Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment explores this year's bountiful crop of new head coaches ...
There is no such thing as a bad head-coaching job in the NFL. With just 32 available, every position is coveted. And this offseason, 10 of these desirable gigs changed hands -- a whopping figure that tied the NFL record, previously set in 2006, 1997 and 1978.
Now, coaching changes are typically made when a franchise has stagnated, if not fully collapsed. Thus, the new head man immediately faces an uphill battle. And yet, this league isn't exactly known for patience. Right now, 10 ownership groups/fan bases expect new leaders to transform their teams into contenders. From establishing a championship culture to dazzling opponents with clever schematics, the new guys are all tasked with reaching the same promised land despite starting out with completely different circumstances.
With the bulk of offseason roster reconstruction behind us and NFL teams hitting summer break, I believe this is the perfect time to assess each new coach's environment for the coming season. Who's in the best position to enjoy immediate success? Who's facing the most challenging task in Year 1? Here's my countdown, from the least favorable to the most favorable setup in 2022.
THE RANKINGS: Best situation for Year 1?
It is hard to imagine a coach taking on a tougher challenge than the Texans' rebuilding project. The organization has allowed a lot of talent to walk out of the door in the past few years without finding suitable replacements for the star power. Smith will attempt to win games with a "hustle hard" approach that places a premium on effort, energy and execution. The grizzled coach is relying on a young quarterback with limited experience, but Davis Mills started to show promise down the stretch of his rookie season. With limited skill-position weaponry beyond Brandin Cooks, the Texans need their 23-year-old QB to take care of the football and make some winning plays. Defensively, Smith needs to build upon the small successes the unit experienced in 2021. After adding some key players in free agency and the draft, Houston will need its newbies to step in and flourish immediately. Whether it is Derek Stingley Jr. thriving as a CB1 or Jalen Pitre flourishing as a versatile defensive back, Smith needs a productive season from his rookie class to help the Texans compete in 2022. Perhaps Smith can get some surprising contributions from veteran additions to fill in the gaps, but he will need a team of overachievers to be at their best in order to overcome the deficiencies that plague the roster.
The old-school coach brings a disciplined and detailed approach to an organization that had lost its identity as a blue-collar bunch. Eberflus hopes to rely on effort, toughness and enthusiasm to make up for a lack of blue-chip players on the roster. The first-time head coach has a potential five-star quarterback on the roster in Justin Fields, but the second-year pro needs more weaponry around him to push the ball down the field. In addition, Chicago needs more trench warriors on each side of the ball to better control the point of attack. The play of the offensive and defensive lines must improve immediately for the Bears to gain ground on their rivals. Eberflus is intent on finding more "M&Ms" (motor and mean), but he will likely need to coax better effort out of his holdovers to make immediate improvements in Year 1. While effort and enthusiasm can make up for some of a team's deficiencies, the rookie head coach will need to convince his team to outwork opponents in order to chalk up wins this season.
Despite taking over a franchise with one winning season over the past 14 years, the Super Bowl-winning head coach has a solid chance to reverse the course of these Jaguars and swiftly put the Urban Meyer disaster in the rearview mirror. As a quarterback guru with a proven track record of developing young players at the game's most important position, Pederson inherits one of the most hyped QB prospects in memory in Trevor Lawrence. While it could take some time for the coach to surround his second-year signal-caller with enough talent for him to realize his full potential, the additions of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram should help Lawrence showcase his talent as a dart thrower from the pocket. In addition, Pederson has to show everyone inside the building how to think, act and perform at a championship level. There are some intriguing pieces in place to build around, but the fearless head coach has to flip the mindset in Duval.
The ultra-creative play-caller finally gets his chance to run a squad after demonstrating outstanding flexibility and adaptability throughout his time in Buffalo. After transforming Josh Allen into a superstar while helping the Bills become title contenders, Daboll encounters a new challenge with the Giants as he attempts to build up Daniel Jones and Co. into a powerhouse after years of futility. The defensive nucleus is intriguing, with plenty of top-end talent up front (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari) that should enable the team to get back to the blueprint that's produced Super Bowl wins in the past. While there is plenty of work to be done on offense, Daboll's smoke-and-mirrors approach could mask some of the team's deficiencies.
The reunion of Kirk Cousins and O'Connell -- the latter served as the former's QB coach in Washington back in 2017 -- should enable the Vikings to hit the ground running under the rookie head coach. The veteran quarterback knows the system, which should help the offense carry the water until the defense catches up. That said, the first-time head coach and offensive play-caller will have to master the art of managing the entire team while navigating the call sheet and game situations. In addition, O'Connell must oversee the rebuild of a defense that is adjusting to a new scheme while blending in a handful of new players. Given the playoff expectations that come with a big-money quarterback in his prime, the pressure is on O'Connell to figure things out in a hurry in Minneapolis.
The quirky running game specialist, a former assistant for Kyle Shanahan, takes over a program with a solid foundation in place. The Dolphins have a talented young roster with hidden gems all over the depth chart. The team added more speed and explosiveness to the lineup this offseason, with three-time All-Pro Tyreek Hill and a group of swift playmakers (Cedrick Wilson, Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds) coming on board to join Jaylen Waddle. McDaniel’s creativity should make life miserable for defensive coordinators around the league via a dynamic running game and RPO package setting up big-play opportunities. Although the performance of Tua Tagovailoa is the key to the offense’s success, the auxiliary pieces around the young quarterback give him a great chance to take a big step in Year 3. If the Dolphins’ QB1 makes any strides, it’s hard to envision the team missing out on the playoffs in McDaniel’s debut campaign.
The Broncos have been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback since Peyton Manning’s retirement following Super Bowl 50 in 2016. That’s one of the reasons why Hackett was hired. He’s a well-respected quarterback whisperer who has proven he can help field generals thrive in the pocket (SEE: his work with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville). And then, less than two months after Hackett's hiring, Denver acquired an established superstar in Russell Wilson, who could be the final piece that allows this loaded Broncos roster to finally reach its potential. It might take some time for the offense to click as the coach and quarterback develop chemistry, but the talented playmaker has a knack for making any play call the correct one due to his spectacular improvisational skills. If the defense makes a smooth transition from Vic Fangio to new coordinator Ejiro Evero without regressing as a unit, Denver has the potential to make a worst-to-first leap in the AFC West standings.
The veteran defensive coordinator -- and former Raiders head coach -- gets a chance to lead a team with five-star talents on both sides of the ball. Allen has already demonstrated his ability to outfox opponents with his defensive schemes, but the Saints’ new head coach must oversee an offensive transition, with Pete Carmichael Jr. taking over primary play-caller duties after Sean Payton’s departure. Carmichael , who has served as New Orleans' offensive coordinator since 2009, has plenty of weapons to work with after the team added Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave to a receiving corps that features a two-time All-Pro (Michael Thomas) returning from injury. If Jameis Winston plays like he did prior to last year's season-ending knee injury, I believe the Saints are poised to emerge as Super Bowl contenders with Allen at the helm.
If McDaniels can apply the valuable lessons learned from his failed first run as a head coach with the Broncos, he could quickly transform the Raiders from a good team to a great one. The AFC West contenders are coming off an impressive run to the playoffs despite being wrapped in adversity throughout last season, and McDaniels (along with new GM Dave Ziegler) has upgraded a roster that already had some great talents. The additions of Davante Adams and Chandler Jones give the squad a pair of blue-chip playmakers with winning pedigrees. The overall talent and depth of the Raiders’ roster could overwhelm foes while McDaniels focuses his efforts on teaching players how to limit critical mistakes (turnovers, penalties and big plays allowed) that lose games. With Derek Carr in place to provide the requisite leadership and clutch performance needed from the QB1, McDaniels has a great chance to get it right this time around.
Bowles was dealt a tough hand in his first head-coaching opportunity, going 24-40 with the New York Jets from 2015 through 2018. It’s a lot easier building a champion when you have a seven-time Super Bowl winner at quarterback. With Tom Brady electing to end his brief retirement, Bowles inherits a title contender with a three-time MVP teaching a daily master class in winning football. Although the team will undergo a bit of a learning curve with Bowles taking over for Bruce Arians, the continuity within the coaching staff should ensure stability that allows the Buccaneers to race out of the gate when the regular season starts. If Bowles can get the defense to play at a top-five level, he might help the team add another Lombardi to the trophy case.