Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Over/Under: New NFL Coaches
Six of the NFL's 32 teams have changed head coaches since the start of the 2016 regular season. Some will take over rebuilding teams, while a few step in to guide stronger programs that for whatever reason changed course. Here, I'll briefly evaluate each new coach's situation, and guess how long he might hold his new job.
We'll go through the new coaches alphabetically. For each one, you'll find his new team, his job last year, and my estimate — in the form of an Over/Under betting line — of how long he'll coach the new team.
2016: defensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins
Over/Under: 3.75 seasons
Expectations are so high here. If the Broncos miss the playoffs two years from now, I wouldn't expect Joseph to get a third.
He's also something of an unknown quantity. Joseph only spent one year as a coordinator, and he's never been a head coach or assistant head coach at any level. He's worked for respected coordinators like Wade Phillips and Paul Guenther, but he also opted not to retain Phillips, who did a masterful job with Denver's defense the last two seasons. Perhaps Joseph felt he might have had to compete with Phillips for locker room respect. On the one hand, that's probably right, and it's plausible that Phillips could have unintentionally undermined Joseph's authority; on the other hand, it would be an ugly reason to fire someone, and it's worrisome boat-rocking for the best defense in the NFL. I suppose John Elway and the Broncos must have discussed the issue during interviews, so obviously they're okay with it. Still, a curious move for such a successful defense.
The Miami defense came together very nicely last season, even without star safety Reshad Jones, and the Broncos weren't the only team interested in Joseph. But that was against a pretty easy schedule, and the standards in Denver are so high, I feel like 3.75 years is an optimistic projection. If I were taking my own bet here, I'd take the under.
Los Angeles Chargers
2016: offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Over/Under: 3.5 seasons
Lynn was the Bills' interim head coach for their last two games, after Rex Ryan was fired, and the rumored front-runner to succeed his old boss. But the Bills lost both their games under Lynn, including an embarrassing 30-10 loss against the 4-11 Jets. Maybe the team would have decided to go in a different direction anyway, but it was a disappointing audition. On the other hand, coaching the Chargers is probably a better opportunity than working in Buffalo.
The Chargers' situation is weird for several reasons. Most obviously, they're moving to Los Angeles after 56 seasons in San Diego. Changing cities is always tumultuous, but that's the longest any NFL franchise has spent in one city before relocating. And, oh yeah, there's already another team in L.A. The Chargers will spend their first season in a tiny stadium, and there's been speculation about ownership changing hands. It's not the most stable environment for a new head coach.
Compounding the challenge is the make-up of the team, featuring aging stars whose careers are winding down, like Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates. The Chargers finished 5-11 last year, and that was an improvement from the previous season. There's a lot to improve before this team is likely to be competitive in a very strong AFC West, and by the time the rest of the roster is in place, Rivers will likely be washed up or retired. It would take a pretty heoric coaching performance, and some luck in the draft and free agency, for Lynn to succeed.
And yet, I still think this is a better job than coaching the Bills.
2016: assistant head coach/offensive line, Jacksonville Jaguars
Over/Under: 3.0 seasons
Promoted to Interim Head Coach during the season, Marrone went 1-1 with a team that was 2-12 under Gus Bradley. Marrone went 15-17 as the Bills' head coach from 2013-2014, including 9-7 in 2014, their only winning season in the last 12 years. But Marrone opted out of his contract; the sense around the league was that Marrone felt he had proved himself, and could move up to a more desirable organization. Instead, his move was seen as selfish, and provoked a mild backlash. He took an assistant job with the Jaguars, which brings us to today.
Marrone was Drew Brees' first offensive coordinator in New Orleans, then head coach at Syracuse, before taking over the Bills. He's a successful coach, and probably a pretty good hire for a franchise that isn't the most appealing to head coaching candidates. But that's why I'm hesitant to predict that Marrone will enjoy a long tenure: Jacksonville is a tough place to succeed right now. The Jags have finished 5-11 or worse for six years in a row. It's hard to know what effect Tom Coughlin's return might have on the franchise, but I'd be surprised if the Jaguars can turn things around quickly enough for Marrone to be the man who does it.
2016: defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers
Over/Under: 2.75 seasons
No Bills coach has lasted four seasons since Marv Levy retired in 1997. Wade Phillips (29-19), Gregg Williams (17-31), Mike Mularkey (14-18), Dick Jauron (24-33), Perry Fewell (3-4), Chan Gailey (16-32), Doug Marrone (15-17), and Rex Ryan (15-15) all resigned or got fired prior to completing a fourth season. Six of their last seven coaches never had a winning season.
The Bills are one of the bottom five franchises in the NFL, along with teams like the Browns and 49ers. Everything they do is guessing, and their front office is destructively impatient for immediate gratification. McDermott benefitted from good personnel in Carolina, and he's stepped into a horrible situation. A playoff appearance might go a long way toward buying him some goodwill, and the Bills have enough talent for that to be realistic. But this organization is such a mess, it's hard for me to see any coach succeeding here.
Los Angeles Rams
2016: offensive coordinator, Washington
Over/Under: 3.75 seasons
Sean McVay oversaw a successful offense in Washington, but he also had pretty great personnel. Let's set aside Kirk Cousins for now, since McVay himself gets a lot of the credit for Cousins' development. But DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon were 1,000-yard receivers before McVay took over the offense, Jordan Reed is a sensational talent no matter who's coaching, head coach Jay Gruden has an offensive background, and Bill Callahan brought together one of the best offensive lines in football.
The Rams are a black hole of offensive production, so McVay will have quite a job to do. His quarterback, Jared Goff, was a disaster in 2016, and the Rams won't have a first-round draft pick this year because of the trade to acquire Goff. The defense shows some promise, and hiring Wade Phillips to coordinate the defense was a coup — though the switch to a 3-4 may initially disrupt what little the Rams do well.
It bears mention that McVay is 30, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, and younger than some of his players. Combine his age with the likelihood of some ugly losses, and it's reasonable to wonder how effectively McVay will earn and maintain the respect of his players. McVay is an interesting hire, and the Rams have shown some patience with their coaches, but this is not just a one- or two-year rebuilding project, and it will be difficult for McVay to turn things around in a time frame that accommodates getting his contract renewed.
San Francisco 49ers
2016: offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Over/Under: 3.0 seasons
The first time I wrote an article like this, two years ago, I was guided mostly by the coaches themselves, with team context a secondary consideration. At this point, I think personnel, ownership and front office support, and other factors play a much larger role in a coach's success than his coaching ability does. I think Kyle Shanahan is the most promising coach on this list, the most impressive hire. But coaching the 49ers is a terrible job.
The prospects in San Francisco are virtually hopeless, with the incompetent York family running the team. These are the people who hired Dennis Erickson because he was whiter than Marvin Lewis or Lovie Smith. They're the ones who fired Jim Harbaugh because he's mean. They're the ones who replaced Harbaugh with Jim Tomsula, then fired Tomsula after one season, and replaced him with Chip Kelly, then fired Kelly after one season. So if you're keeping track, Shanahan is the 49ers' fourth head coach in the last four seasons. No Niners coach has lasted more than four seasons since Steve Mariucci was fired after the 2002 season because Terrell Owens didn't like him any more. What a way to run a ballclub. Good luck, Kyle. Even if you can turn around a team that went 2-14 last season and has
Matt Millen John Lynch as general manager, you still have to contend with ownership that can't tell its head from its feet.
If I were taking this bet, I'd take the over, but the state of the organization discourages confidence right now.