Having a quality head coach can make all the difference in the NFL. A coach that can develop young players, out-scheme their rivals, and be a quality leader is the most valuable asset in football. It might even be more valuable than a franchise quarterback.
Every time a team hires a new coach, it seems that expectations quickly skyrocket. Even if your team hires the one coach you didn’t want, you can usually talk yourself into him before the start of the season. If they hire your favorite candidate, you will usually be expecting a Super Bowl win within two years.
This often sets fans up perfectly for disappointment. Seldom are head coaches ever as good as advertised. Many times though, you can see where the hype came from. Other times, it’s a complete train wreck and you find it impossible to see why you were so excited in the first place.
16 Mike Smith - Falcons
Mike Smith joined Atlanta in 2008. He made a name for himself as the defensive coordinator with the Jaguars in the mid 2000s. Despite it being fairly recent, it can be easy to forget the success Jacksonville had over that period.
He instantly coached the team to success, winning 11 games in his first season. Unfortunately, they went out after a single game in the postseason, though most fans were thrilled they made an appearance in the first place.
The Falcons continued to improve and have success under Mike Smith. In his first five seasons he never recorded fewer than nine wins, and twice hit 13. However, his issue was that his postseason success was nonexistent. He had one playoff win in five years, four times exiting the playoffs after the first game.
As a result, when the team started struggling in '13 and '14, he wasn't given much leniency. He was fired after he posted a combined 10 wins over that period.
15 John Fox - Broncos
John Fox has been one of the most up-and-down coaches of the past two decades. He started his head coaching career in Carolina where he seemed to alternate between double digit win seasons and seven win seasons. It made establishing an identity difficult.
In 2011, he went to Denver. He had tremendous success in the Mile High city, winning 46 games in just four years. However, he was the coach for the infamous 43-8 blowout in the Super Bowl, following a historic regular season.
He was fired from the Broncos following a 12-win season in 2014. While that would typically draw a lot of criticism, the move is widely regarded as an intelligent one – especially now that the team has yet another Lombardi to show for it.
Overall, it’s hard to get a read on Fox as a coach. On one hand, he certainly has talent; it isn't by chance that his teams put up great records. However, it feels like he’s missing something. As it stands, he be remembered as coach that couldn't take the last step. Of course, he still has a chance to alter his legacy in Chicago.
14 Jim Schwartz - Lions
Jim Schwartz is one of the most prestigious defensive coaches in the NFL. He was hired by the Lions following their infamous 0-win season in 2008. As a result, he was given a long leash since he was taking over a team devoid of talent.
The height of his tenure came in 2011, when he took the team to the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round. It was a nice moral victory. Unfortunately, he failed to follow up on it. The next year he won just four games, including an eight game losing streak to close the season out.
Jim Schwartz is remembered as a head coach who always managed to have a lot of bright spots on the team. There was always some aspect that brought hope for the fans. Unfortunately, he was consistently unable to capitalize on any of it and never took the team to the next level.
13 Hue Jackson - Raiders
Hue Jackson’s run as the Raiders head coach in 2011 was one of the stranger ones we’ve ever seen. In his first season, he took a talent-deficit roster and coached them up to an 8-win season. Jason Campbell looked like a decent NFL quarterback for a few games even.
However, Jackson was fired after his impressive year after losing a power-struggle to Reggie McKenzie, the team’s General Manager. Jackson wanted control and gave the team an ultimatum.
On one hand, that seems a little crazy to fire a coach after an impressive season. But look back at what happened when Chip Kelly got full control prior to the 2015 season. Good coaches don’t always make good GMs and it can have disastrous results.
It took him a while, but Jackson has gotten another shot at a head coaching job following an impressive run as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Now, he will be tasked with turning the Cleveland Browns around.
12 Joe Philbin - Dolphins
Joe Philbin served on the Green Bay coaching staff for nine years in total and five of those years were spent as the team’s offensive coordinator. Few items would look better on an aspiring head coach's resume.
Philbin took over the Miami Dolphins’ job in 2012. The team had just drafted Ryan Tannehill with the 8th overall pick and the expectation was that Philbin would be able to groom him into a franchise quarterback. A task that is never easy, but if anyone was up to the job, it would be Joe Philbin.
What we saw was a solid first year. Philbin led the team to seven wins and Tannehill had a nice rookie season. However, there was no improvement from there. Philbin was never able to build off of his initial success. The next two seasons looked pretty much the same, despite coaching a more talented roster each year. He was eventually fired after getting off to a terrible 1-3 start in 2015.
11 Rex Ryan - Jets
Rex Ryan is very well known around the NFL for his unique personality. He's a coach that certainly knows how to make headlines.
He took over as the Jets head coach in 2009. He made it clear that this team would be the one to properly challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. For the first two years, he made good on his promise. The Jets had impressive regular seasons on the back of their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez. They had back-to-back AFC Championship appearances, knocking the Patriots out in the divisional round in 2010 even.
While they weren't able to secure a Super Bowl appearance, things were looking very bright for the Jets. Unfortunately, instead of making the leap forward, the Jets collapsed. They missed the playoffs every year for the next three years and it became clear that Mark Sanchez wasn't actually the answer.
Ryan ended up getting fired following a four win 2014 season. It capped off his six year tenure as New York's head coach in a very strange and disappointing way. It leaves a lot to be desired. Someone like Rex Ryan shouldn't just slowly fizzle out over the course of half a decade.
10 Mike McCoy - Chargers
Mike McCoy was hired to be the Broncos offensive coordinator in 2008. During his tenure, he made Kyle Orton look like one of the league’s best quarterbacks, while making Tim Tebow look like he belonged in the NFL as a starter. Anyone who can do that is certainly deserving of an increased role.
The Chargers elected to bring him on as head coach for the 2013 season, prying him away from their division rivals. His first year was solid, finishing with nine wins and making the playoffs. However, the Chargers have regressed each season since. In 2014, they matched their win total of nine games, but failed to make the playoffs. This past season they completely collapsed, winning just four games and finishing with one of the worst records in the NFL.
These are unacceptable results for a team with an elite quarterback.
9 Jim Harbaugh - 49ers
The Jim Harbaugh situation was one of the strangest story lines the NFL has ever seen.
Harbaugh came into the league as one of the most hyped head coaching candidates ever. He had wild success for Stanford at the College level as was expected to make a smooth transition into the NFL. He ended up signing a record contract with the struggling 49ers. He instantly turned the team around, winning 13 games in his first season. The following year, he had San Francisco playing in the Super Bowl.
Strangely though, a power struggle with the team’s general manager, Trent Baalke, resulted in his release following the 2014 season. Rather than going to another NFL team, he went back to coaching college football.
Overall, this whole situation just left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. He built an elite team and nearly won a Super Bowl. Then, he was suddenly fired and decided to leave the NFL; never getting another shot.
8 Chuck Pagano - Colts
Chuck Pagano was given the task of leading the Colts in the post-Manning era. It’s a lot to live up to. Though, he was given the most hyped quarterback prospect in the history of the NFL to work with, so at least he had that going for him.
He took over a fairly talented roster. They had lots key offensive pieces to work with – players who could be cornerstones. The defense was far less impressive, but far from worthless. They were a unit who could be average, the 16th best defense in the league. It isn’t a glowing review, but it is far more than what most new coaches get.
Somehow though, Pagano has taken the team and made it worse. They’ve completely failed to develop much of their young talent. They now have a only few key pieces on offense who look like long-term answers. On defense, it would be very surprising if they aren't one of the NFL's worst this season.
Pagano took a nice roster that had limitless potential and now has a team that somehow could be in contention for a top five pick despite having a talented, young franchise quarterback.
7 Romeo Crennel - Chiefs
Romeo Crennel took over as the interim head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs for the remaining three games of the 2011 season. His first win came against the Green Bay Packers in week 15, who were nearing in on an undefeated season. It was one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
Crennel took over the following season as the team’s official head coach. Expectations were high, as the team had a lot of talent. Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Matt Cassel, Eric Berry, and Brian Waters were all solid players at the time. What ended up happening was nothing short of a disaster. Crennel managed only two wins on the season, quickly leading to his release at the season’s end.
To put things in perspective, Andy Reid took over the following year and instantly led the talented group to an 11-win season. In fact, he won a combined 31 games over his three year tenure so far with Kansas City.
5 Jeff Fisher - Rams
Jeff Fisher made a name for himself leading the dominating Titans lineup of the early 2000s. In fact, he was famously just a yard away from being a Super Bowl-winning coach with Tennessee.
However, his recent run in St. Louis (now Los Angeles) has left a lot to be desired. He has been the coach since 2012, yet hasn’t won more than seven games in a season. He has been given talented rosters to work with, but the results just aren’t there.
It would be incredibly surprising to see Fisher back with the team in 2017 if he can’t take a step forward this year. It might be too late though. The defense has lost several key pieces and it looks like Goff isn’t close to being NFL ready. Overall, he will have a higher expectations and a harder time meeting them.
4 Josh McDaniels - Broncos
Patriots assistants will always get consideration for prestigious positions from around the league. However, Belichick's pupils don't have the best track record. Josh McDaniels is the perfect example of that.
McDaniels was the Patriots offensive coordinator during the team’s historic 2007 run where they went undefeated during the regular season. It was followed up by another impressive season in 2008, where the team won 11 games despite having Matt Cassel at the helm.
He was awarded the Denver Broncos head coaching job as a result, replacing Mike Shanahan. He got off to a hot start, opening the season with a six game win streak. However, the Broncos collapsed down the stretch, including a blowout loss to end the season with the playoffs on the line. He regressed tremendously in his second year. He started the season 3-9 and was fired midway through the season following another blowout loss to the division rival Chiefs.
Several years after his release, veteran punter Matt Berger did an interview with 750 The Game where he said “It felt like I was playing for an equipment manager or something, [McDaniels] was like a little punk.”
3 Pat Shurmur - Browns
It is easy to forget how impressive the Rams were in 2010. Following a one win season, Shurmur took the offense and improved it in nearly every way. It made him one of the most prized head coaching candidates going into 2011.
Furthermore, he had experience developing young quarterbacks. Cleveland had been searching for an answer at the position for over a decade at the time, so it made Shurmur that much more attractive.
Unfortunately, it was simply more of the same in Cleveland. He was given two young quarterbacks to work with over his tenure, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, and both failed to develop into quality NFL starters. In fact, both failed to develop into capable NFL backups.
After winning just five games in his second season, good for last place in the AFC North yet again, Shurmur was fired. It seemed like he was finally the answer in Cleveland, but ultimately he had no real impact.
2 Marc Trestman – Bears
Marc Trestman was plucked from the Canadian Football League by the Bears in 2013. His success with the Montreal Alouettes, combined with earlier NFL experience as in offensive positional coach, resulted in him being labeled an offensive mastermind and a quarterback guru.
His first year as an NFL head coach was highly successful. He also furthered his reputation as a quarterback-first coach, as Jay Cutler had one of the best seasons of his career en route to a highly impressive eight win season.
Heading into 2014, there were strong expectations that he would build off the previous year’s success and take the team to the playoffs, at the very least. That isn’t what happened. To say 2014 was disappointing is a massive understatement. Everything the franchise had built appeared to just collapse. Trestman coached the team to just five wins, made worse by his five-game losing streak to end the season. In addition, despite being an offense-first coach, the Bears finished 22nd in total yards, as well as 24th in points for. For reference, they were 2nd in points and 8th in yards the previous season.
1 Chip Kelly – Eagles
Chip Kelly was an insanely polarizing figure when he signed with the Eagles in 2013. He was known as an innovator at the University of Oregon. He had a creative and high powered offense that he planned to transition into the NFL. Everyone either thought he was going to revolutionize the game or crash and burn.
What ended up happening was a strange mix that left everyone unsatisfied. His infamous “system” actually worked. Philadelphia had one of the best offenses in the NFL for the first two years of his tenure. He took over a four-win team, and immediately led them to back-to-back 10-win seasons, including a playoff appearance.
What caused his failure had mostly to do with his power struggle with the Eagles’ general manager, Howie Roseman. After a dramatic couple weeks, Roseman was shoved into a back room somewhere and Chip was handed the keys.
It was a risk that didn't pay off. Kelly made many questionable moves that served to dramatically decrease the talent on the roster. Furthermore, it impacted his coaching as he tried to force his prized acquisitions into the starting lineup instead of simply playing the best players.
In the end, he was fired before the end of his first season as both the coach and general manager.