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Grading the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires

Washington receives high marks for landing Ron Rivera after he was fired by Carolina

Just like every offseason in the NFL, there are several head coaching changes, and some are better than others.

 

The Redskins and Panthers got a head start on their coaching search when they fired their coaches during the season. But the Cowboys, Browns, and Giants also made changes after their final game of the 2019 season.

 

This offseason was notable because there were only five changes. That's the smallest number of new hires since 2010 (4), and the league had averaged over seven coaching changes per year between 2011-19.

 

The few teams that did opt to make a change are hoping that they made it count, so which one was the best? Let's take a look at how each team made out.

 

Ron Rivera, Washington Redskins

Rivera was the second head coach fired during the season after the Panthers let him go on Dec. 3. Washington, who had beaten Rivera's Panthers two days earlier, decided to scoop up the long-time head coach who had a lot of success in the Carolinas.

 

During his nine seasons with the Panthers, Rivera led the Panthers to four playoff appearances, including a conference championship and spot in Super Bowl 50. The Redskins and owner Daniel Snyder have needed some stability for a while, and Rivera could be the man that gives it to them.

 

Not only are the Redskins getting a quality coach, but one players loved while he was in Carolina. One can make the argument that if Cam Newton was healthy the last couple of years, Rivera might still be with the Panthers. Nevertheless, the Redskins and Rivera could be one of the biggest surprises in the NFL in 2020.

 

Final Grade: A

 

Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is the face of the franchise, but the team got a bit of an identity when they hired McCarthy. Naysayers of the hire will point out McCarthy's last couple of seasons with the Packers, but he had a lot of success in Green Bay overall.

 

In 13 seasons with the Packers, McCarthy made the postseason nine times, winning six NFC North titles and a Super Bowl during that span.

 

McCarthy's relationship with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is well documented, as many would say he underachieved while coaching one of the best players of his generation. The fact of the matter is the Packers didn't surround McCarthy and Rodgers with enough talent to succeed, which won't be a problem with the Cowboys.

 

With Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and plenty of talented defensive players, there's no reason the Cowboys shouldn't be contenders for a playoff spot next season.

 

Final Grade: B+

 

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers

Owner David Tepper made a huge splash with his first head coaching hire for the Panthers as he not only landed Rhule from Baylor, but he also signed him to a seven-year, $62 million contract in the process. Rhule is going to need every bit of that time because it looks like Carolina is in rebuild mode.

 

The biggest positive about Rhule is that he has succeeded everywhere he has been. After going 2-10 his first season at Temple, Rhule finished with 6-, 10-, and 10-win seasons before leaving for Baylor in 2017. Then Rhule took over a less than ideal situation at Baylor and took them from one win in 2017 to 11 in '19 and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

 

The negatives are the number of college coaches who have succeeded at the NFL level. For every Pete Carroll and Jimmy Johnson, there have been many Nick Sabans, Bobby Petrinos, and Steve Spurriers who have failed and quickly went back to the college ranks. Rhule did bring over Joe Brady from LSU, but it could be a while before we know if he is the right man for the job.

 

Final Grade: C+

 

Cleveland Browns, Kevin Stefanski

After a disappointing 6-10 season, the Browns decided to part ways with Freddie Kitchens after just one season. Cleveland then hired the man who was a runner-up for the job a year ago in Stefanski, who was the Vikings offensive coordinator last season.

 

Minnesota's offense in 2019 wasn't anything special, as they finished 16th in that department and averaged 353.5 yards per game. They were eighth in points per game (25.4), and Stefanski is credited with Kirk Cousins' improvement. So Stefanski could be a positive influence on Baker Mayfield after he had a subpar season.

 

Cleveland probably could have used someone with a little more experience since Stefanski is just 37 years old and without any previous head coaching experience.

 

Final Grade: C

 

New York Giants, Joe Judge

The most puzzling hire of the offseason involved the Giants and the hiring of Judge, who was the Patriots special teams coordinator for the last five seasons. He was also a special teams assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama from 2009-11.

 

While many would laugh that a special teams coach would get hired as the Giants head coach, consider John Harbaugh was also a special teams coordinator before the Ravens hired him. All he has done is made the playoffs eight times and won a Super Bowl in 2012.

 

Judge did hire former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as the Giants offensive coordinator. Getting Garrett should help with Daniel Jones' development along with superstar running back Saquan Barkley. But they're a lot of questions and not many answers with this hiring.

 

Final Grade: C-

 

— 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 redskins.com)

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