By Ryan Chatelain
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For fans, the hiring of a coach should be accompanied by, at the very least, a renewed sense of hope that better days are ahead.
But that doesn’t appear to be the case in several NFL cities where hirings were promptly followed by head-scratching.
A trend this year was promoting an assistant coach from the previous – losing – staff. Of course, we saw that here in New York when the Giants hired Ben McAdoo, the team’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons, as their new head coach.
First-time head coaches rarely ever move the excitement needle, and that’s OK. Every great coach was a first-time head coach at some point. But what is perplexing about the Giants‘ hiring of McAdoo is that, if the many reports prove to be true, very little will change on the staff otherwise, so the questions about whether former coach Tom Coughlin was solely being scapegoated for four consecutive non-playoff seasons were to be expected.
But it also makes you wonder whether McAdoo is being afforded all the power a new head coach generally receives, or does his tenure in some ways smell like that of a glorified interim coach? Because it’s hard to imagine if McAdoo had come from another team that he would pick Steve Spagnuolo, whose defenses have ranked dead last in the NFL the last two years that he has been a coordinator, to lead his defense.
Of all people, McAdoo should be worried most that Spagnuolo’s defense could potentially torpedo his first head coaching gig. McAdoo earned the promotion because his offense was a top-10 unit the past two seasons, but all the Giants as a team had to show for that production were back-to-back 6-10 seasons. Why? The defense was lousy, more so in 2015, when it yielded 420 yards and 27.6 points per game under Spagnuolo. Meanwhile, six of Big Blue’s 10 losses came in the final 75 seconds of regulation or in overtime.
The situations are strikingly similar in Tampa Bay and Tennessee. The Buccaneers promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Like McAdoo, he is a first-time NFL head coach. Like McAdoo, his offense was a top-10 unit. And like McAdoo, a big reason he landed the job was because the team brass thought his continued presence was best for the team’s franchise quarterback.
Unlike McAdoo, however, at least Koetter is bringing in his own defensive coordinator (former Falcons coach Mike Smith). But still, if the Bucs’ owner and GM really wanted change, shouldn’t it have involved, you know, some more new people?
The Titans, meanwhile, have retained interim head coach and tight ends coach Mike Mularkey. He has (if you count the interim gig) been a head coach three times already and has an underwhelming 18-39 record. Making matters worse, Tennessee, is reportedly in talks to bring back defensive coordinator Ray Horton, whose unit finished 27th in scoring defense in 2015.
Excuse Titans fans if they’re already scanning lists of the top draft prospects for 2017.
Another hiring that raises questions is Hue Jackson in Cleveland, but for different reasons: What the heck is Jackson thinking?
The Browns are a certified mess from top to bottom, much like the Raiders were in 2011 when they fired Jackson after one 8-8 season. You would think Jackson, Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons and believed to be one of the hotter candidates on the market, would have held out for a situation with more stability at the top.
Adam Gase was also a hot name before the Dolphins scooped him up. He was the offensive coordinator for three seasons in Denver, where Peyton Manning routinely changed his play calls at the line of scrimmage. And in Chicago this season, Gase’s offense ranked just 21st.
The Dolphins haven’t hired an experienced NFL head coach since they added Dave Wannstedt in 2000. They also have reached the playoffs exactly once since Wannstedt resigned in 2004. Why not try a new approach and target an experienced leader this time around?
The highest-profile hiring of the offseason came in San Francisco, where the 49ers landed Chip Kelly. Kelly enjoyed back-to-back 10-6 seasons in Philadelphia before his ego got in the way – he became locked in a power struggle with the general manager, and when he was finally handed the keys to the personnel decisions, he sank his own ship.
Kelly could still prove to be a successful NFL head coach if you keep him focused on the Xs and Os. But didn’t San Francisco just rid itself of an egomaniacal former college coach who clashed with management?
Meanwhile, Kelly’s former team, the Eagles, hired Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who would have been a far easier sell to fans if he didn’t appear to be at least the team’s third choice behind McAdoo and Coughlin, according to reports.
Granted, at the root of this season’s curious hirings was a weak candidate pool. Many believed Sean Payton and Chuck Pagano were going to become available, and that never materialized.
But it seems this winter, more than in years past, teams learned little from the mistakes of their pasts before choosing the men who will lead them into their futures.