There were six coaches fired either during or after the season ended. Here are my thoughts on the jobs and where the holes are for each team...
Best Available Job: Lions
Easily the best and most complete team right now is the Detroit Lions. You have a QB who can sling it with the best of them, a tandem RB corps and an All-Pro (potentially HOF) WR. Now some might say that a QB that can sling it isn’t a great thing especially because Matthew Stafford has been known to turn the ball over like Brett Favre used to do. However, with his shortcomings, Stafford is still an elite deep throw QB, he just needs to work on his accuracy in the “short and mid” range passes. His decision-making has been sub par the last two years, but it is something that he can fix. He needs a better HC that focuses on bettering him, sadly he won’t get a HC that solely focuses on him, but hiring a better QB coach or OC would be the biggest benefactor for Stafford. Through association better play from Stafford will only help Calvin Johnson. The RBs have great potential and Joique Bell showed that this past season, all while Reggie Bush relived shades of USC in his hay days.
The biggest problems lie on defense. The team lost seven of its last eight games. The sad thing is Jim Schwartz was a defensive minded coach. So I’m not sure how much the front office is ready to hire another defensive coach that couldn’t win games with a lead. Part of the problem goes with Stafford’s INT problem, when he turns the ball over he usually did so when he was trying to score or deep in his own territory; those two locations are the worst places to have a turnover. However, with a better defense the Lions could at least hold teams to field goals or more three and outs. There is work to be done with both sides of the ball, but this team is only two years removed from the playoffs and they have the more reliable players.
“Worst” Available Job: Browns/Vikings
Now I’m not going to go in-depth with both teams separately because they both have the same or similar issues. The QB situation in both cities is, well, bleak to put it nicely. You have a 30+ year old who is only in his 3rd year, and a 4th year player who can’t throw a pass to his own team to save his life. The backups aren’t much better, the Tom Brady try-to-be-copycat and the one time could be answer in Oakland until Al Davis traded for the then washed up Carson Palmer. If you aren’t following me, Matt Cassel is in Minnesota and Jason Campbell in Cleveland as backups. The “starters” Christian Ponder for the Vikings and Brandon Weeden for the Browns are two of the worst QBs I’ve ever watched. The only offensive bright spot for either team is in another skill position player; in Minnesota it’s Adrian Peterson (and becoming a helpful asset is Cordarrelle Patterson) and in Cleveland it’s WR Josh Gordon who (miraculously) became the first WR from Cleveland to lead the NFL in receiving yards. What makes that feat more impressive Gordon was suspended to start the season, so he led the NFL even without playing all 16 games. However, skill players are only good when you have a competent QB who can get them the ball…which as I’ve stated neither of these teams have their “answer/franchise QB” that they should (or would like to) have.
Defensively these teams were never where they needed to be in order to compete with their divisions. Now it’s hard to be able to compete when you’re in two of the toughest divisions in football. Some will dispute that point, but consider this, three of the four teams in these divisions had a shot at the playoffs with three or so weeks to go. Many forget that because the Lions shot themselves in the foot against the Ravens, who later shot themselves in the foot against Cincinnati. As well as Pittsburgh who started 0-4, but tried to make it back before San Diego decided not to choke like they did with Norv Turner all those years. Finally with Green Bay and Chicago they played for the division last Sunday. So the Browns and Vikings were simply the odd teams out when it came to winning or losing in the division. They competed well and the Browns even beat Cincy early in the year.
The changes these teams need are QB and almost a complete overhaul of their defenses. I can’t say that QB should be their first thing they fix, but they need a lot of positions filled. If Brain Hoyer can be a solid band-aid for the Browns great, but I have a feeling they “want to win now” so they’ll take a chance with Johnny Manziel or some other “top-tier” QB and they’ll drive him into the dirt like they did to Tim Couch, Charlie Frye, and more (I’m not going to list the 20 QBs they’ve destroyed the last decade-plus). I’m not saying Maniel is bad, I’m just saying there is something in the water in Cleveland that they either can’t make smart QB choices or they don’t have someone who is a good developer of talent. For the Vikings they need to take a risk on someone like Manziel (should he fall to them in the draft).
Top coaching choices, I’d say you want someone to lead your OFFENSE you go with Josh McDaniels, the kid screwed up in Denver, but I’d say he could really help in Minnesota. He’s linked to Cleveland, but Matt Cassel (the QB he wanted when he was trying to trade Jay Cutler) is in Minnesota, so I think there’s some incentive for him with the Vikings. However, the issue that Pat Bowlen ran into with McDaniels in Denver is giving him too much power; McDaniels was given GM and Head Coaching responsibilities with the Broncos, so the player moves and signings were his fault. However, you give him just the offense to worry about, and you could have a steal as a HC. Get him a solid DC to his best friend, the Vikings could be even greater. As for the Browns they need a QB coach who is proven (maybe McDaniels) and a DC who can coach like nobody’s business. I’m looking at Perry Fewell from the Giants. He has some experience as a HC and (other than this year) has been a great component to the Giants in their Super Bowl wins. If he didn’t have unfinished business with the Saints, I would say interview Rob Ryan.
Toughest Available Job: Washington
You can’t deny that whatever happens in the rest of the league, no matter who else gets fired, the Redskins have the toughest job to fill. Other than New York City, in the NFL, the Head Coach of the Washington Redskins has the toughest job. Some may argue Dallas, but Dan Snyder is worse than Jerry Jones. At least Jones gives his coaches pretty good players to work with. Now Dan Snyder does help his HC get good players, but by giving that power to the HC, like he did with Shanahan, no one ever blames Snyder like we blame Jones. Regardless, what I’m getting at is Shanahan had more than he bargained for because he was given a young QB in RGIII instead of the proven-but-can’t-win-a-Super-Bowl-old guy, John Elway. With Elway, Shanahan had someone who could win with or without a good HC, but he couldn’t win a Super Bowl. All Shanahan had to do was contribute a little bit, and he did by drafting Terrell Davis in the sixth round of the NFL draft. With RGIII Shanahan had to do something else, train, develop, raise, and keep a young, unproven, sometimes-cocky QB how to win. In his first season in the NFL, RGIII lead the Redskins to their first division title in what felt like forever. However, Shanahan didn’t know how to manage a QB who was injured, Elway almost never got injured so Shanahan didn’t need a plan for when he got hurt, however RGIII seems to have the injury bug as bad as Greg Oden. This team has some good skill players, but with RGIII playing as inconsistent as the Brooklyn Nets how do you know you can trust him. However, with a good offseason of preparation before and during the preseason, RGIII could be back to his normal, mobile self.
On defense, oh lord. There are great players on the edge and in the linebacking corps. However, the secondary isn’t that bad either. This team is losing the heart and sole of the defense, London Fletcher, who is choosing to retire, and who can blame him. The team is in disarray and hasn’t been able to tell up from down practically all season. With some good players at each level of the defense, they have a chance to salvage next season. The only matter they have to really solve is a HC who only acts as a HC. They need a GM and a HC not one who does both.
Thoughts on Buccaneers
PERFECT hire. Unlike two years ago with Schiano, I love the hiring of Lovie Smith. If Marc Trestman hadn’t done so well this year, I’d say that Lovie should still be in Chicago. However, Smith is a great player’s coach. He has the defensive mind that other teams dream they had. He will rally the players he keeps and bring hope to Tampa Bay. What happens next is what always happens with a new coaching staff. Lovie will bring in his coaches (which he has already started to do) and he will look at the roster and start purging that to his liking.
For me, I haven’t seen enough of Mike Glennon to say good or bad things. However, it’s not my call, Lovie has to make that one. Good luck, Lovie. Secondly, the injuries that this team sustained are vastly important to why they suffered so much to start the season. The defense isn’t the greatest, but with Smith’s help they’ll become better than awful. It will take free agents and a complete draft (for several years) for the Bucs to come back to where they were about 10 years ago, that’s asking a lot I know, but Lovie brought the Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman. REX GROSSMAN! Now the credit should go to the Bears defense for getting to the Super Bowl, but that’s my point. Lovie got to the Super Bowl with his defense not a great QB. So, who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see. Personally, I’m rooting for Lovie because I didn’t think Chicago should have ever fired him.
Thoughts on Texans
I’ve never been a fan of coaches leaving for greener pastures while still under contract somewhere else, especially a college coach. Insert Bill O’Brien. When he was hired at Penn State he was supposed to be the savior after the devilish information came out about Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno. However, he was “surprised that the sanctions against the school were as bad as they were”. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Anyway, that’s a topic for another day, for now let’s focus on the Texans. This team will play better and can flourish with O’Brien at the helm. However, the Texans have plenty of holes to fill, Arian Foster couldn’t stay healthy, Matt Schaub couldn’t throw to a Texan receiver, JJ Watt got thrown over and double teamed and the secondary was softer than melted butter. The front office has it’s work cut out for them.
Immediate upgrades are at QB, CB and Safety. Schaub all but threw his way out of town, and Case Keenum is not your long-term answer at QB in Houston. He is a serviceable backup and could be good going forward, but he’s not my first choice. Draft wise, I’d say you can’t go wrong with Teddy Bridgewater, but unfortunately for the Texans they missed the prototypical QB by about two years (Jameis Winston). However, they still have options and they can sift through free agency for a “good enough” QB to get by, but Bob McNair wouldn’t be happy with just getting by for a few years. There needs to be some accountability in every facet of the Texans game plan, offense, defense and special teams.
In all likelihood, not much will show until three or four years from now. However, some coaches may not even get one year (Rob Chudzinski). To accurately gauge a coaches impact and ability to help a team and make them succeed a coach needs at least two years, but I think three years should be the minimum tenure of a coach. A coach’s philosophy cannot fully take shape for at least three years.
We’ll see what the crystal ball gets right, and what it gets wrong.