Most first-time NFL head coaches move up from being an assistant coach for years in the NFL – and of course they come highly recommended. But most prove – often very quickly – to not have the skills to master such a challenging job. Will any in this new group of eight join the small group of coaches who go on to sustained success, or will they all wind up in the vast group who last from three to five years before getting fired or demoted?
SB Nation, back in early January, gave out grades for the eight new 2019 NFL head coaches – some of whom were not yet officially named at the time. Here’s the rundown and SB Nation’s grades:
Kliff Kingsbury – hired by Cardinals less than two months after being fired by Texas Tech. The same age as LaFleur, he has no NFL coaching experience. C+
Freddy Kitchens – the Browns made him their offensive coordinator for the final eight games of 2018, and rookie QB Baker Mayfield’s output soared. Replacing Hue Jackson and his 3-36-1 record shouldn’t be too difficult. Kitchens is 44, and another guy who played QB in college, for Alabama. A-
Vic Fangio – the former Bears’ defensive coordinator was hired by the Broncos. He’s got 40 years of coaching experience, but how much future is there in this 60-year-old? B
Matt LaFleur – the Packers picked the former offensive coordinator of McVay’s Rams (2017) and the Titans (2018). C+
Bruce Arians – the Bucs hired the former Cardinals’ head coach, who retired in 2018 after going 7-8-1 and 8-8 in 2016 and 2017 in Arizona. B+
Adam Gase – Gase, now 41, was considered a hot young offensive mind when the Dolphins made him their head coach in 2016. Though he wasn’t able to turn Ryan Tannehill into a franchise QB, the Jets think he’ll get that done with Sam Darnold. D
Zac Taylor – the Bengals are going young, with this 35-year old disciple of Sean McVay. C+
Brian Flores – the Dolphins picked the de facto defensive coordinator for Belichick’s Patriots. Though he’s been on Belichick’s staff since 2004, he’s never really stood out. He’s only 38. C-
I’d take LaFleur over any of the other seven in a heartbeat. He’s not a sure thing – no one is – but his possibilities are sky-high, and for a matter of decades.
Any team willing to take Arians or Gase has very low aspirations. For what it’s worth, Gase beat out Mike McCarthy for the job with the Jets.
The success of Sean McVay has opened the doors for any number of HC candidates who are still in their 30s or early 40s.
I believe that LaFleur was the first of the eight to sign a contract. Mark Murphy, in letting McCarthy go with four games left in the 2018 season, gave the Packers a head start in its recruitment process. If LaFleur proves to be successful, Murphy will get a lot of credit for cutting the cord on Big Mike when he did.
LaFleur looks like a boom-or-bust hire, a candidate with a background developing quarterbacks and engineering wide-open offensives, but without much of a track record on which to fall back. The good news for him is that Rodgers gives him one hell of a learning curve. The bad news is any struggle will shave another year off Rodgers’ rapidly closing window of contention. LaFleur may have worked his way up to one of the NFL’s softest landing spots, but that also means he’ll be under scrutiny if he can’t win immediately in Green Bay.