2023 NFL Coach Hiring/Firing Grades

As promised, I have made a centralized post for all coaching move-related grades (most recent first) now that 2023 has begun. Perfect way to celebrate Black Monday right? For those who aren’t aware, Black Monday is the Monday after the final week of the regular season. The teams that missed the playoffs decide whether to continue with the status quo or to make major moves to their coaching staffs and front offices. Here, I provide coach hiring/firing grades for each change made. Coordinators will be discussed only as part of a staff being hired with a head coach or when the situation is particularly notable. For GM moves, head over to this page.

Cardinals Hire Jonathan Gannon as HC
You make one surprise Super Bowl run and suddenly you’re in need of two new coordinators. Nick Sirianni must now replace his DC, as Jonathan Gannon has been poached by the Cardinals to replace Kliff Kingsbury. This is a tough hire to judge. Gannon was up for the Texans job last year and wisely avoided it, so he’s clearly qualified. His defense was also excellent this year in Philadelphia. Luckily, I’m not grading how good the job is from Gannon’s perspective, because this team is a train wreck. No job opening this cycle was worse, and I’m including Houston. The owner has apparently told his new GM (hired from a team that fired their own GM) to trade WR DeAndre Hopkins, who is by far their best player. AJ Green and JJ Watt just retired, taking their veteran leadership with them. Plus, their idiotic contract has them stuck with Kyler Murray, an overrated bust and apparently petulant child who won’t even play to start the season due to yet another injury. Sean Payton didn’t even want to coach that guy. All this is just my way of saying that I have to ace the Cardinals for their current hire. Gannon isn’t a candidate who should’ve even considered Arizona. The Cardinals considered Brian Flores and Lou Anarumo, and I could make an argument for Anarumo, but Flores needed to be avoided at all costs. Thus, the hire may not work out because of mismanagement in the front office, but Gannon can build a defense-first team that’s competitive while things get worked out.
Grade: A

Colts Hire Shane Steichen as HC
If it first you don’t succeed, try again. That appears to be the lesson learned by Colts owner Jim Irsay. His hiring of Eagles OC Frank Reich didn’t work out too well, but he’s giving it another shot by hiring the current Philly OC, Shane Steichen, as his new head coach. The main question with this hire, as with many other young offensive minds, is whether the Eagles’ offense was the brainchild of him or head coach Nick Sirianni. In Reich’s case, the answer was clearly Doug Pederson, but this time around, I think it’s more split. While I’d still credit Sirianni, Steichen has no doubt been instrumental to the development of Jalen Hurts, who reached the Super Bowl as a flawed passer. In Indianapolis though, he’ll be tasked with fixing a putrid offense without the benefit of an elite offensive line or receivers, which is a completely different challenge. Ultimately, whoever got this job was going to be judged based on how he develops the QB taken with the #4 overall pick (barring a trade) in this year’s draft. From that perspective, Steichen was likely the best option to do just that.
Grade: A-

Texans Hire DeMeco Ryans as HC
This hire has been gaining traction for a few days, and now it’s finally official. The most critical factor here is the length of the deal given to the 49ers’ DC. David Culley and Lovie Smith, the Texans’ two previous coaches, were handed 3-year contracts. Thus, owner Cal McNair was willing to eat 2 years of each deal and fire them both after one season apiece. Ryans is getting 6 years; that’s a much more substantial commitment, suggesting that the Texans truly believe they’ve got their long-term guy. Houston knows him well; Ryans was a 2nd-round pick of theirs who played for the team for 6 seasons. His stock in the coaching ranks has risen at a meteoric rate. Though he had an immense amount of talent with the Niners, he has led elite defenses for the past couple of years. I do question why the Texans in particular would make this hire. If a defensive guy was their preference, why not save cash while avoiding a ton of public backlash and keep Smith? The success of Ryan in Houston will come down to the talent that comes in (Nick Caserio has not earned the benefit of the doubt on that) and his offensive coordinator. Those are the same things that would have been used to judge Smith. Ryans is a deserving coach, but I’m not sure about the fit.
Grade: B-

Broncos Hire Sean Payton as HC
A word of warning: I am not considering the trade aspect of this hiring (you can see that here), nor am I evaluating this from Payton’s point of view. I think it’s ridiculous to leave the cushy Fox booth (ask Jon Gruden and Urban Meyer how leaving the booth worked out), and this is not a particularly attractive job (again, I’ll discuss that part in the trade section). For Denver, this is a slam dunk. You saw what an inexperienced head coach looked like in Nathaniel Hackett, so reversing course under new ownership was the way to go. Payton is a renowned QB guru who made Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston look like Pro Bowlers. How have those two been since? If anyone can fix the decrepit version of Russell Wilson we saw last year, it’s him. I’m curious to see who his DC will be; Vic Fangio was the rumored name, but he wouldn’t return to the Broncos team that fired him as head coach, and he’s reportedly signing with the Dolphins. Should he hire a quality guy like he did with Dennis Allen in NO, the Broncos can get good in a hurry. It all depends on what he does with Wilson. Any failure at this point would be on Wilson, not Payton, so even if the team needs to reset under center, they’re in great hands going forward. They got the best guy available, and since contracts are not counted against the salary cap, the new owners from Walmart can pay whatever it takes.
Grade: A+

Panthers Hire Frank Reich as HC
I’m rather ambivalent about this hire. On the one hand, Reich oversaw QB chaos in Indianapolis. His constant signal caller switching led to instability, which influenced his firing. On the other hand, he has done some good work with QBs for as long as he had them. Carson Wentz has not played better with any coach throughout his career. He worked some miracles with Nick Foles in Philly. Though Carolina is in a QB quagmire of their own, should one of his teams finally draft one instead of signing a veteran stopgap, he could do great work for that player. Reich also knows the organization well, as he was its first ever starting QB. The Panthers obviously had no shot at Sean Payton, as the Saints would charge their division rival a massive premium in a trade or outright refuse their offers. Still, someone like Shane Steichen might have been more exciting if the team was set on an offensive coach. For veteran stability, interim coach Steve Wilks would have been fine. Thus, I have to give this a middling grade.
Grade: C+

Cardinals Fire HC Kliff Kingsbury
It’s very odd that owner Michael Bidwill would fire Kingsbury after giving him an extension through 2027 just 10 months ago. That choice looked dumb at the time, but it won’t be factored in here. Aside from having to eat the money, cutting ties with Kingsbury is a good choice. He was always a weird hire, picked up immediately after being fired from Texas Tech with a losing record. His main attribute was supposed to be his relationship with Kyler Murray, but that soured too. This left Arizona with a mediocre offensive mind. By all accounts, he’s a very nice guy, but he isn’t an elite head coach. Notably, his teams always collapse in the second halves of seasons. They did this after a great start last year, but with a poor start this year, a bad second half ultimately led to a 4-13 season. There’s talent on this team, such as Budda Baker and DeAndre Hopkins, but they need someone else to extract the most from it. Murray’s contract means he’s staying, and someone had to take the fall here.
Grade: A

Texans Fire HC Lovie Smith
This is one that is not entirely unexpected but one that is completely unjustified. The team fired David Culley last year after just one season, and that was reasonable. They’re doing it again today, and it’s ridiculous. I’m thinking the team might be mad at him for winning the season finale and costing them the #1 pick. I can’t come up with another reason. He had the least talented team in the NFL had them increasingly competitive. Despite possibly the worst QB situation in the league, Smith kept the team afloat with an above average defense and good management. The Texans battled for him to the very end, even completing an inspired comeback over the Colts. This group didn’t look drastically inferior in close losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys, and that’s because of Smith. I should also note that his hiring allowed Houston to avoid hiring Brian Flores, which is another point in his favor. GM Nick Caserio will somehow get to hire his 3rd coach in 3 years. Should he be fired as well, expect that grade to be quite different.
Grade: F

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