Every year in the NFL, a handful of teams search for a new head coach. These vacancies become available for a multitude of reasons, but are ultimately unavoidable for various teams around the league.
This year, eight different teams had head coaching vacancies at the conclusion of the regular season. Six of those openings became available after the season and the other two came during the season (Hue Jackson in Cleveland and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay).
Of the eight openings, six are already filled with the final two seemingly going to happen once the playoffs are over for certain teams. The Miami Dolphins, who got rid of Adam Gase, are expected to sign Brian Flores as their next head coach. Flores is the current linebackers coach for the New England Patriots, who are playing in the AFC Championship game this Sunday.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Marvin Lewis agreed to mutually part ways after a 16-year relationship. For many around the league this was only a matter of time, but that time kept on growing, until Black Monday came, and Lewis was gone by 10 AM. Now The Bengals will wait for Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor to conclude his season before hiring him to replace Lewis.
The Rams are playing in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
Speaking of the Rams, their current head coach, Sean McVay is growing quite the coaching tree, despite only being 32-years old and a second-year head coach. Along with Taylor, Matt LaFleur, the Rams offensive coordinator in 2017, was hired to be the next head coach of the Green Bay Packers, who fired Mike McCarthy during the season, after 13-years.
A big reason for teams looking for guys like McVay, who is 24-8 and made two trips to the postseason, is because the NFL is a copycat league. Whenever a team has success in a different way than we are accustomed to seeing, other teams will mimic the success in their own fashion.
McVay is known for his innovative offense, and in an offensive-driven league, teams are looking for the guys who think outside the box. McVay is credited to turning Jared Goff into one of the premier young quarterbacks in the game today, after some were claiming he was a bust after disappointing rookie season (he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016) under former head coach Jeff Fisher.
The Arizona Cardinals fired Steve Wilks after one season and have hired former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. This comes as a surprise, because Kingsbury hasn’t proven at the collegiate level that he is a great head coach (he was fired by Texas Tech on November 25) but is known to be a quarterback guru, as he coached Patrick Mahomes, the likely NFL MVP, in college. Kingsbury, like McVay, is an innovative offensive mind. The Cardinals have the number one overall pick in this year’s NFL draft and Kingsbury said a while back that he would take Heisman winner Kyler Murray first overall.
The three most attractive openings were with the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and New York Jets. All three teams have their guy they think can take them to the next level.
The Browns, who showed great improvement and have tons of upside moving forward, got rid of Hue Jackson after eight games and a record of 2-5-1. Gregg Williams took over as interim head coach and Freddie Kitchens took over the offensive play calling. The team went 5-3 in the second half of the season and were in the playoff hunt until Week 16.
The job essentially came down to Williams or Kitchens, but in reality, it was Kitchens all along as the Browns general manager John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam liked what they saw from Kitchens. A big reason Kitchens was the choice instead of Williams was due to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who saw his offensive numbers increase with Kitchens calling the plays.
Mayfield did not do so well with Hue Jackson and Todd Haley (who was relieved of his offensive coordinator duties with Jackson), but really excelled under Kitchens. With the Browns electing not to go with an outside hire and a whole new offense, the players can now continue to run the same as it did at the end of this season.
Along with Baker, this was arguably the most attractive landing spot for hopeful head coaches is due to all the other younger talent like running back Nick Chubb, defensive back Denzel Ward and defensive end Myles Garrett along with the wealth of cap space Cleveland has. A solid hire for a team that can really make some noise for years to come after being the laughing stock of the league for the past two decades.
Next on the highly sought out lists was Green Bay, where someone would be able to link with Aaron Rodgers. LaFleur was the guy the Packers front office thought could get Rodgers back to his MVP-level of play after a down year for his standards. If LaFleur and Rodgers can’t find a way to coexist, this will be a waste of a hire. But to look at the positives of LaFleur, both Matt Ryan (2016) and Jared Goff (2017) had some of their best years as pros. Not only does LaFleur come from the McVay coaching tree, but also that of Kyle Shanahan, another young, offensive-minded coach.
The New York Jets drafted quarterback Sam Darnold fourth overall in 2018, hoping he can help them overtake New England in the division for years to come. He was the main reason this job was so attractive and New York went with Adam Gase, who coached divisional rival Miami for the past three seasons. Gase is another offensive guy, but has not shown that he can develop a quarterback, especially after Ryan Tannehill couldn’t find much success with him.
The favorite to land this job seemed to be McCarthy, but the Jets, and mostly Darnold, liked Gase more. Darnold believes Gase can help him be a viable quarterback in the league so the Jets pulled the trigger on a coach that beat them five-out-of-six times in the past three years.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians out of retirement in hopes he can be exactly what quarterback Jameis Winston needs in order to take the next step not only on the field, but off it as well. Winston has turned the ball over 76 times since he came into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2015, and that’s tied for most in the league. Winston also has maturity issues off the field, but Arians believes he can help the young signal caller in many ways. Winston feels comfortable with Arians as his coach as he attended his football camps as a youth.
The Denver Broncos went a different route by signing former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to take over the reins. Denver doesn’t have an up and coming quarterback to develop, so John Elway went with a defensive-minded guy, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1986 (sans 2010 when he was the defensive coordinator at Stanford), but this is his first time as a head coach. All of these teams found their guy, but the process seemed rushed, as seven coaches were hired within a 50-hour period. Frank Reich was hired 42-days after the 2017 season ended and led the Colts to the playoffs in his first season. Only time will tell which of these coaches will succeed, but one thing is certain after most of these signings; the NFL has transformed from a coach-quarterback league to a quarterback-coach league.