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NFL's Best Coaches 2017

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: February 12, 2019, 3:19 pm ET

The state of NFL coaching, flawed though it will always be, is probably better than it’s ever been. Only five of this year’s 26 returning coaches have career winning percentages below .500, while teams have grown more sophisticated in their hiring processes. The Dick Jaurons and Chan Gaileys of the league are no longer afforded endless opportunities. Fired at the end of 2016, mediocrities like Jeff Fisher and Rex Ryan are unlikely to get a third chance.

 

This year’s crop of new hires is as bold as any in recent memory, with 5-of-6 open jobs going to first-timers, one of whom is the youngest in history. The NFL still lags behind baseball and basketball in its embrace of modern team-building concepts, but is no longer a dinosaur. The sideline product is ever improving.

 

That is not to say everything is changing. Bill Belichick remains the league’s best by a considerable margin. Pete Carroll isn’t threatened at No. 2. It gets messy after that, where many of the most impressive résumés are nevertheless littered with complexities and contradictions. The primary question, as always, is who do I want coaching my team right now. Last year’s list can be found here. 2015’s is here.           

 

1. Bill Belichick

Career Record: 237-115 (.673)

With The Patriots Since: 2000

Last Year’s Ranking: 1

 

Five championships in, and Bill Belichick still has nothing to say. “Thanks, Terry, but … look, it’s all about these players. We’ve got great players. They’re tough and they compete.” This was Belichick’s "response" to Terry Bradshaw’s post-Super Bowl 51 assertion that Belichick is the best coach of all time. So is the banality of Belichick’s greatness, a methodical march that’s produced seven straight 12-win seasons and six straight AFC Championship Game appearances. Belichick’s five Lombardis are as many as every other active coach combined. His record against those five coaches in the playoffs? 4-2 (.666). Belichick’s 26 postseason victories would be tied for 18th in regular season victories amongst his current peers. To say Belichick is the best coach in the NFL is to say the sky is blue. What he’s chasing now is a spot on America’s coaching Mt. Rushmore. Vince Lombardi. Red Auerbach. Scotty Bowman. Bear Bryant. That’s the company Belichick keeps, not Pete Carroll, John Harbaugh or whomever else the league throws at him.      

 

 

2. Pete Carroll

Career Record: 103-72-1 (.588)

With The Seahawks Since: 2010

Last Year’s Ranking: 2

 

The NFL’s oldest head coach has won at least 10 games in five straight seasons. He’s notched a playoff victory 6-of-7 years in Seattle. Pete Carroll is no Bill Belichick, but he’s the next best thing. A wacky West Coast version of Belichick’s brooding buddha, Carroll keeps a looser vibe, letting his players be themselves. Flying in the face of NFL orthodoxy, this has not thrown the Seahawks off their axis, and instead proved to be a strength. Long known for his dominant defenses, Carroll has also overseen top 10 offenses four of the past five seasons. For as freewheeling as they can seem, Carroll’s teams boast a fundamental soundness that is increasingly rare (his 2016 offensive line, notwithstanding). Carroll is a more balanced John Harbaugh. A more cutthroat Andy Reid. He is the NFL’s best coach who doesn’t wear a cut-off hoodie.  

 

3. Andy Reid

Career Record: 173-114-1 (.602)

With The Chiefs Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 5

 

Andy Reid has never won a Super Bowl. Does that mean he’s a worse coach than Gary Kubiak? Brian Billick? As was the case with Marty Schottenheimer — another Chief who, like Reid, is one of the 11 winningest coaches in NFL history — Reid highlights the limits of ranking by postseason achievement alone. Is bringing home one Lombardi a bigger accomplishment than winning at least 10 games in 11-of-18 seasons? Than making the playoffs 3-of-4 years with Alex Smith at quarterback? Reid’s weaknesses are known to even the most casual of football fans. This is his own fault. Truly, it is not this difficult to manage the clock. But Reid’s shortcomings should not obscure strengths most coaches simply do not have. A masterful game-planner, Reid’s offenses execute, execute, execute. This can be difficult to watch when said execution is Smith alternating checkdowns with two-yard runs, but Reid schemes for the personnel he has, not the system he wishes he could run. On defense, opportunism is the M.O., with sacks and big plays a yearly staple. 61 percent of Reid’s seasons have featured a top-10 scoring defense. A picture of calm on the sideline, his pulse stays 72. Reid has won over 60 percent of the games he’s coached in almost two decades on the job. Try to remember that the next time you think he should be fired for wasting a timeout.

 

4. Mike Tomlin

Career Record: 103-57 (.644)

With The Steelers Since: 2007

Last Year’s Ranking: 9

 

Has there ever been a more unassuming great coach? Hired at age 35, Mike Tomlin has never coordinated his own offense or defense in Pittsburgh. He’s ceded the spotlight to his many stars, and the fawning newspaper features to his name-brand coordinators. All the while, he’s won. Tomlin has never had a losing season in 10 years on the job, and is already the 39th winningest coach in NFL history. He moved ahead of Vince Lombardi last Week 11, and tied himself with John Madden in Week 17. Tomlin is a self-proclaimed “working stiff.” Perhaps that means he’ll never get his just due. If there’s one person who’s not worried about it, it’s Tomlin. He’s already on to the next one.      

 

5. Bruce Arians

Career Record: 41-22-1 (.648)

With The Cardinals Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 3

 

Bruce Arians presents himself as the saltiest piece of earth you will ever come across, but has never lacked for chutzpah. Arians approaches coaching like a boxing match, and prefers haymakers to jabs. Big plays on offense, big plays on defense. It was working splendidly until Carson Palmer’s arm gave out last season, resulting in a dysfunctional attack when Arians refused to change the game plan. Palmer kept throwing picks, and the Cardinals kept losing games. The adjustment eventually came, but it was too late for Arizona’s 2016. It was Arians’ first losing campaign as a head coach, including his interim year in Indianapolis. Arians’ stubbornness cost him. The good news is, it’s largely been an asset, and one 7-8-1 season isn’t evidence of poison in the well. Like his old division rival Jim Harbaugh, Arians never even considers giving an inch. His teams have taken on that personality, and won’t be backing down anytime soon.       

 

6. John Harbaugh

Career Record: 85-59 (.590)

With The Ravens Since: 2008

Last Year’s Ranking: 4

 

John Harbaugh came out of the gates as hot as any coach in NFL history, winning nine playoff games in his first five years on the job, the ninth of which was a Super Bowl title. Times have been tougher since. The Ravens have stayed competitive, but gone a Fisher-ian 31-33 over the past four seasons. Not much has changed, though perhaps that’s part of the problem. Slowly aging out on defense, the Ravens have been aging up on offense, relying too much on thirtysomethings like Steve Smith Sr. and Justin Forsett. Harbaugh has recognized there’s an issue, but seems unsure of how to address it other than cycling through offensive coordinators. Harbaugh has had five different offensive bosses in five years. That’s the sort of thing with which Fisher is intimately familiar. Harbaugh, obviously, is no Fisher. He’s racked up twice as many playoff victories (10) in 13 fewer seasons. He should have the fix. 2017 would be a good time to find it.       

 

7. Bill O’Brien

Career Record: 27-21 (.563)

With The Texans Since: 2014

Last Year’s Ranking: 10

 

Bill O’Brien makes the best lemonade in the NFL. He’s turned the lemons of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler into three consecutive 9-7 seasons, the most recent of which ended with a Wild Card win over the Raiders. The Texans’ 2016 was even more impressive in the context of J.J. Watt’s absence. A team without an actual quarterback was missing its spiritual quarterback and still managed to make the playoffs (and have the league’s best defense). O’Brien’s only real issue might be overconfidence. He clearly believed he could make Osweiler into a legitimate starter even though the tape insisted otherwise. Self belief is absolutely critical for any NFLer, player or otherwise. You just have to know your limits. A cerebral, no-nonsense coach, O’Brien is undoubtedly learning his. The reward could be a Super Bowl.

 

8. Mike McCarthy

Career Record: 114-61-1 (.651)

With The Packers Since: 2006

Last Year’s Ranking: 6

 

The poor man’s Andy Reid has had rich men’s quarterbacks. There is no point in trying to disentangle Mike McCarthy’s legacy from that of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. “It is what it is” is something McCarthy would say at one of his banal, lifeless press conferences, but … it is what it is. McCarthy has had two legendary quarterbacks and won a boatload of games with them. 65 percent of McCarthy’s 176 sideline appearances have been victories. No matter the players, that’s an insane number through 11 years of a coaching career. Should it be even higher? Almost certainly. McCarthy can be slow to adjust, and loyal to a fault. Dom Capers should have been fired sometime during Barack Obama’s first term. It’s just ultimately hard to complain about, let alone pink slip, a coach who has posted double-digit wins in 8-of-11 seasons, and brought home at least one playoff victory five of the past seven years. Sure, Aaron Rodgers would probably have more than one Super Bowl were Bill Belichick or Jim Harbaugh his coach. They’re not. Mike McCarthy is. Be thankful it’s not Joe Philbin.         

 

9. Ron Rivera

Career Record: 53-42-1 (.557)

With The Panthers Since: 2011

Last Year’s Ranking: 8

 

Ron Rivera has won a division at 7-8-1 and lost a Super Bowl at 15-1. It’s been an interesting ride. 2016 was the valley after the peak, with Rivera’s squad slumping to its worst finish (6-10) since his first year on the job. Not exactly the title defense Rivera had in mind, though the Panthers were a more palatable 5-5 after their bye. One of the game’s brightest defensive minds, Rivera is always going to take care of his side of the ball (last season’s 402 points allowed excepted). The question is how he evolves as Cam Newton ages. Carolina’s offense wants to be prehistoric, but is sometimes merely medieval, abandoning the run game it has typically needed to win. Rivera understands this, commenting after 2016 that Newton can’t be the team’s leading rusher. A true leader, Rivera’s understated tone is the perfect counterbalance to Newton’s galaxy-conquering swagger. A nice guy with no interest in finishing last, expect Rivera to make the necessary 2017 adjustments.   

 

10. Adam Gase

Career Record: 10-6 (.625)

With The Dolphins Since: 2016

Last Year’s Ranking: – –

 

After years in Joe Philbin jail, the Dolphins suddenly have the NFL’s brightest coaching prospect. Adam Gase’s coordinating momentum continued unabated his first year as his own boss. Dealing with one of the league’s most unwieldy rosters, Gase stabilized Ryan Tannehill before losing him to injury. Traditionally, this would have been when Miami’s season went off the rails. Not with Gase. The rookie head coach managed and manipulated a 2-1 record out of journeyman Matt Moore, clinching the Dolphins’ first postseason appearance since 2008. Despite talent limitations on both sides of the ball, Gase displayed an innate ability to put his players in the best position to succeed. It wasn’t all about his “system.” Gase played to his team’s strengths, not his own rigid vision of what winning football is supposed to look like. It’s what he did with Peyton Manning in Denver, and Jay Cutler in Chicago. With Gase at the controls, the Dolphins might finally break New England’s one-party rule of the AFC East.

 

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11. Sean Payton

Career Record: 94-66 (.588)

With The Saints Since: 2006

Last Year’s Ranking: 12        

 

Sean Payton’s strength — scoring points — is one of the strongest individual-coaching attributes in the entire NFL. If only he weren’t continually undermined by his weaknesses: Inconsistent play away from home, and too many “defense optional” breakdowns. Payton’s recent failings have him in danger of becoming a bizarro Jeff Fisher. The Saints have gone 7-9 four of the past five years, winning 16 total road games in the process. More than one of those teams were historically bad on defense. Cameron Jordan and company allowed the second-most points in football last season (454), revealing an end of the tunnel that’s yet to be lit. Payton’s offense will always be ready to make a deep playoff run. If the defense doesn’t improve in 2017, however, the Saints might finally let a coach who always seems to be “monitoring” other jobs take his talents elsewhere.         

 

12. Jason Garrett

Career Record: 58-46 (.548)

With The Cowboys Since: 2010

Last Year’s Ranking: 17

 

College football writer Spencer Hall once made the case for “not changing a damn thing” at coach. Hall argued that, with some Charlie Weis exceptions, most coaches are held to impossible standards, and discarded too quickly. NFLers like Gus Bradley and Joe Philbin beg to differ, but the Cowboys obliged. They didn’t change a damn thing at coach, keeping Jason Garrett after a 29-27 start to his career. Their reward has been one of the NFL’s clearest identities — control the ball on offense, bend, but don’t break, on defense — and two 12-win seasons in the past three years, with two different quarterbacks, no less. Owner Jerry Jones has found his desperately-sought return to relevance in the most surprising of places: Patience. Garrett is not a future Bill Belichick, or even Andy Reid. Given enough chances to implement his formula, he just might be the man to bring the Lombardi back to Dallas.      

 

13. Dan Quinn

Career Record: 19-13 (.594)

With The Falcons Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: 23

 

For making a Super Bowl as a sophomore head coach, we still don’t have much to go on with Dan Quinn. Departed OC Kyle Shanahan was the jet fuel behind Atlanta’s postseason run. Quinn’s defense, though improved, was hardly elite. Quinn, of course, should be a Super Bowl winning coach we don’t have much to go on, except his team blew the biggest lead in big-game history. His response in 2017 will be our first real window into who he actually is. The early results are promising. Fresh off losing Shanahan, Quinn made aggressive, bold hires in OC Steve Sarkisian and QBs coach Bush Hamdan. Sarkisian promises to be a Shanahan-like game-planner and play-caller. Hamdan is a 30-something rising star who most recently worked for coaching savant Chris Petersen at Washington. Quinn’s 2016 will probably be the most memorable year of his career. 2017 should be the most telling.     

 

14. Marvin Lewis

Career Record: 118-103-3 (.533)

With The Bengals Since: 2003

Last Year’s Ranking: 7

 

Marvin Lewis has loved and lost, seven times to be exact. Lewis, at the helm for 14 years in Cincinnati, is defined by his 0-7 January record. In 2016, he didn’t love at all, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and only the second time since 2008. It makes for a complicated legacy. Bengals football was in ruins before Lewis’ arrival in 2003, going 55-137 (.281) with zero postseason appearances over the previous 12 seasons. Lewis set about immediately raising expectations. It’s proven to be a double-edged sword. A fanbase that was overjoyed to return to the playoffs in 2005 is no longer just happy to be there. Owner Mike Brown has remained resolute, believing a coach who has made the tournament in 50 percent of his years on the job will eventually start advancing rounds. Who’s in the right? Patience is perhaps the most underrated of football virtues, but no one is entitled to an unlimited supply. Lewis has to be near the bottom of his barrel.    

 

15. Mike Zimmer

Career Record: 26-22 (.542)

With The Vikings Since: 2014

Last Year’s Ranking: 11

 

An NFL coach since 1994, Mike Zimmer paid 20 years of dues before finally getting his shot at lead duties. He’s been as advertised, fielding great defenses while providing leadership both fiery and cool. His problem — there’s typically a problem at this part of the board — is the oldest in the history of the NFL: Quarterback. There aren’t enough fraudulent Sam Bradford records in the world to hide that fact. Zimmer is going to do his job. It’s just a matter of if he can find the right people to run the offense. Norv Turner wasn’t the answer. Pat Shurmur almost certainly isn’t, either. Unless he can produce top-three play on his side of the ball, Zimmer’s tide is unlikely to raise Bradford’s boat. That means, at least for 2017, he’ll once again have to settle for being an excellent coach without a championship ceiling.      

 

16. Jay Gruden

Career Record: 21-26-1 (.448)

With The Redskins Since: 2014

Last Year’s Ranking: 14

 

Jay Gruden is the Redskins’ best head coach since Joe Gibbs’ first go-around. That may seem like damning with faint praise, but even faint praise has been hard to come by during the Daniel Snyder era. Gruden has installed a system offense that’s amongst the league’s most prolific, resulting in a 17-14-1 record since Robert Griffin III was cast aside in 2015. It will be put to the test in 2017. Gruden’s top lieutenant, OC Sean McVay, is gone. Free agents DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are likely to follow. The run game remains rudderless. Most worrying of all, Kirk Cousins is disillusioned after two years of contract disrespect. It’s not unusual for a Redskins coach to find himself at the center of this sort of hurricane. What will be unusual is if Gruden can weather it.   

 

17. Dirk Koetter

Career Record: 9-7 (.563)

With The Bucs Since: 2016

Last Year’s Ranking: – –

 

The Bucs fired Lovie Smith to make then 56-year-old OC Dirk Koetter a first-time NFL head coach. It was a massive gamble on a man whose previous biggest accomplishment in football was back-to-back Big West titles in 1999-2000. At least in 2016, it worked. After a rocky start, Koetter continued to develop Jameis Winston, and coaxed a “bounce-back” campaign from third-year pro Mike Evans. Koetter wasn’t afraid to lead, benching an ineffective Doug Martin down the stretch even though he was in the first season of a five-year, $35.75 million contract. Most impressive of all was the way Koetter’s team finished, closing out the year 6-2 while allowing just 17 points per game. The hot streak included wins over Kansas City and Seattle. It all added up to Tampa’s first winning campaign since 2010, and genuine reason to be optimistic about one of the oldest rookies you will ever come across.

 

18. John Fox

Career Record: 128-112 (.533)

With The Bears Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: 16

 

Who will be the next Jeff Fisher? The answer is there will never be another Jeff Fisher. John Fox is the closest thing we’ve got, though the comparison is imperfect because Fox is both less interesting and more accomplished than Ol’ Uncle 7-9. A two-time conference champion, Fox’s calling card is stability and respectability. He’s had neither in Chicago, letting Jay Cutler derail him to a 9-23 record in two years on the job. Fox’s defense overachieved in 2016, as did rookie RB Jordan Howard and second-year UDFA Cameron Meredith. Those were the lone moral victories in a 3-13 campaign. If Fox can’t get his team in gear to at least a Fisher-ian 7-9 or 8-8 in 2017, the Bears are likely to reach the same conclusion John Elway did in Denver: You are never going to win a Super Bowl with John Fox.      

 

19. Hue Jackson

Career Record: 9-23 (.281)

With The Browns Since: 2016

Last Year’s Ranking: – –

 

It’s been the Cleveland Browns’ mission to work miracles of mediocrity since rejoining the league in 1999. The latest? An inconclusive 1-15 season. Hue Jackson never stood a chance his first year on the job, and … that was the plan. The Browns tanked with an openness previously unseen in the NFL. It had to be trying for a fierce competitor like Jackson, but his team isn’t holding it against him. Neither should we. Whether as a one-year head coach in Oakland or offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Jackson has been a talent maximizer. That remained true even in 2016, as Jackson finessed a 1,000-yard receiving campaign out of converted quarterback Terrelle Pryor and returned Isaiah Crowell to relevance. Jackson should have more pieces to work with in 2017, both in second-year pro Corey Coleman and an influx of young talent via the draft. Jackson’s challenge is monumental, but nothing in Year 1 suggested he wasn’t the man for it.    

 

20. Jack Del Rio

Career Record: 87-84 (.509)

With The Raiders Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: 20

 

Jack Del Rio has zero division titles in 11 years as a head coach, one fewer than Tony Sparano. That’s hard to do in the four-team division era. Del Rio does have three 11-win seasons on his résumé, but ask Jeff Fisher what that gets ‘ya. Not much. Del Rio’s teams will rarely embarrass themselves. That’s good. Nevertheless, clearing that low bar is no longer enough for a franchise with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack entering their primes. The Broncos’ defense improved to a championship level after coordinator Del Rio departed in 2015. That will be something for the Raiders to keep in mind if Del Rio can’t bring home a division crown that’s been 12 years in the making.

 

21. Jim Caldwell

Career Record: 53-43 (.552)

With The Lions Since: 2014

Last Year’s Ranking: 24

 

A more inoffensive John Fox, Jim Caldwell provides a base level of competence. His Lions squads have excelled at neither offense nor defense, mostly just getting by. Caldwell took this approach to its logical extreme in 2016, allowing OC Jim Bob Cooter to employ a “keep away” attack that limited Detroit’s own theatrics and kept the opposing team off the field. It was Cowboys lite, and ultimately toothless since the Lions had zero semblance of a running game. They were summarily blown out of their playoff appearance, managing two field goals in a 26-6 loss to the Seahawks. That’s Caldwell in a nutshell. There’s a veneer of respectability, but the aspiration for little more. Floor is more important than ceiling. The 2017 Lions would probably lack a championship core no matter who was on the sideline. By keeping Caldwell, they’re merely admitting it.   

 

22. Ben McAdoo

Career Record: 11-5 (.688)

With The Giants Since: 2016

Last Year’s Ranking: – –

 

Rarely will an 11-5 coaching debut be less impressive. Ben McAdoo is an offensive mind, yet his offense scored only 32 touchdowns in 2016, the third fewest in the league. McAdoo could not scheme Eli Manning out of a season-long slump, while his running game was nonexistent. McAdoo’s team made the postseason by the grace of a massive cash infusion on defense. There were bright spots. McAdoo’s decision to retain DC Steve Spagnuolo, dubious on paper, worked brilliantly. The offensive line (sort of) improved. Injuries seemed down. McAdoo put down a solid foundation. It’s just not going to hold up if he can’t do a better job on his side of the ball.   

23. Doug Pederson

Career Record: 7-9 (.438)

With The Eagles Since: 2016

Last Year’s Ranking: – –

 

All you can really say about Doug Pederson’s 2016 is that we need more information. A first-time head coach who had never been a full-time play-caller before arriving in Philadelphia, Pederson’s offense veered between mediocre and unwatchable. That’s life when your quarterback is a rookie, your running back is Ryan Mathews and you have no receivers. Elsewhere, there were positives. Pederson’s defense was much improved on Chip Kelly’s abominations, and his team stayed feisty down the stretch, enduring a five-game losing streak before beating the playoff-bound Giants in Week 16. Pederson’s future fortunes rest squarely on Carson Wentz’s shoulders. If Pederson can turn Wentz into a franchise quarterback, a rise up the coaching ranks is inevitable.    

 

24. Mike Mularkey

Career Record: 27-46 (.370)

With The Titans Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: 26

 

Mike Mularkey exceeded expectations in 2016. Tennessee’s first winning season since 2011 featured a 5-2 record against playoff teams. Mularkey, he of the .370 career winning percentage, appeared to actually be onto something, zigging with the run while the rest of the league continued to zag with the pass. Cool, but they won’t be hanging that banner at Nissan Stadium. Mularkey has to do it again, something his résumé suggests isn’t possible. The last time 55-year-old Mularkey went 9-7 (2004 Bills), he followed up with a 5-11 campaign and subsequent resignation. And though Mularkey’s 2016 offensive approach was successful, it was hardly “exotic.” There will be no Act II in 2017, just more of the same vanilla, simplistic stuff. It might work if Marcus Mariota can take another step forward, avoiding serious lower-body injuries for the first time in three NFL seasons. It could, and likely will, fail spectacularly if he doesn’t.

 

25. Todd Bowles

Career Record: 17-18 (.486)

With The Jets Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: 13

 

Todd Bowles deserves better than this. That’s because anybody deserves better than this. The question is, do the Jets deserve better, too? 2016 was a quintessential Jets disaster. The 2015 Ryan Fitzpatrick/Darrelle Revis house of cards collapsed apace, exposing a roster little different from the one that got Rex Ryan fired. Bowles simply didn’t have the players to compete. That doesn’t excuse a defense that had effort issues from not one, not two but three of its “stars,” Revis, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. Bowles let problems fester far too long, reacting with bewilderment as the Jets became the Jets. It was a forgivable offense for a second-year coach coming off a honeymoon season, but one he can ill afford a reprise of in 2017. Bowles is an excellent defensive mind who showed great leadership ability in 2015. Hopefully his team is vested in giving him his best chance to succeed.   

 

26. Chuck Pagano

Career Record: 49-31 (.613)

With The Colts Since: 2012

Last Year’s Ranking: 21

 

It’s a bit harsh to call Chuck Pagano the worst coach in the NFL. He’s Bill Walsh compared to Joe Philbin, or Marvin Lewis compared to Gus Bradley. That doesn’t matter. He’s the worst of the league’s 26 returning head coaches, an assessment his owner appears to share. Jim Irsay never even bothered to endorse Pagano this offseason, letting him squirm for nearly a month before new GM Chris Ballard finally offered a tepid endorsement. "There are no other options," Ballard said, doing his worst General Patton impression. "It's Chuck Pagano.” 2017 was the second straight year Pagano was hung out to dry by his boss. This is the man Colts fans are supposed to have faith in? That is not to say Irsay’s quarter-hearted commitment is unwarranted. Pagano, like most NFL coaches, is fluent in motivational clichés. He likes to “keep choppin’ wood.” He’s inept at most everything else. His defense stinks. His offense is wildly inconsistent. Little things, like time management and fake punt formations, are routinely botched. Pagano doesn’t have a single attribute that’s above replacement-level. That is, aside from keeping his job. Gifted a generational quarterback, maybe he’ll still end up blundering into a Super Bowl run. Much more likely is that the third time will be the charm for Irsay’s long-desired coaching change.       

 

New Hires

 

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

Career Record: – –

 

Kyle Shanahan arrives in San Francisco having just coordinated the seventh-highest scoring team in NFL history. An offensive boss since 2008, Shanahan has experience that belies his youth (he turned 37 in December). He’s also had success with a wide variety of signal callers, inducing career years out of system-quarterback Matt Schaub, dual-threat Robert Griffin III and traditional pocket passer Matt Ryan. Shanahan is not one-dimensional, overseeing ground attacks as potent as his aerial assaults. He is going to handle his side of the ball, which is half the battle for many head coaches. The catch is a roster almost entirely bereft of talent. The 49ers require a complete gut job. It’s the kind of situation where even a Bill Belichick or Bill Parcells could fail. Shanahan was the right hire. The 49ers could be the wrong job.       

 

Doug Marrone, Jaguars

Career Record: 16-18 (.471)

 

Doug Marrone bet on himself in 2015. Given the opportunity to opt out of his Bills contract after the team changed owners, Marrone took the gamble, clearly expecting to land a better gig. Instead he bombed interviews with two of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises (Jets, Bears), and ended up having to settle for offensive line work with the Jaguars. They don’t make humblings more severe than that. Fully polarized, there was no guarantee Marrone would ever get another bite at the head-coaching apple. He’s gotten it after going 1-1 as the Jags’ interim man, immediately making a team that had been unwatchable competitive in Weeks 16 and 17. Marrone has an ego. It left him in the wilderness two years ago. Now it’s likely a welcome change of pace for a club that cratered under Gus Bradley’s rah-rah, player-friendly style. Marrone has clay to mold. The Jags have a post-hype sleeper at coach.    

 

Vance Joseph, Broncos

Career Record: – –

 

Just two years removed from being a defensive backs coach, Vance Joseph is suddenly the head man for a team 13 months removed from winning the Super Bowl. It could be a risky hire, but Joseph has been mentored by the all right people. Gary Kubiak, Marvin Lewis and Adam Gase are his past three bosses. The fact that he was the clear target of one of the league’s best general managers in John Elway also speaks volumes. Joseph’s lone season as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator was a rousing success, as he turned a group without defensive backs or linebackers into a passable, and sometimes downright effective, unit. Widely hailed as a coach who is ready to lead, Joseph was the right choice for a franchise that’s made all the right moves since Elway came aboard.    

 

Sean McVay, Rams

Career Record: – –

 

The Rams have made Sean McVay, the 31-year-old former offensive coordinator of the Redskins, the youngest head coach in NFL history. He’s replacing Jeff Fisher, a 59-year-old “defensive mind” who is second only to Dan Reeves in career losses. You could say Los Angeles was seeking a change in philosophy. The adopted son of Jay and Jon Gruden, McVay had great success coordinating Jay’s offense the past three seasons, though it’s hard to separate his influence from that of his former boss. McVay has made positive early impressions with his new team, landing top-three defensive coordinator Wade Phillips while retaining RBs coach Skip Peete at the request of Todd Gurley. McVay displayed an admirable lack of ego by hiring an established-hand like Phillips. By keeping Peete, he signaled a willingness to work in tandem with his players, avoiding the dictatorial tendencies of past whiz kids like Lane Kiffin and Josh McDaniels. Neophyte though he may be, McVay is the blank slate the Rams desperately needed after the dirge of the Fisher years.   

 

Anthony Lynn, Chargers

Career Record: 0-1 (.000)

 

The man who nearly saved the Bills’ 2016 season, Anthony Lynn was initially considered a shoo-in to replace Rex Ryan. Instead, the Bills did their Bills thing and sent Lynn to the open market. He’s landed with a team for which “neutral” is the standard gear. (Unless we’re talking about where they play.) Coaches and players come and go, Philip Rivers and injuries remain. Lynn’s job is breaking the ever-present stasis. Deemed a “natural-born leader” by team president John Spanos, Lynn has made the wise decision to focus on leading. Ken Whisenhunt will run the offense, Gus Bradley the defense. Lynn has given himself the big-picture role for an organization that can never seem to keep sight of it. On paper, Lynn is the perfect change of pace from librarian-themed leaders Norv Turner and Mike McCoy. The Bolts need some lightning. Lynn can provide it.       

 

Sean McDermott, Bills

Career Record: – –

Sean McDermott is a low-wattage hire. That’s what the Bills were going for after Rex Ryan short-circuited the system. A standard issue bald-head-and-facial-hair assistant, McDermott is tasked with restoring respectability and professionalism. He’s certainly done so with his staff, hiring NFL lifers like OC Rick Dennison, DC Leslie Frazier and LBs coach Bob Babich. The danger is that McDermott ends up merely a boring failure as opposed to Ryan’s spectacular one. McDermott spent the past six years learning under defensive wiz Ron Rivera. A dream arrangement, but one that made it difficult to discern McDermott’s own impact. McDermott also won’t have the benefit of on-the-rise coach Anthony Lynn calling his plays, an in-season adjustment that nearly saved the Bills’ 2016. Ultimately, McDermott was a perfectly-fine hire who is nevertheless unlikely to end the Bills’ 17-year playoff drought. Unless a franchise quarterback walks through that door this offseason, it’s about as much as the Bills could have hoped for.    

Patrick Daugherty

Patrick Daugherty is a senior football writer for Rotoworld. He can be found on Twitter @RotoPat.