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

21. Doug Marrone
Career Record: 31-35 (.470)  
With The Jaguars Since: 2016
Last Year’s Ranking: 13

Doug Marrone didn’t change a thing. After all, why would he? The Jaguars were just 1-2 plays away from the Super Bowl in 2017-18. But as the Jags doubled down, the rest of the AFC South moved forward. Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson both rebounded from injury to near-MVP form while Titans allowed the fewest points in the AFC. The Jaguars? Expected regression on defense and no progression on offense. This wasn’t entirely Marrone’s fault. He is not the man who extended Blake Bortles. He is the man who refused to optimize his offense, standing idly by as since-fired OC Nathaniel Hackett called the most predictable game in the NFL. It was a recipe for disaster alongside a defense that saw its sack total plummet from 55 to as 37 as Jalen Ramsey freelanced and A.J. Bouye missed time with injury. No one would have blinked if Marrone were let go after the 5-11 dust settled. 2019 could be better. Bortles will likely be gone, and new OC John DeFilippo calls plays with a more open mind than Hackett. The Jags’ defense is better than it played in 2018. The championship window could easily be reopened if Marrone is willing to let in some air.        


22. Matt Patricia
Career Record: 6-10 (.375)  
With The Lions Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Matt Patricia is a rocket scientist who wears shorts in the snow. So was his debut as head coach, a campaign that saw the Lions score 86 fewer points than in 2017 but also give the Patriots the blueprint on how to stifle the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Patricia’s squad beat the Pats and swept the Packers but lost 48-17 to the Jets. There was no consistency, and Patricia’s opting out of a modern offense was the main reason why. Patricia let LeGarrette Blount carry the ball 154 times for a tragic 418 yards (2.71 YPC). No 2018 touches anywhere were a greater waste. Patricia took the ball out of Matthew Stafford’s hands and the Lions had their worst season since 2012. Truly, it’s not rocket science. It won’t matter how good of a job Patricia does on defense if he can’t get with the times on offense. The early signs for 2019 are not promising, as Patricia has jettisoned OC Jim Bob Cooter in favor of the more run-minded Darrell Bevell. Patricia has the brain power to succeed. It’s unclear if he has the judgment.       


23. Jon Gruden
Career Record: 99-93 (.516)  
With The Raiders Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Jon Gruden spent much of his nine years in television talking about what he would do differently if he ever returned to the sideline. So what did he change? Not enough. The Raiders scored the fifth fewest points in the league while allowing the most. Off the field, Gruden bled talent instead of adding it. What was initially promoted as a reload quickly morphed into a top-down rebuild. Gruden did bring some of his patented passing efficiency to Derek Carr, easily guiding the quarterback to new career bests in completion percentage (68.9) and yards per attempt (7.3). Of course, those “achievements” came in a comically conservative system. As foretold, coach and quarterback bickered endlessly. Nothing went right for Gruden in 2018. Gruden is an interesting figure in the history of football. He helped build one Super Bowl contender, coronated another and brought pure joy to the broadcast booth. The question is if he’s capable of being more than a museum piece at this point in his career. The 2018 tape showed a man who was more dead letter than living document.        


24. Pat Shurmur
Career Record: 15-34 (.306)
With The Giants Since: 2018
Last Year’s Ranking: — —

Pat Shurmur’s five 2018 wins matched a career high. In three years as a head coach, he has notched victory totals of four, five and five. Plenty of that has been beyond his control. In Cleveland, his quarterbacks were Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden and Thad Lewis. In New York, it’s the soldered remains of Eli Manning. You could argue Shurmur did what he was paid to do in 2018, getting Manning’s completion percentage up to a career-high 66.0 while generating his most passing yards (4,299) since 2015. It still didn’t make a lick of difference, as the Giants won six or fewer games for the fourth time in five years. At no point were they anything other than one of the league’s worst teams. Manning is the elephant in the room. With him, Shurmur has no shot at making the most of his second chance. That is not to say Shurmur’s fortunes would be all that different were Manning to be cut tomorrow. 53-year-old retread coaches aren’t the sort who are given a long leash, and this is not a good roster. The offensive line is terrible. The defense has no pass rush. Shurmur has been set up to fail and likely will. That’s not fair, but it is life in the NFL.   


New Hires (In Alphabetical Order)


Bruce Arians, Buccaneers
Career Record: 49-30-1 (.619)

Bruce Arians’ retirements are getting progressively longer. The first one lasted a month. The second one made it an entire year. Restless after an underwhelming season in the broadcast booth, Arians is back on the sideline with something he never had in Arizona: A young signal caller. Of course, Jameis Winston comes with serious questions both on and off the field. Arians loves down-field aggression, but Winston is known more for interceptions than big plays. Amongst quarterbacks to make at least two seasons worth of starts since Winston came into the league, only Ryan Fitzpatrick has been picked off at a higher rate. Arians believes the fixes are simple: Clean up Winston’s mechanics and stop playing from behind. Both will be easier said than done, especially since Arians is inheriting a defense with precious few playmakers. Arians will unquestionably make the Bucs better. Whether they can rise above Arians’ 8-8 form from his final two years in the desert very much remains to be seen.  


Vic Fangio, Broncos
Career Record: – –

A 60-year-old rookie head coach, Vic Fangio is tasked with solidifying the Broncos’ strength on defense while 46-year-old rookie OC Rich Scangarello searches for strengths on offense. Fangio should be successful on his side of the ball. His 2011 49ers and 2018 Bears were two of the best defenses of the decade, and Von Miller remains one of the most imposing building blocks in all of football. Things won’t be nearly as straightforward for Scangarello, who has been handed one of the worst quarterbacks in the league in Joe Flacco. Together, they will be overseeing an offense with nearly nonexistent passing-game weapons. Demaryius Thomas is gone and Emmanuel Sanders is recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It will be up to second-year second-rounder Courtland Sutton to make plays through the air as fellow sophomores Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman grind out yards on the ground. Fangio’s setup is not impossible. There is just enough here for him to execute his blueprint. What is certain is that, good or bad, the product is not going to be pretty.    


Brian Flores, Dolphins
Career Record: – –

The second Bill Belichick defensive coordinator to find head-coaching work in as many years, Brian Flores was one of just two defensive-minded hires this offseason. He is arguably facing the toughest road of any of the eight members of 2019’s class, inheriting a complete gut job from an owner in Stephen Ross who is typically impatient for action. Will Ross stick with Flores through what are guaranteed to be lean years? Although his expertise is on the defensive side of the ball, Flores’ fortunes will be closely tied to whomever the Dolphins find to replace Ryan Tannehill. Belichick assistants taking head jobs at the NFL level have been a mixed bag. None have been a home run. If Flores is to be the first, he will have to overcome long odds in a situation where he is being set up to tank.     


Adam Gase, Jets
Career Record: 23-25 (.479)

Adam Gase went 20-6 in one-score games as coach of the Dolphins. That means he went 3-19 in all the others. When he wasn’t eking out “Miami Miracles,” he was getting throttled. A whopping eight of Gase’s losses came by 20 or more points. To put that into perspective, Hue Jackson had just six such defeats in his 3-36-1 tenure with the Browns. What does it all mean? It’s hard to tell what anything means with Gase, who has summoned career-best play out of disappointments like Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill but frequently clashed with his stars. Perpetually over everyone and everything, Gase was reportedly elated to be fired by the Dolphins. NFL coaches need to be headstrong. There is no other way to be the boss of 53 grown men who are all at the top of their field. But Gase’s confidence has too often veered into arrogance. Gase can seemingly coach offense. After three years and 48 games, it remains unclear if he can lead a football team.     


Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals
Career Record: – –

Whereas Jim Caldwell and Dirk Koetter put in long stints as NFL assistants to erase memories of their college failures, Kliff Kingsbury needed only 45 days. Presumably, it was not his pit stop as USC offensive coordinator that got him the job in the desert. It was his connections to Patrick Mahomes and “good friend” Sean McVay. That, and an offense that averaged 38 points across 75 NCAA contests. Never mind the other side of the ball (37 PPG). For that, Kingsbury can be forgiven. Personnel is paramount when it comes to defense, and it is hard to convince 18-year-old kids to play in Lubbock, Texas. That will no longer be an issue in a socialist NFL player pool where Kingsbury doesn’t have to do the recruiting. He can focus on what he’s good at, scheming the offense. It’s an area in which few are better. It’s everywhere else that Kingsbury needs to prove himself. Can a 39-year-old who just spent the past six years as a feudal lord get grown men to buy into his program? Can he stay out of the way as other people build his roster and mold his defense? The Cardinals are putting their faith in one great trait: Kingsbury’s ability to put points on the board. The rest is unknown. Buckle up.       


Freddie Kitchens, Browns
Career Record: – –

Freddie Kitchens was a phoenix rising after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley’s inept power struggle vaulted him from obscure running backs coach to the league’s hottest offensive coordinator. Now we know he is a leader out of a different NFL era. Rather than filter his press conferences down to the Belichick-ian essentials, Kitchens prefers to set them alight. Instead of maintaining a cool remove from his players, he tickles their beards. He conducts himself as if he is the world’s luckiest human. Perhaps he is. Everything about Kitchens has screamed “the answer” in Cleveland, but it must be acknowledged that he had never so much as led an offense at any level before last November. There is a chance the Browns have fallen into the interim coach trap. It just seems more likely that circumstance has conspired to make Kitchens the man who, along with Baker Mayfield, finally ends the Browns’ misery. There is so much we don’t know about Kitchens. What we do suggests he’s a peach.    


Matt LaFleur, Packers
Career Record: – –

Matt LaFleur is riding high on the Sean McVay escalator. He has been selected to be just the second head coach of Aaron Rodgers’ starting career even though he has only one year of play-calling experience. Once again dealing with quarterback injuries and an identity crisis, the 2018 Titans Offense was not a good one, scoring the sixth-fewest points (310) in the league. That’s compared to 331 and 384 under much-maligned Mike Mularkey. LaFleur is in Green Bay because he checked the right boxes — is young, knows McVay, is not a retread — and aced the interview. Despite his threadbare résumé, LaFleur could still find instant success. All he needs to do is put Rodgers in position to succeed. That is something Mike McCarthy had stopped doing. The early signs have not been terribly encouraging. LaFleur has pledged to “assemble our offense through the running game,” while OC Nathaniel Hackett was a thoroughly unimaginative play-caller in Jacksonville. It’s possible a new pair of eyes is all the Packers need to jump start their Rodgers juggernaut. Hopefully LaFleur’s do not focus on the wrong things.      


Zac Taylor, Bengals
Career Record: – –

Arguably the biggest leap of any of this offseason’s eight hires, Zac Taylor has one month of play-calling experience at the NFL level. He obviously had a good interview with the Bengals, but he only got it because of his connection to Rams coach Sean McVay. Have two years under McVay really prepared Taylor to run an entire team? The early returns have been concerning, as Taylor hired “Bullygate” OL coach Jim Turner before embarking on a quixotic defensive coordinator quest. Just 35, Taylor has certainly landed in the right spot for a head coach. Owner Mike Brown has proven to be more loyal than anyone else in the business. If Taylor shows early promise, he will quickly amass autonomy. If he doesn’t, we will find out how much of Brown’s legendary patience remains as he enters his mid-80s.