Grading the NFL’s New Head Coaching Hires

The Browns got high marks for their decision to name Hue Jackson their new head coach

Starting with Miami in early October, seven different NFL teams fired their head coach this season, as Cleveland, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Tennessee all decided to make a change at the top. Following a flurry of decisions leading into the Divisional Round of the playoffs, all of the available openings have been filled.

 

The Dolphins were the first team to make a move, hiring former Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase. The Tennessee Titans were the last when they announced on Saturday that the team was removing the interim tag from Mike Mularkey and making him the full-time head coach.

 

So how did the seven teams do in terms of the new hires? Let's hand out some grades:

 

Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns

The hottest name in the coaching carousel was Jackson. The former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator and Oakland Raiders head coach was expected by many expected to become the next guy in Miami or San Francisco, but instead he accepted Cleveland's offer.

 

Jackson is now charged with turning around a franchise that has posted just two winning seasons since returning to the NFL in 1999. The 50-year-old Jackson had spent the past four seasons with Cincinnati, starting out as wide receivers coach before taking over as offensive coordinator in 2014. Jackson also has been an offensive coordinator for the Redskins, Falcons and Raiders.

 

In 2010, his Oakland offense 10th in yards per game, as the Raiders finished 8-8, their fist non-losing season since 2002. Because of his success, then Raiders owner Al Davis promoted Jackson to head coach after the season.

 

Oakland would finish 8-8 again in 2011, with the Raiders finishing ninth in the league in total offense. But Jackson was fired after just one season following the death of Davis and after his son, Mark, hired new general manager Reggie McKenzie.

 

If Jackson can find the Browns a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft or through some other means, the team should improve instantly. Cleveland has an excellent offensive line and quality skill position players in running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson and as well as tight end Gary Barnidge and wide receiver Travis Benjamin.

 

Cleveland couldn’t have picked a better person to help the Browns return to respectability than Jackson. If Browns owner Jimmy Haslam gives Jackson time, the Browns should become a playoff team in two to three seasons.

 

Grade: A

 

Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In a bit of a surprising move, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith after only two seasons. Once the move was made, it was obvious that the team wanted to promote Koetter before he accepted a head coaching job with another team.

 

Koetter has nine years worth of experience as an offensive coordinator, including stints with Jacksonville and Atlanta. In 2007, Koetter led the Jaguars offense to a final ranking of seventh in yards per game. That was a major reason the team finished second in the AFC South (11-5) and advanced to the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the New England Patriots.

 

With the Falcons, Koetter guided quarterback Matt Ryan to his finest season in 2012. Ryan threw for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating 99.1 as Atlanta won the NFC South and led the NFC with a 13-3 record. The Falcons hosted the NFC Championship Game, only to come up short against the 49ers.

 

This was his first season in Tampa and all Koetter did was develop No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston into a 4,000-yard passer and improved the Buccaneers' offense from 30th to fifth in the league. If Koetter can find a defensive coordinator to help the Bucs improve their defense, Tampa could be a sleeper in 2016.

 

Grade: B

 

Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers

The case could be made that Kelly could have been the best head coaching hire of the offseason. In his three seasons in the NFL, Kelly has had just one losing season (6-9) after finishing 10-6 each of his first two seasons leading Philadelphia, including winning the NFC East in 2013.

 

The problem with Kelly and the Eagles was that he failed to treat his players like adults and did not hesitate to get rid of anyone (LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, etc.) he thought was not on the same page with him.

 

If Kelly can learn from his mistakes in Philadelphia and help revitalize quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s career, this could be a strong hire. Love or hate him, Kelly is a great offensive mind and he may finally have a quarterback to fit his system.

 

Grade B-

 

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins

There're a lot of questions about the Dolphins' hire of Gase, but there also a lot of positives as well. Gase did help Bears quarterback Jay Cutler post the highest quarterback rating (92.3) of his career. He also helped Peyton Manning rewrite the NFL record book in 2013 when he threw for 5,477 and 55 touchdowns with the Broncos.

Some of the knocks against Gase are is his age (37) and inexperience. He is the youngest head coach in the league. Also, the Bears finished this with a 6-10 record and ranked 23rd in points per game.

Gase was hired to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill become the elite quarterback Dolphins fans have been yearning for since the days of Dan Marino. Miami has a lot of holes and questions to address, so owner Stephen Ross will have to have to be patient with Gase because there will be growing pains.

 

Grade: C

 

Ben McAdoo, New York Giants

The Giants have missed the playoffs each of the last four seasons, which led to them parting ways with Tom Coughlin, who led the team to two Super Bowl victories. Instead of looking for a candidate outside of the organization, the Giants decided to stay in house, promoting McAdoo from offensive coordinator to head coach.

 

McAdoo has never been a head coach at any level and the Giants finished 12-20 in his two seasons as offensive coordinator, but he has been handed the keys to one of the premier jobs in the NFL.

 

Yes, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. have excelled in McAdoo's system, but it still wasn’t enough to win a weak NFC East this season. Also, the Giants' defense is a complete mess and it appears they will retain defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

 

Only time will tell if McAdoo is the right choice help the Giants become contenders again.

 

Grade: C-

 

Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles

Pederson spent the last three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs as their offensive coordinator under former Eagles head coach Andy Reid. He also played in the NFL for 10 seasons, mostly as a backup quarterback.

 

It appears Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie wanted to hire a younger Reid to bring stability back to his franchise after the

Chip Kelly fiasco. The Pederson hire might have been a reach after Tom Coughlin removed his name from consideration and the Giants promoted offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.

 

Grade: D

 

Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans

Following the firing of head coach Ken Whisenhunt after a 1-6 start, Mularkey served as the team’s interim for the rest of the season. Even though the Titans went just 2-7 with Mularkey in charge, the team decided to stick with him, in large part due to his relationship with ownership and the front office, as well as rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.

 

"Our relationship has been great,'' Mariota told TitansOnline.com. "He did an incredible job with what happened this year and handling everything. I am very excited to have him as a coach, and I look forward to getting to work.”

 

There’s nothing inspiring about the hiring of Mularkey. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would have been a much better choice. Despite McDaniels' failures as a head coach in Denver, his system along with Mariota's skill set could have made Tennessee's offense one of the best in the league.

 

Mularkey has a career record of 18-39 in his head coaching stops with the Titans, Bills and Jaguars. For a team that has won five out of its last 32 games, it will be tough to expect Titan fans to flock to Nissan Stadium on game days because of this decision.

 

Grade: F

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

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