Around two weeks ago, NFL coaches woke up on what is known among their profession as the most difficult day of the year.
Each year as the playoffs begin, tenures will end in cities that are not competing for a berth in the greatest championship game in the sports world. This year saw several vacancies open up, with seven new head coaching positions newly available. We saw familiar faces, like the Giants’ Tom Coughlin and Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith, relieved of their duties. We also saw younger coaches like Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula receive the unfortunate call many coaches find themselves answering the day after the final game of Week 17.
Most of these teams have found their new leaders, with varying levels of success. While it is impossible to predict whether these new coaches will succeed, it is fair to examine how they will fit in with the franchises they are handed the reins to. Here is our ranking for which coach/team combination appears to have yielded the best fit.
7. The Tennessee Titans & Mike Mularkey
This list does not rank how "good" a team’s hire was. This piece is designed to break down which coach fits best with their team. For the Titans, there was an obvious desire to maintain some level of continuity, however I do not think this it is what the team needed.
When you have the first overall pick, and are picking in the top two spots for a second straight year, it indicates that your team is struggling. This is also indicated by the Titans’ record over the last two seasons, going 5-27. The Tennessee Titans did not need continuity. They needed a culture change.
This job should have been a fairly easy sell. There is nothing notably difficult about working with their ownership, and they have a potential franchise quarterback on the roster. However, the organization completely bungled the search process.
They were left with Mike Mularkey, whose coaching has in some way contributed to the Titans’ struggles over the last two seasons (and beyond that). He does not fit as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans simply because they required a complete shift in culture, and in all likelihood have eliminated the possibility of any major changes. Whatever happened in Tennessee over the last two weeks should serve as a guide for teams. This is exactly how you do not go about a coaching search.
6. The Philadelphia Eagles & Doug Pederson
Pederson has been in control of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense for three seasons. Since 2013, the offense has gotten worse each season in terms of total yards. They were ranked 21st in 2013, fell to 25th in 2014 and finally hit 27th in 2015. This team wins games thanks to their defense, but that fact may have eluded the Eagles’ coaching search committee.
The Eagles should also know better than to believe that Pederson has more to do with their offense than Andy Reid does, as they had a decade worth of experience in how Reid runs his football team. The head coach calls the offensive plays in Kansas City, which makes Doug Pederson’s potential viability as the Eagles’ leader even less impressive.
The Eagles are throwing a young, inexperienced coach into a roster that was stripped of its talent by their previous coach. This is not the Eagles team that Chip Kelly acquired in 2013. This team will need a complete makeover, and Doug Pederson does not seem to have the experience or recent track record that indicates he is the man for the job.
5. The San Francisco 49ers & Chip Kelly:
One of the biggest misconceptions of this season’s head coaching search is that Chip Kelly will be able to fix Colin Kaepernick. While yes, Kaepernick is a running quarterback and Kelly used plenty of read-option plays in previous offenses, there is more to his system than the ability to simply take off out of the pocket.
The Chip Kelly offense requires an intimate knowledge of the playbook and the ability to make very quick decisions. They are not a "deep shot" offense.
In 2015, the Eagles ranked 28th in average yards per completion (10.1). They also run the highest paced offense in the league. That being said, it is clearly a system that favors short, decisive throws. Ball placement and accuracy are key. Also important is having a quick release. Kaepernick does not have any of those attributes.
Outside of the offense, it doesn’t seem that really anyone would fit well with this team. The roster needs a complete overhaul. They also have one of the most notoriously difficult front-offices to work with. Jed York, who admittedly has very little football knowledge, has tied himself to Trent Baalke. The power structure squeezed out Jim Harbaugh, one of the best coaches in the league after several playoff appearances, as well as a trip to the Super Bowl.
Chip Kelly is known to struggle with power, and had a history of such conflicts in Philadelphia, where he was able to maneuver his way into full control of personnel. It seems that the pieces are perfectly arranged for such a conflict to arise at some point in San Francisco.
4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Dirk Koetter
Each offseason there is one "didn’t see that coming" firing of a head coach. This offseason, that award went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who fired Lovie Smith days after most teams had already decided the fate of their coaches.
From the moment that the team announced this decision, many began connecting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to the very position that his boss was just removed from. As the Bucs’ head coach, Koetter will fall back on years of experience as a college coordinator and head coach (Boise State 1998-2000 & Arizona State ’01-06), and as an NFL offensive coordinator.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the most interesting offensive personnel groups in the league. They have one of the largest receiving tandems in the NFL with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. They also have the 2015 first overall pick, Jameis Winston. Koetter has worked with all of these players, and the team most likely felt that if they were going to build around the young talent on that side of the ball, they needed an offensive minded head coach.
However, Lovie Smith was showing improvements each year in Tampa, and it seems that his firing could have been slightly premature. The only explanation is that the Buccaneers preferred to promote Koetter than risk losing him to another team, which seemed somewhat possible.
3. The New York Giants & Ben McAdoo:
If the New York Giants are going to win football games, it will fall upon the shoulders of Odell Beckham Jr. and Eli Manning. Well, technically it will fall into the hands of Beckham, and upon the shoulders of Manning.
When a team moves away from their head coach of over a decade, it is best to maintain some semblance of continuity. Hiring Ben McAdoo was the best possible scenario for the Giants.
In 2013, the season before McAdoo was hired as the offensive coordinator in New York, the team ranked 28th in average yards per game. In 2014, McAdoo’s first year, they ranked 11th in that same category. In 2015, they ranked 7th. He is able to maximize talent, and has done just that with the New York Giants. The team made the best possible decision, given the true formula for winning games with their current group of players.
Manning + Beckham = Points.
Ben McAdoo knows better than anyone how to make sure that formula shows itself on the field each Sunday.
2. The Miami Dolphins & Adam Gase:
Under Joe Philbin and Bill Lazor, the Miami Dolphins’ players were not playing to succeed with their coaches. They were playing to succeed in spite of them. The schemes and plays were actually so bad that if something positive happened for the team, it was likely on the shoulders of an outstanding play from one of the players instead of a well designed and well executed sequence.
In 2015, the Dolphins ranked 30th out of 32 teams in 3rd down conversion percentage (30.73%). They also ranked 30th in time of possession (27:22) and 27th in scoring (19.4 average points per game). The best word to describe the team under their previous coaching regime: lost.
Their playbook under Bill Lazor was a children’s book. Under Adam Gase, it will be a Russian novel.
The Miami Dolphins needed a coach that could maximize their efficiency on third down, and keep the offense in positive situations. All season long Miami was seemingly in 3rd & 8 or longer, asking too much of their offense.
In 2015, without Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte for various stretches, Adam Gase was able to produce the league’s 6th best offense on third down. Yes, the Bears (with a miserable personnel unit) converted on 42.47% of their attempts. Gase was also able to produce an efficient unit on first and second down, as his team was faced with the 12th fewest third downs on average (13.7) among the entire league.
That efficiency is exactly what the Miami Dolphins need to maximize the effectiveness of their talented players like Mike Pouncey, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and Ryan Tannehill.
1. The Cleveland Browns & Hue Jackson:
No group of players or coaches had less of a will to fight at the end of the 2015 season than those with the Cleveland Browns. The team’s difficult season was transformed instantly into a miserable one, as William Hill crossed the plane following a scoop and score blocked field goal to win the game on Monday Night Football. It truly captured the misery and anguish felt by Browns’ fans for the last decade, as the team has failed to make any positive headway.
As owner Jimmy Haslam brought in an analytics expert and a lawyer to run the team, many scratched their heads as to why he would believe they have the expertise required to build a winning team in the NFL. However, we all missed one piece of the puzzle; the organization control was going somewhere else.
There was not another team willing to give Hue Jackson the type of personnel control that he received in Cleveland. This explains why Miami did not even conduct the interview. However, Hue Jackson is exactly what the Browns need.
While the team has serviceable players on defense, there are very few offensive units were in worse shape than the Browns’. Hue Jackson is the right coach not only for a makeover on the field, but also for a complete turnaround in the locker room.
This hire was made just as much for a team that needs hope as it was for fans who need hope. The players in Cleveland need a reason to fight, and a reason to believe that their efforts will actually translate to results. Hue Jackson stands the best chance to be the leader in both the locker room and front office that the Browns have needed for a decade.