Annual NFL Coaching Carousel

The first Monday following the conclusion of the NFL’s regular season……a day known to head coaches as “Black Monday.” Most seasons see around seven or eight coaching changes. As of today, the number following the 2018 regular season has already reached eight, and a few more could be possible.

The Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers didn’t wait for Black Monday to deliver the pink slips to their respective head coaches, Hue Jackson and Mike McCarthy. Neither did the Tampa Bay Bucs or New York Jets, who fired Dirk Koetter and Todd Bowles the Sunday following their last game. Monday Bloody Monday brought the axe down on the other four, as the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, and Miami Dolphins closed out 2018 with the collective firings of Vance Joseph, Marvin Lewis, Steve Wilks, and Adam Gase.

So let’s take a look at each opening, and offer some amateur hiring advice to teams looking for a new head coach.

The Cleveland Browns:

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Interim Coach Gregg Williams

Prevailing word out of Cleveland is the Browns will make a run at ousted Packers coach Mike McCarthy. It’s hard to argue with that logic. McCarthy had a long, successful run in Green Bay, including a Super Bowl title and many winning seasons. However, it’s hard to argue with the logic of staying the course and keeping the band together. Whether as the one-time head coach of the Bills, or his multiple stops as defensive coordinator, I’ve never been a fan of Gregg Williams. That changed this year. Since taking over for the fired Hue Jackson, Williams led the Browns to more wins in half a season than his predecessor did in two and half years on the job. Crazy as it sounds, after all we’re talking about the Browns here…..I think bringing Williams and O.C. Freddie Kitchens back would position the Browns as the favorite to win the AFC North next year. The Ravens have uncertainty with John Harbaugh’s contract, the Steelers, under Mike Tomlin, continue to perform like a team clearly pointed in the wrong direction, and the Bengals are starting over. I’m not always a fan of “staying the course” for staying the course’s sake, but in their case, I think it’s the most sensible play.

The Green Bay Packers:

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Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald

Pat Fitzgerald was a surprise hire when he got the job years ago as head coach at Northwestern University. Could he be a surprise once again? He’s one a number of candidates mentioned as a possible successor to Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. Fitz has done a tremendous job manning the ship in Evanston for years now. He’s turned down bigger college jobs over the years, but would he turn down the Packers? This year he guided the Wildcats all the way to the Big Ten conference championship game. That’s a monumental feat for Northwestern. I think he’s taken the program as far as it can go. So why the Packers? Mark Murphy, the man running the Packers’ front office, was once the athletic director of a Big Ten school. Where? Northwestern. Who hired Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern you ask? That’s right….Mark Murphy.

The Denver Broncos:

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Mike Shanahan

“Meet the new boss…..same as the old boss.” Ok, before we get to that, let me explain how we got here in the first place. Broncos czar John Elway fired head coach Vance Joseph after just two years on the job. Granted, they were two abysmal losing seasons, but many folks feel Elway was wrong to give young Joseph the hook so soon. I somewhat agree with that sentiment, but here’s why Elway had to do it now: Longtime Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen is suffering from advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. The horrible disease, as it has done to countless others, has left Bowlen incapacitated and obviously not capable of running the team. This, quite sadly, has led to a very ugly legal battle among his wife, brother, and three children for the keys to the castle. While this unfortunate event plays out, it essentially leaves Elway in complete control of the organization. A season from now, probably due to a court ruling, the ownership situation may be resolved (for lack of a better word). What if Elway hung on to Vance Joseph for one more season and the results didn’t improve? Then when he goes to his boss and asks to hire a new coach, they may say, “Yes John, we believe it’s time for a change too….and that includes you.” It’s a unnecessary risk for Elway to take considering at this particular juncture he can make the change with full autonomy. If the new hire improves the team, a new owner in place a year from now will be less likely to fire Elway. This move was all about Elway protecting his own job stability. So who will he hire? Depends on how many years John wants to keep doing this. If he’s looking for a few more seasons, then retire and just enjoy being a Broncos legend, why not bring back your old coach? Hiring Shanahan insures Elway at least three more years at his post. This hire will likely be the last one Elway makes, so why not bring back Mike, and when he flames out in three seasons, the two of them can walk out together.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Bruce Arians

Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians retired following the 2017 season and joined the CBS crew this year as a color commentator. Apparently, Brucey still has the itch. Following Jackson’s firing in Cleveland, Arians let it be known he was interested in the job. Now he’s publicly expressed interest in the Buccaneers job as well. Here’s the deal, sometimes the obvious choice is the right one. Whether it be as OC for the Steelers, interim HC for the Colts, or most recently as head coach for the Cardinals, Arians has proven time and time again he’s a winner. The Cardinals team that went 3-13 this year? Last year, with a far worse situation at running back and quarterback, Arians still led that team to an 8-8 record. If he’s serious about wanting the job, the Glazer brothers (Tampa’s owners) would be absolute fools not to hire him.

The New York Jets

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Bill Cowher

So if my other suggestions aren’t exactly breaking news, here’s one straight out of left field! Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher used to be the annual “hot name” mentioned for any and every coaching vacancy that materialized in the NFL. In recent years that talk has calmed, if not disappeared. Most people in the know believe Cowher has absolutely no desire to coach again. They may be right. However, Bill has always maintained he “might” be interested if the “right” situation presented itself. I think that “right” place just became available. Bill’s been working and living in New York for years now. His new wife is a New Yorker. Logistically it’s a good fit. He would bring the thing the Jets have been missing in a head coach for years now: Instant respect, credibility, and certainly accountability. The culture within that organization would change day one Bill Cowher walks through the door. Some will argue he’s been away too long and the game has passed him by. I don’t believe that has a great effect on great ones. Remember Dick Vermeil? People said he was away for too long when the Rams hired him in the late ’90s. Within a few seasons Vermeil led the Rams to a championship. From there he went to Kansas City and had success as the Chiefs coach too. Every time Bill Parcells retired, he resurfaced somewhere else and had continued success. I believe Cowher is cut from that same mold. Add to that, he’s probably watched more football the past 12 years as an analyst than he did as a head coach. Believe me, he’s well aware of today’s NFL. Some retired head coaches seem just that…retired. Names like Tony Dungy and Brian Billick come to mind. Great, championship winning coaches, but they seem quite satisfied being done with the sidelines. It’s not to say I don’t think Cowher is satisfied, every time I watch and listen to this guy on CBS it just seems like he’s still got that fire inside. The Jets should ask him about that fire. The worst he can say is no thanks.

Other vacancies:

The Cincinnati Bengals:

No idea here. Can’t believe they hung on to Marvin Lewis for 16 years despite him never winning a playoff game. The owner is cheap, and unconventional. I imagine he’ll hire someone no other team wants.

Miami Dolphins:

In all due respect to Dolphins fans, and I know a few, this organization hasn’t been worth a shit since the days of Shula and Marino. I don’t understand why they can’t get it right at head coach. You’d think Miami would be such a desirable destination for prospective head coaching candidates. The sort of job hired coaches would even try to get out of their current contracts to pursue. Yet, over the years it’s been a post filled by the likes of Dave Wannstedt, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Joe Philbin, and Adam Gase. Makes no sense to me.

Arizona Cardinals:

Sort of outrageous they fired Steve Wilks after just one year on the job. That does happen, but usually when the general manager gets replaced as well, and the new G.M. wants to hire his own guy. In this case, Steve Keim, the Cardinals G.M., is keeping his job. So here’s the deal…if Wilks was just a bad hire who wasn’t ready for a head coaching job, shouldn’t that reflect on the guy who HIRED him? In the desert, apparently not. This one stinks. This organization had a few years of success under Arians, and Ken Whisenhunt before him, but it looks like it’s back to the same old hapless Cardinals they’ve been for the vast majority of their pro football existence.

Happy hiring!

-Vic

 

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