Fresh Fish: 2017s New NFL Coaches
Six National Football League franchises hired new coaches during this past offseason. Interestingly, most of them have no prior head coaching experience. Teams consistently chose enthusiastic young coaches over old veterans. Let’s take a look at each coach and try to gauge their chances at eventually taking their team to glory.
Vance Joseph – Denver Broncos
After Gary Kubiak retired, John Elway hired Vance Joseph, Miami’s defensive coordinator, to be the Broncos next head coach. On the surface, this seems like a somewhat strange hire. The Broncos’ offense was miserable in 2016 and the team finished 8-8 despite having a solid year on defense. Most teams in that situation would have hired a coach with an offensive background. On the other hand, Vance Joseph was a coveted head coach candidate around the league this past offseason. Many teams believe that he has the leadership skills necessary to be an effective head coach. The Broncos hired former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to be their new offensive coordinator. Denver will need to figure out its quarterback situation, something they made little progress on last year, and get substantial improvement from their offensive line in order to return to the playoffs.
Vance Joseph is in a situation that is the envy of the other coaches on this list. Everyone else is taking over franchises that are mired in futility. The Broncos, on the other hand, are just one year removed from a Super Bowl title. The flipside is that expectations will be enormous. Broncos fans will expect an immediate return to the playoffs in 2017 and nothing less than another Super Bowl will be enough to satisfy them long term.
Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers
Lynn made a meteoric rise from running backs coach to offensive coordinator to interim head coach at Buffalo during the 2016 season, but ultimately was not chosen for their full-time gig. He ended up in Los Angeles, where he has a huge mess to clean up. After five mostly unremarkable decades in San Diego, the Chargers bolted to Los Angeles, where they played their inaugural season in 1960. Their reception in the City of Angels has been lukewarm at best. The team will be forced to play in a tiny soccer stadium for the next two years. On the bright side, with a capacity of only 30,000 fans, the Chargers should be able to sell out every home game.
Lynn has a monumental task ahead of him. Teams typically struggle in the first couple of years in a new city and the Chargers play in the brutal AFC West. The Chargers will be in transition for the next couple of years before they move into their fancy future stadium in 2019. They might not even be named the Chargers by that time – the franchise is reportedly considering a transformation similar to the way that the Oilers metamorphosed into the Titans when they moved to Nashville. Lynn should be given at least three seasons to turn the Chargers (or whatever they will end up being called) into a playoff caliber team. The Oilers struggled in their first two seasons in Tennessee but, with a new name and stadium, they took their fans on a magical run to the Super Bowl in their third year. Perhaps the Chargers could do something similar someday. Lynn was well-respected by players and the front office in Buffalo and it would not be a shock if he has success in L.A. eventually.
Doug Marrone – Jacksonville Jaguars
After four wretched seasons under Gus Bradley, the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars excited absolutely no one by replacing him with Doug Marrone, their interim coach and former defensive coordinator. Marrone is mainly known for abruptly quitting after two mediocre seasons as the Buffalo Bills head coach. He was 15-17 in Buffalo and previously was 25-25 at Syracuse. His painfully mediocre record would have scared most teams away but, when you’ve had six consecutive seasons with five wins or fewer, mediocrity seems pretty damn good.
Jacksonville owner Shad Khan was quite patient with Gus Bradley, but unfortunately his patience was not rewarded by progress in the win column. Former Jags coach Tom Coughlin, who was hired on the same day as Marrone, is now running the franchise’s front office. With the mercurial Coughlin breathing down his neck, it seems unlikely that Marrone will be given as much time as Bradley if the Jaguars continue to get their asses kicked on a weekly basis.
This was a lazy hire by Shad Khan similar to the Titans’ hire of Mike Mularkey a year ago (although the Titans did have a surprisingly decent 9-7 record last year). If the Jaguars were looking for a way to excite their fan base, they failed miserably. Marrone is probably capable of getting the Jags to the 7-9 or 8-8 level eventually. Anything beyond that would be a surprise.
Sean McDermott – Buffalo Bills
After the Rex Ryan experiment blew up in their faces, the Bills went in the opposite direction personality-wise and hired a soft-spoken disciplinarian. Sean McDermott made a name for himself as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator, a position he held for six generally successful seasons. He takes over a franchise that hasn’t played in a postseason game in over seventeen years, an embarrassing drought that the franchise is desperate to end.
McDermott has a reputation for intelligence and toughness, but there are questions if he has the right personality to be a head coach. Still, Buffalo doesn’t seem that far away from being a playoff caliber team. If the defense improves and the Bills can figure out their quarterback situation, McDermott will take Buffalo back to the playoffs. Of course, McDermott won’t have Luke Kuechly to work with in Buffalo, so turning around the defense is going to be tougher than it was in Carolina.
Sean McVay – Los Angeles Rams
After finally getting rid of the boring and useless Jeff Fisher, the moribund Rams decided to replace him with Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay, who is now the youngest head coach in the modern history of the NFL. McVay rose into head coaching contention due to his work with Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Rams hope that McVay can work the same magic with second year quarterback Jared Goff, but even if Goff improves tremendously, he is still going to need people to throw the ball to and somebody to block for him. Both of those areas were major problems last season. McVay hired the seemingly immortal Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator. It must be weird for Phillips to have to answer to a boss that is over 30 years younger than him, but he is undoubtedly excited to work with the Rams’ ferocious pass rushers.
This is a high risk/high reward move for the Rams. McVay is in his early thirties and has never been a head coach at any level. The key to success will be if he can develop Goff into the franchise quarterback that the Rams desperately need.
Kyle Shanahan – San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to believe now, but there was an era when the 49ers were a model for stability and success. Now they have become a graveyard for head coaches, similar to the Cleveland Browns or the Oakland Raiders in Al Davis’s last years. Shanahan is the 49ers’ fourth head coach in the past four seasons. He earned the job on the basis of a wildly successful 2016 as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta, led by NFL MVP quarterback Matt Ryan, had one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Then everything was tainted by a flabbergasting collapse in the second half of Super Bowl 51. After the Falcons completed one of the worst chokes in sports history, Kyle Shanahan was perceived as a scapegoat due to his questionable play calling.
Shanahan must move past the dark cloud of Super Bowl 51, figure out a way to work with the 49ers’ dysfunctional and incompetent ownership, and find a franchise quarterback to build his team around. It’s a massive task that could take several years. He will have to hope that the 49ers’ brass gives him more time than the last couple of head coaches received.
Here are my rankings of the likelihood of each coach eventually win the Super Bowl. I think only Vance Joseph has a real chance in the near future, due mostly to the Broncos’ history of success. The rest have long rebuilding projects ahead of them.
1. Vance Joseph
2. Anthony Lynn
3. Kyle Shanahan
4. Sean McDermott
5. Sean McVeigh
6. Doug Marrone