Grading the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires

Tampa Bay receives high marks for Bruce Arians, but other teams didn't do so well

This offseason, the NFL head coaching carousel featured eight new hires, including changes by the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets.

 

All of the teams feel like they hit a home run with their hire, but which teams really did? With the carousel finally coming to a stop, here's how each of the teams fared.

 

Grading NFL Head Coach Hires for 2019

 

1. Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers were able to bring Arians out of retirement and back into coaching a year after he left the Cardinals. Tampa Bay hopes Arians can bring the best out of former No.1 overall pick Jameis Winston.

 

Even though Winston is entering the final year of his rookie contract, it makes sense why the team is still committed to him considering the option in this year's draft class (outside of maybe Dwayne Haskins) and the current free-agent market. Arians has an excellent history of working with quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer.

 

Reuniting with Todd Bowles to run the Buccaneers' defense was an excellent move that should pay off immediate dividends as well.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

2. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins

Flores has worked his way up the coaching ranks through the Patriots organization starting in 2004 as a scouting assistant before taking over as the defensive play-caller this past season following the departure of Matt Patricia to Detroit. Although the Flores hire appears to be an excellent move for the Dolphins, it does come with some questions as while he called plays for the current Super Bowl champs, he was not given the title of defensive coordinator. 

 

Then there's the question of the relative lack of success enjoyed by Bill Belichick's former assistants (Bill O'Brien being the exception). One thing is certain, Flores has surrounded himself with many experienced assistant coaching, including former head coach Jim Caldwell.

 

Flores will have his work cut out for him as the Dolphins will be in rebuild mode for the next couple of seasons.

 

Final Grade: A-

 

3. Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns 

After just two months of being a coordinator on any level, Kitchens became a hot head coaching candidate this offseason. That's why instead of making Gregg Williams their full-time head coach, Cleveland decided to give the job to Kitchens instead. 

 

After offensive coordinator Todd Haley was fired the same time the Browns dismissed head coach Hue Jackson, Kitchens took over the offense and the unit responded. In eight games as coordinator, Cleveland's offense averaged 23.8 points per game as rookie Bake Mayfield found his stride (281.8 passing ypg, 19 TD passes in that span).

 

Although Kitchens doesn't have a ton of experience, the early indications are that he is the right man to help Mayfield and this Browns team take the next step forward. 

 

Final Grade: A-

 

4. Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos

While most of the league is turning to younger head coaches to lead their team, the Broncos decided to hire a veteran coordinator in Fangio. After spending 19 of the past 20 years as a defensive coordinator, the 60-year-old Fangio finally gets his chance to be a head coach. 

 

With all the talent on Denver's defense, it makes sense to hire Fangio. Also, the Chiefs and Chargers have high-powered offenses and slowing those teams down will be key to any hopes Denver has of returning to the top of the AFC West standings. 

 

Fangio's most significant question is can he get the Broncos' offense up to par as this side of the ball has struggled in the post-Peyton Manning years. The team figures to be in the market for a quarterback considering Case Keenum's struggles in 2018.

 

Final Grade: B

 

5. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals

After 16 seasons, the Bengals decided to fire Marvin Lewis, who was the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL. Enter Taylor, the 35-year-old who coached the last few years under Sean McVay with the Rams.

 

While Taylor doesn't have any prior head coaching experience, he has been an assistant for a decent amount of time, including with the Dolphins where he was interim offensive coordinator after interim head coach Dan Campbell fired Bill Lazor in 2015. While no one knows if Taylor will work out, at least give the Bengals credit for finally trying something new.

 

Final Grade: C

 

6. Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals 

The Cardinals surprised many by firing Steve Wilks after just one season. The second surprise came when they hired his replacement.

 

Kingsbury was Arizona's choice despite being fired by Texas Tech two months earlier. He also doesn't have any experience as an NFL coach.

 

But NFL teams are looking for the next Sean McVay, and the Cardinals feel like Kingsbury is it. While at Texas Tech, Kingsbury worked with quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield, and Davis Webb. The Cardinals are hoping Kingsbury can work his magic on Josh Rosen, who struggled during his rookie season. 

 

Final Grade: C-

 

7. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers

The Packers also went in the trend of young head coaches as they hired LaFleur to replace Mike McCarthy. The Titans' offensive coordinator this past season after serving in the same capacity under Sean McVay for the Rams in 2017, the jury is still out on LaFleur as Tennessee's offense didn't put up huge numbers.

 

Now in Green Bay, the Packers are hoping LaFleur can help the team bounce back after a disappointing 2018 season. This is a boom-or-bust hire, but Aaron Rodgers can potentially make any head coach look good.

 

Final Grade: D+

 

8. Adam Gase, New York Jets

After failing with the Dolphins, the Jets' hiring Gase was a bit of a head-scratcher. But in a copycat league with teams looking to hire a “hot young offensive mind," the Jets decided to take a chance on the 40-year-old Gase. 

 

The good news is Gase was able to get Ryan Tannehill to play some of the best football of his career during the three seasons they were together in Miami. The bad news is Tannehill missed 25 of 48 games, and Gase believes that is the reason the Dolphins decided to fire him.

 

In New York, Gase will work with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, who predictably had an up-and-down rookie season. Maybe Gase will be much better in the Big Apple than he was in South Florida. But there's nothing from his track record as a head coach to believe that will be the case. 

 

Final Grade: D

 

— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

 

(Top photo courtesy of www.buccaneers.com)

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