Posted March 13, 2013

Grading the NFL head coach hires

NFL Coaches
Chip Kelly was the flashiest hire of the offseason, but was he the smartest? (AP)

Chip Kelly was the flashiest hire of the offseason, but was he the smartest? (AP)

We can say this about the recent NFL coaching cycle, which concluded with eight teams finding new leaders: It was not boring.

Chip Kelly’s flirtation with Oregon and the NFL captivated most people’s attention, but there also was a CFL-to-NFL jump (Marc Trestman), a surprise hire from the college ranks (Doug Marrone) and the move of a recently-fired coach to a new franchise (Andy Reid).

All that on top of several intriguing hires from the league’s coordinator pool (Mike McCoy, Bruce Arians, Gus Bradley and Rob Chudzinski).

Unlike in past seasons, none of the hires feel like disasters waiting to happen, either, even if some come with more question marks than others. Each new head coach has a very clear selling point — most relating to the offensive side of the football.

So, which teams made the best decisions? With the admission that it’s way too early to issue any definitive verdicts, we hand out some early grades:

Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles

Whether you like or dislike Kelly, you’re kidding yourself if you do not see the potential of his offense stockpiled with the likes of LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.

This was a move made more for Kelly’s proven program-building abilities and his football smarts than his use of an up-tempo attack. Kelly was noncommittal on Michael Vick’s future — a nod to the everything-on-the-table approach Kelly will take at QB. He’s said that he does not necessarily need a running quarterback to control his offense, so it will be intriguing to see where the Eagles go from here.

The Eagles’ full starting lineup, save for pending free agents Vick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, could be back. That is a plus when you think of the team’s potential, but a bit scary given its consistent underachieving in the past couple seasons.

Could this backfire? Sure. Kelly could flop and greatly set back the NFL’s interest in college coaches. But this is a swing-for-the-fences hire … and Kelly is a smart enough coach to make it work.

Grade: A-minus

Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers

This hire strikes a lot of the same chords as Chicago’s addition of Marc Trestman (see below).

McCoy has a strong offensive pedigree, buoyed by success calling plays for both Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning in Denver, but it is fair to wonder if he will be able to push San Diego forward on both sides of the ball. Retaining defensive coordinator John Pagano ought to help — the Chargers’ D showed improvement under Pagano in 2012. That defensive unit could lose a host of players in free agency, though, most notably Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips.

McCoy and new GM Tom Telesco must find Philip Rivers some more reliable weapons and upgrade the Chargers’ offensive line. Assuming Rivers still has a few good years left in him, McCoy could spark big bounce-back year for the veteran QB.

Grade: B-plus

Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

Reid traded in one team with headaches at quarterback for another. Unfortunately for him, there is no candidate here with the upside of Michael Vick … or even of Nick Foles. The overly-pricy Matt Cassel appears headed out the door, so who will run the show in 2013?

Reid will call the Chiefs’ plays — which is both good and bad news, as frustrated Philadelphia fans (and LeSean McCoy fantasy owners) can attest — and he will have running back Jamaal Charles to lean on early. But wide receiver Dwayne Bowe could leave in free agency, as could starting left tackle Branden Albert.

Kansas City will stick with the 3-4 defense, which makes sense since OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali thrived in that scheme and the team spent a 2012 first-round pick on NT Dontari Poe.

The No. 1 pick will give us some idea where Reid feels this team needs the most help. Is he the right guy for the rebuilding project, though?

Grade: B

Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars

Kudos to Bradley on landing a hard-earned head coaching job. This, however, is a dire situation. Bradley has inherited arguably the least-talented roster in the league, starting with QB Blaine Gabbert and trickling down to just about every position. Based on his work in Seattle, Bradley should give the Jaguars’ defense a fighting chance, even with cornerbacks Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis potentially headed out via free agency.

He will need help to kick-start the offense, however, whether Gabbert sticks as QB or not — Jedd Fisch, as the new offensive coordinator, has been tasked with turning around that unit. The saving grace may be RB Maurice Jones-Drew, if he can stay healthy.

This will take some time.

Grade: B

Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

The entire NFL has to respect the masterful job Arians did with the Colts in 2012, after stepping in as the interim coach while Chuck Pagano underwent leukemia treatment. The situation could have unraveled the young Indianapolis team; instead, Arians helped guide the franchise back to the playoffs.

The foundation is not nearly as stable in Arizona.

One thing is for sure: Andrew Luck won’t be walking through the desert door to save a team that started four different (and equally disappointing) quarterbacks throughout the season. The Cardinals’ offensive line was the worst in the NFL in 2012, and aside from Larry Fitzgerald, the talent level is mediocre. Arians brought Colts O-line coach Harold Goodwin along with him to be the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator, and somehow that duo must put this unit back together.

Despite their 11-5 mark, too, the Colts struggled defensively under Arians’ watch — he has no other NFL experience directing that side of the ball. With Ray Horton bouncing for Cleveland, the Cardinals will be starting over, to some extent, on that side of the ball as well.

Arians’ only previous head coaching experience came during a 21-45 stretch at Temple from 1983-88. This will be, at age 60, his first NFL head coaching job. Is he ready for it?

Grade: B

Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears

The shift from Lovie Smith’s defense-first approach to the offense-centric stylings of Trestman could pay big dividends for Jay Cutler. Trestman worked wonders as an NFL assistant on QBs less talented than Cutler (see: Mitchell, Scott), and his Montreal Alouettes lit up CFL scoreboards, too. Already, Trestman has said he’d like to take advantage of Cutler’s athleticism.

But will the defense suffer under Trestman’s watch? On top of Smith’s departure, the Bears also have 18 potential unrestricted free agents, including key defensive names like Brian Urlacher, Henry Melton and Israel Idonije. The Alouettes were up and down, defensively, with Trestman at the helm.

The hire of ex-Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mel Tucker might help, if only because Tucker favors a 4-3, Cover-2 look that will be similar to what Smith employed. Still, the Bears’ identity may be totally different going forward.

Grade: B-minus

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns

Perhaps Chudzinski’s greatest advantage, as he embarks on his debut season as a head coach: the presences of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Horton.

The book will be out on Chudzinski’s head-coaching abilities for some time — and possibly even longer on Michael Lombardi’s tenure as the new GM — but the NFL world knows that Turner and Horton can call plays on offense and defense, respectively.

As for Chudzinski himself, this was another hire made with offense in mind. Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and the Browns’ young weapons could get a boost from Chudzinski, who did yeoman’s work during his time as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2007-08. Of course, the Panthers’ offense never quite hit its ceiling under Chudzinski, despite Cam Newton’s presence.

The Browns’ comfort level with Chudzinski pushed this move, even if there were flashier names out there.

Grade: B-minus

Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s best hire this offseason may not have been Marrone, but rather new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whom the Bills swiped from the Jets. The Bills have enough talent on that side of the ball to greatly improve the league’s 22nd-best defense, so that’s a nice starting point for Marrone.

Marrone did a fine job at Syracuse, and he comes back to the NFL, reportedly with Bill Parcells’ blessing. Still, there is reason to wonder if Marrone can hit the ground running, especially since the Bills are built to win now. This team could return close to 20 of its starters in 2013, assuming safety Jairus Byrd re-signs or gets the franchise tag.

To compete, though, Buffalo needs Marrone and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (also Marrone’s O.C. at Syracuse) to fix Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Grade: C

42 comments
MarkMaiorano
MarkMaiorano

Dear Mr Burke......Good morning. I would like to know if you had a moment or two to answer my questions from a while back so that I can update YOUR grade.

If no response is given.....I must give you an "incomplete" or "I" on your report card.......

Dangerbird
Dangerbird

Each time I read one of this "author's" articles I am convinced he could not write anything less intelligent or display more stupidity, and each time he proves me wrong.

MarkMaiorano
MarkMaiorano

I have a few questions for the "author" of this article........

*How many years have you been following the NFL Coaching hires of the past??

*Have you ever played football?? (college or pro)

*Do you have a past history of coaches that you have evaluated....say 5 to 8 years??

*Do you have ANY numbers to promote your ratings OR are these YOUR opinions??

*Have you ever been a HC of a football team?? (college or pro)

*Have you ever worked or have affiliated with an NFL franchise??

In closing, when I receive the answers to the above questions, I WILL EVALUATE YOUR CREDENTIALS to accurately make statements as to the "grading" of the above coaches.

YOUR GRADE: D-.....The only reason that you are receiving a passing grade is due to the fact that you had the names correct with the teams!!

Kevin F1
Kevin F1

Let me rate the writer first.  Chris Burke has a whopping 1.5 years covering the NFL. 

Before SI, he worked at a twice weekly community paper, then was a Detroit-based blogger.   Some credentials. 

This guy is DEFINITELY qualified to grade one of the toughest jobs in all of sports before they take the field.

Meaningless article.

billsfan72
billsfan72

"To compete, though, Buffalo needs Marrone and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (also Marrone’s O.C. at Syracuse) to fix Ryan Fitzpatrick."   Yeah, draft a new QB.

WindyBills
WindyBills

I'm not sure I follow. Doug Marrone was a the worst hire because Fitzpatrick was on the roster?

TruthTeller
TruthTeller

I aint no Charger or Bronco fan, but any guy that can re-vamp an offense to make Timmy Tebow successful has got to be able to do things with Rivers.  I think McCoy is going to prove to be the best of this bunch.

JohnSmith1
JohnSmith1

Grading a hire right before they have even had a chance to do their job is as stupid as grading a teams draft picks right after the draft.  Try this article again in 3 years.

jdbolick
jdbolick

And given that I am a Panthers fan, I'll pipe in on Chudzinski and say that he did an excellent job in molding his offense to help Cam Newton.  He got criticized for not running enough, but he didn't hand out the contracts to Williams and Stewart.  I believe he'll do a fine job in Cleveland, but it remains to be seen if any coach can win there no matter what kind of job they do. 

 

Marrone is also a much better hire than this rating suggests.  Arians and Bradley are the two biggest question marks to me.

jdbolick
jdbolick

Mike McCoy was a terrible hire, as any Panthers fan would tell you.  It was rather maddening to see him get credit for handling Tebow in Denver given how badly he actually did that.  Yes, they changed the offense to suit his rushing, but the pass routes they used went the complete opposite of Tebow's strengths.  Most people have no idea that Tebow had a QB rating over 90 on all non-sideline routes in 2011, yet Denver ran an extremely high percentage of routes to the outside (slightly over 50% of Tebow's pass attempts were to the sideline). 

Richduck
Richduck

Chip Kelly doesn't adapt to the NFL.  The NFL adapts to Chip Kelly.  

d-roc
d-roc

"Could this backfire? Sure. Kelly could flop and greatly set back the NFL’s interest in college coaches." Seriously? So the NFL will stop hiring one genre of coaches based on the outcome of one example. If that's the case wouldn't the Cardinals stop hiring former Pittsburgh offensive coordinators. Pretty sure a former Pac-12 coach is going to the Super Bowl this year. So, can I be a journalist now?

bbc
bbc

Andy Reid should be a C. The guy's best work is done and without Jim Johnson as his DC was a pretty average coach. And did I mention his time/clock management skills?

ChickenWolf
ChickenWolf

This is an opinion article. Its just one man's take on NFL coaching hires this year. Hes probably wrong on most of these, as all of us will be. Its like the draft. Do you like reading mock drafts? I know I do...but i also know not to put too much stock into what "analysts" are saying. Why are fans looking to attack writers because their opinion (about someone they have never even met) is different from that of the analyst. Enjoy the article. Agree. Disagree. But dont be a jerk and call this guy out because his opinion is different than yours.

RI_Young
RI_Young

It's makes an interesting article but it's a little silly to assign grade levels on coach hires.  As an example, Chris Burke's grades for last year hires:   Romeo Crennel  A-; Joe Philbin  B; Jeff Fisher B; Chuck Pagano  B-; Mike Mularkey  C; Dennis Allen  C-; Greg Schiano D.

Not even close on Crennel and Schiano.  Mularkey grading is off base too.  

 

Chris - Might be an interesting article to revisit  and revise last year's rankings.  

 

 

 

 

David G
David G

Chip Kelly an A-?  For what potential?  Oh it was that national championship he won in college.  What?  That did not happen?  Then why is he at the top?

heezdedjim
heezdedjim

Reid is the best hire, A+ for Kansas City. Every other hire is an 'I', "Incomplete". 

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Arizona...what a black hole for sports fans.

JackWilliams
JackWilliams

I want to see Chris Burke's credentials for evaluating head coaches in the NFL. Evaluating an experienced coach like Andy Reid at the same level as a rookie like Bradley seems inaccurate.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @Kevin F1 And you, an SI forum junkie, are qualified to  to grade an SI writer & his articles?  Apparently the article had meaning if SI posted it, a bunch of people read it, and a bunch of the readers commented on it.  Ironically, you helped give this article meaning.

RayHuggyBearYoung
RayHuggyBearYoung

 @JohnSmith1 I 100% agree yet here we both are reading this article.  They will keep writing them because we keep coming.  Although I wish more writers would do 3 year old draft grades.  That would actually be worth reading.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jdbolick Wow, you can see into the future?  Quite a skill.  I would guess that there were people in Boston yelling about Bill Belichick being hired by the Patriots, in Green Bay about that unknown coordinator named McCarthy getting the Packers job.   I bet that there were fans in Baltimore screaming that the Ravens made a terrible hire when they hired that special teams coach named Harbaugh.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

 @RI_Young These guys almost always pretend that they've never made any other predictions. It should be required that they repost such articles every time they make another one. 

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @David G Uh, yeah, for potential.  Since none of these guys have even had a practice with his new team, potential is the way to judge them.  By the way, if you read the article, the author gives his reasons for the grades.

RockyFortune
RockyFortune

 @heezdedjim chiefs fan i see..i guess compared to the mess that's been in KC over the years he is an A+.

 

jdbolick
jdbolick

 @JoeCabot Sure, but I'm not some average fan pontificating without any real knowledge.  For instance, I explained why McCoy really didn't deserve credit for his handling of Tebow and instead probably deserved criticism.  That doesn't mean he won't necessarily do a better job in San Diego, but it should be cause for concern.

David G
David G

 @JoeCabot Did read the article.  You do realize that Kelly also has the potential to be the first of these new coaches to flame out?  He may be back in college soon, like Saban and Petrino. 

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

 @JoeCabot  @jdbolick

Anyone can make the argument of "no one knows what will happen until it happens" for any prediction. Weak. The whole point of these articles and subsequent discussion is to try to mesh the past results with future performance.

 

Broncos fans are not heartbroken over McCoy's departure. His first 2 years as "OC" 09-10 were under McDaniels who called all plays and developed the offensive schemes that made Orton look decent. Micromanagement and not trusting his players and staff are a documented reason why McD failed. McCoy's 2011 year was interesting in that he was able to adapt his offense to match his QB, but the results are underwhelming:

 

19.3 ppg, 25th in NFL, which had a big part in our -5.1 point differential which is again 25th, and 26th in turnover diff (I know defense has a lot to do with some of these, too)

 

In the decisive final 5 games his offense scored 15ppg against "defensive juggernauts" of KC, NE x2, BUF, and PITT.

 

Don't kid yourself about McCoy's 2012 "performance." Manning ran the show.

 

Essentially he has had 1 real OC year since 2009 and hasn't distinguished himself in any meaningful way that would lend anyone to believe he'll turn around SD.

 

jdbolick
jdbolick

 @JoeCabot This being a debate would require you making a legitimate point instead of repeatedly posting a more articulate version of "NUH UH!!!"  Whenever you have something worthwhile to say, that's when a debate would begin.  Moreover, you don't even seem to have the requisite intelligence to understand that I'm not saying that McCoy WILL be a failure despite me repeatedly saying that I don't know he will be.  I'm saying that his hire is extremely questionable given that the notion that he helped Tebow succeed is actually a myth.  I showed statistically that he actually called plays that highlighted Tebow's weaknesses instead of playing to his strengths.  Moreover, let's recall that in that Pittsburgh playoff victory McCoy called a run on every single first down until that play in overtime.  That's not a competent offensive coordinator.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jdbolick  And you come up the standard "I don't agree with you so you are embarrassing yourself" response.  You guys cut and paste each other all day long.  One stat about Tim Tebow is your rationale for  saying Mike McCoy will be a failure?  Good one.  Football fans come up with reasons to yell and scream about every coaching hire.   Does not make them correct.   I have never said that Mike McCoy will be a success.  Simply gave example of coaches who were met with skepticism and turned out okay.   This is a debate, nothing more.  After all, it is only football.

jdbolick
jdbolick

 @JoeCabot If you're not a Chargers fan then you're embarrassing yourself for no apparent reason.  Do you understand the total absence of rationality that comes from stating that "you can't know if Coach X will be any good because once upon a time some people didn't like Coach Y being hired either!"  That kind of callow thinking can be used to oppose analysis and criticism on any subject.  The fact that ignorant people were unhappy about various coaches being hired previously has no relevance to knowledgeable people raising questions about coaches being hired now.  Again, I gave you reasons why McCoy should be viewed with skepticism.  You've given absolutely nothing to say why he shouldn't be viewed skeptically, so perhaps until you can think of some reasons to think well of him perhaps you ought to stay quiet.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jdbolick Not a Charger fan at all.  Mike McCarthy was roundly panned by Green Bay fans when he got hired.  No one had heard of him & he was the OC for an SF team that was in the midst of a long run of bad football.  John Harbaugh?   Ripped as being nothing but a special teams coach.  Pete Carroll?  Plenty of complaints from Seahawk fans griping about his having been fired by NE & NY, and being on the run from his problems at USC.  Patriots fans screamed about Belichick being a failure in Cleveland.   I have no idea if MIke McCoy will be successful & don't really care, but plenty of coaches have gotten hired over the complaints of their fan base only to prove themselves over time.

jdbolick
jdbolick

 @JoeCabot Those guys were much, much, much, much more highly thought of than Mike McCoy.  Obviously you're a Chargers fan looking to make excuses for your team's new head coach, but your hopes and dreams are pretty much irrelevant to reality.  As a Panthers fan, the only reason I didn't want Rivera let go was because of how terrified I was that McCoy might end up the head coach here.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jdbolick What were the positives when NE hired Bill Belichick a decade ago?  When GB hired Mike McCarthy?  When Baltimore hired John Harbaugh.  When Seattle hired Pete Carroll?   Every coach comes with question marks, and even the best of the best were undoubtedly met with some naysayers when they were hired.

jdbolick
jdbolick

 @JoeCabot McCoy won with Peyton Manning, but what coach hasn't?  He went .500 as the OC in 2011.  I'm not saying that I know McCoy will fail, but he looks like a bad hire because there are a lot of question marks and few positives.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @jdbolick  The only stat that ultimately matters in the NFL is wins & Denver did that with Mike McCoy on their sideline.  Does not mean that he will win in SD, but calling him a terrible hire?  That is as ridiculous as me guaranteeing that he will win a Super Bowl with the Chargers.  Neither of us know the answer.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

 @David G  @JoeCabot Sure he could fail.  He could also succeed.  Maybe he becomes the next Steve Spurrier.  Maybe the next Bill Walsh.  Time will tell.   I am just amused by some of these posters who know exactly what is going to happen.