The NFL coaching Carousel is in full swing!
If you’re a fan of the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns or Green Bay Packers, may God have mercy on your souls.
If you’re a fan of the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins or Cincinnati Bengals, I’m praying for you.
You might be a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you are……well, something’s gotta give, right?
Days before the NFL’s Divisional Round kicks off, five of the eight teams searching for a new head coach have filled those vacancies. Only one of those hires comes within the range of “inspiring.” Three teams have yet to make a move, but two out of three of those teams appear to be headed toward the same realm of an uninspired hire.
NFL Coaching Carousel Vacancies Filled
Coach Fired: Steve Wilks, one season, 3-13
Coach Hired: Kliff Kingsbury, USC Offensive Coordinator
The Cardinals have certainly taken the boldest route in the NFL coaching carousel, hiring Kingsbury away from USC, where he was hired as the offensive coordinator last month. Before that, he spent six seasons as the head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, accumulating a career record of 35-40, including going 19-35 in Big XII play. In his first three seasons in Lubbock, he had two winning seasons. In his last three, he had zero.
So, why was he hired? Last year the Cardinals took quarterback Josh Rosen out of UCLA with the No. 10 pick in the first-round. Kingsbury is being viewed as a “quarterback whisperer,” akin to Bruce Arians (to whom we’ll get in a minute) and Rams head coach Sean McVay. Kinsbury first coached Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield at Tech, before then coaching Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. The Cardinals are banking on him getting the same type of production out of Rosen he did with Mayfield and Mahomes.
But being a head coach is so much more than that. Kingsbury has his work cut out for him with not only unlocking Rosen, but also fixing an offensive line that resembles Swiss cheese and re-tooling skill players that faltered in 2018.
Another point of praise for Kingsbury is that he only lost at Tech because he had bad defenses in the most pass-happy Power 5 conference. Well, guess what? The NFL is becoming more pass-happy by the second, and the Cardinals ranked 26th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed defensively in 2018 under a defensive-minded head coach.
Coaches Fired: Hue Jackson, two-and-a-half seasons, 3-36-1; Gregg Williams, half-season, 5-3
Coach Hired: Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator
This NFL coaching carousel hire screams three things: lack of inspiration, lack of imagination and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, circa 2015.
Recall, after the 2015 season, the Bucs fired head coach Lovie Smith in order to promote offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who had been getting some looks for head coaching vacancies elsewhere. Bucs management/ownership went with Koetter, who had spent 2015 improving quarterback Jameis Winston’s play, because they felt that partnership would only grow.
Skip to now, and the Bucs just replaced Koetter with Arians after going 19-29 over the past three seasons with zero playoff appearances.
And that’s why Kitchens was hired. He spent half of 2018 as Baker Mayfield’s offensive coordinator and seemed to get the most out of the rookie signal-caller. Sure, Cleveland interviewed others, but an in-house promotion of a guy with only eight games under his belt as a coordinator is uninspiring. Though no other team looked at Kitchens as a head coach candidate, he would have been sought for offensive coordinator openings. That struck fear into the Browns ownership, so they kept him around the only way possible: with a promotion.
Coach Fired: Vance Joseph, two seasons, 11-21
Coach Hired: Vic Fangio, Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator
Let’s start with this: Fangio is an upgrade on Joseph. Joseph, who was the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator before coming to Denver, flat-out failed as a head coach. Fangio may very well succeed, but he’s got some rebuilding to do in Denver and the AFC West, a division that holds two of the four remaining AFC playoff teams in the Chargers and Chiefs.
Fangio will need to hire an excellent offensive coordinator, but he may not even get that chance. Word is that John Elway, Football Czar, may insert into that role former Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, taking away from his new hire a chance to implement his own favored scheme in Denver.
But the problem bigger than the defense is the lack of identity on the opposite side of the ball. Undrafted running back Philip Lindsay was a great find, but the Broncos need a quarterback. Case Keenum is not the answer.
Will Fangio, a defense-first guy, choose to spend the No. 10 pick in the draft on a QB? Or will he force Elway to go defense?
After whiffing on a defensive hire last time around, it was surprising to see Elway go that route again. Now the pressure’s on him to give Fangio the tools he needs to succeed.
Green Bay Packers
Coaches Fired: Mike McCarthy, (mostly) 13 seasons, 125-77-2; Joe Philbin, four games, 2-2
Coach Hired: Matt LaFleur, Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator
Not to be confused with Peter LaFleur, Matt LaFleur just wrapped his second season as an offensive coordinator. His first came with the Rams in 2017 when he didn’t even call the plays. The 38-year-old then left for the Titans, where he called the plays for Mike Vrabel, leading the offense to rank 27th in points scored and 25th in yards.
But, hey, every team is looking for The Next Sean McVay. The Packers are betting the last years of Aaron Rodgers’ Canton-worthy career that LaFleur is it.
Good luck with that, Cheese Heads.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Coach Fired: Dirk Koetter, three seasons, 19-29
Coach Hired: Bruce Arians, former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach
Surprisingly, of the five teams to have made their NFL coaching carousel hires, the Bucs are the only team who went with a retread, poaching Arians out of retirement to take over for Koetter as the next Jameis Winston Whisperer.
This isn’t a thrilling hire, especially when considering the team was linked, at times, to Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and outgoing Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, but it’s a solid one. In five seasons with the moribund Cardinals, Arians had three seasons of at least 10 wins, two playoff appearances, and even won a playoff game there. But in his last two seasons there, the Cardinals went 15-16-1. Yet, without him (and Carson Palmer), the team cratered to a 3-13 record.
Will he get the most out of Jameis Winston? Will anyone get the most out of Jameis Winston? Winston is entering his walk-year, so he’ll be playing for keeps. Sometimes, though, that hurts a team. Arians needs to find a solid running back (sorry, Peyton Barber) to fit in with Winston, tight end O.J. Howard and a solid receiving group led by Mike Evans.
The defense needs a lot of work, too, but Arians has already started the revamping by hiring former Jets head coach Todd Bowles as his new defensive coordinator.
Of the five hires thus far, this is the best.
In this NFL coaching carousel, the Cincinnati Bengals are linked to Hue Jackson, because of course they are. But recently it’s been reported the team is intent on hiring one of these three coaches: Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken or Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. Any of those three would be a better call than Jackson.
The Miami Dolphins could be biding their time to make a play for one of the Harbaugh brothers, and hiring either of them would re-start a carousel, either in college or the pros. The Ravens are said to be working on an extension for John, and Jim’s said he’s staying at Michigan. But Miami’s owner, Stephen Ross, has big money to throw around. Surely, he could convince one of Jack Harbaugh’s sons to take over an essentially quarterback-less squad.
Mike McCarthy is rumored to be looking only at the New York Jets, but who else are they talking to? McCarthy won a Super Bowl with the Packers, but his final years in Green Bay left much to be desired. However, I don’t know that former Dolphins head coach Adam Gase is a better alternative. The Jets need to get this right. The progression of last year’s first-round pick, quarterback Sam Darnold, depends on it. A dark-horse candidate would be Baylor’s Matt Rhule.
As the NFL coaching carousel continues, here’s to hoping Bengals, Dolphins and Jets fans come out happy. And football fans in general, too. Because so far, this round of the Coaching Carousel has been completely dull.
I’m ready for a surprise.
I’m ready for a coaching hire that rocks the NFL’s landscape. Make the NFL coaching carousel exciting!