NFLTR Review: Grading The Coaching Hires

With all nine head coaching vacancies filled, here’s the official NFLTR Review report card for the 2022 hiring cycle:

  • Good marks for the Jaguars and Dolphins, despite organizational dysfunction
  • Texans and NFL diversity initiatives get failing grades
  • Plus why it’s time to pay attention to Kyler Murray’s “situation”

2022 Coaching Hire Grades

Let’s get this disclaimer out of the way first. No one has cracked the code of how to predict successful head coaching hires with any modicum of reliability. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be an average turnover rate of 20 percent at the NFL’s top job every year. If you want a chuckle, go back at least three years and pick a random coaching grades article. Some of it will be right. Most of it will be wrong, and laughably so. 

It’d be easier to just say all of the nine hires this year will fall on their face. Honestly, you’d get more right than wrong with that approach. Still, it’s fun content and what is life without a challenge? 

So here are my grades for all nine hires during the 2022 coaching cycle, plus a bonus grade which we’ll lead off with. 

NFL diversity efforts

Grade: F

This hiring cycle has been an absolute disaster for the NFL’s diversity hiring initiatives. Out of the nine openings, only one went to a Black coach. New Texans HC Lovie Smith now joins Steelers HC Mike Tomlin as the league’s only two Black head coaches out of 32 — fewer than when the Rooney Rule was first instituted in 2003. 

New Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel counts as a minority per the NFL, as his father was Black, so he joins Washington’s Ron Rivera and the Jets’ Robert Saleh as the only other non-white coaches. Two of the four general manager openings (Chicago’s Ryan Poles and Minnesota’s Kwesi Adofo-Mensah) went to Black candidates. That pushes the total to seven GMs of color, which is at least progress. The number of women in coaching and front office roles is also growing exponentially. 

Still, diversity in the head coaching ranks lags far behind. Former Dolphins HC Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the league, which probably torpedoed his chances at getting a coaching job, shines a spotlight on just how bad things are right now. The lawsuit doesn’t just detail Flores’ personal experiences but also goes in-depth on other injustices in how the NFL treats its Black coaches. The bar is just different if you’re not white — minority candidates have to be far more qualified to land a head coaching job and have a much smaller margin for error once they do. 

Judging head coaching hires is admittedly an inexact science. There’s no formula to making a good hire and there are more qualified candidates than vacancies every year. But the fact is hardly any of these jobs are going to Black candidates when there is no shortage of options. We can go job by job this year and find a Black candidate as equally qualified as the one that was hired. 

  • The Bears wanted an established leader of men, it didn’t necessarily matter if they were an offensive or defensive coach. Buccaneers DC Todd Bowles and former Lions HC Jim Caldwell both interviewed and both were passed over. 
  • Denver prioritized offensive acumen, yet passed over Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy
  • It’s not fair to McDaniel to question his identity as the son of a Black man. At the same time, we shouldn’t just gloss over the fact he could have passed for a white candidate if he didn’t say otherwise. Colorism is a part of racism. McDaniel himself admitted he has not experienced racism, but his family members have. At any rate, Texans OC Pep Hamilton has a great track record working with a number of quarterbacks, including Davis Mills, Justin Herbert and Andrew Luck, yet receives little fanfare. He even has head coaching experience, albeit in the XFL. 
  • New York infamously chose Daboll over Flores which obviously sparked some controversy. Perhaps they just wanted someone with a background on offense who could work with their young quarterback. But they did not try to speak with Buccaneers QB Byron Leftwich, who has strong recommendations from both Bruce Arians and Tom Brady
  • Things fell apart between Jacksonville and Leftwich, but the Jaguars still had an opportunity to add a coach with a Super Bowl win on his resume, plus a track record of working with quarterbacks and relating well to players. That coach wasn’t Jim Caldwell, though that description would have fit. 
  • Raiders owner Mark Davis loves to make waves and bringing in longtime Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels definitely fits that bill. There were other big names with Patriots connections, though, like Flores. 
  • Keeping continuity for the Saints was important which is why they made an internal promotion. But they could have just as easily gone with Lions DC Aaron Glenn, who was on the staff from 2016-2020. 
  • Houston hired the only Black head coach this cycle, it’s true. But that also came after firing HC David Culley following a season where he equaled the Texans’ win total from the year before with a far worse roster. It also came after a long flirtation with hiring former NFL QB Josh McCown, whose only coaching experience comes as a volunteer high school QB coach. Meanwhile, Bieniemy has called plays for the league’s most feared offense for multiple seasons and can’t sniff a job. Are the Texans going to give Smith a longer leash than they did Culley? There are reasons to be doubtful. 
  • Minnesota interviewed 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, Rams DC Raheem Morris and Giants DC Patrick Graham. Ryans withdrew and the Vikings elected to go for someone with an offensive background in Rams OC Kevin O’Connell. But Morris has also worked on the offensive side of the ball in addition to his former head coaching experience. Is O’Connell obviously better than Morris, Leftwich, Bieniemy, Hamilton or others? He didn’t call plays with the Rams, which is a frequent criticism leveled (incorrectly) against Bieniemy. 

In the end it boils down to this. If you believe skin color does not or should not matter, there is no reason for there to be only two Black head coaches in a league that is 70 percent Black. There’s obviously no shortage of qualified candidates. Just a shortage of owners who feel truly comfortable entrusting their team to a Black man. 

Bears: Matt Eberflus

Grade: C

Eberflus’ work as the Colts’ defensive coordinator the past few seasons has drawn him a few interviews and finally the Chicago job, aided by a connection with new GM Poles. To his credit, the Colts have been consistently fairly solid on that side of the ball. They have been a top 10 defense in three of the past four years in scoring behind a bend but don’t break style that’s heavy on zone coverage and light on blitzing. 

Eberflus’ leadership ability drew praise and that’s been a consistent strength of Colts HC Frank Reich and the mini-coaching tree he’s starting to build. He doesn’t have an overwhelming resume, though, if you compare him to some of the other defensive candidates in this cycle. He’s not going to call plays, delegating that instead to new DC Alan Williams. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean there’s more pressure to provide value in other areas. 

The Bears’ choice to go with a coach with a defensive background instead of an offensive one also puts more scrutiny on Eberflus. The development of QB Justin Fields is the single most important thing for this franchise and will probably determine whether Eberflus’ time in Chicago is a success or not. Packers QB coach Luke Getsy was tabbed as the Bears’ offensive coordinator and the person to lead up that project. Getsy has an interesting background from the college game but will be a first-time playcaller, which makes him something of an unknown quantity. 

Overall, there’s just not a ton to hang your hat on with any confidence about Eberflus and the Bears. Perhaps Eberflus is a natural leader, Getsy turns out to be a prodigy and Fields rockets forward into the conversation with the league’s other elite young quarterbacks. That’s a lot of ifs, though. 

Broncos: Nathaniel Hackett

Grade: B-

The obvious connection to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was drawn after this hire. And if Denver is able to land Rodgers, Hackett will undoubtedly be set up for success. But Denver didn’t hire him just to lure Rodgers. 

Outside of his contributions the past few seasons to what has generally been a very efficient Green Bay offense, Hackett is best known for his efforts in 2017 coordinating a Top 5 offense for the Jaguars in their AFC title game run. He was the fall guy after failing to keep up the magic around QB Blake Bortles the following season. Hackett’s teams have tended to have more success in the ground game, though before arriving in Green Bay the best quarterback he worked with was arguably a tie between Bortles and Kyle Orton. That also potentially explains the pedestrian ranks for most of the offenses he’s called plays for. 

Finding a quarterback will be a real challenge for the Broncos this offseason, so Hackett’s not quite out of those woods. But his leadership abilities, which include an unconventional and innovative teaching approach, have been praised. There’s a lot more that goes into being a head coach than calling plays and coordinating an offense. 

It’s hard to say how anyone will do in the job until they’re actually in it. But Hackett does appear to have some tools that will suit him in that area. 

Dolphins: Mike McDaniel

Grade: B+

It does not take long to realize there are not many NFL coaches who sound like McDaniel. 

He looks more like someone you’d find slinging weed at a skatepark than drawing up run plays for WR Deebo Samuel. But make no mistake, McDaniel’s one of the sharpest assistants in football. He graduated from Yale and he’s been tied at the hip with Kyle Shanahan for a decade. In a coaching tree that’s produced Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay and Zac Taylor, McDaniel absolutely belongs as a football mind. 

Charisma and smarts, what’s not to like? Well, McDaniel still has to command a locker room and coaching staff through adversity. There’s no way to truly gauge his leadership skills until they’re tested. And he’s entering a challenging situation with a fractured building and an owner who is probably in the bottom third of the league. 

Still, I like a lot about what McDaniel brings to the table. Hopefully, he can transcend some of the limitations of the situation he’s walking into. 

Giants: Brian Daboll

Grade: B

There’s a lot to like about what Daboll brings to the table for the Giants. The way he helped unlock Bills QB Josh Allen was truly remarkable. While Allen’s development is a historical anomaly, Daboll’s offense always played to his strengths and gradually built upon those to get Allen to where he is today. Daboll showed a willingness to tailor his scheme to his players, not the other way around. It’s an obvious plus, but surprisingly rare among coaches. 

Daboll also shouldn’t have any issues with front office alignment, as he basically arrived as part of a package deal with new GM Joe Schoen. The question for Daboll is the same as it is for all first-time head coaches, though. How will he adjust to the leadership and management skills required as opposed to simply running an offense?

Jaguars: Doug Pederson

Grade: A-

I thought Pederson was the best available option on the coaching market this offseason. A Super Bowl goes a long way in establishing credibility. He also has a good reputation for working with quarterbacks, including Carson Wentz (partially) and Nick Foles, and is known as a player’s coach. 

All of those are strong selling points for the Jaguars, who desperately need someone with maturity after the fiasco that was the Urban Meyer era. They also desperately need someone who at a bare minimum won’t screw up Trevor Lawrence, one of the best gifts to fall in the lap of any team in quite some time. For as dysfunctional as Jacksonville’s search was, to end up with Pederson is pretty solid. 

Still, there are a couple things that stick in the back of my mind. Had talks not fallen apart with Leftwich over Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s refusal to can GM Trent Baalke, odds are Pederson would have struck out this hiring cycle, indicating the rest of the NFL is wary of something.

Did he interview poorly? Things in Philadelphia fell apart at the end, were there questions about his ability to hire a staff or adjust his offensive system? We might find out what those qualms were depending on how the next few seasons go. 

Raiders: Josh McDaniels

Grade: C+

You could argue this hire deserves a higher grade and I wouldn’t fault you. McDaniels’ track record with quarterbacks is undeniable, as he got a lot out of guys like Matt Cassel and was a big help to Mac Jones this past season. He immediately has all the pieces for a top-ten offense in Las Vegas. 

It’s also not uncommon to see coaches perform better in their second crack at being a head coach. There are plenty of colleagues and media members, many with connections to New England, who will swear up and down that McDaniels has changed, learned and grown from his disastrous first stint in Denver. McDaniels himself acknowledges he’s become better at the relationships aspect of the job. 

Still, I can’t talk myself into this hire for two main reasons. Firstly, when McDaniels left the Colts at the altar in 2018, breaking a commitment to both the team and members of the coaching staff he’d assembled, it undercuts a lot of the “he’s matured” narrative.

Secondly, the history of the Patriots’ coaching tree is rather sordid, often because they try to be Bill Belichick without the success. New Raiders GM Dave Ziegler is coming along with McDaniels from New England, so it’s pretty clear there’s going to be a lot of inspiration from the “Patriot Way.” 

Maybe it’ll work out. Maybe McDaniels really has changed. Maybe Derek Carr, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow and Josh Jacobs give him enough to hit the ground running and build up cache in the locker room. He’s got to show me first before I buy in, though. 

Saints: Dennis Allen

Grade: C

Maintaining continuity was clearly the priority for the Saints by promoting Allen. They’ve had a first-row seat to the work he’s done with the defense in recent seasons and clearly believe he’s grown from his first stint as a head coach with the Raiders (8-28, fired four games into his third season). Perhaps that’s true. 

Allen wasn’t really in demand for any of the other jobs, however. He’s not exactly going to replace what New Orleans is losing in Sean Payton and there’s still a big problem at quarterback to fix. And if the plan is for the defense to be the identity of the team, that side of the ball is starting to get old. 

I understand the desire to minimize what has been an incredible amount of change for the Saints the past two seasons. But I think they may be clutching to the past. 

Texans: Lovie Smith

Grade: D

There were almost no inclinations Smith was in play as a candidate until a day or two before he got the job. The Texans had one of the most unique candidate lists of any team, with very few candidates who were interviewed by other teams. They eventually honed in on Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon, Flores and McCown. and there were plenty of people who thought McCown was their guy. Who knows what’s going on inside that building, but it’s hard to ignore the optics of ditching all of their finalists for an internal hire after the Flores lawsuit became public. 

So now the Texans have replaced a 65-year-old old school head coach with an offensive background with a 63-year-old old-school head coach with a defensive background. Smith has quite a bit of head coaching experience, but it’s hard to see how he’ll run things much different than Culley. Why not hire him in the first place last year? Why not keep Culley for another season? I’m sure someone on the Texans beat has asked GM Nick Caserio these questions but I have not seen an answer yet. 

I hope I’m wrong, but I would not be surprised if Smith is also one and done as the Texans totter along whatever master rebuilding plan they believe they have concocted. 

Vikings: Kevin O’Connell

Grade: B

With Zac Taylor, the poster boy of the “Friends of McVay” meme that was popular during the 2019 hiring cycle, ready to battle his former mentor for a Super Bowl this weekend, we can’t dismiss the success of that coaching tree. That’s a big plus for O’Connell, who’s served as the Rams’ offensive coordinator the past two seasons, although McVay is the one who calls plays. 

Otherwise, there would be a lot of the same reasons to be skeptical about O’Connell as there have been for other young, hotshot coordinators. The only play-calling experience we know of for O’Connell came at the end of the 2019 season with Washington. He’s reportedly a sharp football mind and he obviously won over the Vikings during the interview process, but his inexperience can’t be ignored. 

What should help him is his familiarity with Vikings QB Kirk Cousins after spending three years with him in Washington, and the fact that Minnesota has a team that could be competitive. The next coach from McVay’s tree to fail will be the first, so that earns O’Connell some benefit of the doubt to start. 

This Week In Football

  • With the last of the head coaching hires being formalized earlier this week, attention now turns to the coordinator hires, which are often just as important. Some notable ones:
    • The Colts replaced Eberflus with former Raiders DC Gus Bradley, who still carries quite a few elements of Seattle style Cover 3 he made his name coaching. He’s not nearly as static as he used to be and he did have Las Vegas playing respectably well on that side of the ball this season. Unfortunately the other big impression was being absolutely smoked twice by the Chiefs. 
    • The Giants thought they were in the clear with DC Patrick Graham after he didn’t get the Vikings head coaching job. Then the Raiders swooped in to poach him, with Graham’s shared New England roots with McDaniels winning out. It’s an outstanding hire for Las Vegas, which has a little more to work with on that side of the ball than Graham had in New York. 
    • Don’t fret for the Giants, though, as Don Martindale is a more than worthy replacement. His run of success with the Ravens was ended by an injury plague that wiped out his cornerback group like the asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, but Martindale also has a tendency to live and often die by the blitz. Regardless, the Giants shouldn’t drop off too much defensively. 
    • The Packers made about as big a move as you can make to improve their infamously bad special teams unit, landing former Raiders interim HC Rich Bisaccia to fill the role. They reportedly shelled out big bucks to make it happen as well.  
    • Former Giants HC Joe Judge returned to the Patriots’ staff, but not as special teams coordinator. Judge joins as an offensive assistant, a vague designation with some reports implying it could be to eventually take over as offensive coordinator. There are big shoes to fill with McDaniels gone. 
  • In other big coordinator news, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy is in a little bit of limbo, as he just finished a one-year extension he signed last year and is not under contract anywhere currently for 2022. Bieniemy and Kansas City obviously figured he’d have a pretty good shot at landing a job this year. Returning to Kansas City seems like the obvious conclusion, especially given QB coach Mike Kafka received a promotion to join the Giants and potentially call plays. But it appears there’s some doubt as to whether that happens. Keep an eye on this.
  • The Titans signed HC Mike Vrabel and GM Jon Robinson to well-deserved extensions. Though Tennessee’s season ended with a thud in the playoffs, they were still the No. 1 seed in the AFC despite a number of injuries to key players. Robinson arrived in 2016 and Vrabel in 2018, and in that time there have been no losing seasons for the Titans. They don’t get a lot of hype but this is one of the better head coach/general manager duos in the league.  
  • I don’t even think we made it a week before “comeback” entered the Tom Brady discussion, and it was his own doing. Asked about the possibility, Brady responded “never say never,” among other things. I don’t get the sense this is a likely possibility, it seems like Brady is just keeping his options open. But it’s certainly within the realm of possibility. The Buccaneers ought to be able to retain his rights by putting him on the reserve/retired list. 
  • The quarterbacks have gobbled up a lot of the trade oxygen regarding this offseason, but you can bet there will be other blockbuster deals. Falcons WR Calvin Ridley is looking like a strong candidate. Owner Arthur Blank acknowledged this week the former first-round receiver might want a “fresh start” from Atlanta as he continues his way back from unspecified mental health issues. The exact phrase “fresh start” cropped up in an earlier report about Ridley in January. That’s not a coincidence. There’s obviously a lot we don’t know about this situation but it does appear likely the Falcons will be trading a star receiver for the second straight offseason. 
  • Saints RB Alvin Kamara had an eventful Pro Bowl, as he was arrested immediately after the game and charged with battery stemming from an incident the night before. Police say they have video of an altercation between a group of people including Kamara and another group that resulted in a man sustaining injuries that included a fractured eye socket. If that’s true, some kind of suspension seems likely for Kamara. 
  • Perhaps it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise Rams OC Kevin O’Connell, the expected next head coach of the Vikings, reportedly threw his support behind QB Kirk Cousins while interviewing for the job. The two worked closely together in Washington with O’Connell serving as quarterbacks coach. Cousins is an important domino that will fall during the upcoming quarterback carousel this offseason. Minnesota has to do something to address his $45 million cap hit, at least so you would think, and the only two avenues for that are a trade or extension. If O’Connell is a big fan, that would seem to point toward an extension. 

Nickels & Dimes

Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the NFL…

Maybe there’s a perfectly innocuous reason for Kyler Murray purging his Instagram of Cardinals content. It does happen. But start to add things up and a picture emerges…

  • There was the obvious collapse (again) to end the season. 
  • Ownership was rumored as being displeased with Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim after the season, and it seems they’ll enter 2022 on the hot seat. 
  • Murray’s teammate and pal since high school, Christian Kirk, didn’t put gas on the fire, but he also didn’t exactly stamp it out when asked, saying, “The guy is doing what he needs to do and I have no control over that and yeah. That’s all I’ll say on that one. If I’m not reacting to it, I don’t think anybody else should.” He went on to add Murray’s status would be a big factor in his decision to re-sign with Arizona this offseason. 
  • There were rumors connecting Kingsbury to college jobs like Oklahoma around midseason when Arizona was top of the NFC. Those were widely seen as a message from his camp to Arizona about an extension. That seems like it went out the window after the end-of-season collapse, though. Murray and Kingsbury go way back and have been tied together in both college and the pros. 
  • Murray is also eligible for a new deal for the first time this offseason, one which you’d expect to be significant given his prolific stats his first three seasons. However, there are lingering questions given Murray’s injury history and lack of postseason success. 

To be clear, this is all speculation and opinion. I’m just connecting dots. My gut, though, says all is not well in Arizona…

Spinning to some other quarterback drama, things have certainly been worse before between the Raiders and Derek Carr. But he’s really taken a hold of the job the past couple of seasons and cemented his standing as a quality starter. He’s entering the final year of his deal and is worthy of an extension. The new Raiders coaching staff seems all in on Carr as well. So it’s worth drawing extra attention to this tidbit from the godfather of the Raiders beat, Vic Tafur, casting some doubt on the situation…

Part of Carr’s appeal in recent seasons is that while he was the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback when he signed, his deal has aged to become quite affordable. He’s a good quarterback but he needs more stability in terms of a supporting cast than some of the other star passers in this league. Does giving him a deal of $40 million a year or more hurt your ability to do that if you’re the Raiders? Worth thinking about… 

This is a fascinating look at how some of the league’s conventional wisdom is changing to favor offense. Consider it this way: only three teams outside the top 10 in offensive EPA per play made it to the Super Bowl since 2010, while in that same timespan 12 participants out of 24 were outside the top 10 in defensive EPA per play…

Another fun chart. I was not high on Zac Taylor coming into this year and to a degree, I have to eat my words on that since he’s coaching in the Super Bowl this weekend. But this backs up a feeling I had for most of the year that the players in Cincinnati are really making the coaching staff look good…

The Rams have had one of the most unique team-building strategies in football and even if they don’t win Sunday, getting to the Super Bowl is arguably proof enough it works. In addition to feeling like they have an edge by trading first-round picks and with a unique scouting process, the Rams also have had terrific injury luck the past few seasons. In fact, it’s to the point that there might be a bit more than luck behind it…

Basic gist: Mahomes, Herbert, Burrow and Fields all got a little unlucky with their interception numbers this season…

Not encouraging to hear if you’re a Saints fan…


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  1. Do you folks understand the eating of “expert”, I would say no.
    Your article is so left liberal leaning, you should have come straight and said the NFL OWNERS are racist, since you talk more about that than qualifications, I do agree we need more people of color and women in the higher as for the meaning of expect, “ex is a Has Been, and a sport is a Little Drip”
    I think that fits your article and you better than anything else.
    Have a great day

  2. Maybe worry less about color and more about factors that went into them getting the job. Maybe the candidates you’re crying about didn’t interview well? Maybe their vision for the team didn’t match what leadership wanted? Maybe, just maybe, better coaches were chosen. Remember when MLK Jr said people said it’s the color of skin, not characythay mattered? Oh, that’s right, he said the opposite. You may want to buy some tissues.

  3. There was a very disturbing passage in this story that Mike McDaniel ‘would have [been] passed [over] for a white candidate if he didn’t say otherwise.” Bad editing aside, this writer assumes to know what Dolphin leaders were thinking and ascribes it to the worst possible motive. This is lazy at best and irresponsible at worst. It also projects a childish understanding of the variables driving Miami’s decision-making process. Even more, the writer tosses out this claim in a nonchalant fashion without having the self-awareness to back it up with fact. Embarrassing…

    • Hi Jeff, just to clarify. I am not saying the Dolphins would have passed on McDaniel if he had told them his father was Black. In fact I’m sure they already knew, as McDaniel has mentioned it in past interviews.

      I am saying McDaniel could “pass” for white due to the color of his skin. I’m referencing the concept of “passing” which is when a member of one racial group is perceived as another. There’s more info here – – which we’ve also linked to in the article.

      It’s admittedly a complex and nuanced subject that deserves more than a couple of lines in a football article. But the words you added were ones I left out for a reason.

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