For the second offseason in a row, seven NFL teams have hired new head coaches. Unlike last year, however, the most recent coaching carousel took a few unexpected turns.
While Atlanta, Chicago and the Jets all fired their head coach on Dec. 29, the day after the regular season ended (also known as Black Monday), the most surprising dismissal came when Denver fired its head coach the day after the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This offseason also saw a mutual parting of ways in San Francisco and Buffalo’s head coach exercising an opt out clause in his contract.
Fortunately, the dust has settled and the coaching carousel has once again come to a complete stop. While it’s entirely too early to fully evaluate each team’s decision, here is an early impression on each hire.
1. Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Previous Job: Jets head coach
Career Record: 46-50 (Jets, 2009-14)
While it didn’t end well for Ryan with the Jets, the Bills couldn’t have scripted a better ending to the strange Doug Marrone saga than to land their former foe. Marrone exercising his opt out clause, while costly, could be a blessing in disguise as the franchise now gets a chance to reboot with the brash, boisterous Ryan leading the charge. Ryan’s familiarity with the AFC East should not be overlooked nor the notion that the Bills have already become a more interesting team to follow simply because of his presence and personality. The only thing keeping Ryan from receiving a perfect grade is a questionable track record when it comes to quarterbacks, although he did get to back-to-back AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at the helm. At least Ryan has a new offensive coordinator (Greg Roman) to help him try and change his QB rep with EJ Manuel (or whoever ends up getting the starting job).
2. John Fox, Chicago Bears
Previous Job: Broncos head coach
Career Record: 119-89 (Panthers, 2002-09; Broncos, 2011-14)
Similar to the Jets, unexpected circumstances played a big role in the Bears’ search for Marc Trestman’s successor. John Elway’s surprising decision to fire Fox a day after Denver’s home playoff loss to Indianapolis presented Chicago’s new general manager Ryan Pace with an opportunity to do something the franchise had never done before – hire someone with previous head coaching experience. Having won with both the Broncos and before that the Panthers, Fox seems like the perfect choice to get the Bears back on track. He brings instant credibility and a defensive mindset, which for all the criticism and barbs thrown Jay Cutler’s way was one of Chicago’s biggest issues this past season. Granted, Cutler also is at the top of Fox’s question marks and concerns, but a return to the Bears’ roots of defense and running the ball could make life easier for the quarterback too. Fox also gets high marks and praise for putting together an impressive staff led by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who has worked with Peyton Manning the past three seasons.
3. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Previous Job: Seahawks defensive coordinator
Career Record: First season
Quinn may have been the last one to land a job on this list, but give credit to the Falcons for being willing to wait. The architect of the defense that played in back-to-back Super Bowls, Quinn finally gets his well-deserved shot at being a head coach. Mike Smith’s firing was somewhat surprising, given the success he had, but the transition from him to Quinn should be somewhat seamless given their similar backgrounds. It’s hard to gauge how successful a rookie head coach will be, but I like Quinn’s chances provided he’s able to upgrade his defensive personnel and stabilize the offensive line.
4. Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Previous Job: Broncos defensive coordinator
Career Record: 68-71 (Jaguars, 2003-11)
John Fox's defensive coordniator in Denver the past three seasons, Del Rio has earned his second shot at being a head coach. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan and seems to fit their persona to a tee. It certainly didn’t hurt that owner Mark Davis thought the same thing, as he began his pursuit of Del Rio before the regular season ended. Del Rio has experience with young, rebuilding teams and a pretty good track record when it comes to defense. What’s more, Del Rio wanted this job, which is saying something considering how far this franchise has fallen. But with Del Rio now in charge, along with building blocks like linebacker Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, the Silver and Black could be heard from sooner rather than later.
5. Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Previous Job: Ravens offensive coordinator
Career Record: 61-64 (Texans, 2006-13)
Kubiak initially stated he would remain in Baltimore, but then John Elway fired John Fox and everything changed. Drafted by Denver in 1983 and where he spent his entire playing career as Elway's backup, Kubiak is the logical fit from the franchise’s standpoint. Between his nine seasons as a player and his 11 as an offensive coordinator, Kubiak has spent as much time as a Bronco as his new boss. Kubiak also enjoyed success with the Texans, but his two playoff appearances were preceded by just one winning season in his first five and were followed up by a nightmarish 2013 campaign that led to his firing after a 2-11 start. On the field, Kubiak’s West Coast offense and Peyton Manning’s skill set do not seem like the ideal fit, and there’s also the matter of Elway not leaving any room for doubt when it comes to expectations. Keep in mind that Fox took this team to a Super Bowl while Kubiak has yet to make it past the Divisional Round. Welcome home Gary, now get to work.
6. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Previous Job: Cardinals defensive coordinator
Career Record: 2-1* (Dolphins, 2011)
Bowles opened many an eye with his work with the Cardinals’ defense the past two seasons (especially 2014), and he was able to parlay that into his dream job. A New Jersey native, Bowles should be pretty familiar with all of the attention, both wanted and unwanted, that comes with being the head coach of a team that calls the media capital of the world home. A former safety, Bowles’ playing experience should help him develop relationships with his new charges. He also has been a head coach before, serving as the Dolphins’ interim for three games in 2011 after Tony Sparano was fired. Unfortunately all of this experience doesn’t really prepare him for one of the biggest challenges awaiting him – finding out if Geno Smith can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.
7. Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers
Previous Job: 49ers defensive line coach
Career Record: 1-0* (49ers, 2010)
Nothing against Tomsula, but it’s hard to not perceive his hiring as nothing more than CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke finding their yes-man. How else can you explain Jim Harbaugh leaving the 49ers to become the head coach at Michigan for the same amount of money and the subsequent search that included interviews with at least eight other candidates yet resulted in the hiring of the only one without any previous coordinator or head coaching experience in the NFL? Sorry, one game as the interim head coach in 2010 doesn’t really count nor does his one season as head coach of NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, who didn’t even qualify for the playoffs that year. And even though Tomsula’s hiring has since been endorsed by the players, how can you justify choosing him over say an experienced head coach like Rex Ryan or a hot coordinator like Adam Gase, who the 49ers interviewed twice, or even in-house candidate Vic Fangio? And then there's the matter that after Tomsula was hired every assistant coach that served under Harbaugh was fired, except one. The popular opinion following Harbaugh’s decision to bolt for his alma mater was there was a power struggle between him and upper management. Tomsula’s hiring pretty much confirms this, no?
*Interim head coach