Grading NFL Head Coaching Hires

The week following the last regular-season game in the NFL is a week that is filled with surprising and unsurprising coaching changes. It all starts with “Black Monday”, a day that is infamous for the firing of head coaches that have not met their team’s expectations that year or in years prior. In the 100th season of the NFL, five head coaching positions have opened up (Cowboys, Browns, Giants, Panthers, Redskins), and as of January 8th, four of them have been filled. With all this in mind, let’s go ahead and grade the teams that have hired a new head coach, and maybe even try to predict who will be hired next.

Dallas Cowboys

Fired: Jason Garrett

Hired: Mike McCarthy

Grade: C

The Dallas Cowboys dynasty in the 90s was built off of the idea of taking risks. After all, Jerry Jones made his money in oil, one of the riskiest business ventures out there. In 1989, one of Jerry Jones first moves as the new owner of the Dallas Cowboys was to fire legendary head coach Tom Landry (the only head coach the Cowboys ever had up until that point) and replace him with Jimmy Johnson, and in October of that same year, he pulled off the famous Herschell Walker trade. Herschell Walker was only 27 at the time and was coming off the best year of his career, yet Jerry Jones traded him for a boatload of players and picks some of which turned into Emmit Smith, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, and most importantly three rings.

If the saying is “history repeats itself” then why in God’s name is Jerry Jones hiring literally the safest option available?  Instead of going for a Lincoln Riley, Urban Meyer or even Matt Rhule, he hires a coach so similar to the previous one that I have referred to him since the signing as “Fat Jason Garrett”. If you’re going to wind up paying Dak Prescott in the $30-35 million range, you need to surround him with a coach that will elevate him like Lincoln Riley—who has been a QB guru in college—can. I believe McCarthy’s success can be largely attributed to the talent of Aaron Rodgers, not necessarily his coaching ability. Since his departure, Green Bay hasn’t missed a beat and is sitting at the first seed in the NFC. When looking at coaches and players across all sports, it’s important not only to observe the team while they are present but to observe the team in their absence.

McCarthy isn’t a bad coach by any stretch of the imagination, he is simply the safest signing the Cowboys could have made, and safety is the last thing the Cowboys need at this point in time.

Washington Redskins 

Fired: Jay Gruden

Hired: Ron Rivera

Grade: A

I’m just going to be completely honest here; I have no idea how the Washington Redskins landed Rivera. The Redskins organization under the ownership of Dan Snyder has been marked with dysfunction at every turn. From signing a washed-up Josh Norman to a lucrative deal, all the way to the controversy surrounding the team’s name that arises every other year, the Redskins are a big change in culture from the relatively quiet Panthers organization.

 I’ll even go as far as to say that this was the worst job opening out of all the head coaching positions this year. The Cowboys and Browns have an exorbitant amount of talent but haven’t used it effectively, the Giants are one of the most mature and character-driven organizations in the league with an all-time great talent in Saquon Barkley, and his former team, the Panthers, have quite possibly the best offensive talent in the entire league with Christian McCaffery. The Redskins have none of that. The only thing they have going for them is the second pick in the draft, which is all but guaranteed to be Chase Young. 

The fact that this organization was able to sign a 2x Coach of the Year recipient with Superbowl experience astounds me, and because of that, they get my highest grade out of all the other teams.

Carolina Panthers

Fired: Ron Rivera

Hired: Matt Rhule

Grade: B

When I first saw the amount of money the Panthers were getting ready to pay former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule, I was shocked. The contract reportedly amounted to $60 million over the course of 7 years and could go as high as $70 million with incentives. Yet, the more and more I think about it, the more it makes sense. The biggest question surrounding the Panthers right now is their QB situation.

 “To Cam, or not to Cam, that is the question” Longtime Panther QB Cam Newton has one year remaining on his contract at a relatively cheap price considering today’s volatile QB market. He is the greatest Panther of all time, but the problem is his production. Despite his MVP and his title as the greatest running QB of all time, Cam has never had back-to-back winning seasons. Ever since the disaster that was Super Bowl 50, there has been a noticeable decline in his play.

After suffering an injury this season, second-year QB Kyle Allen took over. While Allen received initial success, that quickly fizzled out. What this initial success did prove to the organization was that the possibility of life without Cam Newton isn’t as dismal as previously thought. The length of Rhule’s contract allows him to answer the QB question and even gives him the opportunity to make the wrong decision.

The Quarterback position is easily the hardest position to draft in the NFL, and a seven-year contract gives Rhule the opportunity to bounce back if he whiffs on a QB in one draft class and go out and get a new one after that QB’s rookie deal expires. Or he can retain Cam Newton for a few more years and get rid of him when he sees fit and draft his successor then. The flexibility of his contract allows me to overlook the historically unimpressive track record of college-to-NFL head coaches and gives me faith that the Panthers have made a deal that will benefit them in the long run.

New York Giants

Fired: Pat Shurmur

Hired: Joe Judge

Grade: D-

Allow me to start off with a quote from FOX Sports broadcaster Colin Cowherd: “Proximity to greatness doesn’t equal greatness”. That quote pretty much sums up my reasons for hating this move by the Giants. Just because someone worked close to a great coach for a number of years, doesn’t make them a great—or even good—coach. Especially when that coach is Bill Belichick.

 Coaches from Belichick’s “coaching tree” are notorious for underperforming once they leave New England. And that’s because Belichick is a coach and not a mentor. Coaches like Andy Reid or Kyle Shannahan develop strong coaching trees because they pride themselves in taking young coaches under their wings and developing them, which simply isn’t Belichick’s M.O.

It appears to me that the Giants grossly overreacted when they saw that the Panthers signed Matt Rhule—who was reportedly near the top of their list—and went after whoever coached for a prestigious organization. This might make a fragment of sense until you realize they didn’t even interview Judges more talented coworker Josh McDaniels. Yes, McDaniels is notorious for screwing over the Broncos and Colts, but that’s not the point. NO ONE was even interested in Judge besides you, so why on God’s green Earth would you not interview all your available options.

This signing becomes more muddled and confused at every turn, and for that reason, I think it’s deserving of my lowest grade.

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