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Grading the New NFL Coaching Hires

With the Super Bowl still a few days away, (and really, how did the Packers blow that game?!) there are a few other storylines to keep the NFL fan occupied before the full bedlam takes hold of the airwaves. If you are not a fan of the New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks, chances are that part of you are already wondering about the 2015 Draft, the divisions your team will get to face, and the roster modifications that are so urgently required to become a contender.

Still, as a huge aspect of the league, the coaching carousel that takes place in January is still a very important turning point going forward. Whether it happened on Black Monday or as part of a systematic move that was almost inevitable, replacing coaches can still be a traumatic experience for a football team. Getting a new guy may inspire a new sense of confidence from the fan base and local media, but it also represents a dramatic shift in the team's goals and system, with instant success being far from guaranteed.

While at the Super Bowl we will see the best coach of this generation and an up-and-comer who is pushing really close to the elite, seven other teams parted ways with their head coaches in the hopes of starting life anew. Six of these squads have already hired their replacements (the Atlanta Falcons still haven't named a new coach), leading to a wide discussion regarding their futures. Today we take a look at these old faces in new places, and assign a grade for each new position.

Buffalo Bills
Out: Doug Marrone (15-17 in 2 seasons)
In: Rex Ryan (Career 46-50 in 6 seasons; 4-2 playoffs)

Marrone had a very friendly opt-out clause he could take at the end of the season, virtually guaranteeing him $4 million not to coach the Bills. While many staff members and players showed their shock and disgust for this weasel move, it is probably understandable that the incumbent coach took the money and left for a less-stressful job. However, Marrone at least left behind the best season in recent Buffalo history, with a dominant defense that was not given justice by its middling offense.

With this in mind, the Bills moved quickly to hire the biggest name on the market, landing recently-fired Rex Ryan from their division rival Jets. Per his style, Ryan arrived in town boasting and gloating, but he may have a point to his bravado. Even as the AFC East still looks like the playground for the Patriots, the Bills have many pieces to cause fits to any team with that defense, and now that Ryan is in town, it could probably still reach new heights.

The big question mark will come from the quarterback position, where EJ Manuel is probably not the answer. If Ryan could come one win away from the Super Bowl twice with Mark Sanchez, it will be interesting if he can at least work back some of that magic with whoever ends up starting under center. Buffalo could go for broke and aim for a big QB, but for now they are at least set at the sideline.

Grade: B+

Chicago Bears
Out: Marc Trestman (13-19 in 2 seasons)
In: John Fox (Career 119-89; 8-7 playoffs; 2 Super Bowl appearances)

After becoming a coaching legend with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, Trestman was supposed to be the offensive guru that would finally bring the best out of Jay Cutler in Chicago. While his team's offensive numbers were certainly above average in his two years at the helm, Chicago's defense sunk all the way to the bottom, sealing the fate of the embattled Trestman after a disastrous 5-11 season.

After interviewing no less than 7 coaching candidates, the Bears moved quickly after the Divisional Round of the playoffs, which saw John Fox's Broncos lose badly and then led to Fox's “mutual parting” with the organization. On paper, getting a coach like Fox seems like a coup. His career winning percentage is 11th among active coaches, and he is only one of six men to lead two separate teams to the Super Bowl.

Still, Fox is about to turn 60, and he is coming off three straight crushing playoff losses with the Broncos, a team that was loaded up and down and had Peyton Manning at quarterback. In his last game as Denver's coach, Fox showed the many reasons why he has always been criticized by analysts: playing conservatively and not adjusting to adversity. Now inheriting a team that requires a full rebuild, it is hard to see how he is the right fit.

Grade: D

Denver Broncos
Out: John Fox (46-18 in 4 seasons, 3-4 playoffs)
In: Gary Kubiak (Career 61-64 in 8 seasons, 2-2 playoffs)

Despite winning above 70% of his games in Denver, and even earning a playoff victory with Tim Tebow (!!!), the deflating playoff loss at home versus the Colts was the last nail in the coffin for John Fox.

In his place, the Broncos are turning to Gary Kubiak, who served as an assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2014 after being fired by the Texans in late 2013. Before his 8-year tenure in Houston, Kubiak had worked as the offensive coordinator and QB coach for these very same Broncos for 11 years, working directly with John Elway. This fact makes the hire quite understandable, but is he a good fit?

Kubiak has never been praised as an elite coach, but he did build a number of competitive Texans teams. With a better roster to work with and the huge possibility of a returning Peyton Manning, Kubiak could finally have a good quarterback to build around, as well as building any possible successor for Manning. This is a better pickup than most people think.

Grade: B-

New York Jets
Out: Rex Ryan (Career 46-50 in 6 seasons; 4-2 playoffs)
In: Todd Bowles (First NFL Head Coaching Experience)

As mentioned before, Rex Ryan is a big fan of boasting and making a spectacle of himself, and that probably wore out his welcome when the Jets stopped winning. Despite the numerous reports of his players absolutely loving him and playing hard for him, as was best shown in New York's emotional win during Week 17 in Miami, it was Rex's time to go.

The Jets had been planning this move for a while, and after the season ended took their time to interview at least 10 possible candidates. Out of all of them, Todd Bowles had emerged as a sexy choice for many squads, especially after building the dominant Arizona defense for the past two seasons.

Bowles actually starting his NFL coaching tenure with the Jets in 2000, and this will mark his seventh different job in less than 15 years. Coming into a team that still featured a decent defense but needs a full overhaul on offense, it seems unlikely that he can lead a quick turnaround. Bowles will need time and the right GM and assistants to back him up as he learns the ropes of being a Head Coach. If the Jets are patient with him, he might get the chance to be good, but meanwhile it seems like a very uninspiring hire.

Grade: C

Oakland Raiders
Out: Tony Sparano (3-9 as interim)
In: Jack del Rio (Career 68-71; 1-2 playoffs)

Sparano was set as a clear placeholder after being named the interim coach after Week 4 of the 2014 season. Even as he led the Raiders to a sense of respectability and was reportedly well-liked among his players, it was also almost a guarantee that he would be relieved of his duties as soon as the season was over. If the Raiders had such a long time to plan this, why did they settle for Jack del Rio?

Del Rio, who hasn't been a head coach since 2011, did a good job as the defensive coordinator for the Broncos after being fired by the Jaguars, but he now looks like a consolation prize for a team that had bigger names in its sights.

As it happens with Todd Bowles, Del Rio is a defensive-minded guy who is about to coach a team that desperately needs a boost on offense. With a good project in QB Derek Carr, the Raiders are now in need of a good mentor that can steer the talented youngster to a prolific career, and Del Rio doesn't look like the perfect match for this to happen. With Oakland becoming famous for its short leash with coaches (8 in the past 10 years), there doesn't appear to be a scenario in which the new coach gets enough time to turn this organization around.

Grade: D

San Francisco 49ers
Out: Jim Harbaugh (44-19-1 in 4 seasons, 5-3 playoffs, 1 Super Bowl appearance)
In: Jim Tomsula (first NFL Head Coaching Experience)

With Jim Harbaugh fleeing for the college ranks of Michigan, the NFL lost one of its best minds. Among coaches with at least 50 games, Harbaugh ranks fifth all-time in winning percentage, and he will certainly become every offseason's most sought-after coaching candidate if he ever decides to come back to the pros. However, it seems that his situation in San Francisco had become untenable despite the way he turned the franchise back to its glory days.

In his place, the 49ers opted to go in-house and promoted defensive coordinator Jim Tomsula, who has worked for the franchise since 2007. While it would have been tempting for San Francisco to pursue bigger-name candidates, allowing a familiar face like Tomsula's to take the reins is probably the best choice, especially considering that he knows the system better than anybody else.

Tomsula's first act of business will be to return Colin Kaepernick to his pre-2014 form, while finding the perfect balance for a defense that took a step back towards an 8-8 season. The new Jim is far from a household name, but he may end up being one of the smartest moves of the offseason.

Grade: B


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