It takes a village to raise a quarterback. But what about a head coach?
Increasingly, the league is favoring younger and less-experienced head coaches, and the failure rate and turnover at head coach seems similar to quarterbacks. It isn’t always all on the individual himself (and, hopefully, eventually, herself), and surely there are other factors involved from the obvious to less-often considered.
Of course, the roster and its development is vital. But working for the right owner at the right time and having a truly committed and forthright and stable leadership at the top is paramount. What is the level of immediate expectations? What is the market like in terms of fans and the media? Is there any history of at least a modicum of recent success?
Are other parts of the franchise still in transition – the front office or business operations? Is the team in any jeopardy of being sold and falling under new management in the near future? Any coaches or general managers get second contracts around there? Recent history of infighting and backstabbing? Is the owner easily influenced by outside voices and the media?
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When it comes to ability to win in the near term, and sustain it, and have a bit of job security, all of that matters. We’ve reached the point in the offseason when the rookie head coaches have had a chance to spend months in their new organizations and go through that first draft. We pretty much know the assortment of talent available to them, and, for what it’s worth, a spring’s worth of faux practices are behind them.
Which seems like as good a time as any to re-examine this class, look at the big picture, and see which are in the best position to succeed. There really is a vast gulf in how many of these situations are stacked, and a big divide in the resources and assets available to them at the start of their head coaching career. History will tell us most of these men will wash out, but keep in mind what they are walking into, and how many of their predecessors failed as well in these very same places.
From best to worst:
1. Brandon Staley, Chargers
This is the spot. Stud second-year QB, front office that has assembled abundant talent, under the shadow of the Rams so the heat doesn’t get too hot. Owners who might not spend to the max, but tend to be loyal. Have been to the playoffs not long ago at all. Staley is an expert on the defensive side of the ball, with a bevy of interesting chess pieces available. Having Drew Brees be available to Justin Herbert? Love it. Coaching had been holding them back, but game management is about to improve.
2. Urban Meyer, Jaguars
I suspect this ends up being a brief experiment – two years or so – but that would most likely be because Meyer walks (let’s just say there’s a history). But Shad Khan didn’t spend weeks trying to woo him to discard him quickly. He hopes Meyer – a god of sorts in that part of the country – can help him get that practice facility built and raise the profile of the franchise nationally (and internationally). And he gets Trevor Lawrence. Sure, a lot of Meyer’s college ways seem destined to go sideways at the NFL level (a la Chip Kelly, among others), but he is getting all the power and a ton of money and might be able to stick around as a team president of consultant or something once he’s over being on the sidelines again.
3. Nick Sirianni, Eagles
When Jeff Lurie fired Doug Pederson he made it clear this team was not on the cusp and needed a reset to get back, eventually, to the Super Bowl. Yes, he meddles and can make life difficult for those around him, but they did recently win a Super Bowl. The owner will spend like crazy and the bar did get very low there after the debacle 2020 season. And they have a ton of draft capital. And they play in the NFC Least. And after whacking Pederson faster than anyone would have thought at the Super Bowl parade, you tend to think Sirianni gets a decent run here.
4. Dan Campbell, Lions
He and the rookie GM got a long-term deal, and another member of the Ford family is now in charge which probably buys them three years unless things go off a cliff. Ownership seems to understand that it is actually in a rebuild, which to me makes it a notch up from a few of these other gigs, where teams are pretending to be something they are not. It’s going to be a long climb out of the mess of the former regime – there were constant issues between the staff and the locker room, and the roster is bleak. Oh, and the nebulous roles of guys like Rod Wood would make me very nervous, and Chris Spielman has no real experience as a team president. Yeah, most of these franchises have been a horror show for good reason, and we’re grading on a curve here, but I guess I’ll slot this here.
5. Arthur Smith, Falcons
Heavy is the head of those labelled a QB-guru or offensive wunderkind. People expect immediate results. And this owner resisted a full rebuild and kept Matt Ryan around (despite giving away Julio Jones for cash/cap reasons), which sends an odd signal. They have no hope of immediate success with that defense, and the QB is in decline. But the objective seems to be to win ASAP, despite a horrible cap situation and with an aging core.
6. Robert Saleh, Jets
Oh man, Woody Johnson is back and the first press interaction was already a circus. Good luck with that. The stud left tackle hasn’t been able to do much of anything this offseason and the QB looks awful green, excuse the pun, and is already caught up in the vax/anti-vax and mask/anti-mask stuff (just look at Twitter). The Johnson family has rarely enjoyed any harmony between front office and coach, and this team always seems destined for the back page of the gossip papers. Hard to shake.
7. David Culley, Texans
Godspeed. Poor guy has to wait til his mid-60s to get his first shot and he does it with he Texans at the worst possible time. All kinds of palace intrigue, a coach-in-waiting (Josh McCown) hanging around, an awful roster and a rookie GM who comes from New England, where casting aside someone after just one year is never not an option. Oh, and they are at war with their franchise QB who may end up suspended for quite some time for the various allegations against him. Brutal.