out how best to use Tavon Austin, a mystery Fisher’s staff never came close to solving.
Better yet, maybe McVay is the right coach to unlock Todd Gurley’s potential on a consistent basis. Because of the Rams’ issues along the O-line and at quarterback, defenses were able to load up in the box to stop Gurley this season. As a result, he followed up his dazzling rookie season with just 885 yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average.
Even if McVay can get the offense rolling, he figures to need ample help on defense. He was a wide receiver in his playing days and has no experience coaching that side of the ball. So, a move like this would make sense:
If Sean McVay lands the Rams' HC job, his top option for DC would be Broncos DC Wade Phillips, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 11, 2017
That’s another potential swing for the fences for the Rams, should they choose to pursue Phillips. The longtime coach’s contract just expired in Denver, where new coach Vance Joseph has yet to announce his plans for the coordinator positions. For the moment, at least, Phillips is available.
The Rams’ defense was its strength in the disappointing Fisher era, but even that unit took a step back last season—the constant pressure of having to carry a moribund offense had to weigh on the D.
Whether it’s Phillips or another proven defensive mind joining the staff, the Rams already have made their splash to start the off-season. To be in position for an NFL head-coaching job at 30 is remarkable.
Grade: A-minus. The absolute worst thing the Rams could have done this hiring cycle, after lulling their fans to sleep under Fisher, is replace Fisher with another old-school, retread coach. Their situation demanded pushing their chips to the middle.
Is there a chance McVay winds up in over his head? Absolutely. There is always that possibility when someone makes the assistant-to-head coach leap, but probably even more so for a guy as young and relatively inexperienced as McVay. If it works, though, this may finally get the Rams headed in the right direction. If nothing else, McVay’s presence ought to work in Goff’s favor, and that’s an important starting point.
Oh, and bonus points for announcing this hire on the same freaking day that the Chargers officially revealed they, too, would be moving to Los Angeles. Let the L.A. battle begin.
Sean McDermott tapped to do what Bills expected from Rex Ryan—earn a playoff spot
- Sure, Sean McDermott is another defensive mind, just like Rex Ryan. But he comes without all of the theatrics of Rex (and Rob) Ryan. But can he do anything about the quarterback situation?
When the Buffalo Bills hired Rex Ryan to be their coach two years ago, the team believed that it was very close to breaking through and earning a playoff spot. If the decision to tap Sean McDermott as Ryan’s replacement says anything, it’s that the Bills still believe that the postseason is within grasp.
Ryan arrived in Buffalo with a reputation as a sharp defensive-oriented coach. McDermott will do the same, having spent the past six seasons as Carolina’s defensive coordinator and the two before that as Philadelphia’s D.C.
Under McDermott, Carolina’s defense ranked second in both points and yards in 2013, and was a driving force in a 15–1 record and NFC championship last season. Minus Josh Norman (and then with Luke Kuechly out due to a concussion), the Panthers failed to maintain that performance during a disappointing 2016, but McDermott still headed into the off-season as a top candidate for multiple vacant coaching jobs.
That the Bills scooped him up goes against the expected 180 franchises often pull—i.e. if a rookie head coach fails, find an experienced veteran; or, in this case, if coach with a defensive background fails, hire an offensive-centric mind.
So, why would Buffalo go back to the well, after Ryan bombed?
Well, just take a closer look at Ryan’s tenure the past two seasons. The Bills finished 8–8 last year and were not eliminated from the playoffs until Week 16. This year, they dropped to 7–9. Across 2015–16, they allowed opponents to score 30 points or more 11 different times and lost all 11 games.
They also, this season, gave up 4.5 yards per carry (fifth-highest in the league) and 21 rushing touchdowns (second-most). Injuries and suspensions hurt, and the Bills had to run a couple gauntlets on their schedule in 2016. But the reality is that if Ryan had turned the defense into a feared unit, as was the hope when he arrived, the Bills might have been a double-digit win team each of the past two years.
Hence, why they would look at McDermott here. This is not a hire made to push a multi-year rebuilding project. It is one that Buffalo has to hope pays off better on the defensive side of the ball than did Ryan’s arrival. If it does, perhaps that’s finally the ticket to the playoffs.
One unavoidable, troublesome caveat: The Bills don’t have a quarterback. Or, at least, odds are they won’t have a quarterback, if they—as expected—decline Tyrod Taylor’s contract option for the 2017 season. Signs pointed in that direction before McDermott’s hire, but the Bills’ decision not retain offensive coordinator-turned-interim coach Anthony Lynn may be the final nail.
Taylor was inconsistent, and the Bills’ offense at times more than played its part in the team’s overall mediocrity. There is not, though, another obvious QB1 on the roster—EJ Manuel is set to be a free agent (and also isn’t, ya know, good); Cardale Jones remains a long-term project.
McDermott’s hire almost guarantees, too, that Lynn will not return as offensive coordinator (although he could, if he’s not hired as a head coach elsewhere). The Bills had the NFL’s best rushing attack under Greg Roman in 2015, then repeated the feat with Lynn calling the plays this season.
What will the Bills’ offense look like moving forward? If it can be close to what it’s been—a slightly above-average scoring group with a hit-and-miss passing attack and dominant ground game—can McDermott succeed where Ryan failed, and get the defense up to a playoff standard?
Grade: A-minus. This hire has the potential to give the Bills everything they wanted from Ryan, without all the bluster that came with having Rex and his brother Rob on staff. McDermott has a no-nonsense personality that should play well in Buffalo (at least with the fans, if not all the players) after Ryan seemingly lost control in 2016.
Whether or not McDermott has a legitimate shot to break Buffalo’s 17-season playoff drought will depend on what happens above him. GM Doug Whaley held onto his post and led this search, but he still has to be considered very much on the hot seat. If the Bills bail on Taylor, can Whaley find a suitable replacement or, ideally an upgrade? Can he patch the holes elsewhere on this roster?
Doug Marrone pushed the Bills close to the playoffs. Ryan did the same, at least once. McDermott can finish the mission, but not all by himself.
Broncos roll the dice hiring highly coveted but untested Vance Joseph
- After just one year as the Dolphins' defensive coordinator, Joseph will guide the new path of the Broncos. But given his past, the future may look much like the present.
Funny how things work out sometimes.
From 2011-13, Vance Joseph served as the Texans’ defensive backs coach, under head coach Gary Kubiak and (in that final year) defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. When the Texans cleaned house, Joseph landed in Cincinnati, also as DBs coach.
In 2015, after John Fox’s departure, the Broncos interviewed Joseph as a candidate to be their new coach, hiring Kubiak instead. The Broncos then tried to nab Joseph away from the Bengals to be their defensive coordinator. When the Bengals refused to let Joseph leave, Denver hired Phillips.
Now, with Kubiak stepping away from his post and Phillips’s contract up, Joseph has been named the Broncos’ coach.
Joseph, 44, spent this past season as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, following 14 years as a DBs coach, both at the college and pro levels. While its defense faded down the stretch, Miami did qualify for the playoffs at 10-6 and Joseph was believed to be instrumental in that accomplishment.
Regarded as an intelligent, confident coach with strong leadership skills, Joseph was on the radar of just about every team that entered 2017 looking for a new leading man. Joseph also had interviews scheduled with the Chargers and 49ers before he and Denver keyed in on a deal.
For their part, the Broncos kept a narrow focus in their coaching search after Kubiak left. They confirmed interviews with just three candidates: Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Kansas City special teams coach Dave Toub and Joseph.
Shanahan was an obvious option for the job, given his impressive work maximizing his quarterbacks’ talents throughout his career—Matt Ryan may be league MVP this season. The Broncos’ offense was its Achilles’ heel in 2016, with the offensive line and run game both sabotaging any potential development from QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Neither of those young signal-callers did much to lock himself into the starting job for 2017.
Rather than go that direction, though, Broncos’ executive vice president John Elway tabbed Joseph, with whom Elway no doubt had a certain level of familiarity despite Joseph coaching elsewhere. Not only did Joseph work under Kubiak and Phillips, he spent this year on the staff of Adam Gase, previously the offensive coordinator in Denver. And the Broncos’ director of pro personnel, Matt Russell, was Joseph’s college teammate at Colorado.
All of those ties could help the Broncos maintain some level of continuity, all as its former head coach and (likely) their defensive coordinator move on. Joseph may even keep a similar scheme to what Phillips ran on defense.
None of those points, however, help explain yet how the Broncos plan to fix their offense. A significant chunk of the challenge lies with Elway, who must upgrade along the O-line, for starters, if Denver is to shake off its disappointing 2016 season. Joseph’s hire at offensive coordinator, and the ensuing call on who plays QB in 2017, could be the two factors that determine his success in Denver.
SiriusXM’s Alex Marvez recently reported that the Broncos could reach out to ex-Chargers coach Mike McCoy about their O.C. job, a position McCoy held from 2009-12. If McCoy is not the preferred candidate at offensive coordinator, it’s very possible nonetheless that the Broncos chase down an experienced hand. Both Joseph and the Broncos’ young QBs could benefit from such a hire.
Grade: B. In terms of the excitement it will generate in Denver, Joseph’s hire probably falls behind Shanahan but ahead of Toub. (Joseph may get even more of a bump because of that time spent as a player at Colorado.)
There’s no question that this is a bit of a gamble, though. Joseph has just one season of experience as a coordinator, and he’s stepping into a highly demanding spot leading a team one year removed from being Super Bowl champions. John Fox was pushed out of Denver despite going 46-18 with four playoff appearances and one AFC title. The expectations are that this is a win-now team.
How realistic it is that Joseph actually produces the desired results, again, will come down in large part to how the offense is repaired—coaching-wise and in terms of personnel. Should that side of the ball remains a headache, all the more pressure will land on Joseph to match on the defensive side of the ball what Phillips accomplished during his brief, brilliant tenure as the Broncos’ coordinator.
There seemed to be little doubt around the league that Joseph was ready to be a head coach. This won’t be an easy spot for a first-timer to step in. If it backfires, the Broncos may rue their decision to pass on Shanahan.
Jags' revamped front office opts for continuity by hiring Doug Marrone as coach
- In removing the "interim" tag from head coach Doug Marrone's title, the Jaguars hope they're still on a linear path towards contention.
Are two games enough for a coach to prove his worth? Is that a long enough time for a downtrodden team, seemingly on the verge of hitting the reset button, to reverse direction and stay the course instead?
Apparently, for the Jaguars, the answers are "yes" and "yes."
Jacksonville will remove the "interim" tag from Doug Marrone’s title and make him its head coach, per multiple reports. Also, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jaguars will bring back former coach Tom Coughlin as executive VP of football operations and extend the contract of current GM David Caldwell.
It all makes for a whirlwind of decisions that the Jaguars hope finally propel the franchise forward. But does this take them far enough away from their previous, failed model to work?
When they officially announce him as their new head coach, the Jaguars no doubt will cite Marrone’s prior experience as a head coach, as well as the way the team appeared to respond to him in Weeks 16 and 17. To wit:
Marrone took over for the fired Gus Bradley and guided the Jaguars to a 1–1 close to 2016, with a win over Tennessee and a 24–20 loss in Indianapolis. He previously served as head coach of both Syracuse, where he went 25–25 with two Pinstripe Bowl wins from 2009-12, and of the Bills, where he finished 15–17 from 2013-14.
In fact, Marrone may have still been standing as the Bills’ head coach had he not opted out of his contract following the ’14 season, a decision that came with a $4 million payout. It was an unexpected, bizarre end to a tenure that showed promise, even as the Bills finished in familiar and frustrating fashion—out of the playoffs, ruing several missed opportunities during the regular season.
Marrone then landed in Jacksonville as an assistant head coach for the 2015 season, before being elevated late this year.
Let’s be clear about the move, though: This, at least in terms of retaining Marrone, was the least imaginative option for the Jaguars to take. They’re choosing continuity based on one win over the Titans, a loss to the Colts in which they choked away a 17-point lead and two semi-competent games from QB Blake Bortles.
If Bradley’s approach stood as a significant part of the problem these past four seasons, does Marrone pull the Jaguars far enough away? Remember, he was criticized throughout his brief time in Buffalo for being too conservative as a coach and for not getting enough consistency out of the offense.
Were it not for Coughlin joining the mix, too, this easily could be viewed as a hire pushed by Caldwell to try to save his own skin. If Marrone somehow were to increase the win total next season, it would be a lot easier for Caldwell to argue that his plan was on the right track.
However, the Coughlin hire threatens to complicate things further. It remains to be seen exactly how power gets sorted out between coach, GM and executive VP—Coughlin served as the Jaguars’ coach/GM after they joined the league as an expansion franchise in 1995. Will he and Caldwell be able to see eye-to-eye? Will Coughlin’s presence—and possible desire to coach again—loom over Marrone, especially if Jacksonville’s struggles early next season?
There were a lot of promising young coordinators out there (although that’s where Jacksonville looked in hiring Bradley away from Seattle). There also were more proven, successful former NFL coaches available, including both Coughlin himself and ex-Falcons coach/current Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Sticking with Marrone signals that the Jaguars still believe in what they’ve been building, for better or worse.
Grade: C-minus. The Jaguars don’t have to look far to see how the interim-to-permanent coach transition can work; the Titans did the same with Mike Mularkey, then just missed out on an AFC South title this season.
Still, the way this all looks—Marrone’s fate likely resting in the hands of Bortles, with Coughlin in the background—points toward 2017 perhaps being a brief trial run under this structure. If Bortles bottoms out again or the Jaguars stumble toward another three-, four- or five-win finish, there would be even less justification for maintaining the status quo (or some semblance of it) than there is now.
Can Coughlin come to the rescue in the front office? Will he have to save the day on the sideline? He is the X-factor in what otherwise would be a very mundane hire.