Grading each NFL head coaching hire

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It is Super Bowl week! Leading up until Super Bowl LV in Tampa between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Candid Clark will put out plenty of NFL content leading up to the big game. To start off, seven NFL teams have hired new NFL head coaches this offseason, and in this article, I will grade each team’s hire by discussing them in order of when they were hired.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer

Grade: B-

At the college level, Urban Mayer was a successful head coach, winning three national championships with two at Florida (2006 and 2008) and one with Ohio State (2014). However, he left both of those jobs due to health concerns and in his final at Ohio State in 2018, Meyer was suspended three games for not revealing assistant coach Zach Smith’s spousal abuse. Meyer has been an offensive genius, helping to develop Alex Smith into the top-overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but he has no NFL coaching experience. This is a new experience for him and he will have difficulties adjusting, on top of his concerns of durability with his health concerns. While he may not last long, I can see him helping (most likely) top draft choice in quarterback Trevor Lawrence, start his career strong and build an explosive offensive unit. While Meyer may not be the long-term coach the Jaguars are looking for and may struggle to discipline his players, he will help build up the Jaguars from the ground-up and allow the next coach to make the Jaguars playoff contenders again.

New York Jets: Robert Saleh

Grade: A+

This coaching window, there is no doubt that the best hire was the New York Jets’ hiring former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. Saleh is a coach who players love playing for, exemplified by Richard Sherman constantly endorsing him for teams wanting a head coach. Saleh was a huge driving force in the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl in 2019 and last season, he coached the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense despite missing pass rushers in Solomon Thomas and Nick Bosa for the entire season. He is a fantastic leader and defensive mind, something the Jets need to undergo a culture change. The Jets’ defense has solid pieces to build around and with strong draft capital, Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas have the opportunity to build the roster they want. I see Saleh being the Jets’ head coach long term and slowly make the Jets a respectable franchise like Kevin Stefanski did with the Cleveland Browns this season.

Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Smith

Grade: B+

The son of FedEx founder Fred Smith is now a NFL head coach. Arthur Smith was a hot commodity on the head coaching market. The past two seasons, he coached one of the league’s best offenses in the Tennessee Titans. His stellar play-calling allowed Derrick Henry to rush for over 2,000 yards in 2020 and for QB Ryan Tannehill to resurrect his career from a bust in Miami to a solidified franchise QB in Tennessee. This is Smith’s first head coaching opportunity, and he will take over the Atlanta Falcons’ rebuild. The Falcons are coming off a disappointing 4-12 season and will have the fourth-overall pick in the NFL Draft. He will have (most likely) Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, giving him a temporary place holders as he will help rebuild the Falcons’ roster. His offensive mind will give the Falcons a boost on their staff they have lacked since Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco after the 2016 season.

Los Angeles Chargers: Brandon Staley

Grade: A-

Last season, the Los Angeles Chargers finished with a disappointing 7-9 record, despite rookie QB Justin Herbert putting up historic numbers for a rookie QB with the most completions, passing yards and passing touchdowns among all rookie QBs in NFL history. Former Chargers’ head coach struggled with situational football, leading to blunders such as blowing a 24-3 lead to the Denver Broncos and punting in overtime against the juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. Herbert needed support and will get it in Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Staley coached the top-ranked defense in the NFL in 2020 and will look to further strengthen a defense which ranked 10th in total defense. With Staley in tow, Herbert will have more support to lead the Chargers back to the playoffs. Since Staley is only 38-years old and brings a lot of skills to the table, I expect he and Herbert to maintain a strong partnership over the next decade.

Detroit Lions: Dan Campbell

Grade: C

As is the case in most head coaching windows, the earlier hires are much better than the later hires and 2021’s window is no different. These last three hires are all questionable and may not work out long term. First, the Detroit Lions, coming off a 5-11 season, let go of Matt Patricia and hired New Orleans’ Saints assistant coach Dan Campbell to be their next head coach. Him talking about biting knee caps aside, Campbell brings some experience in as a former player and skills at coaching tight ends. However, there is little that he brings to the Lions to change their fortunes. Aside from the tight end position, he has little experience in coaching other positions. While his staff is impressive with additions such as Duce Staley and Aaron Glenn, I don’t see Campbell making much of an impact in Detroit and will be gone within three seasons.

Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Sirianni

Grade: C+

The Philadelphia Eagles were a mess in 2020. They finished 4-11-1 with QB Carson Wentz regressing into one of the NFL’s worst starting QBs, benching him for rookie QB Jalen Hurts. In the Eagles’ season finale against Washington, head coach Doug Pederson benched Hurts for third-stringer Nate Sudfeld in the third quarter for no clear reason, leading to the Eagles’ 20-14 loss that prevented the New York Giants from having a chance to win the NFC East. The Eagles needed to find a coach to resurrect Wentz’s confidence so he can live up to his huge contract. They decided to hire Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni for the job. Sirianni coached the Colts’ 10th-ranked offense with rookie running back Jonathan Taylor rushing for over 1,000 yards on the seasons. Sirianni has expertise with Frank Reich’s system, hoping that he can use his knowledge to build Wentz back up to his MVP form he had under Reich in 2018. However, his introductory press conference indicated his lack of leadership qualities and I worry he will lose control of the locker room during his tenure.

Houston Texans: David Culley

Grade: D

I will be blunt in saying that this hire makes no sense. While Baltimore Ravens’ wide receivers coach David Culley has good leadership qualities, he is not even a great coach at his position. In 2014, he was the wide receivers coach of the Chiefs’ when a wide receiver did not catch a single touchdown pass all season and in 2020, Culley was the coach of the 32nd-ranked passing offense in the Ravens. Unless Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said no to the job, there is no reason why Culley should have been hired over those two men. Culley is taking the worst job in the NFL in the Houston Texans, a franchise without their top draft picks and their franchise QB in Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston. It is hard to see this hire working for the Texans, and the only way this works out is if the Texans’ completely rebuild their roster and Culley’s leadership outweighs his flaws as a coach. With Culley’s age (65) and ineffectiveness, I see the Texans searching for a new head coach in two years.

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