Grading the NFL’s head coach hires
Tampa Bay became the seventh team to pick a new head coach this month, surprising just about everyone by plucking Greg Schiano from Rutgers.
The Bucs joined the Chiefs, Colts, Dolphins, Jaguars, Rams and Raiders as teams that will have new leading men come the 2012 season. But which of those franchises made the best decisions on their head coaching hires?
Here’s one opinion, ranked from best to worst:
1. Romeo Crennel, Chiefs: Yes, I’m well aware that Crennel finished 16 games under .500 (24-40) during four years in Cleveland. I am also aware that he didn’t exactly have a stacked deck to work with there — in his tenure, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Bruce Gradkowski all started at quarterback.
Crennel’s brief stint as Kansas City’s interim head coach was impressive, with wins over then-undefeated Green Bay and at Denver in Week 17. Those performances alone aren’t enough to guarantee Crennel has success going forward, but the reason this is a great hire is that it goes the exact opposite direction of Todd Haley. Between his unusual sideline personality and clashes with GM Scott Pioli, Haley walked the tightrope his entire tenure.
Crennel has full support in the Chiefs’ locker room, experience as a head coach and a smart defensive-minded approach. His second go-round leading a team should be better than his first. GRADE: A-
2. Joe Philbin, Dolphins: For similar reasons that the Crennel hire makes sense in Kansas City, bringing in Philbin feels like a good move for Miami. Under Tony Sparano the Dolphins struggled to find an identity on offense. Philbin, meanwhile, comes to town after helping Green Bay develop one of the league’s most potent attacks.
At the very least, Philbin should help generate some excitement in a market that desperately needs it. And if he can convince soon-to-be free agent QB Matt Flynn to join him in Miami, that’s a huge bonus for the Dolphins. GRADE: B
3. Jeff Fisher, Rams: St. Louis wanted a big-name hire, someone who could both help the franchise bounce back from a miserable 2011 and also create some buzz around the league. Fisher already has accomplished the latter of those goals. The question now is whether Fisher can deliver on all of the Rams’ on-field expectations.
And it’s hard to say if he will, based on his track record in Tennessee. Over 16 full seasons Fisher produced six winning records, five 8-8 marks and five sub-.500 campaigns with the Titans. He took them to the Super Bowl but finished just 5-6 in the playoffs.
St. Louis has given Fisher total control of the operation, from allowing him to have a say in the general manager search to promising him substantial input on personnel decisions. You can understand why the Rams handed over that authority if they really wanted Fisher, but you have to wonder if the opinion about Fisher’s coaching ability is higher than it ought to be. GRADE: B
4. Chuck Pagano, Colts: The Ravens players, to a man, loved Pagano. He did an admirable job, too, replacing Greg Mattison as defensive coordinator this season and helping the Ravens get to the verge of an AFC title.
As far as the Colts go, this hire fits the bill. Pagano will inject some life into a miserable defense and has the type of personality that a rebuilding team needs — think Jim Schwartz or Jim Harbaugh. But anytime you’re talking about a first-year head coach, there are going to be question marks. Pagano has been with four teams since 2000, including a one-year stop as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator.
Can he set up roots in Indianapolis and help turn this thing around? GRADE: B-
5. Mike Mularkey, Jaguars: Are you a glass half-full or a glass half-empty sort of person?
This will be Mularkey’s second stint as an NFL head coach, and the first one was a roller-coaster ride. In 2004, after Buffalo opened 0-4, Mularkey rallied the Bills to a 9-7 finish. But the next season, Buffalo slipped to 5-11 and Mularkey walked away after Week 17.
Maybe he’s more ready to be a head coach this time around. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Falcons fans — who watched Mularkey for the past four seasons as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator — were far from disappointed that he left for Jacksonville. GRADE: C
6. Dennis Allen, Raiders: Either this will be a savvy and successful move or a colossal setback — it’s hard to see any room in between. Allen is the first coach with a defensive background hired to be Oakland’s head man since John Madden. He comes from Denver, one of the Raiders’ biggest rivals, and at 39, will be the NFL’s youngest head coach.
But aside from one year as coordinator of Denver’s defense, where are the head coaching credentials on this resume? Three years as the Saints’ secondary coach? Four years as a defensive assistant in Atlanta? The ceiling might be high on this move, but the floor is pretty low. GRADE: C-
7. Greg Schiano, Buccaneers: The thing about Schiano (one that supporters of this move are citing already) is that he ran a very NFL-style system at Rutgers. That professional approach helped turn a dormant program into a moderate success — Rutgers had six winning seasons in the past seven years and currently holds a five-game bowl win streak.
Schiano, though, has not been a coach in the NFL since 1998 (defensive assistant in Chicago) and has a reputation for being a poor in-game decision maker.
This is a complete 180 from last week’s Tampa Bay courtship of Chip Kelly, which is both a good thing and a bad thing for the Bucs. Unlike some of these other hires, Schiano won’t do anything to excite the local fan base. He faces a long, tough road ahead. GRADE: D