Ranking the Seven NFL Head Coach Hires

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With a month left in the 2021 NFL season, all seven new head coaches have tried their hands at 13 games. Some coaches have done well. Others are Urban Meyer. Let’s look at the seven, beginning with the worst and culminating with the best hire.

No.7: Urban Meyer, Jacksonville Jaguars

This has been a disaster from the start. Meyer is overmatched in every regard, and he brings nothing to the organization. Head coaches in the NFL fall into three general categories. Some coaches are offensive or defensive geniuses (such as Sean McVay). Some coaches are culture-building CEO types (such as Mike Tomlin). The last group is made of motivator types that squeeze every ounce of talent of a team (such as John Harbaugh). The best coaches dabble in multiple sections.

Meyer is nowhere near any of these three groups. He is one of the worst coaching hires in NFL history, and he has likely done irreparable damage to Trevor Lawrence’s NFL career. For as bad as the likes of Steve Wilks, Bobby Petrino, and other one-and-done coaches have been, at least they did not ruin a generational quarterback prospect. It’s no surprise that he’s been given the axe.

No.6: Robert Saleh, New York Jets

Saleh should at least be retained for a second season. He would fall into the defensive genius category by traditional measures, but the New York Jets have been the worst defense in the NFL this season. However, Saleh has a personnel excuse. The Jets have one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and its ineptitude has taken its toll on the front seven.

Saleh had lower expectations than Meyer (based on Lawrence) and he has underperformed those expectations. However, it is not a dumpster fire as Jacksonville has been. The Jets are bad, and Saleh has not coached well, but the issues are not likely not irredeemable. It could be worse.

No.5: David Culley, Houston Texans

If the Houston Texans went 0-17, Culley still would have been a better hire than Meyer because the Texans had zero expectations. Anything positive from the organization is a win. Culley falls into a similar boat as Meyer because neither fit into the Venn diagram of coaching, but at least Culley did not have a reputation of winning as Meyer did. Culley and the Texans have just been a run-of-the-mill (or, perhaps, Davis Mills) bad team.

The Jaguars have a stench so profound that the state of Florida should be cut off from the rest of the country. Perhaps the smartest idea for the Texans would be to let Culley coach in 2022 and have another poor season so they can secure Bryce Young or whomever quarterback rises to the top.

No.4: Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

Dan Campbell is at least establishing a hard-working culture. His team is much more competitive than the Jets, Texans, or Jacksonville Jaguars despite having the worst roster of the four. Campbell is unlikely to be the long-term answer for the Detroit Lions, but at least his presence has aided Detroit’s generational prospect (Penei Sewell). The Lions, like the Texans, had no expectations in 2021, so Campbell did not have to accomplish much to not be in the bottom two. Detroit has been fun to watch in most weeks, and they should continue to be a reasonably exciting team (when their talented players are not sick with COVID). In a normal coaching carousel, Campbell is likely not in the middle of the pack, but 2021 was full of disasters.

No.3: Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons

The conspiracy theory that Smith did not realize that Kyle Pitts no longer wears No.84 is alive and well. Cordarrelle Patterson has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season as a running back in one of the most surprising storylines of the season. Smith has mishandled his generational player, but he has figured out one of the greatest enigmas in NFL history with Patterson. Smith entered as an offensive specialist, a trait that has not been enough to save Matt Ryan. With a new quarterback (and Calvin Ridley), the Atlanta Falcons could be fascinating. Smith got dealt a bad hand with one ace (Pitts), and he somehow has the Falcons in playoff contention. Unlike the previous four coaches, Smith might be the correct answer for his team, but he needs a new quarterback.

No.2: Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles

While the Falcons are a terrible team that has happened to win six games, the Philadelphia Eagles are a somewhat competent team that is 6-7. Sirianni falls into the offensive genius category, and it has been a mixed bag. He has seemingly figured out how to win with Jalen Hurts at the helm even if Hurts cannot figure himself out. DeVonta Smith has been excellent, and Dallas Goedert is playing his best football.

The running back room has been a mess, but with Hurts’ inconsistency and offensive line injuries, Sirianni should get a pass. The Eagles have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and they would not be a dead-on-arrival squad like the Falcons. Sirianni is nothing excellent, but he has been the second-best hire.

No.1: Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

Staley has not been perfect, but he has not needed to be. He is a blend of an offensive genius (helping Justin Herbert) and a defensive genius. The Los Angeles Chargers have plenty of flaws based on Staley’s bend-don’t-break style of defense, but they have an incredible ceiling. He has not been a Coach of the Year candidate as many predicted heading into the season, but the Chargers are in contention in the AFC West with four games left.

Staley has been a line-drive double of a head coach hire. Ultimately, Staley will be judged on Herbert’s continued development and the defense, and he gets a strong grade for both so far. The Chargers are likely to make the playoffs, and Staley deserves a reasonable amount of credit for the team’s improvement.

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Ryan Potts is an avid football and baseball fan. He covers the NFL and Major League Baseball, focusing on the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Braves.