NFL head coach hires rankings

The NFL saw a massive amount of turnover in the coaching ranks this year, with nine vacancies being filled over the last two months.

History has shown us that we often struggle to know who would make a great head coach simply by what they’ve done in their past jobs. And in truth, none of these nine hires — save for perhaps one — looks like an outright bad hire as of now. However, we can still use clues from the pasts of these nine men to rank their hires in terms of potential benefits for fantasy football players.

Considering the timing of Lovie Smith’s first interview, the Brian Flores lawsuit and the Texans’ now annual fascination with Josh McCown as a head-coaching candidate … it’s easy to draw your own shady conclusions here.

As an individual candidate, Smith is tough to gauge. His best NFL days came well over a decade ago. It’s easy to forget his disastrous Tampa Bay stint from 2014 to 2015 where it was determined that Dirk Koetter (who was also a disaster) was a better option.

The one positive here is that the Texans were able to retain Pep Hamilton and promote him to offensive coordinator. He’s done excellent work with Justin Herbert and Davis Mills as rookies the last two years.

Nevertheless, to call the Smith hiring uninspiring for fantasy — taking into account Houston’s on-field outlook and the processes taken by those with power in the building — would be putting it kindly.

The Saints tried on some different outfits but ultimately decided to walk out of the store with what they were already comfortable with after Sean Payton’s “retirement.” Dennis Allen felt like the guy they were going to hire all along and he’s done enough to rehab his post-Raiders resume over the last few years in New Orleans.

The only issue here is perhaps this is too much continuity in a moment where it feels like the Saints are primed to turn the page. Talking offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael back into the job when he reportedly wanted to shop around, essentially just promoting several other coaches around the staff and the rumors that the team is likely to bring back Jameis Winston make this appear like business as usual. It’s almost as if the team is just keeping the seat warm for when Payton decides he wants back in the big chair — a moment that may never come.

The Saints promoting Dennis Allen didn’t really move the NFL needle. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Saints are still buried under the cap and face several massive roster questions. The rebuild appears to be at their door but perhaps New Orleans intends to not open at the knock for one more year.

It’s a little farfetched to assume that Denver ran a pretty massive coaching search and then only landed on Nathaniel Hackett in an effort to court Aaron Rodgers. At least, let’s hope that wasn’t the plan because the odds that Rodgers changes teams feel longer by the day.

Hackett is a bit of a mystery schematically. While he spent the last few years in Green Bay under Matt LaFleur, he doesn’t originally come from the Shanahan tree. It’ll be tough to get a feel for how his playcalling or preferences will impact any current Denver players.

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These next three hires all feel pretty bunched together, so you can re-rank them in any order. I put Hackett last because, for the last two years, I’ve felt it’s best to be cautious with any Broncos fantasy enthusiasm. There are simply too many players who will command volume in that offense and the quarterback spot/the path to upgrade it isn’t any clearer than it’s been in years.

Most folks wanted a bright offensive mind to come in and develop Justin Fields. But I’m of the belief that a huge part of the reason his rookie year went so poorly was the outright dysfunctional environment fostered by Matt Nagy.

Eberflus should, at the very least, be a driving force in changing the culture on the football side of that building. That would go a much longer way for Fields than any clever scheme would.

The hiring of former Packers’ quarterback coach and passing game coordinator Luke Getsy to be the OC was a strong move. If he’s able to form the same dynamic with Fields that he held with Rodgers the last few seasons, the Bears can certainly hit a triple with this hire.

5 – Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins

Plucking one of the masterminds behind the 49ers’ run game and Deebo Samuel’s unique 2021 role seems like a good idea.

Mike McDaniel will have his work cut out for him on the run game side of things. The Dolphins’ offensive line overhaul of the last few years has been a complete failure and they haven’t featured a talented back in quite some time. The Shanahan system always seems to do the heavy lifting and it will once again be required to do it in Miami.

McDaniel did give us a strong quote about Jaylen Waddle’s upcoming prospects in this offense by saying, “I’d start him in fantasy.” Heard you, coach. Former NFL slot maven Wes Welker also joined this staff and is juiced about Waddle.

Overall, McDaniel seems to relate well to his players and comes from a proven offensive tree. The 49ers’ offensive design under Jimmy Garoppolo would be the perfect flavor to get the most out of Tua Tagovailoa. You can’t ask for much more for this Dolphins team embroiled in ownership-level controversy right now.

4 – Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings

A couple of years ago Kevin O’Connell would have gotten swept up in the whole “friends with Sean McVay” memes. Now, after Zac Taylor coached in the Super Bowl and Matt LaFleur sports a win percentage that would make any coach green with envy, maybe we should show McVay’s coaching tree some respect.

O’Connell checked a huge box out of the gate when he, just like McVay before him, prioritized hiring a defensive coordinator from a scheme he hates coaching against. That’s a good sign that he has the right process to sit in the big chair.

His prior history with Kirk Cousins makes for a fine compromise if the Vikings intend to keep the train rolling with the bones of this solid roster for one more year. O’Connell’s long history with a coaching tree that’s sprouting proven success stories makes him a natural fit to lead the Vikings into the next era of offense with Justin Jefferson at the forefront. This is a win all around.

3 – Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders

Obviously, there are plenty of questions to answer regarding Josh McDaniels in his second (third?) chance as a head coach.

From a pure fantasy football standpoint, it’s an easy hire to like. McDaniels showed last year in New England that he could design a successful offense around a non-Tom Brady quarterback. In theory, his style of uptempo and pre-snap-focused timing passing should be a fit for entrenched starter Derek Carr. There could be a gorgeous trickle-down effect for players like Darren Waller and especially Hunter Renfrow.

As long as McDaniels’ issues dealing with people, something he admitted sunk him in Denver, have been resolved, this should be a nice bump for the Raiders’ offense.

2 – Brian Daboll, New York Giants

Brian Daboll gets a lot of credit for fostering the massive growth of Josh Allen over the last two years. It sounds like he and Joe Schoen will try and go two-for-two with the Daniel Jones reclamation project. You can also add the offensive line, Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley and perhaps even Kadarius Toney to the list of players that need a bit of a remake.

That’s an awful lot of rehab on the roster already and it’s unlikely all of those players/entities will right the ship in Daboll’s first year — or at all.

Whether any of that works or not would almost be a layer of gravy. His coaching tenure won’t be judged solely on whether he can fix all of Dave Gettleman’s old mistakes.

What’s more key to the dish is that we know Daboll is a good offensive play-caller and designer who will work well with the front office. This offense is likely to look much different in Daboll’s third year than it does right now. And we have every reason to trust that vision.

1 – Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars fanbase was quite clearly enamored with the potential feel-good hire of Byron Leftwich and he clearly deserves a shot at a head-coaching gig. However, getting Doug Pederson linked up with Trevor Lawrence might end up being the best move long-term.

Pederson checks multiple quarterback-friendly boxes. He once designed an offense that got the best out of Carson Wentz. Lawrence as a hulking, strong-armed quarterback with gorgeous mobility is essentially the player all those long-gone Wentz fanboys thought he was. Pederson also re-figured his attack around Nick Foles during the team’s run to a Super Bowl.

That flexibility and attention to detail certainly were not staples of the Urban Meyer staff.

The Jaguars’ offensive skill-position corps is littered with questions at every single spot, whether due to talent or injury. The only thing that matters right now is whether this team can get Lawrence back on the golden-boy track. Pederson looks like a home run in that regard.

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