For at least two new head coaches, these past few weeks have been a doozy.
The Cardinals are now without their best player for six games, and the Jets have fired their general manger. The last thing Kliff Kingsbury or Adam Gase needed was a steeper incline to traverse, and yet here they are. It makes us wonder, as we head into the next phase of voluntary workouts and eventually mandatory minicamps: Which of the new head coaches has the most difficult road from here? This is one man’s shot at ranking them, from one to eight:
1. Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals
Despite his pedigree as a quarterback savant and Air Raid whiz, Kingsbury is entering a situation where the general manager is on thin ice, he’s starting a rookie quarterback and is trying to build a culture from scratch without the most respected player in the locker room. If things go south in Arizona and new blood is brought in to handle personnel, Kingsbury will need something concrete on his professional résumé.
2. Freddie Kitchens, Browns
John Dorsey’s M.O. has always been to take on a large volume of high-risk players and assume that the culture will smooth things out. We’re starting to see the fault in that approach with the team Dorsey built in Kansas City, but for now expectations are high in Cleveland. So high, in fact, that Kitchens wears the weight of a high-profile coaching staff full of name-brand risers in the business and a roster full of mercurial stars. Think this will be an easy gig if the Browns start 0-2?
3. Adam Gase, Jets
While pushing out the GM may have been a necessity in his eyes, Gase now has to produce on the field in order to legitimize his power play. This is a Jets team that spent lavishly in free agency and may have finally accumulated enough talent around a developing quarterback to get fans excited.
4. Matt LaFleur, Packers
Unlike the other coaches on this list, LaFleur is replacing a proven winner with Super Bowl credentials. Mike McCarthy and the Packers needed to separate. However, if LaFleur fails to wrangle Aaron Rodgers and patch the locker room together, it could be a long season for a franchise looking to maximize the remaining window of Rodgers’s prime.
5. Vic Fangio, Broncos
I think there’s always an element of pressure in working for John Elway, though this seems to be a better match than some of Elway’s previous hires. Fangio comes with an impressive résumé and inherent respect in the business. However, there’s still a question mark at quarterback and very high expectations on defense.
6. Brian Flores, Dolphins
The Dolphins need to play this “rebuild” eloquently. In theory, it’s good to let a developing team bottom out while accumulating cap space and draft capital, but how many times has the coach who sank the ship allowed to float it again? Miami seems committed, but as we’ve seen time and time again, owners are strange and impatient.
7. Zac Taylor, Bengals
Marvin Lewis survived for nearly two decades without a playoff win. And while he set the foundation, which theoretically forces Taylor to produce results more quickly, this is a franchise content with the long view. Plus, Taylor gets a year to experiment with Andy Dalton before potentially committing to his own franchise QB.
8. Bruce Arians, Buccaneers
I think Tampa Bay will be so pleased with a whiff of personality and style that Arians could go 5-11 and still coast into the 2020 offseason without a care in the world. He’s got a trial year with Jameis Winston, and a roster that is universally accepted as subpar. He’ll get time. He’s got an excellent coaching staff and he’s the king of cool. Maybe the only person in the NFL who could never feel the heat—even in Tampa.
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