Skip to main content

Grading the NFL’s New Head Coaching Hires


It took until after the Super Bowl, but all six NFL head coaching vacancies have been filled. Of the six, Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone is the only “new” hire with any previous head coaching experience, meaning Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco and both Los Angeles teams (Chargers, Rams) are entrusting their teams to rookies.

Image placeholder title

While these six men will ultimately be measured by what happens on the field, how did each team do? Let’s hand out some grades.

Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

At 31 years old, Sean McVay is not only the youngest head coach in NFL history; he’s also the biggest question mark out of the six new hires. And speaking of history, it’s not necessarily on McVay’s side as each of the previous four youngest coaches (Lane Kiffin, Raheem Morris, Dave Shula and Josh McDaniels) was fired within five seasons or fewer.

Image placeholder title

What is on McVay’s side is he was able to develop Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins into a Pro Bowler. McVay also oversaw an offense that finished third in yards (403.4) and 12th in points (24.8) per game last season.

Hiring veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is an excellent start for McVay. His next priority is to help 2016 No.1 overall pick Jared Goff develop into the franchise quarterback the Rams need. In seven games in 2016, Goff passed for 1,089 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Grade: C-

Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars

After Gus Bradley was fired following the Jaguars’ Week 15 loss to Houston, Marrone was named interim head coach and kept the team competitive in the last two games of the season. The Jags beat a Titans team that was fighting for a playoff spot in Week 16 and lost to the Colts by just four points in the finale. Apparently, that was enough for Jacksonville owner Shad Khan and general manager David Caldwell to remove the “interim” tag and name Marrone the fifth head coach in franchise history.

NFL Power Rankings: Jaguars

Marrone went 15-17 as Buffalo’s head coach from 2013-14, a tenure that ended in a rather strange way. After leading the Bills to a 9-7 record, their only winning season since 2004, Marrone chose to exercise a three-day out clause in his contract that was put into effect with the team’s recent ownership change. Marrone quit on Dec. 31, but still collected his 2015 salary. The move did not sit well with Buffalo fans or several of his former players, as Marrone wound up in Jacksonville as the Jaguars’ assistant head coach/offensive line coach.

Jacksonville was thought to be one of the up and coming teams in 2016, but instead struggled mightily, finished 3-13, and would up with fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. Marrone has plenty of talent to work with, but both sides of the ball need to improve, with much of the attention focused on quarterback Blake Bortles.

Grade: C

Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills

Sean McDermott was a defensive coordinator for eight seasons for Philadelphia (2009-10) and then Carolina (2011-16). After 18 seasons as an NFL assistant, McDermott gets the task of taking on one of the toughest head coaching jobs in the league.

NFL Power Rankings: Bills

The Bills have many questions on their roster and it starts at quarterback. Buffalo will need to decide soon on Tyrod Taylor as the team can choose to opt out of his contract by March.

During McDermott’s tenure in Carolina, the Panthers finished in the top 10 in total defense four out of the last five seasons (2012-15). In 2016 under head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills’ defense was 19th in that category, as teams ran all over them to the tune of 133.1 rushing yards per game (29th).  McDermott’s defensive background was no doubt one of the reasons why Buffalo hired him.

Grade: B-

Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers

Even though Shanahan is young (37) in some respects, he has paid his dues around the league. An offensive coordinator from 2008-16 for four different teams (Houston, Washington, Cleveland, Atlanta), his units have finished in the top 10 in total offense six times. San Francisco is hoping he can maintain this track record, as the 49ers finished second to last in total offense and 27th in scoring offense in 2016.

NFL Power Rankings: 49ers

San Francisco will have a new quarterback to run Shanahan’s offense, but his work with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan should have 49er fans optimistic. This past season was a career year for Ryan, a first-team All-Pro who set career highs for passing yards (4,944), touchdown passes (38), completion percentage (69.9), and passer rating (117.1, best in NFL), while throwing a career-low seven interceptions.

Shanahan along with first-time general manager John Lynch will attempt to return the 49ers to contention in the NFC West. If anything, San Francisco is hoping for stability, as Shanahan is the franchise’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.

Grade: B

Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers

Until last season, Lynn had never been a coordinator, and now he finds himself as head coach of the recently located Los Angeles Chargers. Lynn’s meteoric rise in the coaching rankings started with his promotion from Buffalo running back coach in the middle of September following the dismissal of Greg Roman. Lynn was then named interim head coach for the Bills when Rex Ryan was fired prior to the regular season finale against the Jets.

NFL Power Rankings: Chargers

Despite his lack of experience, Lynn is in a good situation even if the Chargers have to become familiar with new surroundings. Unlike in Buffalo, Lynn has no question mark at quarterback with Philip Rivers maintaining his status as one of the NFL’s best, along with other young players like running back Melvin Gordon.

Lynn also has surrounded himself with a veteran staff led by coordinators that have been head coaches. He retained offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and hired former Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley to oversee the defense.

The Chargers lost nine games by eight points or fewer last season, and were ravaged by injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. With better health and some improvement on defense, the Chargers could be a surprise team in their new home in 2017. Lynn has certainly put himself in a good position to succeed by constructing a solid staff.

Grade: A-

Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos

If someone looks at Miami’s defensive statistics from 2016, Joseph’s only season as a coordinator, Denver’s decision to hire him may seem curious. But the Broncos have been high on Joseph for some time, thinking highly of his leadership skills, and thought enough of the job he did with the Dolphins, considering the situation.

NFL Power Rankings: Broncos

Miami’s defense was impacted heavily by injuries last season, including those to safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi, as well as cornerback Xavien Howard. Even with all of these injuries, the Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs. Miami’s defense was particularly stout on third down, holding opponents to a 36.2 conversion rate, considerably better than 2015’s 43.7 percent.

Now in Denver, Joseph takes over one of the best jobs in the NFL and a team that is one season removed from winning the Super Bowl. The Broncos went 9-7 last season and still have an abundance of talent on their roster, especially on defense. Bringing former San Diego head coach Mike McCoy back to Denver to serve as offensive coordinator (was with Broncos from 2009-12) was a brilliant move, as was promoting secondary coach Joe Woods to defensive coordinator.

If the Broncos and Joseph can figure out the quarterback situation and shore up their offensive line, Denver could be back in the playoffs as early as next season.

Grade: A

— 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.

(Vance Joseph photo courtesy of; Sean McVay photo by Jeff Lewis, courtesy of