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NFL Coach Rankings 2022

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eight coaches were let go this offseason. Two more retired. Brian Flores was fired even though he finished better than .500 each of the past two years for a team that had previously not done so since 2002-03. He is now suing the league.

Of the 22 who remained, Matt Rhule’s owner was said to be “unhappy and embarrassed” by the team’s performance in 2021. Mike McCarthy’s boss, Jerry Jones, openly mused about wishing he could promote DC Dan Quinn. With analytic and EPA-focused thinking burning across the NFL landscape, the margin for error seems to have tipped past zero. Only greatness — or at least great process — will suffice. That means the coaching breadlines won’t be getting shorter any time soon as we complete the transition from Rex Ryan’s world to Sean McVay’s.

As I say every year, players, owners, assistants, injuries and acts of God can matter as much as coaching ability. That’s why, though this is a rankings article, I try not to think of it that way. I view it as more of a compendium, an assessment of where the league’s 32 coaches are right now. How they got here and where they might be going. Last year’s list can be found here. 2020’s is here.

1. Bill Belichick, Patriots
Career Record: 290-143 (.670)
With The Patriots Since: 2000

Last Year’s Ranking: 1

A bad season ends in Week 18. A disappointing one ends with a playoff loss. Bill Belichick has experienced both in two years without Tom Brady. There is your first clue this is no ordinary coach. Belichick lost the greatest player in league history and was still back in the Wild Card Round 22 months later. That it was a thumping defeat is besides the point. To lose playoff games you have to make them. Belichick did so with a rookie quarterback, with his strengths — team building and defense — overcoming his skill corps deficiencies. It could be a while before this team is the No. 1 seed again. That’s what happens when Brady leaves. It could also be sooner than it has any right to be, as Belichick keeps his floor so high. When the baseline is 8-9 victories, the postseason is always within reach. When the postseason is always within reach, the Lombardi is just sitting there. When the Lombardi is just sitting there, Belichick has a tendency to take it. Expect him to do so again before he is through.

2. Andy Reid, Chiefs
Career Record: 233-135-1 (.633)
With The Chiefs Since: 2013

Last Year’s Ranking: 2

Andy Reid is a pair of overtimes away from appearing in four straight Super Bowls. That “just” one title in the past four years feels like something of a disappointment for Chiefs fans is a testament to how high the floor is under their head coach. Even before Reid drafted the best football player on the planet, he had posted double digit victories 4-of-5 seasons in Kansas City, with the lone exception being his nine-win 2014. It was the same story in Philadelphia. Give Reid a good quarterback, he will win 10-12 games. Give him an elite one, that number shoots up to 12-14. He can make it look so simple during the regular season that it can be easy to forget how difficult it actually is. That was not the case in 2021, where Reid’s attack spent a little too much time getting foiled by two-high safety looks. His defense also started out poorly before embarking on its annual second half resurgence. That slowness to adjust left the Chiefs as the No. 2 seed instead of their typical No. 1, though it was still Arrowhead Stadium where Reid’s lack of an answer for the Bengals’ second half tweak of dropping eight into coverage cost the Chiefs their third straight conference title. It was a haunting finish destined to lead to “what might have been” thinking. The good news for Chiefs fans is that “what will be” is remaining at the top of the conference and competing for Lombardis as long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are together.

3. Sean McVay, Rams
Career Record: 55-26 (.679)
With The Rams Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 5

As Americans live longer, the older our leadership becomes. Then there is Sean McVay. Still the league’s youngest sideline boss after half a decade on the job, McVay is behind only Bill Belichick and Andy Reid in Super Bowl appearances amongst active head coaches. He has more conference titles than John Harbaugh. He has as many championships as Reid. The upstart has become the new guard despite not always doing things the way the intelligentsia would prefer. McVay doesn’t stockpile draft picks. Even after acquiring his long-sought franchise quarterback, he kept a middle-of-the-road neutral pass rate. He was bottom five in fourth down attempts in 2021. McVay simply prepares and executes better than his opponents. That does not make winning a fait accompli. Had the 49ers’ Jaquiski Tartt not dropped the world’s easiest interception in the NFC Championship Game, we might not be having this conversation. But it does give you infinitely more margin for error. In a league with 32 teams, no one is going to get there every year. Like Belichick, McVay understands that if you get the baseline high enough, the championships will come sooner or later.

4. John Harbaugh
Career Record: 137-88 (.609)
With The Ravens Since: 2008
Last Year’s Ranking: 4

If you last 14 years on the job, you will see some things. John Harbaugh has now witnessed a team go from 8-3 to out of the playoffs. As painful as last year’s finish was, it was not inexplicable. An already biblically-injured group lost its quarterback and that was that. These things happen. “These things” have been happening a little more to Harbaugh of late. His 14-2 2019 squad was one-and-done in the playoffs, for instance. But it is the product of a long career rather than any slippage on the head coach’s part. Harbaugh remains on the cutting edge — sometimes frustratingly so as the Ravens’ failed Week 13 and 15 two-point conversions can attest — refusing to stagnate and willing to make tough decisions. His firing of longtime assistant/DC Wink Martindale was one such call. Rough stuff, but so is football. Coming off just his second-ever losing campaign, Harbaugh is going to have the same thing he’s always had: Answers.

5. Sean McDermott
Career Record: 49-32 (.605)
With The Bills Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 6

Sean McDermott’s coaching career has been one of seemingly unsolvable questions. What do you do with a problem like Bill Belichick? Like Patrick Mahomes? It’s one down, one to go after 2021. Three: That’s how many passes the Patriots attempted in their Week 13 victory in Buffalo. Zero: The number of times the Bills punted in their Week 16 and Wild Card revenge victories. McDermott narrowed his backfield committee and cut Josh Allen loose for the rubber matches, resulting in a pair of beatdowns that won’t soon be forgotten in New England. As he always has throughout his five years in Buffalo, McDermott found the answers. The same appeared true for the Chiefs in Week 5, where the Bills rolled into Arrowhead and won 38-20. It wasn’t as simple in the Divisional Round, where 13 seconds and a coin flip reminded how narrow the margins are against the current colossus of the AFC. But if Belichick was a mountain, that is a mole hill. The Bills have closed the gap on the Chiefs, and McDermott deserves a ton of the credit. He controls his defensive side of the ball and has overseen the proper adjustments on offense. This is a fully modern attack, with a fully modern quarterback in Allen leading the way. McDermott does not stand in the way of progress, football or his own. His reward should soon be a Lombardi.

6. Mike Tomlin
Career Record: 154-85-2 (.643)
With The Steelers Since: 2007
Last Year’s Ranking: 7

The last refuge of a Mike Tomlin truther used to be “but the quarterback.” Tomlin’s success was supposedly indistinguishable from that of Ben Roethlisberger’s. Then Roethlisberger blew out his elbow and the Steelers spent the better part of three years without high-end quarterback play. Tomlin went 29-19-1, almost saving the 2019 campaign all by his lonesome before making the playoffs each of the past two years. Rather than being buoyed by Roethlisberger the past three seasons, you could convincingly argue that Tomlin was held back. The fans may not always appreciate the greatness that has enabled Tomlin to win 64.3 percent of his games in 15 years as head coach, but the rest of the league does. The Vikings hoped for the “next Mike Tomlin” in their coaching search. The Texans presented him as a prototype. FOX’s Jay Glazer used Tomlin as an example of the kind of “rock star” the Raiders might seek. That sort of praise and respect is inevitable when you are well into your second decade as head coach and have never finished below .500. Everyone knows that Tomlin could be better at game management. Not enough people know how good he is at everything else.

7. Kyle Shanahan
Career Record: 39-42 (.481)
With The 49ers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 10

Kyle Shanahan still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. That is despite finding what he was looking for. Shanahan got to live out every coach’s dream: Being completely secure in his job and trading up for his handpicked quarterback. Only he didn’t use Trey Lance after selecting him at No. 3 overall. There has been offseason scuttlebutt he still won’t play Lance in 2022. Shanahan falls in and out of love hard. He doghoused past trade-up Dante Pettis despite a solid rookie season. He did the same thing to Brandon Aiyuk in 2021. He took Trey Sermon 106 spots higher than Elijah Mitchell then featured Mitchell. It can be exhausting to follow when your only stake in the matter is PPR points. It can also be amazingly fruitful. Shanahan has posted just two winning seasons in five years in San Francisco, but both reached the NFC Championship Game. His seemingly limitless ability to scheme creative, effective NFL offense is ever evolving. It is also once again smacked up against its limits in 2021. With almost any other starting-level quarterback, the 49ers would have beaten the Rams in the conference title tilt. Instead, Jimmy Garoppolo sunk the ship as Lance held the clipboard. Shanahan has diagnosed his own problem over and over again. He needs the right personnel to match the program. It is time he trusts his own player evaluations and takes this team to the next level.

8. Matt LaFleur
Career Record: 39-10 (.796)
With The Packers Since: 2019
Last Year’s Ranking: 12

Matt LaFleur has had enough of the San Francisco 49ers, thank you very much. Everything else, the man has had answers for. That includes the biggest question in recent Packers history: How to convince Aaron Rodgers to stay. The answer was a complex brew, but LaFleur’s contribution was the key. Whereas ex-coach Mike McCarthy lost sight of how to co-exist with his moody franchise player, LaFleur has made it his specialty. Rodgers’ lethal efficiency and big-play ability have been married to a balanced offense, one that limits the overall pace and play volume. That is typically the sign of a limited attack. In LaFleur’s case, it has been a maximized one. Only the Chiefs and Bucs generated more EPA per play in 2021. No passing offense was more expertly sequenced. It is frustrating that the results yet again did not follow in the postseason, but LaFleur’s process has been near perfect on the field. As important, it won over Rodgers. What seemed like it was going to be a brief championship window upon LaFleur’s arrival in 2019 has been kept wide open, due in no small part to the head coach.

9. Mike Vrabel, Titans
Career Record: 41-24 (.631)
With The Titans Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: 14

In four years, Mike Vrabel has never had a losing campaign and made the playoffs three straight seasons with Ryan Tannehill. He has beaten Bill Belichick on the road in the postseason, made the AFC Championship Game and earned a No. 1 seed. Now he just needs to do it all at once. Vrabel has his franchise on the doorstep of conference titles and Lombardi trophies through sheer force of coaching will. In an era of awe-inspiring physical talent on defense, he out-organizes his opponents. In the age of the pass, he runs the ball. In times of an ever-more complicated rulebook, Vrabel has it down cold like other masters of the loophole, Belichick and John Harbaugh. Vrabel simply puts his team in a position to win, something it has done more often than not. The only complaint might be the style on offense. Vrabel has proven you can still win divisions with the running game. He’s also shown it remains a vulnerable approach in the playoffs, where 1-2 mistakes are enough to bury a team without an explosive aerial attack. Tannehill made three in the Divisional Round, and the Titans could not overcome. That does not take away from what Vrabel has accomplished. He is a difference maker on the sideline, getting better all the time. He makes his own luck. When you do that, the breaks eventually go your way.

10. Frank Reich, Colts
Career Record: 37-28 (.569)
With The Colts Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: 11

On his fourth different quarterback in four years, Frank Reich was one Jaguars win away from making the playoffs for the third time in the same timespan. It would have been a remarkable achievement, and a testament to Reich’s adaptability. Except Reich finally found a signal caller problem he couldn’t solve. Carson Wentz completed his long-smoldering collapse in fiery fashion as the Jags pulled off the most stunning upset of the season. Mr. QB Fix It wasn’t going to give this one a second try. The Colts made it clear from Second 1 of the offseason that they would be moving on from Wentz, and they have done so with Easter Island monolith Matt Ryan. Ryan comes with a different set of issues than Wentz. Namely, he can’t move. At all. Reich and this roster should have the solutions. For starters, one of the league’s best lines will finally keep Ryan upright. For the times they don’t, Reich has pledged a re-start of the Colts’ short-passing attack, with Nyheim Hines likely to be a focus. Reich has made it work with Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers. He nearly did so with Wentz and Jacoby Brissett. There should be enough left in Ryan’s tank for the NFL’s ultimate plug-and-play coach to scheme his way past the Colts’ skill-player deficiencies. Hopefully one of these years we will find out what Reich can do with an actual franchise quarterback.

Don’t forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

11. Pete Carroll, Seahawks
Career Record: 152-104-1 (.593)
With The Seahawks Since: 2010
Last Year’s Ranking: 8

You would never guess Pete Carroll was the league’s oldest coach based on his appearance and energy level. It is everything else that gives it away. “Because we are going to win with defense, with how we play on special teams, we’re going to run the football to help the whole thing fit together,” was how Carroll described his post-Russell Wilson plans. “That’s never changed.” No lies spotted there. “It’s never been a philosophy that we have needed to alter other than to continue to grow and make it dynamic and present and current and all.” That’s where the fibs come in. It is an approach the Seahawks have needed to change, and for some time now. Carroll has never made his offense “dynamic and present and current.” Wilson begged him to, but Carroll would not budge. His vision of NFL football has remained fixed since 1994. It has also won him more than nine games just one time in six years without Wilson. Carroll proved some of his point last season when only Rashaad Penny’s stretch-run explosion restored order to a stagnant offense. But if Penny was the counterbalance, Wilson was the ballast that Carroll simply refused to acknowledge. From Baltimore to Tampa, all the best coaches grow and evolve. Carroll has survived without doing so longer than most. The when — not if — it finally catches up to him will be 2022.

12. Zac Taylor, Bengals
Career Record: 16-32-1 (.337)
With The Bengals Since: 2019
Last Year’s Ranking: 25

Zac Taylor goes 2-14 with Andy Dalton as a rookie head coach and we have no idea if he is actually good or not. Zac Taylor goes 4-11-1 with a rookie quarterback who gets injured after 10 games and we have no idea if he is actually good or not. Zac Taylor wins the franchise’s first playoff game in 31 years and reaches the Super Bowl and … we have no idea if he is actually good or not? Plenty of people on Twitter seem to have an idea. They think Taylor is terrible because of what grades out as brutally predictable, inefficient play-calling. Taylor runs the ball in far too obvious of situations. Never was this more vivid than the deciding play of the Super Bowl, where opposing coach Sean McVay easily guessed what Taylor had in mind. Admittedly, not a good look. But what if predictable runs were a necessary evil? Because when Taylor passed in 2021, Joe Burrow got sacked. A lot. At historic rates, actually. There is no question the play-calling could have been better sequenced, but that is easy for us to say as we wait for the sweet, sweet PPR points to roll in. Taylor had a quarterback not to get killed, and he still almost did, anyways. Taylor has the leadership part down. His players love him. The fans love him. The team did, uhh, reach the Super Bowl. If Taylor’s biggest problem really is mixing up his play-calling patterns, he could prove to be the league’s most underrated coach instead of vice versa.

13. Kevin Stefanski, Browns
Career Record: 19-14 (.576)
With The Browns Since: 2020
Last Year’s Ranking: 16

We doubt Kevin Stefanski thought this would be easy, but the idea probably crept into his mind following 2020. 2021 made it clear in no uncertain terms that would not be the case. Pouting stars, upset dads and oh so many injuries. Myles Garrett and No. 3 running back D’Ernest Johnson were the only players on the entire team to appear in all 17 games. Supposed franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield spent half the year playing with one shoulder. It was a toxic brew, one that has led to a toxic reset. Like Odell Beckham before him, Mayfield is out. Deshaun Watson and his 22 sexual assault allegations are in. Watson’s introductory press conference felt like a funeral, underlying that the famously difficult job of Browns head coach has now become a cynical one. We doubt it was Stefanski’s call to make the ultimate “win at all costs” decision, but it has become his purview. If he can internalize it, 2020 suggested Stefanski has the football mind to win with that kind of talent.

14. Brandon Staley, Chargers
Career Record: 9-8 (.529)
With The Chargers Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Writer’s note: I more or less accidentally composed my Brandon Staley writeup for my Seasons In Review article and liked it. So instead of coming up with something new, I have largely republished it here.

Brandon Staley broke the internet. Did he also break his playoff odds? The platonic ideal of an aggressive, EPA-focused modern coach, Staley operated as if situational football wasn’t really a thing, to mixed results. Never was this more vivid than Week 18, where the Chargers went for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 18 down just 17-14 early in the third quarter. Austin Ekeler was hammered for a two-yard loss, gifting the Raiders a field goal. Three points was the eventual difference in the game. The call wasn’t bad because it failed. It was bad because the other team was having so much trouble moving the ball it was resorting to something called the “Marcus Mariota package.” Maybe Staley should have acknowledged that reality. Things only got worse in overtime, where Staley called timeout even as the Raiders appeared content to take a tie, one that would have sent both teams to the postseason. Instead, they changed their play after Staley’s gambit and won the game. Patience, young football coach. Thankfully for Staley, his margin for error will soon be increasing. Justin Herbert is coming into his superstar prime, and a restocked defense will be better in 2022. The future remains bright even if Staley is a little too impatient to get there.

15. Nick Sirianni, Eagles
Career Record: 9-8 (.529)
With The Eagles Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Sometimes it is better to know what you’re not than what you are. By Week 6, Nick Sirianni knew the Eagles were not a passing team. That’s when a rookie head coach, who to that point was most famous for his ability to talk in baffling circles, took decisive action. An offense that had been the league’s most pass happy became the most run heavy. By far. The Eagles’ pass rate plummeted from 63 percent in games 1-5 to 42 percent for weeks 7-18. The adjustment not only saved the Eagles’ season, it made them a playoff team. “Playoff team” in this case being a loose term. Make the postseason though the Eagles did, they did so by beating quite literally the worst teams in the league. Philly’s nine victories were comprised of the Falcons, Panthers, Lions, Broncos, Saints, Jets, Football Team and Giants. Beating the teams you are supposed to is a critical first step for any head coach, but Sirianni still has a ways to go. That he is on his way at all is a surprise after his cringe-inducing press conferences and awful first six games.

16. Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals
Career Record: 24-24-1 (.500)
With The Cardinals Since: 2019
Last Year’s Ranking: 21

Kliff Kingsbury has gone from 5-10-1 to 8-8 to 11-6 in his three years as head coach. All is good, right? Hardly. The Cardinals’ stretch-run 2021 collapse was their second straight, culminating in a non-competitive Wild Card game against the Rams where they were trounced 34-11 and out-gained 375-183. Including that playoff defeat, Arizona is now 4-9 after Thanksgiving the past two seasons. Not exactly peaking at the right time. The big problem in 2021 was DeAndre Hopkins’ injury. Not ideal, but every team has to deal with losing key players. Kingsbury had no answers, instead indulging in his worst tendency of taking the offense fully horizontal. It not only made the Cardinals unwatchable, it made them plain bad. Bad enough to lose to the Lions. That can’t happen to a serious team. Through three years, we have little indication Kingsbury is a serious coach. He designs some nice running games and seems to know who to trust on defense. He also kicks whenever he should go for it, goes for it whenever he should kick and generally seems to have zero understanding of situational football. An “offensive mind,” he has lacked solutions whenever his side of the ball is struggling. It is looking increasingly doubtful he will find them in the desert.

17. Ron Rivera, Commanders
Career Record: 90-82-1 (.523)
With The Commanders Since: 2020

Last Year’s Ranking: 17

The feel-good story of the 2020 season woke up to Washington reality in 2021. No quarterback, no Chase Young, and no realistic shot at the playoffs. About the only thing Ron Rivera’s squad did have was Jack Del Rio, which is where Rivera’s judgment comes in. Rivera is a bonafide leader of men. It can be said without hyperbole that he is universally respected. He should probably use that cachet to hire better assistants. While he might have once had it, Del Rio does not have what it takes in 2022. OC Scott Turner has yet to prove he has what it takes in any season. His biggest qualification remains being Norv Turner’s son. Turner hasn’t been bad, but Rivera would be better served by getting someone actually proven to be good. Which brings us back under center. Carson Wentz was proven to be good … in 2017. Since, he has been run out of town twice in two seasons, including by his professed mentor, Frank Reich. There is zero reason to believe Rivera and Turner will be the ones to fix the ex-Eagle and Colt. Rivera’s leadership cannot be discounted. It is not a “just” or “only.” But he needs to give himself more help. Any head coach does. It does not appear to be coming for 2022.

18. Dan Campbell, Lions
Career Record: 8-20-1 (.293)
With The Lions Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Writer’s note: As is the case with Brandon Staley, I essentially wrote up my Dan Campbell thoughts for my Seasons In Review article. Instead of forcing something new, I have largely republished it here.

It’s all about expectations. The fact that keyed-up new coach Dan Campbell never got himself hospitalized with caffeine poisoning or accidentally drove a motorcycle over Jared Goff was enough in some people’s eyes to make the Lions’ 2021 a success. The lowest bar was cleared. That Campbell actually coached competitive football and won a few more games than expected was icing on the cake. Campbell threads a unique needle, positioning himself as both old school tough and the ultimate player’s coach. For at least one year, he pulled it off easily, winning new fans nationally and holding the line locally. The task will become tougher in Year 2, where merely winning a few games with Goff will no longer be enough to earn respect points. Campbell seems like he will be up to the challenge, but it’s not the first time someone has seemed up to the challenge in Detroit.

19. Arthur Smith, Falcons
Career Record: 7-10 (.412)
With The Falcons Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

“Fake sharp” was a common Twitter epithet for Arthur Smith in 2021. While that could still end up being true, it was a harsh rookie assessment of a coach in a dire situation. This is a talent-bereft roster, one that is going to get worse before it gets better. The defense is bad. The pass protection is worse. The top 2021 weapons were a rookie tight end and 29-year-old receiver/running back hybrid. By the letter of the law, you can make lemonade out of any collection of lemons, but Vince Lombardi himself would have struggled to wring juice out of this group. That’s why 7-10 was arguably a good outcome, even if it did include an 0-7 record with a -159 point differential against playoff teams. That is where we might question Smith. Yes, the roster is bad. But a good coach would still spring some traps and win a few games he’s not supposed to. That wasn’t Smith in 2021. The teams Atlanta beat were quarterbacked by Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Siemian, Trevor Lawrence, Cam Newton and Jared Goff. We suppose it’s good that more of those weren’t losses. We fear they will be in 2022 as this roster waits for reinforcements to arrive.

20. Robert Saleh, Jets
Career Record: 4-13 (.235)
With The Jets Since: 2021
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

10 head coaches were replaced this offseason. That means the worst are gone. What is left are the incompletes. That is what Robert Saleh is after a 4-13 inaugural campaign that was merely a waystation between where he and the Jets hope they are going. To say it was trying would be an understatement. New franchise player Zach Wilson struggled mightily, getting outplayed by Joe Flacco in-house and third-rounder Davis Mills amongst the rookie class. He did at least cut down on his turnovers in the second half of the season, an important first step. Wilson’s rookie year might have been easier had supposed linchpin LT Mekhi Becton not disappeared amongst rumors about his weight. On Saleh’s side of the ball, the picture was arguably bleaker. The Jets cratered to 32nd in both points and yards allowed. If there was hope Saleh’s enthusiasm and scheming prowess would help the Jets skip a step in their rebuild, they were disabused of that notion. This is an assignment where there will be no shortcuts. That is why a coach of Saleh’s leadership capabilities is paramount. 2021 offered no evidence that Saleh is not the man for the job. It just reminded how tall the task truly is.

21. Mike McCarthy, Cowboys
Career Record: 143-92-2 (.608)
With The Cowboys Since: 2020
Last Year’s Ranking: 20

Mike McCarthy emerged from 2021 with more in-house coaching threats than playoff victories. After the Cowboys’ slapstick slide out of the postseason, all attention turned to coveted coordinators Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn. That includes in the Cowboys’ front office. “If I didn’t have a coach, I would have been interviewing him for coach,” were owner Jerry Jones’ words on Quinn after he managed to retain him as defensive boss. Asked how that might make McCarthy feel, Jones responded “Mike knows that someday somebody other than him will be coach of the Cowboys.” Anyways, back to you Mike! Not that McCarthy has earned the benefit of the doubt. Although the Cowboys were top 12 in both pass rate and early-down pass rate, McCarthy’s analytics promises have predictably proven hollow. A spent Ezekiel Elliott was allowed to bash into brick walls 237 times for an average rush of 4.2 yards. That number plunged to 3.5 for the second half of the season, where an injured Elliott was visibly slower. Out-schemed when it mattered most, the Cowboys went 2-4 against playoff teams (not including the Eagles’ Week 18 scrimmage) before getting thoroughly out-coached in the Wild Card Round. McCarthy remains plainly disastrous at in-game decision making. He’s the same guy he was in Green Bay. That means a different coach will almost certainly have the reins by this time next year. Sean Payton on Line 1.

22. Matt Rhule, Panthers
Career Record: 10-23 (.303)
With The Panthers Since: 2020
Last Year’s Ranking: 19

There were worse coaches than Matt Rhule in 2021. They were let go. Now it is Rhule in the firing line after two seasons of harebrained schemes under center and a general lack of vision on his offensive side of the ball. It could have been forgivable in the context of centerpiece Christian McCaffrey missing 23 of the 33 games Rhule has coached. Only Rhule’s post-McCaffrey solutions have tended to involve running the ball more. We suppose that’s what happens when you hitch your wagon to Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Darnold. With CMC out and Darnold in last season, D.J. Moore stagnated and Robby Anderson fell off the face of the earth. Second-round rookie Terrace Marshall never got out of the starting blocks. Again, this is Rhule’s side of the ball. Were it not for Rhule’s feisty defense, he may have been out of a job already. December reports, after all, had owner David Tepper “embarrassed.” Rhule needs to stop clicking his heels three times, whispering “analytics” and putting on a blindfold when he selects his quarterbacks. He needs an actual process. Without it, the only result will be his pink slip.

New Hires (In Alphabetical Order)

Dennis Allen, Saints
Career Record: 8-28 (.222)

Dennis Allen is a company man. That is the only way you get this gig after a long-ago Raiders tenure that resulted in an 8-28 record. That is not meant to be a slander. It is difficult to judge Allen based on a head-coaching stint that featured five different starting quarterbacks in 2.5 years. Allen is here because he was a critical component during the Saints’ second Sean Payton/Drew Brees wind, taking the above-average talent that was handed to him and molding it into an opportunistic, big-play defense. That remained the case even with last year’s cap-fading unit, with New Orleans’ 38-3 Week 1 victory over the Packers being one of the most surprising results of the entire season. The same was true of the Saints’ 9-0 Week 15 shutout of Tom Brady’s Bucs. Allen handles the business on his side of the ball. He just needs help on offense, and as was the case in Oakland, it might not be arriving in New Orleans. No amount of defensive prowess or organizational fit will be enough to save Allen if the Saints do not find a proper replacement for Brees in the next 1-2 years. That may not be fair, but it is the NFL.

Todd Bowles, Bucs
Career Record: 26-41 (.388)

10.4 percent of Todd Bowles’ Jets games were started by Bryce Petty. 23.8 percent by Josh McCown. 40.2 percent by Ryan Fitzpatrick. The coach should not escape blame when his team wins fewer than 40 percent of its contests in four years, but the man never had the horses in the Big Apple. That isn’t going to be a problem for the recently-promoted defensive coordinator in Tampa. The beneficiary of a loaded roster, Bowles’ past two defenses finished top four in both points and yards against. That was even as injury decimated his 2021 unit. Tom Brady lifts all boats — opposing offenses are typically going to be in adverse situations against your defense — but Bowles has coordinated strong units for three different teams, including the 2015 Jets. Now he finally has someone who can take care of the other side of the ball. Universally respected in league circles and long considered someone worthy of a second head-coaching chance, Bowles has been handed one all but impossible to screw up.

Brian Daboll, Giants
Career Record: — —

The Giants didn’t buy the most expensive model last time. They thought they could get by with the budget Bill Belichick knockoff. Two quarterback sneaks from inside their own five-yard line later, they have popped for the full size. Brian Daboll is a disciple of not only Belichick, but Nick Saban, too. Impressive, though not the reason he got the job. It is Daboll’s recent work away from his towering mentors that landed him his first head-coaching gig at the age of 46. Daboll helped mold Josh Allen into arguably the most perfect dual-threat weapon the NFL has ever seen. He did so by adhering to modern wisdom rather than old dogmas. Establishing the pass to set up the run. Focusing on your players’ strengths rather than your personal tenets. Adapting when your opponents dictate you must. It was on that final point where Daboll was most exceptional in 2021, reviving and simplifying the running game after the Bills’ fiasco of a Week 13 loss to the Patriots. Not that Daboll threw the car in reverse and suddenly went ground heavy. He ran smarter, not harder. The adjustments helped the Bills win a Pats rematch three weeks later before pitching a perfect game in the Wild Card Round. Daboll is a man of this NFL moment. It’s the right time. Now we will find out if Daniel Jones’ New York is the right place for anyone.

Matt Eberflus, Bears
Career Record: — —

Matt Eberflus is the kind of hire that isn’t really made anymore. A box checker through and through, Eberflus arrives at his first head job at the middle age of 51. First he was a college position coach. Then a college coordinator. Then an NFL position coach. Then an NFL coordinator. Each career stage lasted at least four seasons, giving Eberflus deep, well-rounded experience. We will see how much it matters at a stop that is decidedly low on talent. Eberflus had plenty of it during his time in Indianapolis, though not so much that it was a “just push play” endeavor. That is what the Bears’ defense was for a while, but after years of surprisingly little drop-off following Vic Fangio’s departure, the bottom fell out along with Khalil Mack’s 2021 injury and subsequent trade. Eberflus is going to need all his coaching powers on the defensive side of the ball, which will be a challenge as he adjusts to being the CEO of what is a bad team on paper.

Nathaniel Hackett, Broncos
Career Record: — —

Most first-time head coaches get a first-round rookie at quarterback. Or Andy Dalton. Or sometimes both. Nathaniel Hackett gets a future Hall-of-Famer. That doesn’t mean it will be easy street. As you may have heard, this is one tough division. Russell Wilson is also a tougher customer than his goofy social media presence lets on. He did, after all, just force his way out of the only organization he had ever known. Wilson had gotten fed up with Pete Carroll’s run-heavy ways. So how is he going to feel if Hackett does the same? Hackett is coming from a Packers offense that threw the ball just one percent more often than the Seahawks. And whereas Seattle had one of the fastest-paced attacks in the league, Green Bay had literally the slowest. The difference between the approaches was the style, not the substance. The Seahawks are blunt and inefficient. The Packers are smart and systematic. If Hackett can do for Wilson what Matt LaFleur did for Aaron Rodgers, this will be one happy marriage. If he is even moderately less successful, however, it will run the risk of not only upsetting Wilson, but being the difference between fourth place and the playoffs in this division. Don’t let the franchise player fool you: Hackett has zero margin for error with his tightrope offensive approach in this meat grinder out west.

Mike McDaniel, Dolphins
Career Record: — —

The Dolphins didn’t need a new head coach. Brian Flores had just become the first ‘Fins leader to finish better than .500 in back-to-back seasons since Dave Wannstedt in 2000-03. He had things figured out on defense. Flores was admittedly a bit of a bummer on offense, where he coached like the only acceptable way to win — or lose — was a walk-off field goal. Kyle Shanahan disciple Mike McDaniel has been brought in to modernize the operation. McDaniel is not a Shanny-come-lately. He has been following the Shanahans around the country since 2011. He has the system down cold. The Dolphins went to immediate work looking for the personnel to implement it, adding Tyreek Hill, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. They join a skillful skill corps, albeit one with questions both at quarterback and along the offensive line. Although nice, the addition of Hill hints at a certain impatience from 81-year-old owner Stephen Ross. It is safe to say 2022 isn’t being treated as a rebuilding year. That is not the best news for a 39-year-old first-time head coach, one tasked with installing a famously complex system. The Dolphins never stop thinking big. If they are comfortable letting McDaniel start small as he gets his wits about him, they might finally get the results they are looking for.

Josh McDaniels, Raiders
Career Record: 11-17 (.393)

Can the third time be the charm if the second time never actually happened? 12 years after his Broncos flameout and five years after his Colts fakeout, Josh McDaniels has finally decided he wants another crack at this head-coaching thing. He will be doing so in a division where the other three teams are quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert. That means McDaniels’ supposed intellect must come to the fore for the Silver and Black. The Raiders will not be winning this division with offensive skill. It must be schemed, a la Kyle Shanahan in the NFC West. Whereas Shanahan has long stood on his own two feet without his mentor, McDaniels has never done so. He got caught cheating in Denver. He was a failure in St. Louis. He was solid but unspectacular without Tom Brady. He must be ready to further evolve the efficiency diet Jon Gruden had Derek Carr on the past four seasons. He must adapt to what has been given to him. If he tries to ram through another Cutler/Tebow project, McDaniels will be back on Bill Belichick’s staff before the next leap year. The tough part for McDaniels is that even if he has learned the right lessons, there is a strong chance it is not the right time in this whale of a division.

Kevin O’Connell, Vikings
Career Record: — —

It’s not always the plays you call. Sometimes it’s the recent contacts in your phone. The next audible Kevin O’Connell sends in will be his first. But he knows Sean McVay, so he’s now a head coach. It’s flimsy. It also keeps working. McVay’s coaching tree has been one of staggering early-career success. McVay coached against one of O’Connell’s predecessors in the Super Bowl, for instance. The man knows talent, and his talent has done a good job picking its spots. The same is true for O’Connell in Minnesota. He is inheriting a strong skill corps in a weak division, one whose three-time defending champion was just forced to trade its second-best player. It could be a quick turnaround from 8-9 if O’Connell knows what he’s doing. Even if it seems too good to be true, betting that McVay’s proteges know what they are doing has been a consistent recipe for success.

Doug Pederson, Jaguars
Career Record: 42-37-1 (.531)

Doug Pederson missed the playoffs one time in three years following the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory and it was still long enough to become the villain in Philadelphia. That’s a tough market. The Jaguars are a tough franchise. Jacksonville has been a black hole for winning, posting more than six victories one time since 2010. That is impossibly bad. 2021’s 3-14 campaign was despite the presence of meal-ticket quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The problem was the frat boy failure coach. Now Pederson is the meal-ticket coach, arriving in town with a Lombardi in tow. The mystery remains why he was available at all. On his way out the door, the Eagles said Pederson was too inflexible, and resistant to changing his staff. Pederson’s most obvious problem was the crumbling of quarterback Carson Wentz. How could he not fix him? 2021 in Indianapolis showed Wentz’s regression was far from all Pederson’s fault. A student of the modern RPO game, Pederson should immediately make Lawrence’s life easier. If the young quarterback returns the favor, Pederson will have cleared the most important hurdle to being a successful retread.

Lovie Smith, Texans
Career Record: 89-87 (.506)

It is the “process over results” century in American sports. The Texans went 0-for-2 with their curious decision to sack David Culley after one overachieving season at the helm in place of Bill O’Brien. Culley was canned so the Texans could find a more pliant Jack Easterby/Nick Caserio puppet, though the public reaction to a clown show coaching search highlighted by a zero-experience Josh McCown spooked the “brain trust” back to the drawing board. The endgame was Lovie Smith, underappreciated during his time in Chicago before the returns diminished for the Bucs and University of Illinois. If there is something to be said for the 63-year-old, it is that he has always organized above-average defenses, including last year in Houston as defensive coordinator if you base it on the talent at hand instead of the raw numbers. Smith has an actual strength. The same cannot be said for many retreads. This marriage is not guaranteed to fail. That does not change the fact that it was arranged in the most haphazard of fashions. Processes like that end in divorce nine times out of 10.