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Goal Line Stand

NFL's Best Coaches 2016

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: February 15, 2019, 5:14 pm ET

Coaching matters more in football than any other sport. There are finer points to be emphasized and relievers to be micromanaged in baseball, but America’s pastime largely takes place on an island. In basketball, talent trumps all. The triangle is a great system, but unless you have Michael Jordan running it, there’s only so much of an edge to be gained. Steve Kerr? He isn’t coaching this. Not that talent doesn’t take you a long way on the gridiron. Bill Belichick probably wouldn’t be an iconoclastic American legend without Tom Brady. But Brady definitely wouldn’t be searching for one for the thumb without Belichick organizing his 22-player chess board. NFL teams are only guaranteed 16 games per season. You won’t be winning many of them without good players, but taking those players from good to great has everything to do with how coaches spend their other 349 days of the year.


As I say every year, this list is an inexact science. Just seven active coaches have Super Bowl rings. You are what your record says you are, but with so many similar records, differences must be discerned. Recent success is certainly a tiebreaker. As is supporting cast. Has this coach ever made the playoffs without a future Hall-of-Famer at quarterback? Does he saddle himself with ineffective assistants? Playoff records are not the end-all be-all. Andy Reid has never won a Super Bowl, but he’s done pretty well for himself in 17 years as a head coach. He’s an easy target when history repeats itself in the form of an in-game mistake, less so when you consider the full weight of his résumé.


Most of all, I try to ask myself, who would I want coaching my team right now? Last year’s list can be found here. 2014’s is here.               


1. Bill Belichick

Career Record: 223-113 (.664)

With The Patriots Since: 2000

Last Year’s Ranking: 1


The greatest coach of all time isn’t just riding on his reputation in the top spot. Bill Belichick, who is 187-69 (.730) over 16 years in New England, has won at least 12 games each of the past six seasons. To put that in perspective, Bill Parcells oversaw four 12-win campaigns. Bill Walsh, three. The Cleveland Browns have one 12-win season since joining the NFL in 1950. Belichick’s run of success isn’t just historic, it’s completely without peer or precedent.


The Patriots couldn’t defend their title in 2015, but nevertheless came within three points of the Super Bowl despite having one of the league’s worst offensive lines and running games. Their 2014 defensive MVP, Darrelle Revis, was playing for a divisional rival (who missed the playoffs). The central “argument” against Belichick — besides his “Controversies” section on Wikipedia — has always been that he’s a product of Tom Brady. Any reasonable observer can probably discern that 187-69 wasn’t built on the back of one player, but even unreasonable ones have to admit: Belichick was given the best player of his generation and knew what to do with him. Belichick is alone at the top, and will remain there for however long he continues coaching.     


2. Pete Carroll  

Career Record: 93-67 (.581)

With The Seahawks Since: 2010  

Last Year’s Ranking: 2


The NFL’s fountain of youth is also its oldest coach. Yes, with Tom Coughlin’s firing, Pete Carroll is now the grayest member of the old boys club. But whereas Coughlin was an exacting disciplinarian, Carroll remains as exuberant as ever going on 65. It’s that exuberance that continues to set him apart. Freed to be themselves, Carroll’s teams play with a unique looseness as they execute his simple philosophies on both sides of the ball. Run first on offense, Carroll is still employing the same defense he first learned from Monte Kiffin in 1977. He didn’t change a thing when the Seahawks dismantled the highest-scoring offense in league history in Super Bowl XLVIII, or when Marshawn Lynch missed over half of 2015 (the Seahawks had the third most rushing attempts in the league). Be yourself, but do your job. That’s Pete Carroll. It’s a brand of football that’s produced at least one playoff win in 5-of-6 seasons, and two conference titles since 2013. Maybe you didn’t like him at USC, but you’d better respect him in Seattle.      


3. Bruce Arians

Career Record: 34-14 (.708)

With The Cardinals Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 4


The Age of Arians began with a retirement. Unwanted by a Steelers team that hoped to “regain its blue-collar identity on offense,” the most blue-collar coach in football was allowed to walk after coordinating two conference title-winning offenses in five seasons. Embittered and uncertain, Arians called it a day at the age of 59. Thankfully, the Colts called eight days later, and what’s followed has been a coaching joyride unlike any other in recent memory. Fond of swears, Kangols and especially deep balls, Arians coaches like the man out of time he seemed to be in 2012. His urgent brand of football has produced three seasons where each was better than the last, going from 10 wins to 11 to 13. Continually minting new stars on offense, Arians routinely overachieves on defense, and has a coaching tree that took only two years to spring a branch (Todd Bowles to the Jets). Arians’ crystal clear philosophy has produced the most straightforward of results: Winning, and lots of it.              


4. John Harbaugh

Career Record: 77-51 (.602)

With The Ravens Since: 2008

Last Year’s Ranking: 3  


If you watch enough sports, you will eventually see everything. A Red Sox World Series victory. A Leicester City title run. A John Harbaugh losing season. Yes, after seven years of .500 or better football, Harbaugh finally knows what it’s like to notch fewer than eight victories. It took a biblical wave of injuries — Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr., Breshad Perriman, Jeremy Zuttah and Eugene Monroe amongst many, many others — but he knows all the same. We doubt he gets used to it. Since taking over as a first-time head coach in 2008, Harbaugh has 10 playoff victories compared to that one losing campaign. He’s won a Super Bowl and beat Bill Belichick twice in the postseason. He’s never stopped winning even as future Hall-of-Famers like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed walk out the door. Harbaugh is not a mastermind like his brother Jim or an auteur like his arch-rival Belichick. He’s a captain who gets the ship to port on time, no matter the storms around him.     


5. Andy Reid

Career Record: 161-110-1 (.594)

With The Chiefs Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 10


Andy Reid has been a head coach 17 years. He’s made the playoffs 11 times and had only three losing seasons. So why does he sometimes seem like a punch line? Perhaps it’s his portly frame and billowy mustache. More likely it’s his clock management, a dark art that resulted in a 5:16, 17-play drive when the Chiefs had 6:29 to score 14 points in the Divisional Round. Whatever it is, it’s undeserved, as Reid is one of the best coaches of his generation, and the best not to win a Super Bowl. Maybe Reid is never going to win the big game. That’s fine. He wouldn’t be the first great coach to miss out on the ultimate hardware. What Reid provides is all fans can reasonably hope for: An annual contender that’s always within striking distance of a deep playoff run. It’s a fate that can feel cruel when your team is seemingly always losing in the postseason, but much preferred to never getting there.        


6. Mike McCarthy

Career Record: 104-55-1 (.653)

With The Packers Since: 2006  

Last Year’s Ranking: 7


Life is a game of chance. Mike Pettine had Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel in Cleveland. Mike McCarthy has had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Not that you should fault a man for his good fortune, especially when he takes advantage of it. McCarthy has missed the playoffs just twice in 10 years, and won a Lombardi. He also let a 15-1 team lose in the Divisional Round, and preferred field goals to the Super Bowl in last year’s NFC Championship Game. According to longtime Packers reporter Bob McGinn, it had been “25 years or more since a coach in Green Bay made more errors in allocating playing time” than McCarthy did in 2015. Twitter knew Jeff Janis could spark the Packers’ moribund receiver corps. It took two Hail Marys in a Divisional Round loss for McCarthy to finally see the light. Ultimately, these are nitpicks for a coach who has won 49 more games than he’s lost. If you coach 10 years, you’re bound to have some haunting losses. It’s just hard to shake the feeling that the McCarthy era could have been something more for the Packers, who aren’t going to have future Hall-of-Famers at quarterback forever.


7. Marvin Lewis

Career Record: 112-94-2 (.543)

With The Bengals Since: 2003

Last Year’s Ranking: 11  


When Marvin Lewis first took over as Bengals coach in 2003, George W. Bush remained in his first term as president and the iPhone was still four years away. Lewis’ 13 seasons at the helm of the same team are second only to Bill Belichick’s 16 in New England. A lot has changed in the world in Lewis’ decade-plus at the controls in Cincinnati, but not everything. For starters, the Bengals still haven’t won a playoff game. For many, Lewis’ 0-7 postseason record is a disqualifying factor for even being a head coach, let alone ranked as a great one. But to dwell on Lewis’ dismal Januaries is to miss his exquisite February-Decembers. When Lewis replaced Dick LeBeau, fired after a 2-14 2002, he was inheriting the rubble of a 55-win team over its previous 12 seasons. That’s 4.5 per year. Lewis has more than doubled that total in his time on the job, and produced almost as many division titles (four) as the Bengals managed in their first 35 years of existence (five). Lewis has spawned three head coaches, Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson, in the past three years. Lewis’ postseason results have left everything to be desired, but his process is a model to be followed in a league where consistency is the most precious of commodities.


8. Ron Rivera

Career Record: 47-32-1 (.594)

With The Panthers Since: 2011

Last Year’s Ranking: 17  


What does Ron Rivera have in common with Bill Belichick, Bill Walsh, Mike Ditka, Bill Cowher, Mike McCarthy and Dennis Green? They’re the only coaches in NFL history to lead 15-1 teams. Rivera entered Week 6 of the 2013 season 1-3. Seven days earlier, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Panthers had begun “laying the groundwork for a possible coaching search” following the season. At that point, Rivera was 14-22 in two-plus years on the job in Carolina, and known more for punting in close losses more than anything else. Then, out of nowhere, Rivera began eschewing kicks for fourth down attempts, and nothing has been the same since. “Riverboat Ron” is 33-9-1 as Panthers coach, winning 3-of-3 division titles and the 2015 conference championship. On the field, the “Riverboat” moniker has proven to be a bit of a misnomer. Rivera is still more Jim Tressel than Chip Kelly or Steve Spurrier. But off of it, Rivera has allowed a looseness that calls to mind Pete Carroll, showing amazing comfort in his own skin while letting his players be themselves in both victory and defeat. It took the specter of his own football mortality for Rivera to find his way on the sideline, but he’s made the most of his new lease on head-coaching life. He could soon be rewarded with a Super Bowl title.


9. Mike Tomlin

Career Record: 92-52 (.639)

With The Steelers Since: 2007

Last Year’s Ranking: 12  


Mike Tomlin can be easy to take for granted. A complete unknown when he replaced Bill Cowher in 2007, Tomlin has one year of NFL coordinating experience. The Steelers’ defensive scheme predates his arrival, and he’s had a pair of rugged individualists at offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians and Todd Haley. Tomlin’s job is to lead, an often — if not always — inscrutable task to those outside of the locker room. His most discernible on-field impact comes in the form of his frequently dubious clock management. That means, like John Harbaugh, another coach whose personal expertise is leading men, Tomlin has little to speak for him besides his overall record. Like Harbaugh, Tomlin’s record speaks volumes. Only Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy and Chuck Pagano have higher career winning percentages amongst active coaches. Tomlin has never had a losing campaign, and won at least 10 games in 6-of-9 seasons. If there are nits to be picked, Tomlin has produced only one playoff win over the past five seasons, and his teams can struggle for week-to-week consistency. Tomlin has benefitted immensely from having Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, but a quarterback does not a culture make. Tomlin may not call the plays, but his hand sets one of the steadiest tones in football.   


10. Bill O’Brien

Career Record: 18-14 (.563)

With The Texans Since: 2014

Last Year’s Ranking: 8  


Bill O’Brien has an ego. There’s little doubt about that. He also has a pedigree. O’Brien is just the latest Bill Belichick disciple to take up the banner in another part of the kingdom. Slowly, but surely, he’s getting results. 18-14 is the same record Mike McCoy had after his first two seasons, but unlike McCoy, O’Brien has reached that number without a quarterback. Turning a 2-14 squad into a 9-7 one with Ryan Fitzpatrick is impressive. Making the playoffs with Brian Hoyer is a miracle. That he did so without Arian Foster only adds to his early case for football sainthood. It’s of little matter that O’Brien’s squad got summarily routed in the Wild Card round. The groundwork has been laid for the first successful “Patriots South” installation. If O’Brien can find a quarterback, Master Belichick might finally have a worthy heir.

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11. Mike Zimmer

Career Record: 18-14 (.563)

With The Vikings Since: 2014  

Last Year’s Ranking: 15


It took defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer 14 years to get a job as a head coach. Most everyone seemed to agree he deserved a promotion, so why did it take over a decade? Let’s just say, when you have the demeanor of a Marlboro Man ad come to life, people are cautious. The Vikings threw that caution to the wind and have been rewarded with a coach who has lived up to his promise. Zimmer is no-nonsense but he’s no dictator. He’s a teacher who’s coached up a talented young defense and a realist who’s schemed around his players on offense. He’s a coordinator who knew what it would take to be a head coach. He’s a head coach who should be in Minnesota for years to come.     


12. Sean Payton

Career Record: 87-57 (.604)

With The Saints Since: 2006  

Last Year’s Ranking: 5


In Sean Payton’s first year on the job, he led the Saints to their first NFC Championship Game. Three seasons later, he had them lifting their first Lombardi. It was an auspicious first four years. The past four? Decidedly less so. They’ve featured two of the worst defenses of all time, and a 2012 campaign where Payton watched from the couch as he served a year-long suspension. As the results have waned, it’s been hard to tell if Payton’s heart is still in it, a suspicion underscored by the fact that he spent the first week of the offseason searching for a new job. In the end, Payton remained in New Orleans, though 2016 may prove to be his Waterloo. Payton is arguably the most important figure in Saints history. Another 7-9 season, and he’ll be the most important figure of the Saints’ past.  


13. Todd Bowles

Career Record: 12-7 (.632)

With The Jets Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —


Coaching the Jets isn’t easy. A tabloid media and impatient fan base make for a magnifying glass in search of an ant. Neither Bill Parcells’ genius nor Rex Ryan’s bombast could withstand the heat. So what about Todd Bowles’ cool? The early returns are promising. Bowles immediately stabilized a defense that had lost its way while overseeing the Jets’ highest scoring offense since Brett Favre was the quarterback in 2008. All the while Bowles maintained a steely composure, employing the perfect demeanor for a fishbowl job. This being the Jets, there’s bound to be a Tim Tebow or two along the way, but Bowles might finally be the man to calmly guide Gang Green to the Super Bowl.    


14. Jay Gruden

Career Record: 13-19 (.406)

With The Redskins Since: 2014  

Last Year’s Ranking: 22


Daniel Snyder has owned the Redskins 17 seasons. He’s had seven coaches, eight if you include 2000 interim hire Terry Robiskie. The only two men to get Snyder’s patience were Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan, 60-something retreads with five Super Bowl titles to their name. To avoid the fate of all the Jim Zorns before him, Gruden needed to do something big in his second year on the job. That he did, delivering on years of rumors that Kirk Cousins could be a viable NFL starter while leading the Redskins to just their third division title of the Snyder era. Gruden improved the offense, saved the defense by firing Jim Haslett and was deft and calm as he navigated Washington’s withering media glare. Gruden may never have been hired were he not Jon’s brother, but his last name may have lucked the Redskins into their best coach in quite some time.  


15. Gary Kubiak

Career Record: 73-68 (.518)

With The Broncos Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —  


Gary Kubiak, Super Bowl winning coach. That would have been hard to see coming in December 2013, when Kubiak was fired by the Texans following an 11-game losing streak. In many ways, Kubiak mismanaged his 2015 team. He struggled to put Peyton Manning in a position where he felt comfortable, and beat his head against the Ronnie Hillman wall before finally realizing C.J. Anderson was his best running back. Kubiak’s best decision was staying out of DC Wade Phillips’ way. With Phillips solving the puzzle John Fox and Jack Del Rio couldn’t figure, the Broncos rode one of the best defenses of the 21st century to a title. Now for the hard part. John Elway’s plug-and-play roster faces defections on defense and a changing of the guard under center. With Manning riding off into the sunset, it’s up to Kubiak to rev up the run-heavy, play action attack he featured to great success in Houston. Kubiak completed the house that Manning and Elway built. Now it’s time for him to add his own wing.     


16. John Fox

Career Record: 125-99 (.558)  

With The Bears Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —  


Have you ever been sitting in traffic and noticed the signs on a telephone pole or stop sign? There’s usually one about a lost cat or someone offering guitar lessons. Maybe Spanish tutoring. Then there’s the house flippers, bootstrappers looking for rundown properties to buy on the cheap, gut, refurbish and sell for a profit. That’s John Fox. He comes into town in such a hurry that he barely even has time to communicate any clichés to the media. He tears out the rotted deck, puts down sod, replaces the smoke-ruined curtains. Maybe he even orders new carpet and countertops. What he doesn’t do is leave behind a finished product. There’s always the next house to flip. Fox makes his teams respectable in a hurry. The Bears went from embarrassing eyesore to inoffensive “Previous” option on the remote under his watch in 2015. What they didn’t do is look like a team ready to win the division any time soon. Fox might progress the Bears another level or two before GM Ryan Pace reaches the same conclusion John Elway did in Denver. This guy made the place livable, but it could still be so much nicer.          


17. Jason Garrett

Career Record: 45-43 (.511)

With The Cowboys Since: 2010  

Last Year’s Ranking: 13


In 2014, Jason Garrett was two games away from the Super Bowl. In 2015, he was two games away from the No. 1 overall pick. Such are the limits of positivity, Garrett’s main attribute as a coach. Garrett is not allowed to call plays. He’s in charge because owner Jerry Jones loves the way he leads his men. The problem in 2015 was attrition. No amount of sideline clapping or locker room speechifying could overcome the fact that Tony Romo and Dez Bryant broke their bodies. An undermanned backfield, which was Jones’ fault, was the final nail in the coffin. The Cowboys gave no thought to firing Garrett because, in their eyes, he didn’t do anything wrong. He is the motivator ol’ Jer craves. That does not mean he is a great coach. Garrett is in the right place at the right time, something you should not begrudge a man.      


18. Jeff Fisher

Career Record: 169-156-1 (.520)

With The Rams Since: 2012  

Last Year’s Ranking: 18


Give Jeff Fisher this: His teams have an identity. Of course, that identity includes contemptible penalties, inexplicable losses and an inexhaustible supply of excuses, but it’s stunning when you stop and think about how few coaches truly impose their will on their players. Fisher’s teams play aggressive, swarming defense and ... uhh, something that occasionally resembles football on offense. But Fisher, six seasons removed from his most recent winning campaign, might finally have the offensive counterbalance to his ever potent defense. Todd Gurley is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, and appears ready to be the league's top runner as early as this season. If Gurley shines as a sophomore, Fisher might somehow, someway get the last laugh on a football intelligentsia that’s made a weekly habit of writing his obituary.        


19. Rex Ryan

Career Record: 54-58 (.482)

With The Bills Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —


Rex Ryan has more Super Bowls victories than you might think. He added three to the trophy case in 2015, first defeating the Colts in Week 1 before hoisting the Lombardi twice against his former team, the Jets. The problem is the play of Ryan’s team in all the games where he doesn’t spend Monday-Friday summoning the emotion of a title tilt. Ryan has proven there’s no team he can’t beat, but also no team he can’t lose to. This see/saw football has produced a 34-46 (.425) record in five seasons since his shock back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009-10. Ryan is a genuine character, and like Fisher, a defensive guru. He just isn’t a championship coach, and can hit his head on his ceiling if he stands on his toes. You could do worse than Rex Ryan. You could also do a lot better.   


20. Jack Del Rio

Career Record: 75-80 (.484)

With The Raiders Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —


If ever a 7-9 season called for a banner, it’s Oakland’s 2015. On their eighth coach since trading Jon Gruden to the Bucs, the Raiders entered last season having won more than five games twice in 12 years. With GM Reggie McKenzie’s rebuild finally showing some signs of progress, Del Rio made the Silver and Black more respectable across the board. On defense, they allowed fewer than 400 points for the first time since 2010. On offense, Derek Carr made major strides toward “franchise” status while Amari Cooper lived up to the hype and Michael Crabtree reversed his downward spiral. There’s still a long, long way to go, but the Raiders are no longer circled as an automatic W by opposing teams, and Del Rio’s competent guiding hand is one of the main reasons why. Del Rio’s “ceiling” is an open question. In 10 years as a head coach, he’s produced zero division titles and only one playoff victory. But his job in Oakland is to restore respectability, and he’s already done so with flying colors.    


21. Chuck Pagano

Career Record: 41-23 (.641)

With The Colts Since: 2012  

Last Year’s Ranking: 16


There were supposed to be seven coaching vacancies this offseason. Pagano’s firing was expected to be formalized the day after the regular season ended. Instead, owner Jim Irsay announced he had signed his coach to a four-year extension, improbably also retaining GM Ryan Grigson, with whom Pagano was believed to have a blood feud. The about-face was just the latest unexpected development in the never-quite-normal Pagano era. In addition to fluctuating fortunes on both offense and defense, Pagano has been at the helm for Deflategate, the second largest comeback in playoff history, whatever this was and a coronation season that instead turned into a five-quarterback nightmare. Through it all, his players have seemed to love him, even if the Twitter small council hasn’t. Pagano’s potential 2016 outcomes range from Super Bowl promised land to mid-season firing.     


22. Mike McCoy

Career Record: 22-26 (.458)

With The Chargers Since: 2013  

Last Year’s Ranking: 14


The good: Mike McCoy has produced two nine-win seasons in three years. The bad: He’s yet to finish higher than third in the AFC West. He’s revived Philip Rivers, but overseen an otherwise stagnant team that continues to be racked by injury. With seemingly every important player not named Rivers going down in 2015, McCoy gets a pass for falling from 9-7 to 4-12, but understands the heat is on. McCoy axed six assistants, and could even call his own plays in 2016. If there’s an indictment of the McCoy era in San Diego, it’s that it lacks an identity. What comes to mind when you think “Chargers football”? Injuries and Rivers. That’s about it. McCoy is not a lost cause, but 2016 will decide how he’s remembered in San Diego.   

23. Dan Quinn

Career Record: 8-8 (.500)

With The Falcons Since: 2015  

Last Year’s Ranking: — —


Dan Quinn was the only coach to beat the Panthers during the regular season. He was also the only one to watch his team start 6-1 and still miss the playoffs. Quinn’s first year on the job was a big fat incomplete. The Falcons’ defense allowed 72 fewer points than it did in 2014, but the offense took startling steps backward. Matt Ryan, an eighth-year pro, appeared overwhelmed, accounting for as many turnovers as touchdowns (21). Quinn’s main problem was talent deficiencies on both sides of the ball, but it raises red flags when a rookie coach’s squad goes 6-2 in the first half only to crumble to 2-6 in the second. As a sophomore, Quinn must whip his defense into shape and rebuild Ryan’s confidence. If he doesn’t, year three isn’t a given.     


24. Jim Caldwell

Career Record: 44-36 (.550)

With The Lions Since: 2014  

Last Year’s Ranking: 19


There’s not a lot left to say about Jim Caldwell. He’s a nice guy who is respected by his players, but far from an elite coach. He’d probably be unemployed had a man named “Jim Bob Cooter” not saved the Lions’ 2015. “Saved” in this case making a 4-12 team a 7-9 one. Arguably the most conservative coach in football, Caldwell is probably the worst at clock management. Earning your players’ respect and leading them is more than half the battle, but Caldwell makes such little impact on football matters that he needs to be Vince Lombardi as a motivator to justify his employment. The closest Caldwell got to Vince in 2015 was firing his grandson, Joe.   


25. Gus Bradley

Career Record: 12-36 (.250)

With The Jaguars Since: 2013  

Last Year’s Ranking: 21


When I think to myself, “who are the worst coaches in the NFL,” Gus Bradley does not come to mind. The question is, when you think of Bradley, what does come to mind? It certainly isn’t winning. Bradley was hired to lead a rebuilding effort. This isn’t in dispute. But what exactly are his teams building toward? No matter your roster circumstances, 12 wins in three years isn’t acceptable. A defensive-minded coach, Bradley’s defenses have finished in the bottom-10 by both total defense and points allowed each of his three years on the job. Only the Saints saw their opponents light the scoreboard more often in 2015. The Jags have a number of rising stars on the offensive side of the ball, but questions at every level of the defense. If Bradley can’t answer them in 2016, he’ll end up little more than the bridge to the Jags’ next turnaround artist.       


26. Mike Mularkey

Career Record: 18-39 (.316)

With The Titans Since: 2015

Last Year’s Ranking: — —


Life is hard. Taxes. Cancer. Tornadoes. But it isn’t this hard. You are the worst team in the NFL. You have five wins in two years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. So you hire a 54-year-old retread most recently fired by the Jaguars after a one-and-done 2-14 2012? “Only the (insert team here)” is an overused trope, but truly, only the Titans could make such a move. 2-7 as interim coach last season, Mularkey clearly had his players’ backing, but Jeff Fisher and Rex Ryan always have their players’ backing, too. They are below-average coaches and still twice the coach Mularkey is. Planning to install an “exotic smashmouth” offense, Mularkey — somehow deemed a “quarterback whisperer” by someone purporting to be the Titans’ CEO — has averaged 307 points per year in three seasons as a head coach. That’s 19.1 per game, or 0.2 more than the 19.3 the Titans averaged in Mularkey’s desultory nine games last season. Bad teams stay bad, and Mularkey will undoubtedly stay Mularkey in 2016.  


New Hires


Hue Jackson, Browns

Career Record: 8-8 (.500)


When Hue Jackson’s strong-man politics cost him the Raiders’ job after only one season in 2011, his reputation was so damaged that the lifelong offensive coach had to settle for Bengals “secondary assistant” in 2012. Chastened, Jackson got himself promoted to running backs coach before replacing Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator. He picked up where he left off in Oakland, overseeing one of the league’s most potent rushing attacks in 2014 before turning Andy Dalton into one of the league’s most effective quarterbacks one year later. From Dalton to Darren McFadden to Tyler Eifert, Jackson has always been a talent maximizer, and promises to remake the Browns’ offense overnight. Even without a quarterback, Jackson has many intriguing players to work with, including Josh Gordon, Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge. If Jackson fails as Browns coach, well, he won’t be the first, but he’s the Dawg Pound’s most promising sideline prospect since arguably Bill Belichick.     


Adam Gase, Dolphins

Career Record: — —  


It wasn’t coordinating the highest-scoring offense in NFL history that got Adam Gase his head-coaching chance. No, it was making Jay Cutler watchable. There’s little debate they’re equally impressive accomplishments. Gase deserved his status as this year’s most sought after coaching prospect, and is well suited to wake the Dolphins from their offensive slumber. A talent maximizer who favors a balanced approach, Gase has ample weapons to make use of Miami, especially if the team re-signs free agent Lamar Miller. On defense, Gase landed the year’s hottest position coach, Bengals DBs man Vance Joseph. The Dolphins have a questionable offensive line and holes all over the defense, but enough talent to take Gase from best hire to best rookie coach.    


Chip Kelly, 49ers

Career Record: 26-21 (.553)


Chip Kelly has two 10-win seasons in three years as an NFL head coach. That would be the headline if not for a deeply bizarre 2015 where Kelly continued to jettison proven talent and seem unsure of what his identity was supposed to be on offense. Kelly has already revolutionized the NFL through his practice and nutrition habits. At times, his offense has resembled the buzzsaw juggernaut he oversaw at Oregon. His ego has been his downfall. Positively manic as a general manager, it would have been easy to assume Kelly cared only about the quantity of his moves, not the quality. As a leader, he struck a tone somewhere between tone deaf and unfeeling. It’s no surprise players have gleefully teed off on him after his/their departure. Kelly is a unique football mind, but the mistakes of his failed Eagles tenure were as numerous as his successes. If he fails to heed their lessons, he might not even last two years under dictatorial GM Trent Baalke.     


Dirk Koetter, Bucs   

Career Record: — —


The last time Dirk Koetter coached a game, he lost the 2006 Hawaii Bowl 41-24 to … Hawaii. He was let go by Arizona State and has been coordinating NFL offenses ever since. Although new to the NFL head coaching ranks, Koetter is hardly a spring chicken. At 57, he’s less than a year younger than the man he’s replacing, Lovie Smith. Koetter wasn’t hired because he’s the next big thing, but because he was exemplary in his development of Jameis Winston last season, and the employer of the league’s most effective running back committee. Koetter always seemed to be more of a good, not great, coordinator for the Jaguars and Falcons, but could be the right man at the right time for the Bucs.   


Ben McAdoo, Giants

Career Record: — —  


The Giants needed change at the top. But only the top? That’s the route GM Jerry Reese took, firing two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin while promoting his top assistant and retaining nearly his entire staff. Ben McAdoo has worked wonders reviving Eli Manning and overseeing Odell Beckham’s ascension, but has one of the thinnest résumés you will ever see for a first-time head coach. McAdoo has never been a head man at any level, and was not without flaws as Giants coordinator. His four-man running back rotation was one of the more ill-fated developments of 2015. At the end of the day, the continuity McAdoo provides on offense is a big positive, but it’s very much up for debate if the G-Men should have opted for more drastic change. McAdoo can dial up all the Manning/Beckham theatrics he wants. It won’t mean much if Reese and DC Steve Spagnuolo can’t revive a defense that’s fallen to embarrassing depths.      


Doug Pederson, Eagles  

Career Record: — —  

Andy Reid made the playoffs nine times in 14 years in Philadelphia. It wasn’t enough. Chip Kelly won 10 games twice in three seasons. It wasn’t enough. The Eagles scrapped the old guard for the wiz kid before deciding they missed their old ways. In steps Doug Pederson, a 48-year-old coordinator with limited play-calling experience. Pederson has been a head man before … at “Calvary Baptist Academy,” a Louisiana high school. That’s a long way of saying, Pederson isn’t exactly a fireworks hire. The good news is, he’s inheriting a situation similar to the one he had in Kansas City. With Reid leading the way, Pederson oversaw a conservative, run-heavy offense, one that had to make do with limited weapons. All of that applies to the Eagles, who are simply searching for normalcy after Kelly’s wild ride ended with him nuking the roster and alienating all of his best players. There’s a pretty decent chance Pederson gives it to them.

Patrick Daugherty
Patrick Daugherty is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .