Seven new coaches were hired in the NFL this past off season and some of them are actually being put in positions where they can be successful early, as opposed to usual where a high percentage of coaches are put in positions where they won’t be successful right away and are entering a rebuild.
Matt Nagy – Bears
Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy was hired as the Bears new head coach and he should bring some actual imagination into the Bears offense. In his five seasons in Kansas City as a quarterbacks coach and then the offensive coordinator for the past two seasons the Chiefs offense was pretty good.
He will be taking over the team going into Mitchell Trubisky’s second NFL season. Trubisky was pretty average last year as a rookie, staring 12 games in which the Bears went 4-8 and Trubisky completed 59.4% of his passes while throwing 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
All reports out of Chicago this off season have been that Trubisky has improved a lot from year one to year two and could be poised for a breakout, especially now that they have an offensive-minded head coach.
A lot of Nagy’s first season success will ultimately come down to the strides that Trubisky ends up taking. A year of experience under his belt, combined with the signings of former Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson, former Falcons wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and former Eagles tight end Trey Burton, should lead to an improved season for Trubisky.
The Bears did also have a top-10 scoring defense a year ago and that’ll take some pressure off of what should be an improved offense from the past couple of years under John Fox.
I wouldn’t pick Chicago to go to the playoffs this year, but I think they will be a greatly improved team and will show signs of being a team that could really emerge and be a threat in the 2020 season. This season I think the NFC is just too loaded.
Steve Wilks – Cardinals
After spending just one season as the Panthers defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks was hired as the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. After being one of the better defenses in the league over the past five or so years, the Cardinals took a step back last season, giving up 22.6 points per game.
Hiring a defensive coach to try and get that back on track seems like a good move and he was able to make a really good hire in my opinion by getting former Broncos offensive coordinator and Chargers head coach Mike McCoy to be his offensive coordinator. McCoy has been the play-caller behind a number of really good offenses during his time in the league, especially when it comes to the passing offenses that he’s been the coordinator for.
They of course went out and got Sam Bradford in the off season to help bridge the gap at quarterback, but they were also able to take UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen in the draft and that was big steal in my opinion. Bradford will likely start the year, but if he gets hurt, which he tends to do, Rosen should be able to come in and provide some good production under center. They’ll also have David Johnson coming back at running back after he missed basically all of last season and he’ll be a welcome returnee.
Much like Nagy, the success of Wilks’ first season in Arizona will come down to quarterback play. It’s unlikely they finish above San Francisco or Los Angeles in the NFC West, but I think they could surprise some people, especially if Rosen is good when he inevitably gets his chance to play.
Frank Reich – Colts
The Colts had a very weird coaching search that involved Josh McDaniels reportedly committing to them to be their next head coach and then getting cold feet and deciding to back out. They eventually ended up going with Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich for the position and the success or failure of not only his first season, but his overall tenure in Indy will come down to the health of Andrew Luck and that’s not a secret to anyone.
The Eagles offense has of course been good the last couple years and that offensive staff got a ton of credit, which they deserved when they were able to navigate the rest of the season and of course the postseason with Nick Foles once Carson Wentz went out for the season after tearing his ACL. A lot of that was head coach Doug Pederson, but Reich of course had a hand in that.
The Colts have a lot of holes on the roster to fill as they try and “re-build.” The reason I put that in quotes is because that process will be sped up a ton if they are able to get a healthy Andrew Luck back under center.
They also had a pretty good draft in my opinion, having five picks in the first two rounds they were able to address a couple of needs by picking up three front-seven players (Darius Leonard, Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis) and also picking up two guards to try and boost the interior of their offensive line (Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith).
While the Colts did improve this off season, make no doubt about it, the success or failure of Frank Reich in Indianapolis will come down to the health of Andrew Luck.
Pat Shurmur – Giants
Ben McAdoo was in over his head as the head coach of the Giants and he was just terrible, so pretty much anyone would’ve been an upgrade over him. I think Shurmur has the potential to be a good fit here because that roster still has some pretty nice pieces, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where they struggled last season, but were the second-best scoring defense in the league two years ago when they made the playoffs. Things just went off the rails so bad last season in New York and the struggles of the defense, even with it being a talented one, is something that happens when a season goes off the rails quickly in the NFL.
Shurmur did good things as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings the past couple of season in Minnesota, working with Case Keenum this past season and having to work with Sam Bradford on short notice two seasons ago after Teddy Bridgewater blew out his knee in training camp.
He has also spent a couple of seasons as a head coach for the Browns where he only had a record of 9-23, but you can’t put too much stock into what someone does as the head coach of the Browns and he coached one game as the interim head coach of the Eagles in 2015 after Chip Kelly was fired and he won that game.
Giving him weapons to work with like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley should be pretty exciting for Giants fans, but this story is me talking about how well I think each coach will do in their first season and I don’t think he’ll have too much success in his first season in New York because Eli Manning isn’t good anymore. Long-term he could be good, but I don’t think this first season will be great, especially in a pretty tough division.
Matt Patricia – Lions
The Lions finally parted ways with Jim Caldwell, who I think is a terrible NFL coach, and hired former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Patricia had been on the Patriots defensive staff since 2006, serving as the linebackers coach and then spending 2011 as the safeties coach before becoming the defensive coordinator from 2012-2017.
Overall the New England defense was pretty good while he was the coordinator, but last year they mysteriously weren’t very good, especially at the start of the season, despite appearing to get better on paper during last off season.
Of course when a new head coach comes from the Patriots organization the thought immediately goes to the fact that they should be able to establish a good culture wherever they are going. I do think Patricia will be able to do that because I think he waited long enough to take a head coaching job instead of just jumping as soon as he was thought of highly enough to get a head job.
Detroit also has a pretty good roster and if Patricia can establish that culture and put some discipline into that team they should be able to be better than they have been and they haven’t been too bad during the Matthew Stafford era.
Overall I think they will look better on the field and make less mistakes, but the NFC is ultimately too loaded for them to make it to the postseason in my opinion and their division alone is probably one of the tougher ones in football with the Vikings being who they are, Aaron Rodgers returning and the Bears seemingly being better.
Jon Gruden – Raiders
Undoubtedly the most high-profile coaching hire of the off season was the Raiders bringing Jon Gruden back on a 10-year, $100 million contract.
Gruden spent four seasons as the Raiders head coach previously, going 38-26 from 1998-2001. He also got them to two post season appearances during that stretch where they went 2-2 in in those postseason games.
After coaching the Raiders he moved onto go coach the Buccaneers from 2002-2008, peaking right away by winning the Super Bowl in his very first season in Tampa. Overall he went 57-55 in his seven seasons coaching the Buccaneers and went 3-2 in the postseason in three postseason appearances. Although he did never win a playoff game after his first season in which they went 3-0 and of course won the Super Bowl.
Early in his career Gruden was pretty good with quarterbacks and had some pretty good offenses overall, but when he won the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay they had the best defense in the league and were pretty average on offense.
After the Raiders had a very disappointing season a year ago they decided to part ways with Jack Del Rio and I think in his first season back in Oakland, hiring Gruden will lead to a nice comeback season. He has a reputation as being very good with quarterbacks and Derek Carr should be the best quarterback he has ever coached, and they should overall just make less mistakes and be more disciplined which I think will lead to a good season, especially in a winnable division.
While I do think Gruden will be good in his first year I’m not sure how this will work long-term. Gruden is obviously set up to be the coach that leads the Raiders into their Las Vegas era and having a name like him on the sidelines should only boost the excitement around the team as they move, but Gruden has been known as a guy that burns people out if he is in a place long enough and I think signing him to a 10-year contract is a mistake for that reason. I think people around the Raiders will get burned out by him and things could fizzle fast once that starts to happen. Although maybe signing him to a 10-year deal was the only way they were going to be able to get him out of the ESPN broadcasting booth.
Mike Vrabel – Titans
This was a really interesting coaching hire in my opinion because I could honestly see it going either way. Vrabel doesn’t have a ton of coaching experience, having spent three seasons as a coach on the defensive staff at Ohio State, followed by three seasons as the Texans linebackers coach and then only one season as the Texas defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job in Tennessee.
He is inheriting overall not too bad of a roster in Tennessee, a team that finished in the top-half of the league defensively and had the number four rushing offense in the league behind what is a very physical and pretty young and still improving offensive line. They did let DeMarco Murray walk during the off season, but they still have a nice two-back rotation of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis.
Vrabel hired Matt LaFleur as his offensive coordinator and he was the offensive coordinator of the Rams last season and also worked for the Falcons as the quarterbacks coach when Matt Ryan won MVP two seasons ago. If he is able to take what he has learned from the coaches he has worked under he might really be able to help Marcus Mariota develop because the past couple of seasons it felt like Mariota was going backwards, but they finally appear to have gotten a good offensive mind for him to work with.
The Titans defense should stay good and probably improve under Mike Vrabel. The Texans defense struggled under him last year, but they suffered a lot of injuries and it was kind of a similar situation to the Giants where things just went off the rails. I wouldn’t put too much stock into the Texans defensive numbers from last season.
Overall I think the Titans should be an improved team this season after going 9-7 last season and finding a way to win a playoff game. The AFC South has become one of the more interesting divisions in football with the Jaguars having a really good roster and almost making the Super Bowl last season, Deshaun Watson coming back from an ACL injury and what’s looking like a likely Andrew Luck return. This division could go a number of ways and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Tennessee win it.