While the Eagles and the Chiefs gear up for the big game, Daily Cal Sports looks to the furthest thing from a Super Bowl appearance: coaching changes. Since the regular season ended, several head coaching positions have been made vacant. Sports writers Kenzo Fukuda, Ryan Sheehan and Benjamin Coleman break down what to expect as teams continue to find new leaders.
This hiring cycle seems like a continuation of the league’s newfound interest in young coordinators for head coaching jobs. Why do you think that is?
Kenzo Fukuda: Teams have caught on to the fact that the college coaching pipeline to the NFL hasn’t led to success in quite a long time. Urban Meyer, Matt Rhule and Kliff Kingsbury, coaches who’ve won big in the NCAA, have all been fired in the past year after chaotic and unsuccessful tenures. And of the past 10 recent college hires, only Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll can claim to have thrived at an NFL level (sorry Bill O’Brien, 52-48 is not successful). The league’s new obsession with young coordinators from successful coach trees is simple: they understand NFL football better than college coaches which makes a lot of sense considering they’ve worked their way up through professional NFL institutions instead of being handed the job.
Ryan Sheehan: This trend is less about the coaches themselves and more about the emergence of the quarterback position in the league for the past decade. The NFL is now, more than ever, a quarterback-driven league. While it’s always been the general manager’s job to fill out a roster with talent, it is quickly becoming more important to have a coach that is able to work with and bring out the best from a signal caller. Starting with the Shanahan coaching tree, which includes 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, the Rams’ Sean McVay and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, these young coaches have been able to revolutionize the NFL offense via game-changing talents at quarterback. The rest of the league wants a piece of the pie.
Benjamin Coleman: The trend for young offensive coaches seems like simply the current fad based on what has won recently in the NFL. I understand teams following trends set by coaches like McVay on the Rams, but there have likely been more failed hires following this archetype than successful ones. It’s simply following the current evolution of the game. I’m sure in 10 years the ideal hire will look completely different.
Some positions, like in Houston and Denver, have already been filled. Which fresh face will have the most success with their new teams?
KF: I’m excited for DeMeco Ryans in Houston for a number of reasons. For starters, the Texans inked Ryans for a six-year deal, demonstrating their willingness to finally commit to one coach. This isn’t just a stop-gap hire: Ryans will have the stability needed to turn this team around. Secondly, the Shanahan coaching tree is the best in the contemporary NFL. Mike McDaniel with the Dolphins and Robert Saleh with the Jets have turned their teams into contenders, and I don’t see why Ryans can’t follow in their footsteps, especially considering he touted the No. 1 defense in the NFL this year. And finally, Houston has all their draft picks in tact. They have a chance to find a franchise quarterback with the second pick in the draft, one of Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, putting Ryans in prime position to make the most out of his first head coaching stint.
RS: While Sean Payton’s move to Denver is matching a Super Bowl champion coach with a Super Bowl champion quarterback in Russell Wilson, I’m still weary. Exacerbated by the Payton trade, the Broncos have a lot of cap issues, as well as a depleted roster with very few draft picks to fill holes. I’ll give the potential for most long-term success to Frank Reich in Carolina. Reich has a long history with the Panthers. But, more importantly, he knows offense and how to develop a quarterback. A former NFL quarterback himself, Reich has the know-how and Carolina has the organizational leverage by way of cap space and draft capital (thanks Christian McCaffrey) to improve the Panthers’ much-maligned offense in an NFC South that is suddenly without an apparent favorite.
BC: Of the three head coaching hires so far, Payton in Denver is the only one that hasn’t yet been discussed. But while I believe he is a strong coach, I think Wilson is an anchor at QB that will weigh them down. Ryans has potential, but the roster in Houston is just so barren. So I also turn to Reich in Carolina. The Panthers are in the ideal situation to orchestrate a quick turnaround, with young defensive talent, an owner who will spend and a division ripe for the taking. Carolina is a quarterback away from success — if Reich can find that QB then the Panthers will be in business.
For the teams that are still without a coach, who do you see filling that position and why?
KF: Can’t say I agree with the potential decision, but the Indianapolis Colts look way too close to officially hiring Jeff Saturday as their new head coach. After a pretty awful audition as interim head coach, in which the Colts went 1-7, owner Jim Irsay still sees him as the solution for a team stuck in mediocre purgatory. I talked about college coaches lacking NFL coaching experience — this guy has no coaching experience (unless we’re counting his three-year high school coaching stint). Future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Joe Thomas said it best when he lambasted the initial interim hiring, “When you hire your drinking buddy to be head coach of an NFL team, it is one of most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Can’t wait to see if Irsay wants to set fire to the Colts’ fanbase.
RS: If the Colts want to be competitive in the AFC South next year, the Saturday chatter must be just smoke and mirrors. With all due respect to Saturday, who took over for Indy for the second half of the season, there are many more qualified candidates for this job. Despite all that’s happened to this point in Indy, there’s very little to go off of here. If the Colts decide to move on from the band-aid quarterback approach in favor of drafting a QB prospect with their fourth overall pick, I wouldn’t be surprised with Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen taking the reins. Steichen has led a very impressive offensive attack in Philly that may just end in a Super Bowl win. Outside of Steichen, current Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris could make for a solid option with a ton of experience. Whoever the Colts end up with, I’ll be interested to see how much patience owner Irsay will have for them to turn the horseshoe back around.
BC: Outside of Indianapolis, the Arizona Cardinals are another team still looking for their next head coach. Steichen should be at the top of their wishlist, but I’m not sure he’d join a pretty unattractive opening in the desert. The Cardinals are sitting in no man’s land with Kyler Murray’s massive contract. Brian Flores could be an interesting name, or the Cardinals could poach a successful coordinator like Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator Brian Callahan or defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, but the list of available options is fairly uninspiring and it will take a lot to right the ship in Arizona.