We’re still a ways away from the oddsmakers releasing the 2019 season win totals (aka, the best non-game betting market in football) but the new NFL coaching hires are already underway. It’s never too early to try and get out ahead of next season.
The Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have yet to name their new leader as of this writing and we’ll update when all three have finally figured out who’s going to lead them to a losing season.
[Updated January 10th to reflect NYJ hiring Adam Gase]
Adam Gase – New York Jets (4-12SU and 5-10-1 ATS)
The Jets achieved the worst of the worst in 2018 by being both terrible in real life, and brutal to bet on. After opening the year with a 48-17 bombing of Detroit, that got everyone excited about Sam Darnold, the Jets went back to being their regular, old, terrible selves for the rest of the season. An anomalous blip happened mid-season where they beat both Denver and Indianapolis cleanly. They were uncomfortably unpredictable the rest of the way, sometimes playing well enough to cover and other teams being…well…the Jets.
Todd Bowles was served his walking papers, and has since landed on his feet as the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, and can’t be totally blamed for the failures in New York. He was one of the most sought after coordinators a few seasons back, and was brought on to a Jets team that misinterpreted “rebuilding” as “just being outright bad for a while”. Still, a losing culture was in place in New York under Bowles and so now they have a new man at the helm.
The book on Adam Gase is that he’s an offensive genius, but we can’t be quite sure about that just yet. Gase went 23-25 SU in Miami after a strong run in Denver during the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, which probably (read: definitely) had more to do with Peyton Manning than anyone else. To be completely fair, the Dolphins had major quarterback health issues while Gase was in town as Ryan Tannehill was often injured. Miami was never able to assess if Tannehill was “their guy” because he kept getting hurt, and in the meantime Gase was left to scramble with guys like Brock Osweiler.
So now Gase is at a crossroads in his career on a team that could definitely improve in 2019. Even after a half-decade, we’re still not sure if Gase is really a great signal caller, team leader or head coach. But one of the themes with the 2019 new NFL coaching hires is that there weren’t a lot of great choices out there. Gase has experience, and the Jets still have a chance in a division that always seems to be falling apart. Sam Darnold is most definitely a quarterback worth investing in and just needs to find the right mentor. Whether Gase is that man or not remains to be seen. If anything, this seems like an appropriate marriage of a “meh” team and a “meh” coach.
Bruce Arians – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11 SU and 8-7-1 ATS)
Here’s the thing about the spread record that we mention from time to time – it’s a true measure of a team’s performance against expectation. While they’ll be picking 5th in April’s draft, the fact is that Tampa did pretty well overall compared to how the sportsbook predicted. Tampa was 3-1 ATS in the final month of the regular season despite losing every single one of those games. And that’s combined with the fact that they won three games outright as an underdog. Nobody – and we mean nobody – ever gave Tampa Bay credit this season. They were supposed to be bad, and they were.
Lost in the drama surrounding Jameis Winston’s suspension, the Ryan Fitzmagic controversy, the myriad of un-discussed injuries that crippled this vulnerable defense, and the incompetence of Dirk Koetter overall, was the fact that the Buccaneers had one of the most prolific offenses in league history. Unfortunately, they just didn’t do much with all the yards that they gained. The 501-yard game against Washington where they only scored three points is emblematic of the problems in Tampa. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the offense was able to do something that you simply need to do, and that’s move the football.
The rest can be fine tuned. If Drew Brees and the Saints are a Bugatti in this analogy, the Buccaneers were a beat-up, Shelby Mustang (that probably had three tires and was on fire). In other words, there’s something here to work with and that’s exactly why Bruce Arians came on board. He’s one of the most intriguing new NFL coaching hires for the simple reason that he’s rehabbed broken quarterbacks before.
People will be quick to bring up Carson Palmer with the Arians-to-Tampa news. The error prone Palmer had an unreal season in 2015 under Arians while playing in Arizona, where he threw for 4,671 yards, 26 touchdowns and just 11 picks in a season where he seemed reborn. Jameis Winston has had just as much trouble protecting the football, but there are two stark differences between Palmer and Winston.
The first major one is that Palmer had been a franchise star in Cincinnati. He’d had brilliant seasons before. The other factor here is that a lot of Winston’s turnovers come on fumbles. He’s lost 18 in his four-year career over 56 games. There may be more work to be done here than Arians realizes, but the two are very familiar with each other already. Winston routinely works with Arians in the off-season.
There are a billion other pieces that have to fall in to place for Tampa to be a real threat. The defense needs to be retooled from top to bottom, and the draft will help with that along with Todd Bowles returning to his natural place in the league as a defensive coordinator in Tampa. They need to find a running game because Peyton Barber is not the answer and Ronald Jones III is not the future.
If anything, this will bring a definitive answer to the Jameis Winston narrative. He’s already churned through two head coaches at this point in his career. If a beloved and well-respected leader like Arians can’t make Winston a true franchise star, then nobody can. Tampa will have to pay Winston $20.9 million to see if he’s worth extending after 2019, which seems like a hefty price to pay for a quarterback that everyone else has left for dead. Arians has to feel like he can groom Winston in to a quality passer or he wouldn’t have taken the job.
Considering the laundry list of awful coaches this team has had in recent years, Arians is a blessing.
Freddie Kitchens – Cleveland Browns (7-8-1 SU and 10-6 ATS)
How could Cleveland not re-hire Freddie Kitchens? He went 5-3 SU and ATS after being inserted as the interim head coach of the Browns in 2018. The book on him is simple – everyone seems to love the guy. He’s authentic, down to earth, and clearly capable of getting a lot of out of this ever-improving roster. For once, whatever they were doing in Cleveland was actually working. Considering that the Browns were selecting from a relatively weak pool, why not keep the band together? Solid move.
Kliff Kingsbury – Arizona Cardinals (3-13 SU and 7-8-1 ATS)
This one seems really, really weird. Kingsbury seems like a trend more than anything. The only real success he’s ever had was a two-year stretch with Texas Tech when the team went 12-13 SU and Patrick Mahomes was the quarterback. It’s safe to say that Kingsbury was part of Mahomes’ journey, but he was by no means the driving force. The offense put up insane numbers, but the team never won anything. There’s just no proof that he can do the job as a head coach. He couldn’t even get a high profile head coaching job in college after he was fired by Texas Tech, and instead decided to be the offensive coordinator of USC before jilting them at the altar. The Cardinals are the worst team in the NFL, and there was never a point during the 2018 campaign where people said to themselves, “Wow, this Josh Rosen kid can play!”. Kingsbury has a lot to prove, and betting against him getting the job done is an easy decision. If the end goal is to land Trevor Lawrence in three years, then it’s a great pick. Beyond that? No thanks.
Matt LeFleur – Green Bay Packers (6-9-1 SU and ATS)
One of the life tips you usually get along the way is to not leave your current job unless you have another one lined up. Well in the NFL, you probably shouldn’t fire your head coach unless there’s someone that you have in mind. The Packers had to get rid of Mike McCarthy, but thinking that LeFleur has the makings of a great head coach is insane. This is one of the craziest new NFL coaching hires. Already, the talk has been that LeFleur’s success under Sean McVay while on staff for the 2017 Los Angeles Rams had nothing to do with his play calling because the team continued to be great after he was gone. Instead, the offense that LeFleur went to was the 2018 Tennessee Titans, who were one of the worst in the league and took 4 months to figure out that Derrick Henry was their best player.
That being said, the Packers are floated by Aaron Rodgers, and the faults of the Titans were as much on Mariota as they were on LeFleur. He’ll be insulated, and the fact that everyone on the Packers will be dying to prove themselves will likely lead to some success. It’s hard to fail when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. McCarthy had obviously worn out his welcome. New blood leads to new beginnings and – hopefully – new results.
Vic Fangio – Denver Broncos (6-10 SU and 6-9-1 ATS)
The one thing that the Denver Broncos are actually good at is defense, where they continue to be loaded. Fangio just came off a season where he was instrumental in crafting the best defensive unit in the league. Chicago ranked 3rd in total yards, 1st against the rush, 7th against the pass and 1st in scoring. They were malicious to opponents. Fangio doesn’t have the same set of linebackers, but he has a lot of positive pieces to work with. What makes this one of the best new NFL coaching hires, however, is the fact that he’s simply not Vance Joseph. As a relative upgrade, this is an A+.