Grading Out the Freshly Hired NFL Head Coaches

The NFL head coaching carousel has come to a stop for this season. After this season, there were seven NFL head coaching openings. The Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, and  Philadelphia Eagles were all in search of new head coaches. With the Texans filling their vacancy, each franchise has filled their openings. Today, we review the group of new NFL head coaches.

Grading Out the Freshly Hired NFL Head Coaches

Judging NFL Head Coaches

The newly hired NFL head coaches all have interesting backgrounds. Two have defensive backgrounds. Two of them are coming off of being NFL offensive coordinators. Two are NFL offensive positional coaches. The other is one of the most successful college football head coaches of recent times.

On paper, as a whole, this group of NFL head coaches is very underwhelming. Still, games aren’t played on paper. When the Green Bay Packers hired Matt LaFleur, there were a lot of experts that didn’t expect much from LaFleur. But after taking the Packers to two straight NFC championships in his first two seasons,  he has proven the naysayers wrong.

Today, we hand out letter grades to each hire. In some cases, these new NFL head coaches will prove us wrong. However, we hand out grades that we believe match each hire.

Jacksonville Jaguars, Urban Meyer

Grade:  A-

We had our doubts that Jaguars owner Shahid Khan would get this hire right. But we were proven wrong.

As a collegiate head coach, Urban Meyer has won everywhere he has coached. He won at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. While at Florida and Ohio State, he won national championships. He brings with him a winning culture, something the Jaguars are in dire need of.

However, the transition from college head coach to NFL head coach is a difficult one. For every Jimmy Johnson, there has been a Steve Spurrier, Butch Jones, and Chip Kelly. For Meyer and the Jaguars to succeed, he is going to need to surround himself with a good general manager and a good coaching staff.

The Jaguars promoted a proven general manager in Trent Baalke. Baalke had success as the San Francisco 49ers general manager from 2011-2016. While he worked for the 49ers, he worked with another successful college head coach in Jim Harbaugh. Baalke, if he doesn’t make a power move as he did with Harbaugh, should be a good partner for Meyer.

Meyer’s coaching staff hasn’t been officially announced yet. But from the early reports, the assistants linked to Meyer aren’t overwhelming. The Jaguars are hoping that the presence of Meyer is enough to turn around the franchise.

New York Jets, Robert Saleh

Grade:  B

General manager Joe Douglas inherited former head coach Adam Gase when he was hired. There isn’t much doubt that Douglas was looking for somebody who was the opposite of Gase when he made this hire.

Robert Saleh served as the 49ers defensive coordinator from 2017-202o. During that time, he oversaw some successful defenses. Douglas is hoping he can bring over that success to the Jets young defense. While Saleh did have success with the 49ers, part of that success was due to the 49ers talented defensive personnel. The Jets have some solid young players, but the Jets roster isn’t nearly as talented as the 49ers.

Saleh brings Mike LaFleur from San Francisco as his offensive coordinator. LaFleur has learned under Kyle Shanahan and will bring a similar scheme with him to the Jets. He will be asked to get the most out of quarterback Sam Darnold.

His defensive coordinator will be Jeff Ulbrich. Ulbrich comes over from the Falcons where he served as the defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn was fired and Raheem Morris was promoted to interim head coach.

Los Angeles Chargers, Brandon Staley

Grade:  B-

Brandon Staley doesn’t have to make a long trip for his new gig. Staley was the defensive coordinator for the Los Angels Rams this past season. The Rams had a very successful season under Staley, in his first and only season as their defensive coordinator. This season, the Rams finished first in total defense.

While Staley has shown he can turn around a defense, it came as a mild surprise that the Chargers would hire a defensive head coach. Under former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, the Chargers finished 10th in total defense. With Justin Herbert, who had success in his rookie season as the Chargers starting quarterback, entering his second season it was expected the Chargers would hire an offensive NFL head coach.

Working with Herbert will be the responsibility of the new Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. As of recently, Lombardi was the quarterback coach for the New Orleans Saints. Lombardi served as the offensive coordinator with the Lions from 2014-2015. His time there didn’t go well and was fired.

Staley’s defensive coordinator will be Renaldo Hill. Similar to Staley, he learned under Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. Hill served as Fangio’s defensive backs coach with the Broncos from 2019-2020.

Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Smith

Grade:  C

Arthur Smith‘s success as the Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator landed him the Falcons head coaching position. Smith is a grinder, working his way up the coaching ranks.

The personnel he had with Tennessee allowed him to run an offense that was based on the run. He won’t have that type of personnel with the Falcons. There is no Derrick Henry on the roster. Instead, they have an aging Matt Ryan as their quarterback who is coming off a disappointing 2020 season. Wide receiver Julio Jones is talented, but he has battled injuries in recent history.

Smith will be working with a first-time NFL general manager. The Falcons hired Terry Fontenot who was with the Saints. Atlanta is hoping that Fontenot’s history working in the NFC South will help with rebuilding the franchise.

Longtime veteran defensive coordinator Dean Pees has come out of retirement to be Smith’s defensive coordinator. Peas worked with Smith with the Titans. He is accomplished and should help the Falcons defense which struggled under former head coach Dan Quinn.

It appears that Smith will be the offensive play-caller. But holding the offensive coordinator title will be Dave Ragone. He had been the Chicago Bears quarterbacks coach the past four seasons, which isn’t saying a lot. The quarterback play for the Bears was below average under Ragone’s watch.

Philadelphia Eagles, Nick Sirianni

Grade: C-

It appears that Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman has a type when looking for an NFL head coach. Former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was an assistant under fellow Eagles head coach Andy Reid. Sirianni served as the Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator whose head coach is Frank Reich. Reich was an assistant coach under Pederson with the Eagles.

Sirianni was a part of a successful Colts offense this past season. Roseman is hoping that Sirianni’s time working with Phillip Rivers will help resurrect Carson Wentz‘s career which faltered under Pederson. Let’s hope for Eagles fan’s sake that Sirianni is a better NFL head coach than he is a public speaker.

Reports have former Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen taking the same position with the Eagles. Steichen had an uneven run as the Chargers offensive coordinator. His hire, at best, seems suspect, especially with Wentz trying to bounce back.

It was also reported that Jonathan Gannon will be the Eagles new defensive coordinator. Gannon worked with Sirianni with the Colts, where he served as the Colts defensive backs coach.

On paper, the hiring of Sirianni seems at best an average one. Add in his vanilla coaching staff, it will be interesting to see how this hire plays out.

Detroit Lions, Dan Campbell

Grade:  D

Dan Campbell comes over from the Saints where he served as their assistant head coach and tight end’s coach. He once served as the Miami Dolphins interim head coach after they fired Joe Philbin.

Campbell is a former NFL player. If you weren’t aware of it, you probably figured it out after watching his less than impressive press conference after being named the Lions head coach.

Brad Holmes, who worked in the Rams front office, was named as the Lions general manager. While he holds the general manager title, Campbell’s hiring doesn’t seem like it was his hire.

Campbell’s hire has Chris Spielman written all over it. Spielman serves as a “special assistant” to the Ford family and it seems like he has a lot of pull. He has no experience running an NFL, but it seems like his fingerprints are all over this hire.

The Campbell hire seems questionable, but the staff he has put together seems like a solid one. He is bringing Aaron Glenn as his defensive coordinator. He was a fellow assistant to Campbell with the Saints and interviewed with several NFL teams for head coaching positions. If he succeeds with the Lions, it might be a short stay for Glenn. He might draw more head coaching opportunities.

Former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn will be Campbell’s offensive coordinator. Lynn is a former long time NFL running backs coach. With that background, expect the Lions to run the ball a lot. Especially with starting quarterback Matthew Stafford asking to be traded.

Houston Texans, David Culley

Grade:  F

The Texans hired Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach and wide receivers coach David Culley as their next coach.

Where to even start with this hire or even the Texans organization. All indications are that the Texans are now run by Jack Easterby. Easterby is a former pastor for the New England Patriots and has no background in personnel. Nick Caserio might have the title of general manager, but it seems like the good pastor is calling the shots.

So with that said, it is no surprise that the Texans hired a 65-year-old assistant who has never been a head coach, and his only experience as a coordinator came in 1989 when he was UTEP’s offensive coordinator. It was reported that Culley became the favorite because he seemed like the right fit to “change the culture” of the Texans.  A culture that was created by Easterby and owner Cal McNair.

Culley’s offensive coordinator will be Tim Kelly, a holdover from Bill O’Brien‘s failed tenure as the Texans head coach. It appears the quarterback coach will be Pep Hamilton. Hamilton did a solid job last season serving as the Chargers quarterback’s coach.

Former Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith will be the defensive coordinator. Smith is a proven defensive coach in the NFL. However, his 4-3 style might not be a very good match for the Texans 3-4 personnel.

Culley might be a good man, but this franchise has set him up for failure. Their star quarterback, Deshaun Watson, wants out after being lied to by ownership and the front office. To go along with that, this franchise is run by an unqualified vice president who is better suited to running a small church somewhere in a small Midwestern town.

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