Power Ranking the New NFL Head Coaching Hires
Power Ranking the New NFL Head Coaching Hires
Being an NFL head coach means that you have very little job security, and that was no different this offseason. The Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins all fired their head coach, and each of those teams except the Browns have made the decision to hire a new one.
The Lions brought in Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwall, only after losing San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator to the Titans. The Cincinnati Bengals had a rough go of the coaching carousel, as offensive coordination Jay Gruden left for the Redskins while defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer headed north to the Vikings. Finally, the Texans ventured into the college ranks, hiring Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien.
Each of the five teams that brought in a new coach has playoff expectations in 2013, though that may be somewhat less realistic for the Vikings and Titans than the other three. Regardless, that means each of these new coaches will be under pressure to produce immediately.
What is also interesting to note here is that four of the five hired coaches have a background as an NFL offensive coordinator, with Zimmer being the only defensive minded coach to be hired. Caldwell and Whisenhunt are the only two with NFL head coaching experience, however.
Now that most of coaching vacancies have been filled, let’s take a look at how well each team did. Before looking at these rankings, I want to be clear that I think four of these five were excellent hires, but they can’t all be No. 1. Without further ado, here are the power rankings for the new head coaching hires this offseason.
5. Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
Caldwell is the only hire that I am not a fan of. The Lions made no secret of how badly they wanted Whisenhunt, and it seems they were set on an experienced, offensive minded coach. Caldwell went 26-22 in three seasons as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and he has been with the Ravens the last two seasons.
Frankly, I don’t believe Caldwell is the man to take the talented Lions to the next level. His tenure in Indy ended in disaster (which was not entirely his fault), and Joe Flacco has not improved under Caldwell’s tutelage, save for a four game stretch in last year’s playoffs that looks like the outlier of Flacco’s career. That is not promising for a so-called quarterback guru who must get Matthew Stafford to become elite.
The Lions need a coach that can push this team over the top and make them legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and I simply don’t see Caldwell as that coach. Make no mistake, he is a good coach, but he is not going to turn this team into the perennial contender it has the talent to be.
4. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings stuck with a defensive minded coach, and Zimmer seems like a great fit in Minnesota. The Bengals ranked 3rd in the NFL in total defense this season, and Zimmer will be tasked with fixing Minnesota’s 31st ranked defense. Obviously, that will take a lot of work, but if the Vikings are patient with Zimmer he should succeed.
The Vikings must also fix some offensive concerns, and Zimmer’s first priority will be finding a quarterback. However, Zimmer is the kind of coach that will be more than happy to hand Adrian Peterson the ball 25 times a game, which is obviously the best course of action for this team. The Vikings have a decent talent base, but Zimmer will need some time to build this team.
3. Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Gruden, the younger brother of Super Bowl winning head coach and popular commentator Jon Gruden, was the man the Redskins tapped to turn Robert Griffin III into the superstar quarterback he has the talent to be. Griffin and the Redskins as a whole regressed horribly this season, and Griffin’s relationship with Mike Shanahan was fractured beyond repair.
Gruden will have to also focus on rebuilding the Redskins’ defense, which ranked 30th in the league in scoring defense. The Skins also need some additional weapons around Griffin, but Dan Snyder is not afraid to spend money to improve his team.
Gruden is the prefect here because his creative offensive mind will be able to take advantage of all of Griffin’s skills, maximizing the effectiveness of the offense. The Redskins will be expecting to make the playoffs in 2014, so the pressure is on for Gruden to get things fixed quickly. His tenure here will be judged by whether or not he gets the best out of Griffin.
2. Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans
Everyone thought Whisenhunt was a lock to head to the Lions, but he made the stunning switch to take the Titans job. Why he turned down the opportunity to work with Stafford and Calvin Johnson is a mystery to me, but the Titans are thrilled that he did. Whisenhunt went 45-51 as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, but he was eventually undone by his inability to find a franchise quarterback.
He faces similar concerns in Tennessee, where a decision must be made on Jake Locker. Locker has shown a lot of promise when healthy, but those times have been few and far between. The Titans will have to decide whether or not to stick with Locker or move in a new direction.
Whisenhunt has a lot of talent at his disposal in Tennessee, but he must figure out how to develop Locker and maximize Chris Johnson’s talents. The Titans have the ability to be a playoff team in the weak AFC, but everything will depend on Whisenhunt’s ability to either turn Jake Locker into a legitimate quarterback or find a new one.
1. Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
The Texans made the bold step of hiring a college head coach, and I love this move. O’Brien has done a fantastic job rebuilding Penn State, and he also has five years of experience as an assistant with New England Patriots. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Texans did this season, and I expect O’Brien to be able to turn them around quickly.
Of course, Houston holds the No. 1 pick in the draft and has a need at quarterback. Whether or not they believe Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater is the answer to their problems remains to be seen, but O’Brien will be expected to develop someone into the quarterback the Texans need to get back to the top of the AFC.
O’Brien has the pedigree and the track record of success to give the Texans and their fans confidence, and I believe that he will quickly have this franchise back in the playoffs. O’Brien is the kind of coach that can build a team and sustain success, and the Texans made a great hire.