Earlier this week, we mentioned the pitfalls of instantly analyzing head coaching hires and also looked at the last 10 years of incoming candidates to provide a sense of how many are actually successful right away.
But now that Black Monday is behind us, leaving the league with 25% of its coaching jobs unfilled, it’s time to provide some perspective on both the magnitude of this hiring cycle and the coaches treading water as they wait for owners, general managers and search firms to decide what the next move might be.
The league ebbs and flows in funny ways, leaving coaches we thought might be wash-outs three months ago in a position of unbelievable strength. The same goes for teams and coaches that seemed to hold all the leverage, but are now left wondering what their futures hold. With that in mind, here are some winners and losers from a tumultuous day in the NFL…
1. John Harbaugh, head coach, Baltimore Ravens: I am almost in need of two hands to count the teams that have been linked to the Super Bowl winner via trade. The Jets, Buccaneers and Broncos start us off, while the other five teams could inevitably shuffle into line. The instant thought is that his late-season turnaround has made believers out of many who thought Harbaugh wasn’t adaptable. He’s desirable to owners interested in both a hard-nosed disciplinarian, and those who want to recruit an offensive staff capable of keeping pace with current trends. If nothing else, he exists Day 1 with a tremendous amount of ammunition at the bargaining table, now that his Ravens deal is being extended.
2. Mike McCarthy, head coach, Green Bay Packers: Take a look at some of the teams in need of a head coach to direct and mentor developing quarterbacks right now right now: Cleveland (Baker Mayfield), Jets (Sam Darnold), Tampa Bay (Jameis Winston), Cardinals (Josh Rosen). While the McCarthy/Aaron Rodgers relationship collapsed down the stretch, he was a critical part of Rodgers’ early rise and long-term development. If Jim Harbaugh does not enter the fray, McCarthy clearly has the edge over any other coach looking to convince owners that he can place their franchise savior on an upward trajectory.
3. Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots: A year ago, he was considered toxic. In the next 365 days, NFL offenses exploded and exposed half the league for being behind the times. McDaniels has been ahead of the curve for a decade now, and the desire for a coach who can handle a high-pressure, high-visibility gig alongside the responsibilities of coddling a premiere passer has only risen.
4. Adam Gase, free agent: Gase was always in a tough spot in Miami. Despite control of the 53-man roster, he was boxed in at the quarterback position, yet he still managed to take a Ryan Tannehill/Matt Moore led team to the playoffs. While his ouster has been met with whispers of internal discord, there aren’t many young, proven offensive minds out there with head coaching experience. It wouldn’t be hard to convince yourself that Gase would flourish in another locker room, with a different set of executives overhead.
5. Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs: What is the one proven commodity out there right now? Andy Reid coaches. Matt Nagy has the Bears in the playoffs. Reid himself is soaring into the postseason with the No. 1 seed. On day one, Bieniemy had four interview requests. While the Sean McVay tree is also being shaken early, with Zac Taylor potentially being interviewed by the Cardinals, there is no doubt who the early upstart coordinator is.
6. Bengals fans: Here’s the disclaimer that should be attached to everything written about Marvin Lewis on Monday: He lifted that franchise from nothingness. Absolute disparity. The Bengals became a professional organization under Lewis and were, for the most part, legitimate divisional contenders for a majority of his tenure. The lack of a playoff win stings, but his role in upgrading this team should not be overlooked. That being said, a divorce from Lewis (and, hopefully, a divorce from associate Hue Jackson), could open up some possibilities. Perhaps Andy Dalton is not untouchable anymore. Maybe there’s a different set of eyes on a receiver like A.J. Green as he rapidly closes out his peak athletic years. There is talent in Cincinnati. Now, there’s a fresh start.
7. Christopher Johnson, CEO, New York Jets: I feel like the Jets’ head coaching job has been met with rolled eyes in the past, and while it’s difficult to win in the AFC East, Johnson’s presence has certainly changed the perception of the Jets being a dead-end gig. He handled a postmortem exceptionally well today and is already off and running to get Sam Darnold a mentor, and adequate game planner. Ownership matters, and Johnson has taken to this role well.
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1. John Elway, Denver Broncos president and GM: While Elway is right, that his coaching record is not nearly as bad as it looks from afar, I’m not sure his actions during the middle and end of Vance Joseph’s tenure made him a destination as a future boss. He’s tough, he’s involved and he has a very specific idea of what the team should look like. He’s also struggled mightily to replace Peyton Manning under center. This is a roster rebuild, which may force him to settle for another unproven candidate… or a lifer with deep Elway ties who has been out of the game.
2. The coaching profession: Many general managers seem to have survived the initial dust-up. Jason Licht is helping Tampa Bay run their coaching search. Steve Keim is helping out in Arizona. Mike Maccagnan still has a voice in the Jets’ next head coaching decision. While circumstances may dictate a change down the road—look at Kansas City, which fired John Dorsey and replaced him with an internal candidate well after the hiring cycle—it seems more blame has generally been focused on the cooks, and not the grocery shoppers.
3. Rex Ryan, free agent: The early market featured plenty of noise around some retread head coaches, most notably Jim Caldwell. Mike Shanahan has also been floated by PFT. But it seems a strange trial balloon of Ryan news, starting with his potential interest in the Miami Hurricanes’ coaching job, and transitioning into the Dolphins’ gig, has deflated a bit. The Hurricanes hired coordinator Manny Diaz, and the Dolphins seem to be headed for a total house cleaning. After reassigning Ryan’s former boss, Mike Tannenbaum, would they really go after Ryan himself to run the organization? To his credit, Ryan made the AFC playoffs twice with replacement-level quarterback play, and also developed current coach of the year candidate Anthony Lynn. But will his name pick up any steam in the coming days?
4. Dan Quinn, head coach, Atlanta Falcons: A tough day for a highly-regarded head coach. Quinn had to make some wholesale changes to his staff, which is never easy for a loyal coach. Now, the pressure is on to find an offensive mind that can match the production of the Kyle Shanahan era in half the time. Quinn’s team may never recover from a devastating Super Bowl loss, but there might not be a harder working person in the league right now trying to change the culture and develop something sustainable.
5. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Their offensive coordinator, who was robbed of his play calling duties toward the end of the season, has surfaced as a hot commodity early in the process for other teams. A new head coach has the immediate pressure of molding a mercurial Jameis Winston, who has the backing of the Bucs’ organization. With a ton of openings so far and a relative dearth of quality candidates, how does Tampa Bay stack up against the rest of the field? What do they have that another team doesn’t? Who can they land?
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