The head coaching carousel was in full swing earlier this year, as seven NFL teams have hired new head coaches for the 2021 season. With a group made up of two former defensive coordinators, two offensive coordinators, two assistant coaches and one legendary college coach, these new faces are coming in with varying degrees of experience and knowledge of how to run a team. So, how will they fare in their new setting? In today’s roundtable, The DC Sports Section will give its takes on which newly-hired NFL head coach will have the most success with their squad.
I think Urban Meyer has the best chance of being successful with his new team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Coach Meyer has succeeded at every program he has been at, and despite not having NFL experience, has coached future stars (see Michael Thomas, Ezekiel Elliot) that have excelled in the NFL. Meyer would not have come out of retirement if he did not think he could turn this perennial laughingstock into a contender for the first time since Jacksonville in 2017. Although they lost their last 15 games last year with Trevor Lawrence coming in, along with ten other draft picks – including the Rams first rounder acquired for star corner Jalen Ramsey, as well as the most cap space in the entirety of the league – there is nothing but positivity and improvement coming from Duval County.
Just straight off the bat, I’d have to go with Arthur Smith, who was hired to succeed Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Smith was previously an assistant coach for Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans, and I think he can take the Falcons to the next level with his coaching style. While the Falcons don’t have a solid rushing option like the Titans do with Derrick Henry, they do have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and solid receiver core in Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones – which is almost similar to Ryan Tannehill, AJ Brown, and Corey Davis. Especially being an assistant coach, I think that Smith will be a great leader in the locker room and change the culture of choking. Even if they draft a future franchise player in the first round, they still have the offensive weapons to help him develop. Defense was a huge weakness for the Titans last season and if Smith is truly going to be successful, he will need to improve the defense as much as possible with the talent that is available to him right now.
Robert Saleh will be the most successful, newly-hired NFL head coach in the 2021 season. Right off the bat, the 17-year veteran has a skill that former head coach Adam Gase did not have – and that is the ability to talk. Of course, Gase could “talk,” but most of the time he lacked confidence in what he was saying, failed to show any type of emotion and found it hard to form relationships with players on his roster. Sure, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could be used to counter this argument, but the reality is that Belichick gets a pass because he is one of the greatest coaches of all time. Saleh will have the opportunity to work with a rookie quarterback – either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields – and has an exceptional offensive coordinator in Mike LaFleur, who is known to get the best out of his quarterbacks. LaFleur also comes from the San Francisco 49ers and has had to work with three different quarterbacks since 2018. Each quarterback thrived in his system, as they all registered a passer rating of 87.2 or higher, according to the New York Jets official website. Furthermore, it is almost a guarantee that the Jets offense as a whole will see massive improvement. From 2018-20, the 49ers offense was in the top 10 in scoring, total offense and rushing offense, according to the New York Jets official website. Clearly, we see how good LaFleur could be with a team that was good but certainly not great. Overall, the most important characteristic Saleh has is his ability to create a culture of accountability, something that has been non-existent at the Jets organization for quite some time.