LOS ANGELES. The 2018 NFL regular season is over. The subsequent Black Monday coach firings were swift and severe. Two teams did not even wait until Monday, firing their respective coaches on Sunday evening. Now, the 2019 NFL Coaching Carousel begins. As of today, eight of the 32 NFL teams are looking for new head coaches. A ninth team is looking for pretty much everything except a head coach.
The NFL Coaching Carousel starts in Oakland. Or, wherever…
The Oakland Raiders just hired NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock to be their General Manager in place of the recently fired Reggie McKenzie. While Jon Gruden appears firmly entrenched as their head coach, the Raiders have no idea where they might end up playing in 2019. Possibilities include Oakland, Las Vegas, and even San Diego. Nobody knows.
For now, let us keep our focus on the coaches. Here is a list of the openings and who should replace them.
Green Bay Packers
We begin our journey on 2019’s NFL Coaching Carousel in the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here, Mike McCarthy was fired midseason after nearly 13 years and one Super Bowl victory. Interim coach Joe Philbin is clearly not the answer. The offense has stagnated, and the main reason for McCarthy’s ouster was the criticism that he was wasting Aaron Rodgers’s prime. The new coach absolutely must revitalize the offense.
The best choice: Jim Caldwell. Yes, Caldwell comes across as boring. Heck, rumors are that he once got angry and almost made a facial expression. Behind Caldwell’s calm demeanor is the soul of a winning football coach. He took the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and revived the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford. The Lions fired Caldwell after a 9-7 season only to see the team plummet to 6-10. The Colts then fired him after a 2-14 season in Indianapolis. But during that losing season, Manning missed the entire year with a neck injury. Caldwell knows offensive football and would be a boon to Rodgers. He knows the NFC North, a plus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers fired Dirk Koetter after three unsuccessful seasons. Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick both played well as the backup QB and badly as the starter. The Tampa Bay defense was atrocious. This team is a mess. The defense needs tons of work. But since Winston, for some reason, was not cut from the roster, Tampa Bay needs a quarterback guru to get the team back on track.
The best choice: Bruce Arians. Arians transformed the Arizona Cardinals from perennial losers to an appearance in the NFC Title Game. He revived Carson Palmer and turned the Cardinals into an offensive juggernaut. When he left after the 2017 season, he claimed he was retiring after 40 years in football. Then, out of nowhere he mentioned an interest in the Buccaneers job. So much for retirement. The guy just loves football. The downside is that at his age (66), he would be a short-term solution to this team’s long-term problems. (Backup choice: Jim Caldwell.)
Adam Gase was supposed to bring excitement to the Miami offense. But he failed to get the best out of Ryan Tannehill, who now may not be salvageable. Miami somehow beats New England in Miami but shows up flat when playing everyone else. Right now, the main problem with this team is that it is boring. Miami may be the most exciting city in America, yet somehow their football team is drab and unexciting. The NFL Coaching Carousel needs to send someone new and exciting to this city’s once-storied football franchise.
The best choice: Rex Ryan. Forget the overall coaching record. The Dolphins need swagger. Rex Ryan knows defense. He did get an overachieving Jets team with Mark Sanchez to consecutive AFC Title Games. Ultimately, his tenures with the Jets and Buffalo Bills were not successful. But he, at least, would put fans in the stands and get reporters to the press conferences. Ryan has players who would go through a brick wall for him. Keeping him in the AFC East would make every game against a division opponent a revenge game. This could launch the best theatre of previously meaningless games since the “Tuna Bowl” games involving Bill Parcells. Get Ryan a running back who can pound the ball and let him unleash the defense. The Dolphins might still look ugly under Ryan. But they could notch more wins.
The 2019 NFL Coaching Carousel made a long awaited stop in this football-crazy Ohio city on the Ohio. The Bengals finally put Marvin Lewis out of his misery after 16 years, 7 playoff experiences, and zero playoff victories. While the Bengals stoically endured over a decade of losing football before Lewis’ arrival, he never got them to the next level. Lewis’ teams frequently proved undisciplined, especially on defense. They lost a home playoff contest against hated Pittsburgh by giving away 30 yards in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in that game’s final seconds. Cincinnati needs a disciplinarian who commands instant respect from the team.
The Best Choice: Bill Cowher. Every year since his 2006 retirement, NFL pundits link Bill Cowher to any number of job openings. He turns them all down. A fantastic article aptly headlined him as “The coach who won’t coach.” Currently, he is very happy in the studio. After all, who in his right mind leaves a cushy TV gig to return to the sidelines? True, Dick Vermeil, Bill Parcells, and Jon Gruden all did. Maybe Cowher will as well. After all, Cowher was put on this earth to be a football coach. Letting him go up against his old team would be football theater of the highest order. The major hitch is that the Bengals’ owner Mike Brown is known for being a skinflint, and Cowher would demand top dollar.
But when Jon Gruden received a 10-year, $100 million contract, that raised the bar. In Cincinnati, Cowher would kick hide and take names. The league would benefit. The Bengals should roll out the red carpet for Cowher. Along with plenty of green dollars.
The hapless Browns mercifully put Hue Jackson out of his misery midseason after only three victories in 40 games, including the team’s 0-16 zombie-like 2017 season. Interim coach Gregg Williams took over the reins this season with the team already at a miserable 2-5-1. Cleveland promptly went 6-2 down the stretch. Baker Mayfield has been revitalized and the defense has been unleashed. The Dawg Pound is for real now. True, Williams became a pariah after the New Orleans “Bountygate” scandal of 2011-2012. Lost in all the brouhaha: Williams once served as the defensive coordinator of a Super Bowl champion. Long suffering Browns fans could sure use a Super Bowl champion.
The Best Choice: Gregg Williams. Remove the interim tag and make him Cleveland’s permanent head coach. The Browns have been losers for a long, long time. They have not made the NFL playoffs since the 2002 season. In the midst of another apparently lost season, Williams brought them within less than 10 yards of a winning season in 2018. With the quarterback and the defense in play, the Browns are a legitimate playoff contender right now. Provided Williams is at the helm.
Backup choice: Nobody! The Rooney Rule requires one minority candidate be interviewed for this technically open slot. The Browns are interviewing several candidates. If anybody but Williams gets this job, it would be a disaster worthy of the feckless, turn-of-century expansion Browns. For eight weeks under Williams, these iconic NFL losers suddenly, at long last, became not the same old Browns. Under Williams, this team quickly learned to rock and roll. Either Williams gets hired or the owner should sell the team.
The NFL Coaching Carousel didn’t take long to get around to visiting this Sonoran Desert team that’s experiencing a long-time football drought of its own. Arizona fired Steve Wilks after only one season. The Cardinals went 3-13, but in truth, Wilks inherited a bare cupboard. The Cardinals were already on the decline when Bruce Arians bailed. At this point, the team needs to launch a major rebuilding effort from the ground up. Carson Palmer is retired. Larry Fitzgerald may join him and await his Hall of Fame jacket in 2024. But right now, this team needs to be treated like an expansion team.
The Best Choice: John Fox. For whatever reason, Fox did not succeed with the Chicago Bears. He did take the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers each to one Super Bowl. What makes Fox so good is that he adapts to his players rather than forcing players into his system. Fox prefers Stone Age football. He likes to run the ball and play defense. Yet when you have a Peyton Manning or Jake Delhomme, you throw the ball. Fox deserves a chance to end his career on a high note.
The backup choice: Dom Capers. He took over two actual expansion teams. In his second year with the Carolina Panthers, he got them to a 12-4 record. He had less success with the Houston Texans, but he did lead them to win their very first game as a franchise. His overall regular season record of 48-80 is poor. But remember: he took over expansion teams, always a difficult task. He knows defense. Dick Lebeau created the zone blitz, and Capers uses it very effectively wherever he has coached.
New York Jets
Todd Bowles experienced four seasons of mostly unsuccessful football. The Jets probably should have given him one more season with Sam Darnold, who has shown promise. Bowles comes from the defensive side of the ball, so the next coach must deliver the capability to further develop Darnold.
The best choice: Mike McCarthy. Green Bay may regret letting him go. He is a good coach who is tough enough to handle the New York media. McCarthy should focus on the offense and bring in an intense guy to lead the defense. In Green Bay, McCarthy’s assistant head coach was Winston Moss. Right after McCarthy was fired, Moss was fired for calling out Aaron Rodgers on Twitter. Maybe Rodgers needed to be called out. Bring in McCarthy and Moss and let M&M turn the Jets into Packers East.
The Broncos gave the door to Vance Joseph after two losing seasons. Denver was devastated by injuries this year, and John Elway still has not found a quarterback to replace Peyton Manning. Elway called out his own team as soft. Worse, the defense has not been the same since Michelin Man Wade Phillips left to become the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. The 2018 gig was Joseph’s first time as head coach. Elway needs to replace him with a more experienced coach.
The best choice: Mike Shanahan. Elway has said this is not going to happen. Perhaps an online campaign will change his mind. Elway’s best options have already coached the team. Shanahan got the axe after winning two Super Bowls. Elway fired John Fox despite one Super Bowl appearance. Gary Kubiak won a Super Bowl and retired for health reasons. Any one of these guys coming back would be better options than most potential coaches out there. Now that Fantasyland has been exhausted, there is a real choice worth looking at. Indeed, Denver could be the most interesting stop for the 2019 NFL Coaching Carousel.
Backup choice: Lovie Smith. He took the Bears to a Super Bowl and had the Buccaneers trending upward before he was fired after only two seasons. He knows defense and has an easygoing style that players rally around. Lovie is a winner. He would be great for Von Miller.
A final spin of the 2019 NFL Coaching Carousel finds us visiting this one-time peach of a team. Since blowing a 28-3 third quarter lead in the Super Bowl and losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons have cratered. Atlanta was the league’s biggest disappointment this year, especially on offense. Head Coach Dan Quinn kept his job, but the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special teams all got sent packing.
Atlanta’s best choices:
Defensive Coordinator: Marvin Lewis. Although overrated as a head coach, as a defensive coordinator, Lewis is special. He served as the defensive coordinator for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens led by Ray Lewis.
Offensive Coordinator: Adam Gase. True, Gase failed to succeed in his first head coaching job. But Matt Ryan is a significant upgrade over Ryan Tannehill. Give him a year or two to get the high-octane Atlanta offense back to where they were, and he will get another head coaching job after that.
Special teams coach: The Falcons should poach the best available special teams expert from either the Carolina Panthers or the New Orleans Saints. Raid your NFC South opponents. It’s a sound strategy.
— Headline image: Former Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson was one of the first of many NFL coaches to get the axe during the 2018 NFL regular season, as the 2019 NFL Coaching Carousel got underway a couple of months early. Image via Wikipedia entry on Hue Jackson, CC 2.0 license. Original image cropped to conform to CDN size requirements.