Ranking the Current NFL Head Coach Job Openings

If you were a potential NFL head coach looking for your next place of employment, how would you pick between the situations that are currently (or likely will be) available?
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For the third time since 2016, Giants owner John Mara has stepped to the lectern and answered questions about the future of the franchise at a major decision point.

The team’s divorce with Tom Coughlin was followed by the in-season dismissal of Ben McAdoo and long-time general manager Jerry Reese. Then came Monday, when Mara announced that he would be letting head coach Pat Shurmur go and retaining general manager Dave Gettleman.

It has been a turbulent finale to a decade that began with such promise (and a stunning victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI that seemed to breathe new life into the Coughlin regime). At each turn, there seems to be a special kind of animus reserved for Mara, as if he has willed the team to this moment. On Monday especially, he continued to combat the negative effects of his notorious loyalty to the bones of the staff he inherited years ago.

But after taking a quick look around the NFL at the other job openings, it’s hard not to wonder if we’re all not suffering from a lack of perspective. Assuming that Dallas tests the coaching market, joining Washington, Carolina, the Giants and Cleveland, how many situations actually seem better than what the Giants have to offer right now?

How bad—again, in perspective—is Mara’s desire to keep the franchise somewhat tethered to its glory years compared to the pitfalls that accompany the other openings?

Here’s an unofficial ranking of the best jobs of 2019, including Dallas. We’ll update the list should any surprise vacancies surface. The goal is to explore what a coach interviewing for a job might be thinking and how they might compare one landscape to the next…

Dave Gettleman

GM Dave Gettleman will stay in New York even after Pat Shurmur was let go.

1. N.Y. Giants

A coach’s biggest issue with coming to the Giants will be working with a general manager that seems proudly dated in his thinking, who isn’t necessarily fleet of foot on draft day and who allows some aged scouting tropes to impact his decision-making in free agency.

The counter to that? The Giants have typically been a forward-thinking franchise despite the dusty perception. While Tom Coughlin had the reputation as a temperamental old boomer, the Giants were one of the first teams publicly tied with the analytics produced by Pro Fotball Focus in the early 2010s. Coughlin was one of the first coaches to test GPS monitoring at practice. The team revamped their diet, nutrition and exercise programs several times in that span. All of those people did not disappear organizationally and could potentially counterweight Gettleman’s instinctual style.

I also wonder whether a coach could make something of the roster in their first season and, given that Gettleman will soon turn 69, slowly earn a slice of the pie in terms of the roster building process. Mara said on Monday that he was open to various non-traditional power structures depending on the coach (which, again, he may have to promise at the outset anyway). Adam Schefter also reported Monday that if a new head coach was that passionate about front office changes, they don’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Here are the pros: A stable franchise with a young, ascending player at quarterback. A star at running back. A few cost-controlled assets that can produce at skill positions on offense. And … about $70 million to spend in free agency next year.

2. Carolina

The obvious detractor to taking this job is uncertainty at the quarterback position and a very, very competitive division with three other established head coaches. Will Cam Newton be back and healthy? Otherwise, Carolina returns a decent supporting cast and will have a navigable amount of cap space (while it’s in the bottom third of the league, it’s theoretically enough to chase one or two free agents that could be central to a coach’s scheme).

The benefits? A new owner who wants to empower and legitimize his first hire, which tends to lead to more patience. The Carolina market isn’t daunting for a first-time football coach and an in-house push for a more fundamental understanding and implementation of analytics will only help the kind of coach who is willing to delegate.

3. Dallas

I’m slightly less bullish on this job than others but could be talked into moving them up a spot. Here’s the fear: if Jerry Jones is this smitten with Jason Garrett, will that impact the lens with which he views his next head coach? It could go one of two ways: Either Jones’s compassion for Garrett is a draw, signaling that the Cowboys simply treat all of their coaches this way … or it’s akin to being the dreaded rebound prospect for someone who just got out of a very serious long-term relationship.

From a roster standpoint, the Cowboys were built to win in 2019. A new head coach might find that the Ezekiel Elliott contract becomes more difficult to grapple with by the season. A resurgent Robert Quinn, Amari Cooper, Sean Lee and Byron Jones will all hit the open market and, theoretically, most of the team’s cap space will either be tied up on the franchise tag with Dak Prescott or a long-term deal to secure the quarterback.

With that in mind, there is immediate pressure on a new coach to win for an owner who will grow increasingly impatient with each season that passes.

4. Cleveland

They would be in last place in almost any other circumstance, though the one thing saving the Browns is a less-recent example of ownership meddling in draft decisions.

Cleveland has not had a coach for longer than two-and-a-half seasons since the Haslam family arrived in 2012. They have a top-heavy roster full of in-prime veterans who carry with them the expectation of winning right away (or, they’ll make it known their preference to play elsewhere). The offensive line needs serious repair. The success or failure of the franchise quarterback going into his pivotal third year will have a serious impact on job security.

I’ll be careful here not to label Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry with a broad brush, but this is a nucleolus of extremely talented people who will require someone with cachet and the ability to have immediate success. Someone who can get them the ball. Someone who can wrangle them during difficult times in a way that Tom Coughlin, Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Hue Jackson were not in the past.

There have also been reported instances of opinion clashes between the team’s director of strategy and director of personnel as to the direction of the franchise. The job will be unattractive until someone makes it as much, which could be a draw for a big-name head coach with Super Bowl credentials who believes they can spearhead a legendary turnaround.

5. Washington

[UPDATE: Washington is set to hire Ron Rivera as its next head coach.] While all indications are that Daniel Snyder is doing the right things this time around, there is no track record of sustained harmony that he can point to. He was reportedly involved in the drafting of Dwayne Haskins. He recently told him not to play after an injury. Any candidate is going to need to possess a certain amount of trust that Snyder will ultimately recede into the owner’s box and let he or she run the team as they see fit.

But again, there is really no sustained track record of this.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.