As promised, I have made a centralized post for all coaching move-related grades (most recent first) now that 2024 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, check out this page.
February 1, 2024
Commanders Hire Dan Quinn as HC:
I’m a bit surprised at the run of defensive-minded HC hires. That’s 3 in a row in a league shifting increasingly toward the offensive side of the ball. I’d say that Washington needed X type of coach, but if you substitute anything for X (“offensive”, “defensive”, what have you), you’d be correct. This team is a mess on both sides of the ball, so it makes sense that the Commanders would want a veteran HC with strong leadership. Quinn has been an excellent DC in both Seattle and Dallas, and though his record was only .500, he did take the Falcons to a Super Bowl. His work turning around the Cowboys’ defense has been impressive, and Washington is hoping that he can work similar magic on their consistently awful secondary. As an added bonus, this hiring weakens a division rival, which can never be discounted. I probably would’ve liked a Bill Belichick or Mike Vrabel hire a bit better in terms of setting the culture for this team’s new ownership group, but this is still a very good move.
January 31, 2024
Seahawks Hire Mike Macdonald as HC:
I really thought the Seahawks would’ve gone with Dan Quinn given his familiarity with the team and owner Jodie Allen’s comments about maintaining the culture. They chose a different DC, and this one has higher upside. Macdonald has seen his stock rise sharply while bouncing between the Harbaugh brothers. He went from Ravens secondary coach to Michigan DC to Ravens DC. In that last job, he led the #1 scoring defense that also led the league in sacks and takeaways. Macdonald is known for his X’s and O’s, possessing a very high football IQ. That shows in his schemes, and Seattle will need his help to boost a defense that perennially struggles against the run. Players also love him, and I said a couple of weeks ago that he should be receiving more HC interviews. Apparently he got one, and as usual, he aced it.
January 25, 2024
Falcons Hire Raheem Morris as HC:
Seriously? The team that interviewed Bill Belichick twice and had Mike Vrabel (and maybe even Pete Carroll) available went with…Raheem Morris? I understand that Morris is a good motivator and has done well as the Rams’ DC. My reasons for disliking this hire have nothing to do with him in particular. First, as stated above, elite options were available, but Atlanta chose a retread who had a terrible run as Tampa’s coach (though that was a long time ago). Second, Atlanta did fine on defense; it’s offense that failed this team. Teams often go in the opposite direction of the coach they just fired, and Arthur Smith was an offensive coach, but just because he failed doesn’t mean that going offense-first was the wrong approach. Someone has to develop a QB for the Falcons, so Morris had better come with a great OC. Finally, if the plan was to hire a defensive coach, two of the names I listed above, along with fresh faces like Lou Anarumo of the Bengals, would have been better choices. Remember, Morris was Atlanta’s interim HC just 3 years ago, where he went 4-7. The team passing on Belichick is ironically getting the same grade as the team that replaced him.
Panthers Hire Dave Canales as HC:
Only certain coaches would be willing to take the Carolina job. Normally, you say that “there’s only 32 of these positions in the world”, recognizing that people will take any of them because of their rarity. The Panthers are not a normal team. No NFL owner is quite like David Tepper in terms of his meddling, antagonism toward fans, and impatience. Thus, I’m tempted to grade any hire favorably simply due to my shock at Carolina being able to land him. The Panthers needed to get a first-time NFL HC here; no veteran coach would want to come given what Frank Reich just endured. They also couldn’t go after a hot name because other teams would be much more appealing. That makes Canales a sneaky-good hire. He did great work as the Seahawks’ QB coach in 2022, authoring a remarkable renaissance for Geno Smith. Then, perhaps even more impressively, he took a Buccaneers offense that struggled even under Tom Brady last season and made it competent enough with Baker Mayfield to win a playoff game. Obviously, Canales’ first (and possibly only) task is to make Bryce Young better. Young is the franchise, particularly with what Carolina gave up to get him, and nothing else works if he doesn’t. I think based on his track record that Canales can do a really good job with that. Tepper needs to be warned though: if Canales can’t fix Young, don’t immediately blame the HC.
January 24, 2024
Chargers Hire Jim Harbaugh as HC:
Harbaugh finally jumped back to the NFL. He stayed at the University of Michigan far longer than anyone expected, but now that he just brought his alma mater a national title and a 15-0 season, there’s not much left to do in the college ranks. The one thing that has eluded him is a Super Bowl ring (he lost one to his brother John). Harbaugh was one of the elite coaches available this cycle. He’s a proven winner, including at the NFL level with the 49ers. The Chargers have a good young QB that he’ll love in Justin Herbert, plus a good amount of surrounding talent assuming it all remains. I had this as my ideal spot for Bill Belichick because of those same reasons, but LA focused on Harbaugh from the jump. I am curious about roster control. The Bolts hired Harbaugh before hiring a GM, and we know Harbaugh is used to roster control from his 9 years as a college coach. That’s more of a curiosity thing though than something that will impact this grade. Remember: Harbaugh is replacing Brandon Staley, so anyone was going to be an upgrade. They just happen to be going from the worst HC in the NFL to one of the very best.
January 23, 2024
Titans Hire Brian Callahan as HC:
This was a bit of a surprise. DC Lou Anarumo was the Cincinnati coordinator that had attracted a lot of attention last season. Instead, it’s Bengals OC Brian Callahan who received the bulk of the interviews this time around. His candidacy gained steam in the last couple of days, but don’t let people tell you it’s because he’s a legacy. The son of legendary OL coach Bill Callahan of the Browns, Brian is an offensive expert in his own right, molding the Bengals’ scheme over the past 5 years. He has been instrumental to the development of QB Joe Burrow, and teams think his work this year was even more impressive. Once Burrow and WR Tee Higgins got hurt, Callahan still managed to scheme up points with Jake Browning under center. Clearly, the Titans wanted to move from a defensive HC (Mike Vrabel) to an offensive hire that could help QB Will Levis as he enters his second season. I don’t think there’s nearly as much to work with as there was with Burrow. The roster is also in terrible shape. That said, Callahan comes with a good pedigree and should get the best out of the personnel he has. I give Callahan a good grade, but I can’t understand dumping Vrabel for him.
January 19, 2024
Raiders Hire Antonio Pierce as HC:
So Mark Davis listened to his players this time? When Pierce became interim coach after the firing of Josh McDaniels, expectations weren’t too high for a guy who had never even been a solo coordinator at the pro or college levels. The one thing we knew is that he could lead men; could he actually coach a team? He took over a 3-5 squad and immediately led the Raiders to 2 straight wins, albeit over the Jets and Giants. LV came back down to earth, especially during a 3-0 loss to Minnesota, but he made the team a lot more competitive, finishing 8-9 (5-4 under Pierce) and winning 3 of their final 4 games. The players, including star DE Maxx Crosby, publicly offered their support for Pierce while also saying they were tired of the constant turnover. That message was apparently received. Pierce now has the full-time gig, and there’s a lot of work to do. Most of that work is on the personnel side though, as he may not make too many changes to his staff. Retaining the status quo is fine here, though Davis should’ve done that back when their last interim coach (Rich Bisaccia) took the team to the playoffs. Better late than never though, and this is probably the safest hire that could’ve been made. Sometimes calmness really is the answer.
January 12, 2024
Patriots Hire Jerod Mayo as HC:
That was quick. Apparently Mayo had a clause in his recent contract extension that made him the air-apparent to Bill Belichick, allowing the Patriots to bypass the traditional hiring process. I don’t really get this one. My grade here doesn’t have much to do with Mayo himself. I like him, especially as a defensive mind. From what I’ve heard from team sources, when Mayo interviewed with other teams for their HC openings, particularly the Eagles, he knocked it out of the park. My problem is Mayo as the choice for New England. He played under Belichick, coached under Belichick, and was groomed in the Patriot Way. If owner Robert Kraft wanted to change things, this was definitely not the right strategy. Mayo is his own man, but as a coach, his system is likely going to be the same. In that case, why not just keep Belichick and hire a GM, as Belichick publicly stated he was open to ceding roster control? Belichick wanna-bes don’t do great, so I would’ve stuck with the original if I had only these two options. Again, I DO like Mayo and think he could be a good head coach for someone. This just wasn’t the correct choice for the Patriots, who needed a real paradigm shift.
January 11, 2024
Patriots Part Ways with HC Bill Belichick:
Note: I’m grading this in two parts–for Belichick the coach and Belichick the GM. Please see the other page for the other grade. I did the GM part first.
This is the much harder move to trade. When the phrase “mutually part ways” is thrown about, it’s usually a coded way of saying “fired” while letting the person leaving save face. This time though, it truly feels mutual. Owner Robert Kraft is tired of the losing, and he probably wonders why he didn’t choose Tom Brady over Belichick a few years ago. Belichick, on the other hand, clearly doesn’t want to go down the QB development road again (if he chooses ATL I’ll retract that). It simply made sense for the two to go their separate ways, with New England embarking on a full rebuild and Belichick trying to trace Don Shula’s all-time wins record. So why isn’t this an A? The fact is that Belichick is still an elite coach, at least on defense. That unit has always been greater than the sum of its parts, and that was true in 2023 as well. The defense did its very best to carry an awful offense, and even though that didn’t produce many wins, they ranked in the top 10 of most categories. I can see Belichick going to a team like the Chargers, with a franchise QB in place and an underachieving defense with talent. This parting of ways gets a perfectly average grade because it wasn’t the ideal scenario (which would’ve involved keeping Belichick as coach while hiring a true GM), but it was an inevitability. Now is as good a time as any and may be the optimal time, but that doesn’t make the end of an era any easier.
January 10, 2024
Seahawks Fire HC Pete Carroll:
There’s always one coaching change that shocks us each year. If that wasn’t Vrabel yesterday, it’s certainly Carroll today. The Seahawks aren’t describing this as a firing, and they claim he’ll move into an advisory role. I’m not playing semantics. What owner Jody Allen has done is fire the winningest coach in franchise history. Carroll missed the playoffs in just 4 of his 14 seasons, reached two Super Bowls, and won a ring. His team went 9-8 this year despite a middling version of Geno Smith at QB and young players all across the roster. The next coach might produce slightly better results, but that will purely be a product of maturation from the youngsters, and ironically, the hard work will have been done by Carroll. Teams would kill to have him as their head coach, and at age 72, if he still wants to do this like he claims, I doubt he’ll have any trouble finding a job. I’d beware of taking this Seattle position. Allen’s 2 major moves since her brother Paul Allen died have been firing Carroll and trading Damian Lillard from the Portland Trailblazers. Not a great track record. If someone like Carroll could get the axe, why would anyone else feel safe?
January 9, 2024
Titans Fire HC Mike Vrabel:
The team claimed that firing Vrabel was a “difficult” decision. I don’t doubt that, because being this dumb is rather hard to do. Vrabel has been one of the league’s better coaches in his 6 years with the Titans. He consistently got more out of the roster he was given than the player quality indicated. His teams have always been competitive, and his first 4 years were stellar. The last 2 seasons have been rough, but that’s not on him one bit. Tennessee is an untalented team at this point with sieves for its offensive line and secondary. QB Ryan Tannehill has been injured often, and his replacements have been poor. Rookie Will Levis has occasionally shown promise, but now he’ll have to deal with a brand new offense and staff. RB Derrick Henry is likely out the door, too. I’m not sure what owner Amy Adams Strunk wanted Vrabel to do with this collection of “talent”. Sure, he can be gruff, but there’s no question that the man can coach football. I expect him to jump to the tops of interview lists for any team with an opening, while the Titans are on a direct line straight to the cellar.
January 8, 2024
Commanders Fire HC Ron Rivera
Much of Rivera’s failing comes from his decisions as the team’s personnel head. He had final control over the roster over GM Martin Mayhew, and that roster is a complete disaster. Washington’s secondary and offensive line are horrible, and the defensive line has now been torn down. The QB position has been a revolving door since his arrival, with the one decent shot to fix it (Sam Howell) sabotages by the incompetence around him. On the field, the man who earned the nickname “Riverboat Ron” has become too conservative. I don’t mind if you aren’t analytically inclined; showing SOME faith in your team every now and then is a good thing. But maybe that’s just it: he has no faith in the team HE built. We’re talking about a 2-time coach of the year here, but both of those awards came with Carolina. Since then, he has a record that is well under .500. Making things worse for him, a new regime typically means new management, and owner Josh Harris probably wanted to hire his own people no matter how well Rivera was doing. It just so happened that he was doing poorly, making his firing an easy call. He’s a good guy and a respected teacher, but if his calling card (defense) has let him down, what else does he have?
Falcons Fire HC Arthur Smith
Atlanta barely waited until midnight to make this announcement! I can’t say I truly blame them though; this season was a disaster. Originally hired away from Tennessee for his offensive acumen, it was the offense that led to his downfall. His first 2 seasons were underwhelming, but that was mostly because of a poor defense. This year though, the defensive talent deficiencies were fixed, putting the pressure on the offense. Much of Smith’s fate was going to depend on how he groomed 2nd-year QB Desmond Ridder. To say he failed on that front would be an understatement. Ridder was a turnover machine, especially in crucial moments, and Smith benched him for Taylor Heinicke several times. That’s bad enough, but Smith’s biggest flaw is that he didn’t sufficiently utilize his top talents. WR Drake London, TE Kyle Pitts, and especially rookie RB Bijan Robinson didn’t make the impacts anyone expected. They’re talented, and they showed what they could do when given the ball…but they didn’t get the ball that often. If I see one more game in which Tyler Allgeier has more carries than Robinson, the generational back, I may lose my mind. Apparently owner Arthur Blank felt the same, as Smith’s 3rd consecutive season without a playoff appearance is officially his last, and rightfully so.