A former star, a second chance, and three promoted up the ranks. Which new NFL head coach is a home run hire? Is there an archetype that works best and will all five new coaches succeed?
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With the Super Bowl in our rearview mirror, all 32 franchises in the NFL have set their head coach for the 2023 year. The final new NFL head coach hires were made by siphoning off each of Philadelphia’s lead coordinators. Jonathan Gannon was hired by Arizona, while Indianapolis named Shane Steichen its head man.
Earlier in the winter, the other main coaching vacancies were filled by Sean Payton for Denver, DeMeco Ryans for Houston, and Frank Reich for Carolina. In all, of the five new hires, three are first-time head coaches coming off superb seasons as coordinators. Payton is coming out of retirement/hiatus, and Reich is getting another immediate chance after getting fired. Talk about contrasting philosophies!
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We have pretty much zero consistency here, which speaks to the job of head coach at-large. There is definitely no clear path to what will make a successful head coach. Sometimes it’s the man moving up the ladder, finally getting his chance after earning each step of the way. Sometimes, though, that man fails. A successful head coach could be a splash hire out of nowhere; or that man could fizzle and fail. Maybe a retread needs a change of scenery that unlocks his full potential. Or maybe that guy is never going to get it done. Any and every scenario has both worked and not worked in the NFL, which makes this so interesting. No one knows! So who wins the derby of hiring a new NFL head coach?
New NFL Head Coach Hires: Who Wins?
Todd Salem: Second Chance in Carolina is Best
There are certainly better situations than others for new coaches to join. I would much rather be Reich in Carolina, for example, than Gannon in Arizona. I think the Panthers have a number of really talented players on their roster, and Reich may be one quarterback away from true success even if he isn’t any good on the sidelines. Meanwhile, the Cardinals may have a failed franchise QB that they can’t get rid of and holes littering the rest of the roster to boot.
So if Gannon suffers and fails, does it mean he isn’t cut out to be a head coach? We still won’t know, which makes this whole practice so difficult. The line is so fine that you don’t have to look any further than Gannon’s predecessor. Kliff Kingbury found success and led his team to improvements in each of his first three seasons. He earned himself a massive, five-year contract extension to be head coach of the Arizona Cardinals less than a year before being fired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
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Who truly stands out as a home run hire, with the caveat being that we surely don’t know who is or isn’t a good hire? I know it’s a dumb question. Perhaps a better question is whether there is a coaching archetype that you like more than the others? Is it the old coach who found success giving it another go, like Payton? Do you prefer the second chance for a previous head coach, like Reich? Is it the hot-shot coordinator getting his first crack, like Coach of the Year Brian Daboll last year and these young guys in 2023?
I personally like the Reich mold, even if Reich doesn’t end up finding success through it. I can see the logic in hiring a head coach for his second stint, after he hit some lumps and learned from his mistakes in stop number one. Call it the Bill Belichick prototype, even though that certainly isn’t the norm and perhaps is even the exception to the rule.
Is this the most successful mold of a new head coach? It’s impossible to say because there are no set molds that everyone will neatly fall into. It also self-selects from head coaches who have previously failed, automatically removing the best guys from its own collective of options.
So, no, we won’t learn any overarching lesson from Reich’s success or failure, just like the performance of Ryans or Gannon won’t lend us anything that can be applied to future hires. Every situation is different; no one knows for sure who will succeed; it makes for such fascinating discourse.
Dan Salem: Texans ‘Win’ This Derby
Who’s the home run hire among our five “new” NFL head coaches? Let me first answer the easy question. Who’s the safest hire and the least likely to fail? That would be Payton of course, because he’s already proven he knows how to do this job really well for a very long time. Hiring Payton was a safe yet splashy move by the Broncos. They will certainly improve, but even the best coaches can’t fix a totaled team in a single season. Besides Wilson, who may or may not be past his prime, Denver is full of holes everywhere. Hiring a proven head coach with past success is the best move a team can make to limit risk and ensure at least minor gains. It’s not a home run, however.
Maybe it’s because I remember it failing all too often, specifically for my New York Jets or teams hiring former Jets coaches, but hiring a coach after a failed stint elsewhere is not my cup of tea. Todd Bowles is the most recent example of this failing miserably. He’s actually an example of both hiring a former failed head coach and elevating a successful coordinator failing, at the same time! Despite Bowles, I personally believe the home run move is elevating a dominant coordinator, specifically a defensive coordinator.
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Defensive coordinators who become head coaches usually want to stay out of the offense’s way, so assuming they assemble a strong staff, there is no muddying the waters between both sides of the football. Defense wins championships and it’s much easier to mold a defensive scheme to your new team’s personnel than it is to either alter your offensive scheme, or try to jam your offensive talent into your little box of a playbook. Offensive coordinators getting head coaching jobs has been a trend in the NFL, but it’s the defensive coordinators getting promoted who seem to have more longevity to me.
I’m avoiding answering the question of the home run hire, mainly because of the teams involved. I don’t think the Colts know how to make a good decision, which trumps any feelings I have about their actual hire. Houston’s move is one I like and they may show some spunk this season, but they are not a good team. I suppose they “win” this derby, because I already told you my thoughts on Denver and the hiring of a retread coach, which is what Carolina did. Arizona is stuck in No Man’s Land right now, so they lose by default. Go Texans!
Meet our Writers:
Dan Salem is Lead Editor, Writer, and Co-owner of BuzzChomp. He’s a published author, as well as an award winning Actor, Director and Producer. Visit M Square Productions for his film work, or get lost in his old-school comedy on Pillow Talk TV. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Todd Salem is a Staff Writer and Contributing Editor at BuzzChomp. He’s also a fantasy football and fantasy baseball Staff Writer for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter or comment below for his unfiltered opinions.
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