It’s that time of year again. The regular season ends and all hell lets loose in the managerial ranks of the NFL. Head coaches, assistant coaches, general managers and other staff are all in the firing line as franchises search for the ingredient which will bring them success in 2018. Richard O’Hagan tries to keep up.
This article was first published on 12 January 2018 and last edited on 23 January 2018
If you ever want to feel conflicted in the NFL, then the first week of January is the time to be. The start of the playoffs is the time when everything goes slightly mad. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s frenetic. And it’s all about people losing their jobs. It is – like the famous Facebook relationship status – complicated. But every job loss will eventually be a new beginning for someone. It isn’t all bad, it’s just hard to keep up with.
To complete an unus ual triangle, Arizona coach Bruce Arians decided to retire from front line coaching for health reasons. Arians ended up at the Cards after winning Coach of the Year honours whilst standing in for Pagano when the latter was stricken with leukaemia.
The Cardinals have interviews numerous candidates so far, but with Carson Palmer having also called time on his career this is the one head coaching vacancy without a genuine contender at quarterback, so they may struggle to find an interested partner unless they address that situation before free agency starts.
Update: 18 January 2018 – Steelers’ offensive line coach Mike Munchak turned down a second interview in the hope of getting the OC job in Pittsburgh. Which he didn’t get.
Update: 23 January – The Cardinals appointed former Carolina DC Steve Wilks as their new head coach.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants were the only team to sack a coach during the regular season, parting ways with not only Ben McAdoo and his Seventies pornstar moustache, but long term general manager Jerry Reese, too. They’ve taken their time finding a head coach, but moved reasonably swiftly to pick up their former assistant and former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman to replace Reese. That is a smart move, because Gettleman already knows the organisation inside out and suggests that Reese might actually have been on the hot seat ever since Carolina inexplicably released Gettleman eighteen months ago.
The Giants have spoken with various coaching candidates over the intervening weeks, including with their interim head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. A party, including co-owner John Mara and Gettleman, apparently travelled to Foxborough last week to interview Patriots‘ coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, whilst they have apparently been told that they cannot interview Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz until the Eagles’ season is over. This suggests that a defensive mind – after the failed years with former quarterback coach McAdoo – might be in their minds. It also suggests, though, that if they end up appointing Spagnuolo, he will be far from first choice.
Update: 15 January 2018 – The Giants are rumoured to be hiring Minnesota OC (and former Browns head coach) Pat Shurmur.
Update: 23 January 2018 – Following the Vikings’ exit from the playoffs, Shurmur’s appointment has been confirmed
A week is a long time in the NFL. Scarcely seven days after the Titans’ ownership told head coach Mike Mullarkey that his job was safe for another year, they announced that they had parted company with him following the weekend’s thrashing at the hands of the Patriots.
Mullarkey’s time in Nashville will probably be best known for the term ‘exotic smashmouth’, which became a sort of shorthand for ‘completely wasting most of your best talent in an utter shambles of an offensive scheme’. What happens next will be interesting, though. Whilst McDaniels was the front runner for the job in Indy, it is likely that he will prefer to work with the as-yet-unfulfilled talent of Marcus Mariota, rather than the rather battered known prospect that is Andrew Luck. It could well be another fortnight before we find out for sure, though.
Update: 21 January – The Titans have appointed former Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel as head coach. It will be the first head coaching job for the former Patriots linebacker and three-time Superbowl winner. It is unusual for such a high-profile player to make it in a head coaching role nowadays, so this is an intriguing hire by a franchise which, despite their playoff run this year, is underperforming in many areas.
Update: 23 January – Word is that the Titans will terminate the contract of Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. It is believed that the 80-year-old defensive genius will decide that the time is right to retire.
In the end, it was no surprise that the Bears decided to part ways with John Fox. Whatever goodwill the veteran coach had amassed by virtue of his record elsewhere had been completely eroded by the signing of Mike Glennon and the strange theory that you could win games by spending a fortune in cash (on Glennon) and in Draft capital (on Mitch Trubisky) without signing any competent receivers.
Chicago moved quickly – arguably too quickly – to snap up Kansas‘ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as a replacement. There are many things for Bears fans to be concerned about in such an appointment. Firstly, Nagy only took over play calling duties for the Chiefs midway through this season and, whilst he pulled them out of the slump that was threatening to derail their playoff hopes, his play calling in last weekend’s defeat was utterly baffling, especially in the second half. And whilst you can’t crucify a coach on the basis of one game, it does make you start to wonder if a tendency to go to pieces might be the reason why Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid – who described Nagy as the best head coaching prospect he had ever worked with – had waited so long to hand him the reins.
Even more worrying for the Bears, they are now back to where they were five or so years ago, when they hired another coach with no experience running an NFL side, Mark Trestman. Except that Trestman at least had experience running a CFL franchise – which is precisely what he is now doing again. Time will, of course, tell whether Nagy is in over his head, but the future looks even bleaker than usual in Chicago.
Update: 15 January 2018 – the Bears have added former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator, whilst defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who interviewed for Nagy’s job, has agreed a new three year deal.
Oakland’s binning of Jack Del Rio didn’t appear to make sense. Yes, this year had been a huge disappointment after last year’s run to the playoffs, but the turn-around that Del Rio had managed amid the usual turbulence that surrounds the Raiders (who still don’t have a home guaranteed for the years between now and their move to Vegas) ought to have granted at least one more year.
But then came the news that it was Oakland – and not Tampa Bay – who had tempted Jon Gruden out of the television studio and back into coaching. Gruden has, of course, been a sort of holy grail for NFL owners over the years, the one coach they thought they could tempt back to the game if they made the right offer. And apparently $100M over ten years was the right sort of offer – and probably the sort of stunt that only Mark Davis and the Raiders could pull.
Time will tell whether, after a decade and more out of the game, Gruden has what it takes to coach in the NFL one more time. But it is a hire that has a lot of people talking (especially in the UK, with the week 6 game in Tottenham between the Raiders and the Seahawks just announced). You just know that, somewhere, Al Davis is smiling.
Update: 15 January 2018 – the NFL is investigating whether the Raiders broke the Rooney Rule in their hiring of Gruden.
After the Lions missed the playoffs, the sacking of Jim Caldwell became inevitable. Having clung on for fourteen months following the 2016 front office upheaval, he knew that he was not the franchise’s man.
The Lions seem in no great rush to replace Caldwell at present, which indicates that their preferred candidates are currently with the eight teams still in the playoffs.
In a strange twist of fate, the other team that Caldwell has led is also looking for a new head coach. After years of wrangling between Chuck Pagano and the Colts’ front office, the axe finally fell upon the man who replaced Caldwell.
Again, there doesn’t seem to be any great urgency among the Colts heirarchy to replace Caldwell, although it is interesting that most of those they have spoken to are defense coaches, including sacked Seahawks’ DC Kris Richard. That said, the man in pole position appears to be McDaniels – or at least he was until events in Nashville upset the applecart.
Update: 15 January 2018 – it is rumoured that the Colts have persuaded McDaniels to sign for them after all.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Mike McCarthy is safe in Green Bay, but he’s practically the only one. General Manager and Director of Football Operations Ted Thompson has been shifted upwards, sideways and outwards into a fairly nebulous role as special adviser to the football side of the business, the penalty for spending over two decades in the operation and still not finding a successor to Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. In his place comes former assistant Brian Gudekunst, who will bring not only significant experience of the Packers’ back office but years of resentment over high school nicknames to the role.
That’s not all. 69-year-old defensive coordinator Dom Capers was also given the push, with former Browns coach Mike Pettine brought in to replace him. Also returning to Green Bay is Joe Philbin, who might not have succeeded in Miami but who remains one of the finest offensive coordinators to have graced the NFL.
The Seahawks have lost no time after missing the playoffs. Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell and Defensive Coordinator Richard have both been shown the door.
Coach Bill O’Brien keeps his job. His much-reported conflict with General Manager Rick Smith has become an unwelcome sideshow to a season in which a team shorn of both JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson battled for contention. Fortunately, the situation was resolved when Smith nobly stepped aside to care for his cancer-stricken wife. Former Buffalo executive Brian Gaine has been handed the task of pepping up the Texans’ depth chart whilst restoring some harmony to the organisation.
To no-one’s great surprise, the Steelers decided not to renew the contract of offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Relations between Haley and Ben Roethlisberger had been deteriorating for some time, to the point where the two were practically not speaking to one another. Randy Fichtner, who had been the go-between between the two, takes over. Which will be a blow to Munchak, although Pittsburgh will hope to retain him as OL coach.
NEW YORK JETS
The Jets have parted ways with offensive coordinator John Morton after just one season. The Jets ranked just 28th in total offense, although Josh McCown had the best year of his long career under Morton.
The Panthers have promoted defensive line coach Eric Washington to replace Wilks. It was a widely expected move and the second time in recent seasons that Carolina has had to find a new DC after the incumbent took a head coaching job. Promoting from within makes sense and a man regarded as one of the best line coaches in the business now has the chance to show what he can do with a very talented defensive roster.
The Browns have wasted no time in appointing Haley as their offensive coordinator. It seems certain that he will take over playcalling duties from head coach Hue Jackson – and that he will have a first round pick quarterback to work with in 2018.
The information in this article is correct at the time of publication. We will update as and when new coaching and management hires (and fires!) are made public.