Which 2016 head coach vacancy is the best?
Head coaching in the NFL is a job like no other in sports. Because of the short season length, every win and loss is incredibly crucial – moreso than in any other major American sport. And because of this, head coaches are under incredible scrutiny. NFL fans are notoriously impatient – they want it all, and they want it now. So when things don’t go a team’s way, one of the first people to have the blame pinned on them is the head coach. And without fail, this usually results in a number of vacancies at the end of every season. 2015 was no different, with six spots currently up for grabs. Bot no two coaching jobs are the same – so which franchise is the most tempting, and which one would only the most masochistic of us want to go for? From worst to best – here’s how I rank the opportunities.
6 – Cleveland Browns
Forget Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. When it comes to Cleveland football, “triple-d” stands for “disloyalty, dysfunction and depression”. Since 2005, they’ve burned their way through 5 head coaches – and only one lasted 3 years. The Browns’ fanbase may be loyal to a fault, but the front office isn’t. Questionable personnel decisions have left the team with practically nobody at quarterback. Johnny Manziel is an absolute bust – like we all predicted – and spent the last week not showing up for a game and missing doctor appointments. The key to success in the NFL is longevity – with only a few exceptions, the winningest head coaches and teams are the ones with the longest tenure. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has clearly never heard of this advice, seemingly believing his franchise is one or two guys away from the big dance. What they need is to bring in someone who isn’t afraid to burn the whole thing to the ground and start afresh with young talent, openly admit that the next few years will be rough, and build to the future. They need a coach with a 3 year rebuild plan and a follow-up championship plan. But they won’t get the time in Ohio. Whoever gets this job is doomed to fail, and be out the door in two years. Cleveland is good for the rock’n’roll hall of fame, and basketball – not football.
Oh, and did I mention that the Cuyahoga River once caught fire? Sheesh. Stay away from Cleveland.
5 – San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh coached the 49ers from 2011 to 2014, amassing 44 wins, 19 losses and 1 tie. In that time frame they won the NFC championship once, and appeared in the championship game 3 times on the trot. Yet as soon as they went 8-8, he was shown the door. The reason? He didn’t see eye to eye with Jed Yorke and Trent Baalke. Like Dallas, this franchise is brought down by heavy expectations and a feeling that the GM knows best, and the head coach is simply there to be a yes man. Keeping the 49ers from slipping to the bottom is the history of the team, and the circumstances. This team is known for being one of the league’s best, and its West Coast location helps it. It’s an attractive prospect for players, and a new modern stadium helps to keep the fans coming. Although the division is tough, it has the effect of softening the blow of losses, and amplifying the appearance of wins. They’ll also have some room to work with, cap-wise, and they’ll have a decent draft pick (7th overall) and some moderate trade value in Kaepernick to get some extra picks later in the draft. Sadly, like in Cleveland, expectations run high and a shortage of wins early on could see the seat getting very warm, very quickly. And let’s not forget about the GM thing.
4 – Philadelphia Eagles
Had they not given Chip Kelly GM powers and allowed him to ruin the personnel of the team, the City Of Brotherly Love would be a very attractive prospect. Unfortunately, whoever assumes the role in 2016 will inherit a stale ground game, a quarterback corps that can be filed into two categories – fragile and mediocre – as well as an offensive line that couldn’t protect their signal caller from a lethargic puppy. Their draft position is too low to be franchise-defining, they’re squashed up against the cap, and the media is going to be very harsh. With the right scheme in place, Sam Bradford could tide a coach over until he can get “his guy”, but it has to come sooner rather than later. The Eagles are used to being competitive in a tough division and will be looking for playoff football more often than not. But success will be rewarded, and the management structure is fairly solid. For the right head coach, Philadelphia could be a decent shot to make your name. Only the state of the roster stops them from being any higher.
3 – Miami Dolphins
Like San Francisco, Miami’s history is studded with success – and expectations are high. They spent an ungodly amount on Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback who could (and should) replace Andy Dalton as the yardstick of averageness, and splashed big money on Ndamukong Suh, who has both failed to really adapt to the schemes in place in Miami and listen to his coaches. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s talent on both sides of the ball, and they have a decent draft position to help address problem areas. The right coach can motivate and instil confidence in the team – Dan Campbell got 5 wins out of them after taking over in October, including a 20-10 victory over New England to end the season. Since 2002, the ‘fins have only been in the playoffs once – so expectations are reasonable. The big problem? Facing Bill Belichick twice a year. But if you can split that series, the fans and management will be on your side. Miami are a dark horse for playoffs in the coming years, and their potential should be reason enough to tempt candidates through the door.
2 – Tennessee Titans
A team looking for both a GM and a head coach sounds like it could be trouble, but it has an upside. The right people in the right mindset at the right time could come in and gel perfectly, and form one of the most stable GM-HC partnerships in football. On top of that, not only do they have a significant prospect in Marcus Mariota (who, with the right coaching could be more Russell Wilson than RGIII) but they also hold 2016’s number one pick overall. The division is somewhat favourable, with a meandering Colts and Texans being the toughest the South can muster. The media in Nashville is fairly patient and understanding, and a half-decent defensive core (12th in yards allowed in 2015) helps round out the major good points. Talk surfaces time-to-time of the franchise being sold, but barring an actual move it’s hard to see how it could have a real negative impact on the team. Tennessee are also no stranger to loyalty – although they’ve had three head coaches since 2011, it’s important to remember that Jeff Fisher was in place for 17 years. A coach who shows promise will be treated favourably, and the pieces are in place for the Titans to be regular division challengers with a couple of years development.
1. New York Giants
New York, New York – the city so good, they have multiple franchises in every major American sport. Tom Coughlin coached this team to a 102-90 record in 11 years, with 2 Super Bowl victories thrown in for good measure. They have a franchise quarterback in place, a wealth of knowledge inside the organisation and one of the most stable ownerships ever seen in football. They’re not struggling for cap room, and have a moderate draft position. There’s talent abound on both sides of the ball, although some of that is ageing. The biggest worries are that the aforementioned franchise quarterback is 35 – and isn’t looking as good as he has before – and that the media in New York is more ruthless than anywhere else. Expectations run high and they won’t tolerate much failure. It takes a strong constitution to be a head coach anywhere in the NFL, and New York is the toughest place to do it. This #1 spot comes with a caveat – only a certain type of coach will succeed. For the right guy, glory awaits.