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Grading the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires

Grading the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires

Grading the NFL's New Head Coaching Hires

Now that the NFL season has concluded and the coaching carousel has come to a stop, it is time to grade the seven new head coaches.

Looking back at last year's crop of new head coaches, Kevin Stefanski led the Browns to an 11-5 record and on the brink of upsetting the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round. He was named NFL Coach of the Year for his success. Other coaches such as Giants' Joe Judge surprised many, while Mike McCarthy had a rough first season with the Cowboys.

The main point is that no one knows how successful these coaches will be in their first season on the job, especially since they are all first-time NFL head coaches. But having said that, let's give out grades based on the seven hires.

New York Jets: Robert Saleh

The Jets were a laughingstock for almost the entire 2020 season with Adam Gase in charge. But after finally pulling the plug on the Gase experiment after two seasons, the Jets hit a home run with Saleh's hire.

Despite their 6-10 record, the 49ers finished in the top five in total defense as San Francisco allowed 314.4 yards per game. Yes, Saleh had a talented 49ers roster, which helped him. But you also have to give Saleh credit for bringing the best out of his roster in San Francisco, particularly after dealing with so many injuries to his unit last season.

Saleh did a great job of hiring Mike LaFleur away from Kyle Shanahan, who should make for an excellent offensive coordinator. LaFleur could do wonders with Sam Darnold, or do I dare say, Deshaun Watson?

Grade: A+

Detroit Lions: Dan Campbell

Many on social media criticized the hire of Campbell once the Lions made it. But what people don't know is Campbell has experience leading a team even if it was limited.

After the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin in 2015, owner Stephen Ross made Campbell the interim head coach for the season's last 12 games. Ross saw something in Campbell; he knew that the former tight end would be a future head coach someday, and he was right.

Many will point to the Dolphins' 5-7 record after the change, but Campbell had to navigate firing both an offensive and defensive coordinator and learning how to be a head coach on a fly. For the situation he was in, Campbell did a good job.

Now Campbell also has experience watching Saints head coach Sean Payton for the last five years and will use that to his advantage in Detroit. Having former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn as an offensive coordinator is huge. Also, having Aaron Glenn as a defensive coordinator is a win.

Campbell has paid his dues coming up, including his time as an intern with the Dolphins after his career was over. Players loved playing for him in Miami, and they will too in the Motor City.

Grade: B+

Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Smith

Smith did an excellent job with the Titans and should do well in Atlanta considering the Falcons weapons. Matt Ryan showed he is still a very capable quarterback in the league, and the Falcons have two excellent receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.

Defense is a significant question mark for the Falcons, but new coordinator Dean Pees has a lot of experience coaching with the Ravens and Patriots.

It seemed like Smith's hire was safe, but one that could work out in the long run for the Falcons. If Atlanta can develop a ground and pound game like Tennessee has — without the benefit of having Derrick Henry — then the Falcons' offense could return to form very quickly in 2021.

Grade: B

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Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer

I have mixed feelings about Meyer returning to the sidelines to coach the Jaguars. Meyer has been flirting with NFL jobs for a while now and finally decided to take the leap mainly because of the Jaguars' cap space and the opportunity to select Trevor Lawrence at No. 1 overall.

Meyer has been an outstanding CEO since he was coaching Utah, so I wouldn't doubt that he can be successful in the NFL. I do wonder how long he can deal with all the losing. The Jaguars aren't going to go from 1-15 to an overnight success, and will Meyer be OK with a couple of 7-9 seasons?

Jacksonville is in an interesting time in its history, and maybe Meyer is the right guy to lead them out of the dark cloud. But I have my doubts.

Grade: C+

Los Angeles Chargers: Brandon Staley

Staley has had a quick rise through the ranks. Many have tabbed him as the defensive Sean McVay, and maybe he is. But it is a little dangerous putting those high expectations upon Staley. Other teams looking to find the next McVay (Zac Taylor in Cincinnati, Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona) have had middling success.

One thing Staley should be able to do is improve a Chargers defense that gave up 26.6 points per game last season. Under Staley's leadership, the Rams finished No. 1 in yards per game and points allowed. Having Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey —two of the best players in the league, period — certainly helps, but the Rams made major strides in his only season as a coordinator at an NFL level.

My question is whether it been better to get an offensive coach for Justin Herbert? Brian Daboll, I thought, was going to be the hire here in Los Angeles, especially because of what he has done with Josh Allen and the Bills' offense.

Grade: C

Houston Texans: David Culley

The Texans needed a head coach who had a lot of experience and also brings some stability to their franchise. Culley seems like he can do that after being in the NFL since 1994.

Culley primarily coached wide receivers but has stints as a quarterback coach and as Baltimore's passing-game coordinator. Texans general manager Nick Caserio thought it would be best to bank on Culley, who is from the Andy Reid coaching tree.

Yes, Culley is 65 and is just getting his first opportunity, but it is worth noting that Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians didn't get his first head coaching job until he was 60.

My beef with the Culley hire is that this is a rebuilding situation. If the Texans trade Deshaun Watson (they have said that's not their intention), they will get a load of picks, but they're essentially going to be starting over. Will Houston give Culley enough time to turn things around?

Grade: C-

Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Sirianni

Sirianni's introductory press conference was interesting, to say the least. He had a few awkward moments that were cringe-worthy, but the Eagles hired him for a reason.

Sirianni has worked with Frank Reich, who was the offensive coordinator during Philadelphia's Super Bowl run, and he brings a playbook that the Eagles are familiar with. But if the team is going to trade Carson Wentz, then why didn't they just start fresh from the Reich tree and go with someone different like an Eric Bieniemy or Byron Leftwich, whom the Eagles apparently didn't even request to interview?

Can Sirianni can get through a messy situation in Philly with questions about the quarterback position, among others. Are they sold on Jalen Hurts? Even if the Eagles are, they certainly need to upgrade the talent around him.

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 newyorkjets.com)