Sean McVay
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NFL's Best Coaches 2019

Updated On: March 7, 2019, 4:29 pm ET

If change is the NFL’s only constant, it has been particularly pronounced of late. As the league lurches into its age of enlightenment, sidelines are no longer the private reserve of learned “football men.” The good old boy network remains firmly entrenched, but it is scouring different areas as it searches for new head coaches. Young is in. Offensive auteurs are in. Data is in. Sean McVay is in.

Amidst this upheaval, some old war horses stand strong (Bill Belichick, Andy Reid). Others fight against the dying of the light (Pete Carroll, Mike Zimmer). Most perish. Whatever the changing qualifications may be, a coach’s success remains context dependent. As I say every year, players, owners, assistants, injuries and acts of God can matter as much as coaching acumen. That’s why, though this is a rankings article, I try not to think of it that way. I view it as more of a compendium, an assessment of where the league’s 32 coaches find themselves right now. How they got here and where they might be going. Last year’s list can be found here. 2017’s is here.       

 

1. Bill Belichick
Career Record: 261-123 (.680)  
With The Patriots Since: 2000
Last Year’s Ranking: 1

2018 was the Patriots’ worst regular season since 2009. They went 11-5. The last time Bill Belichick’s team notched fewer than 10 wins was 2002. They have averaged 13 victories since 2003. As head coach of the New England Patriots, Belichick has won 11.3 percent of the Super Bowls ever played. The last three times he lost a playoff game, he hoisted a Lombardi the following year. Belichick’s death star has no design flaws. There are only strengths to be improved upon. On the rare occasions Belichick loses control, order is immediately restored. Seth Wickersham exposed some nasty behind-the-scenes dysfunction in January 2018. Belichick’s response? Make the Super Bowl twice in the next 13 months. Challengers come and go. Occasionally, a Nick Foles or David Tyree pulls a fast one. More typical is what happened to Andy Reid and Sean McVay’s “future of football” in the postseason. Reid and McVay really are moving the game forward, but it’s to a place Belichick has already been. He is the sport’s all-seeing eye. Only he will decide when to close it.        

 

2. Andy Reid
Career Record: 195-124-1 (.611)  
With The Chiefs Since: 2013
Last Year’s Ranking: 3

Online and on the talk shows, Andy Reid is defined by what he’s not: A Super Bowl winner. In between the lines, he is one of the greatest coaches ever. His 195 wins are eighth most all time, while his .611 winning percentage is seventh amongst the top 10. He has won a staggering 67.7 percent of his games in Kansas City, never once posting a losing season. After five years of grinding out those victories with Alex Smith, he went intergalactic with Patrick Mahomes in 2018, coaching an offense that scored 565 points, the third most in NFL history. That he did not win the conference was due in large part to a literal coin flip. Of course, since-fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton also had something to do with it. Reid’s allegiance to his overwhelmed defensive boss certainly cost him Ws, and quite possibly a world championship. The same is true of his ever-tedious game management. Reid’s flaws have never been a secret. They also shouldn’t obscure his formidable strengths. Reid may never win the big one, but his Mahomes masterstroke has him closer than ever.     

 

3. Sean McVay
Career Record: 24-8 (.750)  
With The Rams Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 9

Sean McVay had one of the greatest debuts ever. He then improved upon it in every way for his second season. McVay spiked his wins from 11 to 13 and points from 478 to 527. His team went 6-2 on the road, which does not include an NFC Championship Game victory in New Orleans. Amongst the men he bested were Pete Carroll, Andy Reid and Sean Payton. One who got the better of him? Bill Belichick. The best new coach went up against the best ever coach in the Super Bowl and had his lunch handed to him. Belichick forced the Rams’ big-play, play-action offense to go station to station, and McVay had no answer. Belichick also made one of the most important adjustments you can make against McVay, resetting his defense after the 15-second mark on the play clock. That’s the time at which McVay can no longer bark in audibles to Jared Goff. Belichick, along with his disciple Matt Patricia in Week 13, showed the league how to slow boy wonder down. It means McVay will have even more adjusting to do from Year 2 to 3 than Year 1 to 2. Through two seasons, there is every reason to believe he will be up to the challenge.    

 

4. Doug Pederson
Career Record: 29-19 (.604)  
With The Eagles Since: 2016
Last Year’s Ranking: 5

Rightfully feted after slaying Bill Belichick in Super Bowl LII, Doug Pederson spent much of 2018 on tilt after the Eagles got off to 4-6 start. “You guys aren't in there watching the tape like we are for 18 hours a day,” Pederson told the media after it had the audacity to question him following a devastating Week 7 loss. "Come down and stand on the sideline with me and make decisions … Then, I guess you can ask all you want." It was an old school tirade from the most new school of coaches. The Eagles’ rough start combined with Pederson’s former top lieutenant, Frank Reich, having a brilliant season in Indianapolis made for talk that perhaps 2017 was Pederson’s grand outlier. Then he rallied the Eagles to a 5-1 finish, squeaked into the playoffs and won a hard-fought Wild Card game against the Bears before narrowly succumbing to the Saints in the Superdome. 2017 will almost certainly go down as Pederson’s best season, but it is 2018 that cemented him as an elite coach. Whether it’s a No. 1 seed-type of year or No. 6-seed type of year, Pederson and his analytical approach have proven they can win any type of football game.      

 

5. Pete Carroll
Career Record: 122-85-1 (.589)  
With The Seahawks Since: 2010
Last Year’s Ranking: 2

Pete Carroll is still one hell of a football coach. He could be even better if he would get out of his own way on offense. In an era of technological warfare at quarterback, Carroll has an unused warhead in Russell Wilson. Wilson’s 427 pass attempts last season were his fewest since 2013. He was called on to throw less often than Mitchell Trubisky and Case Keenum, amongst 17 others. The Seahawks ran a whopping 59 percent of the time on early downs. This is despite the fact that Wilson is a transcendent early-down passer, as well as one of the best deep passers of his generation. When Wilson did cut it loose, he posted a perfect passer rating targeting Tyler Lockett. That’s genuinely insane. Carroll’s non-proliferation agreement through the air is costing his team points. It also plainly cost them their Wild Card contest against the Cowboys. Seattle was only in the playoffs because of Carroll’s masterful job on defense. He lost Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas (to injury) and Michael Bennett for 2018 and still fielded one of the league’s best units. Professional or otherwise, Carroll is one of the most brilliant coaches to ever grace a sideline. It’s too bad he’s diminishing his odds of achieving further championship glory by keeping a governor on his offense.      

 

6. Sean Payton
Career Record: 118-74 (.615)  
With The Saints Since: 2006
Last Year’s Ranking: 11

Has Sean Payton accomplished enough with Drew Brees? You could easily argue “no.” Even with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger all residing in the AFC, Payton has been to only one Super Bowl. He’s reached the NFC Championship Game three times in 12 years. From 2014-16, Payton’s team bowled a Jeff Fisher turkey, going 7-9 each time out. You could dock Payton or simply decide that these things happen in a cutthroat league with 32 teams. I have sometimes done the former. This time I’ll opt for the latter, acknowledging a coach who has won 11 or more games six times in 12 seasons and was one bad call away from heading back to the big game this winter. Even more than Bill Belichick, Payton is inextricably linked with his quarterback. Who knows what 12 years of Sean Payton football would look like uncoupled from Brees. In the world we live in, Payton has taken his Hall-of-Fame quarterback and won 62 percent of the time. Sure, there could be more hardware. As Don Shula and Dan Marino would tell you, there could also always be less.     

 

7. Mike Tomlin
Career Record: 125-66-1 (.654)  
With The Steelers Since: 2007
Last Year’s Ranking: 4

Is any coach more difficult to evaluate than Mike Tomlin? His career .654 winning percentage is an even more impressive .675 over the past five years, but he has just three playoff wins to show for it. Tomlin coordinates neither his defense nor offense, making him a CEO-style “leader” coach. So why is drama so ever present? If it’s not Ben Roethlisberger being passive aggressive in a radio interview, it’s Antonio Brown blowing off meetings. A February ESPN article painted a picture of a coach who not only plays favorites but basically lets them do whatever they want. Stars will always be given more leeway, but Tomlin has struggled to find the appropriate equilibrium. On the field, his team is notorious for playing up and down to its competition. With the season on the line last December, Tomlin oversaw a loss to pathetic Oakland before beating eventual Super Bowl-champion New England the following week. Tomlin offers a yearly Super Bowl ceiling. He will only reach it if he stops making mistakes on the ground floor.

 

8. John Harbaugh
Career Record: 104-72 (.591)  
With The Ravens Since: 2008
Last Year’s Ranking: 6

John Harbaugh has tallied just one postseason victory in six years since triumphing in Super Bowl XLVII, missing the tournament altogether four times. The temperature has been steadily rising, warming up Harbaugh’s seat down the stretch in 2018 before Lamar Jackson changed the climate. Although moving on from Joe Flacco was a necessary first step toward a new era in Baltimore, there is no guarantee installing Jackson under center will be the second. As a rookie, Jackson failed to put the dual in dual threat, leaving new OC Greg Roman to say the offense must be rebuilt from ground up. Harbaugh’s Ravens future is staked on Jackson’s success, and the man deciding his fate will not be longtime partner-in-crime Ozzie Newsome, but new GM Eric DeCosta. DeCosta is a Ravens lifer, as well, but it stands to reason he will want to put his own imprint on the sideline if Harbaugh once again fails to notch a January victory.       

 

9. Mike Zimmer
Career Record: 47-32-1 (.594)  
With The Vikings Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 8

Mike Zimmer finally got a quarterback. He then promptly missed the playoffs. The Vikings were a curious 2018 tale. Despite turning Case Keenum into Kirk Cousins, they scored 22 fewer points than in 2017. That, coupled with allowing 89 more on defense dropped a 13-3 club to 8-7-1. Zimmer’s squad dominated non-playoff teams to the tune of 7-1-1 but were helpless against those who made the tournament, going 1-6. They were the definition of average. Part of Zimmer’s diagnosis was that he strayed too far from his roots. Desperate and disgusted, he pink slipped pass-happy OC John DeFilippo on December 11. Following the firing were wins over the hapless Dolphins and Lions before a season-ending suffocation against the Bears. Even with those inconclusive results, Zimmer removed fill-in OC Kevin Stefanski’s interim tag, making his 2019 intentions clear. More runs, fewer missed blocks, more big plays on defense. He is doubling down on Zimmer Ball as the rest of the league loads up on “Next McVays.” One of the NFL’s most focused, disciplined coaches, Zimmer’s track record suggests 2019 will not be another season of poor game plans and botched execution.         

 

10. Ron Rivera
Career Record: 71-56-1 (.559)
With The Panthers Since: 2011
Last Year’s Ranking: 7

12-4 is never far away in Carolina. Neither is 7-9. This has been life under Ron Rivera, whose one-year famines are typically followed by 11-12 win feasts. Rivera, for his part, adjusts, but the changes can be a year or two slow. Rivera himself acknowledged this after 2018, admitting he allowed things to spiral out of control after the Panthers followed up a 6-2 start with a seven-game losing streak. Rivera’s eventual correction — taking over defensive play-calling duties — was a hit, but the season was already in the gutter. Rivera has promised a campaign of change in 2019. Most notably, he is abandoning his trademark 4-3 front in favor of a more hybrid approach. He does not want to get caught flat-footed the way he did during last year’s meltdown. That, coupled with what should be improved health from Cam Newton will likely have Rivera’s Panthers back on the up and up. The trick will be avoiding the 2020 comedown.     

 

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11. Anthony Lynn
Career Record: 21-12 (.636)  
With The Chargers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 20

Coming off a typical “what might have been?” 9-7 Chargers campaign, Anthony Lynn finally got the Bolts off the Marvin Lewis schneid in 2018-19, leading the franchise to its first postseason victory since 2013-14. As was the case his first year on the job, Lynn relied on a strong defense and balanced offense. After a masterful Wild Card game plan that completely erased Ravens dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, Lynn oversaw a less-inspiring effort in the Divisional Round. His team got wiped out 41-28 as Bill Belichick reminded just how far every other coach has to go. It was a “learning experience” Lynn can take forward to 2019 with a team that should once again be loaded and near the top of the AFC. 21-7 (.750) since an 0-4 start in 2017, Lynn has been the steady hand the Chargers have desperately craved since firing Marty Schottenheimer. Buoyed by a deep roster and seen-it-all coordinators on both sides of the ball, Lynn might finally be the coach to get Philip Rivers back to the AFC Championship Game, or beyond.    

 

12. Matt Nagy
Career Record: 12-4 (.750)  
With The Bears Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Something left unsaid during this offseason’s pursuit of the next Sean McVay? The Bears already found him in Matt Nagy. From his offensive brilliance to sideline intensity, Nagy fit the bill as a rookie head coach, leading the Bears to their first 12-win season since 2006 as they scored 157 more points than they managed in 2017. It was a nearly flawless first act, but big challenges lie ahead for 2019. Most daunting is the replacement of Vic Fangio, who oversaw one of the best defenses of the decade in 2018. On offense, Nagy must coax continued development from Mitchell Trubisky, who despite his sophomore improvement remained one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Only Ryan Tannehill and Josh Rosen earned lower marks from Pro Football Focus. As is the case with nearly all head coaches — especially offensive-minded ones — Nagy’s fortunes will rise and fall with the play of his signal caller. Nagy leaves a weekly admonition on his play sheet — Be You. So far he’s 1-for-1. Now the task becomes “remain you” as the league adjusts and Trubisky enters what will be the most telling year of his professional career.      

 

13. Frank Reich
Career Record: 10-6 (.625)
With The Colts Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

The consolation prize after Josh McDaniels’ dishonorable about-face, Frank Reich arrived in Indianapolis to limited expectations following a 2017 where Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury doomed the Colts to a 4-12 finish. With GM Chris Ballard’s roster still paper thin after years of Ryan Grigson’s mismanagement, Reich appeared to be in the early stages of a multi-year rebuild after his squad got off to a 1-5 start. Then Luck finally rediscovered his arm strength and Reich’s team started a fire that could only be extinguished by Patrick Mahomes in the Divisional Round. Reich’s 2018 may have been the tale of two seasons, but the overarching takeaways were clear. Reich is a player’s coach who nevertheless strives for an atmosphere of accountability. Despite being a product of ‘80s and ‘90s football, he is devoted to analytics and in-game probabilities like his old boss Doug Pederson. 57, Reich may have never gotten the opportunity to lead his own team were it not for McDaniels’ duplicity. Now he is looking like the right man in the right place at the right time.     

 

14. Bill O’Brien
Career Record: 42-38 (.525)  
With The Texans Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 15

Bill O’Brien has three AFC South titles in five years but just one playoff win to show for it. He is also in a fast-improving division, with the Frank Reich/Andrew Luck alliance in Indianapolis of particular concern. Endowed with a remarkable degree of self possession, O’Brien is nevertheless weighed down by unnecessary conservatism. It’s a trait he needs to shed if he’s to make the most of his killer app at quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Typically on the hot seat, clashing with his general manager or both, O’Brien has for once earned himself a quiet offseason after last year’s new high-water mark of 11-5. Of course, it ended with a crushing playoff defeat to Reich’s Colts. O’Brien’s cleverness as a CEO has kept him one step ahead of a pink slip. He needs more of it on the sideline if he’s to maximize Watson and keep his job for the long haul.  

 

15. Kyle Shanahan
Career Record: 10-22 (.313)  
With The 49ers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 14

Kyle Shanahan is close. There have been tantalizing reminders of his ability each of the past two Decembers, where the 49ers have combined for a 7-3 record. Never mind the fact that those seven wins account for 70 percent of Shanahan’s career total. His poor record does not lack for alibis. He did not have a quarterback in 2017 and 2018 was an injury washout. That includes under center, where Jimmy Garoppolo was limited to three appearances. Shanahan occasionally got the engine revved up with C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens, but there are only so many places you can go with second- and third-string quarterbacks. One of the them is the most receiving yards ever by a tight end, a record Shanny managed to set with George Kittle amidst the injury carnage. With Shanahan, we are still projecting. We have not seen “it” yet. With a little better health, 2019 could easily be the year Shanahan finds “it” and gets on the path to where he’s going.      

 

16. Sean McDermott
Career Record: 15-17 (.469)  
With The Bills Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 21

Sean McDermott has quickly established himself as one of the game’s most promising defensive minds. Taking care of his own side of the ball is an invaluable first step toward building an annually competitive football team. Now McDermott needs to improve everywhere else. Gifted unusually expansive personnel power for a first-time head coach, McDermott and handpicked GM Brandon Beane had a disastrous first year shaping the Bills’ roster. Things were slightly better in 2018, though McDermott’s fate is now hitched to Josh Allen’s decidedly unsteady wagon. McDermott seems ready for any and all scheming challenges on defense, but it won’t amount to much unless Allen dramatically improves. Allen, in turn, won’t get better without an enhanced supporting cast. He was given embarrassingly little to work with as a rookie. McDermott and Beane must have more to offer on offense. McDermott’s strength is strong enough that he should be given time to sort out his weaknesses. The trick will be being up to the challenge.     

 

17. Mike Vrabel
Career Record: 9-7 (.563)
With The Titans Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Mike Vrabel’s 9-7 did not go quite as far as Mike Mularkey’s in 2017, but it was hard earned. With Marcus Mariota once again battling injury, Vrabel’s squad was forced into three Blaine Gabbert starts, amazingly winning two of them. His defense allowed just 303 points, the third-fewest in the NFL and the Titans’ fewest since 2008. It was an impressive debut, but one that comes with the usual questions. Vrabel has inherited Mularkey’s biggest conundrum: What to do with Mariota, who keeps getting hurt and is seemingly incapable of harnessing his running ability. Upping the difficulty level for 2019 is the departure of OC Matt LaFleur. Not only has Vrabel lost his offensive boss after one season, Mariota will now, somehow, be working with his fourth coordinator in five years. Vrabel’s solution was to promote from within, naming unknown TEs coach (and FedEx scion) Arthur Smith as LaFleur’s replacement. Long on the rise as an assistant, Vrabel remained firmly on an upward trajectory in 2018. Whether that remains the case in 2019 will largely depend on his quarterback.       

 

18. Jason Garrett
Career Record: 77-59 (.566)   
With The Cowboys Since: 2010
Last Year’s Ranking: 16

Jason Garrett has overseen a 32-16 (.666) record over the past three seasons. His team is coming off its first playoff victory in four years, just the third of the new millennium for owner Jerry Jones’ franchise. So why are the Cowboys refusing to extend Garrett’s contract? Look no further than the Divisional Round. Chaperoning the most predictable offense in football, Garrett stood helpless as Ezekiel Elliott was held to 2.35 yards per carry versus a Rams Defense that bled 5.06 during the regular season. Things were even worse on the other side of the ball. Rams RG Austin Blythe estimated they knew what DC Rod Marinelli was calling over 90 percent of the time. Marinelli’s unit was excellent in 2018, but that playoff failure is emblematic of Garrett’s staid coaching culture. The bleeding edge this ain’t. The fourth-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, Garrett literally does not have a coaching tree. Garrett — or more likely, Jones — has sensed the stakes for 2019. OC Scott Linehan walked the plank. Second-year assistant Kellen Moore has been promoted to take his place. It’s the kind of bold — desperate? — move Garrett has typically been allergic to. It won’t be the first time he has to go against type if he wants to keep his job for 2020.          

 

19. Dan Quinn
Career Record: 36-28 (.563)
With The Falcons Since: 2015
Last Year’s Ranking: 12

Dan Quinn is firing his coordinators and hiring himself. Out are OC Steve Sarkisian, DC Marquand Manuel and ST coordinator Keith Armstrong. In is Quinn, who will serve as his own defensive boss after previously outsourcing his side of the ball. It is not the first time Quinn has been forced to make changes, as he’s fired two DCs while cycling through three OCs. The latter is because Kyle Shanahan was hired away to lead the 49ers, which raises a question: Would Dan Quinn still be coaching the Falcons if not for Shanahan’s historic 2016 offense? The answer is likely no. Quinn has had four years — an eternity in the NFL — to establish an identify and has yet to do so. The odds that he discovers one in year five are slim. If you’re a CEO-style coach, the stock price better be headed one direction: Up. The amount of fluctuation under Quinn’s leadership suggests that the board will eventually force a change.     

 

20. Jay Gruden
Career Record: 35-44-1 (.444)
With The Redskins Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 19

Jay Gruden is the NFL’s most middle-of-the-road coach. Somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 every season, he is neither good enough nor bad enough to generate much debate outside of local talk radio. When things go south — as they did in the second half of 2018 — Gruden always has a plausible explanation. Injuries gutted the squad, the roster isn’t good enough because the owner and general manager don’t know what they are doing, etc. etc. Neither of those annual excuses are false. Redskins coaches are set up to fail by Daniel Snyder’s meddling and Bruce Allen’s utter cluelessness. But at some point, Gruden will have to rise above his handicaps if he is to keep his job in one of the league’s toughest environments. Since that is unlikely — Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan could manage all of one playoff victory under Snyder — Gruden and his reasonably effective system will probably soon be fired and find work as an offensive coordinator. He is, after all, a man who not only knows Sean McVay, but hired him.

21. Doug Marrone
Career Record: 31-35 (.470)  
With The Jaguars Since: 2016
Last Year’s Ranking: 13

Doug Marrone didn’t change a thing. After all, why would he? The Jaguars were just 1-2 plays away from the Super Bowl in 2017-18. But as the Jags doubled down, the rest of the AFC South moved forward. Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson both rebounded from injury to near-MVP form while Titans allowed the fewest points in the AFC. The Jaguars? Expected regression on defense and no progression on offense. This wasn’t entirely Marrone’s fault. He is not the man who extended Blake Bortles. He is the man who refused to optimize his offense, standing idly by as since-fired OC Nathaniel Hackett called the most predictable game in the NFL. It was a recipe for disaster alongside a defense that saw its sack total plummet from 55 to as 37 as Jalen Ramsey freelanced and A.J. Bouye missed time with injury. No one would have blinked if Marrone were let go after the 5-11 dust settled. 2019 could be better. Bortles will likely be gone, and new OC John DeFilippo calls plays with a more open mind than Hackett. The Jags’ defense is better than it played in 2018. The championship window could easily be reopened if Marrone is willing to let in some air.        

 

22. Matt Patricia
Career Record: 6-10 (.375)  
With The Lions Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Matt Patricia is a rocket scientist who wears shorts in the snow. So was his debut as head coach, a campaign that saw the Lions score 86 fewer points than in 2017 but also give the Patriots the blueprint on how to stifle the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Patricia’s squad beat the Pats and swept the Packers but lost 48-17 to the Jets. There was no consistency, and Patricia’s opting out of a modern offense was the main reason why. Patricia let LeGarrette Blount carry the ball 154 times for a tragic 418 yards (2.71 YPC). No 2018 touches anywhere were a greater waste. Patricia took the ball out of Matthew Stafford’s hands and the Lions had their worst season since 2012. Truly, it’s not rocket science. It won’t matter how good of a job Patricia does on defense if he can’t get with the times on offense. The early signs for 2019 are not promising, as Patricia has jettisoned OC Jim Bob Cooter in favor of the more run-minded Darrell Bevell. Patricia has the brain power to succeed. It’s unclear if he has the judgment.       

 

23. Jon Gruden
Career Record: 99-93 (.516)  
With The Raiders Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Jon Gruden spent much of his nine years in television talking about what he would do differently if he ever returned to the sideline. So what did he change? Not enough. The Raiders scored the fifth fewest points in the league while allowing the most. Off the field, Gruden bled talent instead of adding it. What was initially promoted as a reload quickly morphed into a top-down rebuild. Gruden did bring some of his patented passing efficiency to Derek Carr, easily guiding the quarterback to new career bests in completion percentage (68.9) and yards per attempt (7.3). Of course, those “achievements” came in a comically conservative system. As foretold, coach and quarterback bickered endlessly. Nothing went right for Gruden in 2018. Gruden is an interesting figure in the history of football. He helped build one Super Bowl contender, coronated another and brought pure joy to the broadcast booth. The question is if he’s capable of being more than a museum piece at this point in his career. The 2018 tape showed a man who was more dead letter than living document.        

 

24. Pat Shurmur
Career Record: 15-34 (.306)
With The Giants Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Pat Shurmur’s five 2018 wins matched a career high. In three years as a head coach, he has notched victory totals of four, five and five. Plenty of that has been beyond his control. In Cleveland, his quarterbacks were Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden and Thad Lewis. In New York, it’s the soldered remains of Eli Manning. You could argue Shurmur did what he was paid to do in 2018, getting Manning’s completion percentage up to a career-high 66.0 while generating his most passing yards (4,299) since 2015. It still didn’t make a lick of difference, as the Giants won six or fewer games for the fourth time in five years. At no point were they anything other than one of the league’s worst teams. Manning is the elephant in the room. With him, Shurmur has no shot at making the most of his second chance. That is not to say Shurmur’s fortunes would be all that different were Manning to be cut tomorrow. 53-year-old retread coaches aren’t the sort who are given a long leash, and this is not a good roster. The offensive line is terrible. The defense has no pass rush. Shurmur has been set up to fail and likely will. That’s not fair, but it is life in the NFL.   

 

New Hires (In Alphabetical Order)

 

Bruce Arians, Buccaneers
Career Record: 49-30-1 (.619)

Bruce Arians’ retirements are getting progressively longer. The first one lasted a month. The second one made it an entire year. Restless after an underwhelming season in the broadcast booth, Arians is back on the sideline with something he never had in Arizona: A young signal caller. Of course, Jameis Winston comes with serious questions both on and off the field. Arians loves down-field aggression, but Winston is known more for interceptions than big plays. Amongst quarterbacks to make at least two seasons worth of starts since Winston came into the league, only Ryan Fitzpatrick has been picked off at a higher rate. Arians believes the fixes are simple: Clean up Winston’s mechanics and stop playing from behind. Both will be easier said than done, especially since Arians is inheriting a defense with precious few playmakers. Arians will unquestionably make the Bucs better. Whether they can rise above Arians’ 8-8 form from his final two years in the desert very much remains to be seen.  

 

Vic Fangio, Broncos
Career Record: – –

A 60-year-old rookie head coach, Vic Fangio is tasked with solidifying the Broncos’ strength on defense while 46-year-old rookie OC Rich Scangarello searches for strengths on offense. Fangio should be successful on his side of the ball. His 2011 49ers and 2018 Bears were two of the best defenses of the decade, and Von Miller remains one of the most imposing building blocks in all of football. Things won’t be nearly as straightforward for Scangarello, who has been handed one of the worst quarterbacks in the league in Joe Flacco. Together, they will be overseeing an offense with nearly nonexistent passing-game weapons. Demaryius Thomas is gone and Emmanuel Sanders is recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It will be up to second-year second-rounder Courtland Sutton to make plays through the air as fellow sophomores Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman grind out yards on the ground. Fangio’s setup is not impossible. There is just enough here for him to execute his blueprint. What is certain is that, good or bad, the product is not going to be pretty.    

 

Brian Flores, Dolphins
Career Record: – –

The second Bill Belichick defensive coordinator to find head-coaching work in as many years, Brian Flores was one of just two defensive-minded hires this offseason. He is arguably facing the toughest road of any of the eight members of 2019’s class, inheriting a complete gut job from an owner in Stephen Ross who is typically impatient for action. Will Ross stick with Flores through what are guaranteed to be lean years? Although his expertise is on the defensive side of the ball, Flores’ fortunes will be closely tied to whomever the Dolphins find to replace Ryan Tannehill. Belichick assistants taking head jobs at the NFL level have been a mixed bag. None have been a home run. If Flores is to be the first, he will have to overcome long odds in a situation where he is being set up to tank.     

 

Adam Gase, Jets
Career Record: 23-25 (.479)

Adam Gase went 20-6 in one-score games as coach of the Dolphins. That means he went 3-19 in all the others. When he wasn’t eking out “Miami Miracles,” he was getting throttled. A whopping eight of Gase’s losses came by 20 or more points. To put that into perspective, Hue Jackson had just six such defeats in his 3-36-1 tenure with the Browns. What does it all mean? It’s hard to tell what anything means with Gase, who has summoned career-best play out of disappointments like Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill but frequently clashed with his stars. Perpetually over everyone and everything, Gase was reportedly elated to be fired by the Dolphins. NFL coaches need to be headstrong. There is no other way to be the boss of 53 grown men who are all at the top of their field. But Gase’s confidence has too often veered into arrogance. Gase can seemingly coach offense. After three years and 48 games, it remains unclear if he can lead a football team.     

 

Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals
Career Record: – –

Whereas Jim Caldwell and Dirk Koetter put in long stints as NFL assistants to erase memories of their college failures, Kliff Kingsbury needed only 45 days. Presumably, it was not his pit stop as USC offensive coordinator that got him the job in the desert. It was his connections to Patrick Mahomes and “good friend” Sean McVay. That, and an offense that averaged 38 points across 75 NCAA contests. Never mind the other side of the ball (37 PPG). For that, Kingsbury can be forgiven. Personnel is paramount when it comes to defense, and it is hard to convince 18-year-old kids to play in Lubbock, Texas. That will no longer be an issue in a socialist NFL player pool where Kingsbury doesn’t have to do the recruiting. He can focus on what he’s good at, scheming the offense. It’s an area in which few are better. It’s everywhere else that Kingsbury needs to prove himself. Can a 39-year-old who just spent the past six years as a feudal lord get grown men to buy into his program? Can he stay out of the way as other people build his roster and mold his defense? The Cardinals are putting their faith in one great trait: Kingsbury’s ability to put points on the board. The rest is unknown. Buckle up.       

 

Freddie Kitchens, Browns
Career Record: – –

Freddie Kitchens was a phoenix rising after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley’s inept power struggle vaulted him from obscure running backs coach to the league’s hottest offensive coordinator. Now we know he is a leader out of a different NFL era. Rather than filter his press conferences down to the Belichick-ian essentials, Kitchens prefers to set them alight. Instead of maintaining a cool remove from his players, he tickles their beards. He conducts himself as if he is the world’s luckiest human. Perhaps he is. Everything about Kitchens has screamed “the answer” in Cleveland, but it must be acknowledged that he had never so much as led an offense at any level before last November. There is a chance the Browns have fallen into the interim coach trap. It just seems more likely that circumstance has conspired to make Kitchens the man who, along with Baker Mayfield, finally ends the Browns’ misery. There is so much we don’t know about Kitchens. What we do suggests he’s a peach.    

 

Matt LaFleur, Packers
Career Record: – –

Matt LaFleur is riding high on the Sean McVay escalator. He has been selected to be just the second head coach of Aaron Rodgers’ starting career even though he has only one year of play-calling experience. Once again dealing with quarterback injuries and an identity crisis, the 2018 Titans Offense was not a good one, scoring the sixth-fewest points (310) in the league. That’s compared to 331 and 384 under much-maligned Mike Mularkey. LaFleur is in Green Bay because he checked the right boxes — is young, knows McVay, is not a retread — and aced the interview. Despite his threadbare résumé, LaFleur could still find instant success. All he needs to do is put Rodgers in position to succeed. That is something Mike McCarthy had stopped doing. The early signs have not been terribly encouraging. LaFleur has pledged to “assemble our offense through the running game,” while OC Nathaniel Hackett was a thoroughly unimaginative play-caller in Jacksonville. It’s possible a new pair of eyes is all the Packers need to jump start their Rodgers juggernaut. Hopefully LaFleur’s do not focus on the wrong things.      

 

Zac Taylor, Bengals
Career Record: – –

Arguably the biggest leap of any of this offseason’s eight hires, Zac Taylor has one month of play-calling experience at the NFL level. He obviously had a good interview with the Bengals, but he only got it because of his connection to Rams coach Sean McVay. Have two years under McVay really prepared Taylor to run an entire team? The early returns have been concerning, as Taylor hired “Bullygate” OL coach Jim Turner before embarking on a quixotic defensive coordinator quest. Just 35, Taylor has certainly landed in the right spot for a head coach. Owner Mike Brown has proven to be more loyal than anyone else in the business. If Taylor shows early promise, he will quickly amass autonomy. If he doesn’t, we will find out how much of Brown’s legendary patience remains as he enters his mid-80s.      


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