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Sean McVay
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Goal Line Stand

NFL's Best Coaches 2019

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: March 7, 2019, 4:29 pm ET

11. Anthony Lynn
Career Record: 21-12 (.636)  
With The Chargers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 20

Coming off a typical “what might have been?” 9-7 Chargers campaign, Anthony Lynn finally got the Bolts off the Marvin Lewis schneid in 2018-19, leading the franchise to its first postseason victory since 2013-14. As was the case his first year on the job, Lynn relied on a strong defense and balanced offense. After a masterful Wild Card game plan that completely erased Ravens dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson, Lynn oversaw a less-inspiring effort in the Divisional Round. His team got wiped out 41-28 as Bill Belichick reminded just how far every other coach has to go. It was a “learning experience” Lynn can take forward to 2019 with a team that should once again be loaded and near the top of the AFC. 21-7 (.750) since an 0-4 start in 2017, Lynn has been the steady hand the Chargers have desperately craved since firing Marty Schottenheimer. Buoyed by a deep roster and seen-it-all coordinators on both sides of the ball, Lynn might finally be the coach to get Philip Rivers back to the AFC Championship Game, or beyond.    


12. Matt Nagy
Career Record: 12-4 (.750)  
With The Bears Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Something left unsaid during this offseason’s pursuit of the next Sean McVay? The Bears already found him in Matt Nagy. From his offensive brilliance to sideline intensity, Nagy fit the bill as a rookie head coach, leading the Bears to their first 12-win season since 2006 as they scored 157 more points than they managed in 2017. It was a nearly flawless first act, but big challenges lie ahead for 2019. Most daunting is the replacement of Vic Fangio, who oversaw one of the best defenses of the decade in 2018. On offense, Nagy must coax continued development from Mitchell Trubisky, who despite his sophomore improvement remained one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Only Ryan Tannehill and Josh Rosen earned lower marks from Pro Football Focus. As is the case with nearly all head coaches — especially offensive-minded ones — Nagy’s fortunes will rise and fall with the play of his signal caller. Nagy leaves a weekly admonition on his play sheet — Be You. So far he’s 1-for-1. Now the task becomes “remain you” as the league adjusts and Trubisky enters what will be the most telling year of his professional career.      


13. Frank Reich
Career Record: 10-6 (.625)
With The Colts Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

The consolation prize after Josh McDaniels’ dishonorable about-face, Frank Reich arrived in Indianapolis to limited expectations following a 2017 where Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury doomed the Colts to a 4-12 finish. With GM Chris Ballard’s roster still paper thin after years of Ryan Grigson’s mismanagement, Reich appeared to be in the early stages of a multi-year rebuild after his squad got off to a 1-5 start. Then Luck finally rediscovered his arm strength and Reich’s team started a fire that could only be extinguished by Patrick Mahomes in the Divisional Round. Reich’s 2018 may have been the tale of two seasons, but the overarching takeaways were clear. Reich is a player’s coach who nevertheless strives for an atmosphere of accountability. Despite being a product of ‘80s and ‘90s football, he is devoted to analytics and in-game probabilities like his old boss Doug Pederson. 57, Reich may have never gotten the opportunity to lead his own team were it not for McDaniels’ duplicity. Now he is looking like the right man in the right place at the right time.     


14. Bill O’Brien
Career Record: 42-38 (.525)  
With The Texans Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 15

Bill O’Brien has three AFC South titles in five years but just one playoff win to show for it. He is also in a fast-improving division, with the Frank Reich/Andrew Luck alliance in Indianapolis of particular concern. Endowed with a remarkable degree of self possession, O’Brien is nevertheless weighed down by unnecessary conservatism. It’s a trait he needs to shed if he’s to make the most of his killer app at quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Typically on the hot seat, clashing with his general manager or both, O’Brien has for once earned himself a quiet offseason after last year’s new high-water mark of 11-5. Of course, it ended with a crushing playoff defeat to Reich’s Colts. O’Brien’s cleverness as a CEO has kept him one step ahead of a pink slip. He needs more of it on the sideline if he’s to maximize Watson and keep his job for the long haul.  


15. Kyle Shanahan
Career Record: 10-22 (.313)  
With The 49ers Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 14

Kyle Shanahan is close. There have been tantalizing reminders of his ability each of the past two Decembers, where the 49ers have combined for a 7-3 record. Never mind the fact that those seven wins account for 70 percent of Shanahan’s career total. His poor record does not lack for alibis. He did not have a quarterback in 2017 and 2018 was an injury washout. That includes under center, where Jimmy Garoppolo was limited to three appearances. Shanahan occasionally got the engine revved up with C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens, but there are only so many places you can go with second- and third-string quarterbacks. One of the them is the most receiving yards ever by a tight end, a record Shanny managed to set with George Kittle amidst the injury carnage. With Shanahan, we are still projecting. We have not seen “it” yet. With a little better health, 2019 could easily be the year Shanahan finds “it” and gets on the path to where he’s going.      


16. Sean McDermott
Career Record: 15-17 (.469)  
With The Bills Since: 2017
Last Year’s Ranking: 21

Sean McDermott has quickly established himself as one of the game’s most promising defensive minds. Taking care of his own side of the ball is an invaluable first step toward building an annually competitive football team. Now McDermott needs to improve everywhere else. Gifted unusually expansive personnel power for a first-time head coach, McDermott and handpicked GM Brandon Beane had a disastrous first year shaping the Bills’ roster. Things were slightly better in 2018, though McDermott’s fate is now hitched to Josh Allen’s decidedly unsteady wagon. McDermott seems ready for any and all scheming challenges on defense, but it won’t amount to much unless Allen dramatically improves. Allen, in turn, won’t get better without an enhanced supporting cast. He was given embarrassingly little to work with as a rookie. McDermott and Beane must have more to offer on offense. McDermott’s strength is strong enough that he should be given time to sort out his weaknesses. The trick will be being up to the challenge.     


17. Mike Vrabel
Career Record: 9-7 (.563)
With The Titans Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Mike Vrabel’s 9-7 did not go quite as far as Mike Mularkey’s in 2017, but it was hard earned. With Marcus Mariota once again battling injury, Vrabel’s squad was forced into three Blaine Gabbert starts, amazingly winning two of them. His defense allowed just 303 points, the third-fewest in the NFL and the Titans’ fewest since 2008. It was an impressive debut, but one that comes with the usual questions. Vrabel has inherited Mularkey’s biggest conundrum: What to do with Mariota, who keeps getting hurt and is seemingly incapable of harnessing his running ability. Upping the difficulty level for 2019 is the departure of OC Matt LaFleur. Not only has Vrabel lost his offensive boss after one season, Mariota will now, somehow, be working with his fourth coordinator in five years. Vrabel’s solution was to promote from within, naming unknown TEs coach (and FedEx scion) Arthur Smith as LaFleur’s replacement. Long on the rise as an assistant, Vrabel remained firmly on an upward trajectory in 2018. Whether that remains the case in 2019 will largely depend on his quarterback.       


18. Jason Garrett
Career Record: 77-59 (.566)   
With The Cowboys Since: 2010
Last Year’s Ranking: 16

Jason Garrett has overseen a 32-16 (.666) record over the past three seasons. His team is coming off its first playoff victory in four years, just the third of the new millennium for owner Jerry Jones’ franchise. So why are the Cowboys refusing to extend Garrett’s contract? Look no further than the Divisional Round. Chaperoning the most predictable offense in football, Garrett stood helpless as Ezekiel Elliott was held to 2.35 yards per carry versus a Rams Defense that bled 5.06 during the regular season. Things were even worse on the other side of the ball. Rams RG Austin Blythe estimated they knew what DC Rod Marinelli was calling over 90 percent of the time. Marinelli’s unit was excellent in 2018, but that playoff failure is emblematic of Garrett’s staid coaching culture. The bleeding edge this ain’t. The fourth-longest tenured head coach in the NFL, Garrett literally does not have a coaching tree. Garrett — or more likely, Jones — has sensed the stakes for 2019. OC Scott Linehan walked the plank. Second-year assistant Kellen Moore has been promoted to take his place. It’s the kind of bold — desperate? — move Garrett has typically been allergic to. It won’t be the first time he has to go against type if he wants to keep his job for 2020.          


19. Dan Quinn
Career Record: 36-28 (.563)
With The Falcons Since: 2015
Last Year’s Ranking: 12

Dan Quinn is firing his coordinators and hiring himself. Out are OC Steve Sarkisian, DC Marquand Manuel and ST coordinator Keith Armstrong. In is Quinn, who will serve as his own defensive boss after previously outsourcing his side of the ball. It is not the first time Quinn has been forced to make changes, as he’s fired two DCs while cycling through three OCs. The latter is because Kyle Shanahan was hired away to lead the 49ers, which raises a question: Would Dan Quinn still be coaching the Falcons if not for Shanahan’s historic 2016 offense? The answer is likely no. Quinn has had four years — an eternity in the NFL — to establish an identify and has yet to do so. The odds that he discovers one in year five are slim. If you’re a CEO-style coach, the stock price better be headed one direction: Up. The amount of fluctuation under Quinn’s leadership suggests that the board will eventually force a change.     


20. Jay Gruden
Career Record: 35-44-1 (.444)
With The Redskins Since: 2014
Last Year’s Ranking: 19

Jay Gruden is the NFL’s most middle-of-the-road coach. Somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 every season, he is neither good enough nor bad enough to generate much debate outside of local talk radio. When things go south — as they did in the second half of 2018 — Gruden always has a plausible explanation. Injuries gutted the squad, the roster isn’t good enough because the owner and general manager don’t know what they are doing, etc. etc. Neither of those annual excuses are false. Redskins coaches are set up to fail by Daniel Snyder’s meddling and Bruce Allen’s utter cluelessness. But at some point, Gruden will have to rise above his handicaps if he is to keep his job in one of the league’s toughest environments. Since that is unlikely — Marty Schottenheimer, Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan could manage all of one playoff victory under Snyder — Gruden and his reasonably effective system will probably soon be fired and find work as an offensive coordinator. He is, after all, a man who not only knows Sean McVay, but hired him.