This season an unprecedented eight NFL teams will have new head coaches. And for six of these coaches, it will be their first time running the whole show.
Bruce Arians has stepped out of the booth and back onto the field in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have floundered recently and Jameis Winston hasn’t grown or flourished the way we expected him to when he was drafted in 2015. Perhaps promoting former NFL QB turned offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will be the first step in turning Winston around.
But the seven other coaches have their work cut out for them. Let’s take a look at these “rookies” and, maybe the biggest key to their success, who will be under center as they take the field.
The toughest job has to belong to Kliff Kingsbury, taking over the 3-13 Cardinals and rookie QB Josh Rosen. He worked with some familiar names during his tenure as head coach at Texas Tech, including Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. While I hope he as the chance to work with Rosen, rumors abound that the Cardinals might trade Rosen for a chance at Kyler Murray in the draft.
The Denver Broncos (6-10) surprised many with the hire of Vic Fangio, and more were stunned when they signed veteran QB Joe Flacco. After four years as the defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, Fangio knows how to stop opponents. But, as he also found out in Chicago, good defense isn’t enough without a QB and an offense. Flacco feels more like a safe choice to buy them time and not really a long-term answer.
Aaron Rodgers is absolutely an elite quarterback. Is he enough to stand behind Matt LaFleur as he takes over in Green Bay? An incredibly disappointing 6-9-1 season that was laden with injuries tells part of the story. And word on the street is that Rodgers and former head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t actually see eye-to-eye, which Rodgers has now refuted. LaFleur has worked for a few NFL teams as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, so that should help their relationship.
When you are in a division with the New England Patriots, you just get used to settling for second place. But the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets are trying to show that it’s not good enough to settle, and both teams made coaching changes as well as QB changes.
Leaving the Dolphins, Adam Gase may not be a rookie, but he’s got something to prove as heads to the New York Jets and takes over managing Sam Darnold. His rookie year left a whole lot of question marks as to his abilities. After the QB carousel Gase dealt with in Miami, it should be interesting to see what he can do with the #2 pick from last year’s draft. Given time and resources, this should be the kind of QB he can build a team around.
Plus, those new uniforms are sweet.
Brian Flores leaves New England to take over the struggling 7-9 Miami Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick was a great off-season addition and should be an asset to the defensive-minded Flores. From scouting to defensive coordinator, Flores worked his way through the Patriots organization. He learned from the master himself, Bill Belichick. If anyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Dolphins, it’s him. I’ve got a feeling we’ll see 9 or 10 wins this season.
Lastly, we come to my home division: the AFC North. A division in turmoil, with the Ravens and Steelers on the decline – at least that’s what I like to believe. It’s a division ripe for the taking and both of the Ohio teams are making moves.
Zac Taylor was a wide receiver and quarterbacks coach for the Los Angeles Rams. He’s worked with Jared Goff. No one knows what, if anything, Andy Dalton has left in his tank, but if the Bengals can find a way to get Murray or Dwayne Haskins or some other young QB to develop, Taylor is the guy to do it. After taking over the bottom spot in the division at 6-10 last year, fans were beyond thrilled that Taylor was hired to right the ship.
I try to be objective. I fail, but I try. Freddie Kitchens has the best job in this bunch with Baker Mayfield under center. The team that went 1-15 then 0-16 just a short while ago, made huge strides to finish 7-8-1 last year. Kitchens was named the interim offensive coordinator after week 8 and earned the respect of the players, the front office, the fans, and most importantly, general manager John Dorsey. His relationship with Mayfield seems to be solid and, if they continue to click, this team is headed to the playoffs.