The NFL has nine incoming first-year head coaches with their respective teams. There are plenty of young guns up for their first head coaching gig along with many veterans who have been waiting years for the opportunity to run an NFL team. Many have no experience as head coaches in the NFL while a couple of them are already established and accomplished.
Each has been given a very different roster and a different chance for success. It’s never going to be fair, but which of the head coaches are in the best position to succeed with their new team?
Lovie Smith (Texans)
Smith has been in the coaching realm since 1980; that’s over 40 years of experience. In 2004 he was granted his first head-coaching gig for the Chicago Bears, where he stayed for nine seasons.
In those nine seasons, four were winning, four were losing, and one year they were exactly .500. They made the playoff three times, winning three playoff games and losing in Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts in Lovie’s third year.
Since being fired by Chicago, Smith hasn’t found much success. He finished last in the NFC South with Tampa as their head coach in his only two seasons in Florida. In five years with the University of Illinois as their head football coach, Smith finished 10-33 in Big 10 play.
Smith was hired by Houston as their defensive coordinator after being let go by the Illini, and his defense was anything but stout last year. In fact, they were one of the worst defenses in the league.
But much of that isn’t really Smith’s fault. He was given a shredded roster from seasons prior, and the Texans as a whole weren’t going anywhere no matter who the coaches were on that team.
Now, after being promoted to head coach after just a year with the organization, Smith has a long ladder to climb to get this team back to success. It’s likely the 63-year-old will just be a placeholder for the time being until this team has some more pieces, and by then he’ll likely be long gone.
Dennis Allen (Saints)
A one-time head coach with the Oakland Raiders from 2012-2014, Allen has been with the Saints defensive staff since 2015. Before getting the job in Oakland, Allen previously worked for New Orleans as their secondary coach.
In his three years in Oakland, Allen went 4-12 twice, and 0-4 in his third year until being fired. It wasn’t really his fault though. The Raiders had just one pro bowler with Allen as the head coach, Marcel Reece, a fullback. The roster had very little talent and no quarterback play.
Allen, at 49, is now probably more prepared than ever as he has led this Saints defense to previous success. But his time to take over for Payton may come with struggle.
Roster turnover seems to be tanking this team’s chances at being very successful, and it looks like the Saints are about to enter rebuild mode with no franchise quarterback in place. Allen may have gotten a head coaching job at the wrong time and it’s going to take a lot of inspiration to get this team to the playoffs.
Kevin O’Connell (Vikings)
Seven years. That’s how long O’Connell has been coaching in the NFL. Already he has a head coaching job. He has focused on being a quarterbacks coach, spending the last two seasons of his career as an offensive coordinator, the latter of those two years with the Super Bowl-winning LA Rams.
Rams coach Sean McVay’s coaching tree is further extended with this hiring of the 36-year-old. O’Connell knows football, and he knows how to win and craft the perfect offense. The Vikings surely have a ton of offensive firepower. If he can unleash the Cousins-Jefferson-Thielen-Cook attack, Minnesota could be a playoff contender.
But the defense has a lot of holes and as head coach, it’ll be a part of his job to take care of them as well. It’s a decent position to be in for his first gig as a head coach, and we’ll be able to tell in the first year if this team needs a rebuild or just some retooling.
Brian Daboll (Giants)
Daboll made his name as the Patriots Tight Ends coach for a few years before becoming the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide in their 2017 National Championship run. After that, the Bills took him in as their offensive coordinator to grow Josh Allen, which he has done fantastically.
He very much deserved the top job in coaching, but perhaps the Giants weren’t the best organization to start with. Daboll lived much of his youth in New York, so he knows how tough the media is on New York sports teams.
The Giants have been a pretty terrible franchise ever since their last Super Bowl. They’ve been caught in a pit of despair for pretty much a decade now, and Daboll has a lot of issues to fix on this Giants roster.
The new GM is going to have to pull some miracle moves out of his hat and Daboll might have to finally unlock Daniel Jones if he wants any success as a head coach for the G-men.
Josh McDaniels (Raiders)
He’s been in the head coach carousel conversation for years, and it’s shocking he hasn’t gotten a job yet. Many speculated that he was waiting for Belichick to step away so he could take over in New England, but that never happened. He once took the Colts’ job, only to withdraw that same day to remain as the Patriots OC.
He has had that job in New England since 2012 and has won six Super Bowls with Brady. Even with Mac Jones looking promising in his rookie year, McDaniels wanted to be a head coach, and he took the job in Vegas.
The Raiders had a great year last season, despite the countless distractions surrounding the organization. McDaniels has a playoff roster who plays hard, and if they can shore up the inconsistency, he can challenge the other top teams in the AFC West yet again.
Doug Pederson (Jaguars)
Though he’s been out of a job for a couple of years, perhaps it rejuvenated Pederson and he rediscovers his creativity as an offensive-minded coach. Pederson was in Philly for five years where he won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles and company. Pederson improved the Eagles, made the playoffs and won a Super Bowl, made the playoffs a couple more times without much success, and then had a terrible year leading to his firing.
This blueprint may just work in Jacksonville. They have a young quarterback and players who care about this team. If they can fill some holes, Jacksonville will improve on the back of Trevor Lawrence.
Perhaps they won’t win a Super Bowl in Pederson’s second year, but they could be in serious contention in a few short years as the rest of the AFC South struggles with quarterback play.
Matt Eberflus (Bears)
One of the top defensive minds in the game, Eberflus and the Bears are a perfect fit. Spending seven years in Dallas and the last few in Indy as the DC, Eberflus has had a lot of success. The Bears are, and always will be a defensive-focused team, and Eberflus can retool the aging unit and take them back to the top.
But his success is going to likely rest on how his offensive staff can fix Justin Fields and the attacking unit. The Bears have the only QB in the division that will likely be there in a few years, and Eberflus is in a great position to reclaim the NFC North. He needs to get the fans on his side, the players on his side, and the media on his side if he wants to win in Chicago.
Mike McDaniel (Dolphins)
The Dolphins have been in the NFL media for months now after the Brian Flores fallout, and McDaniel’s hiring did nothing but shine the light brighter on Miami. The 38-year-old’s hire was completely unexpected and simply random, but he’s certainly qualified.
He’s been with the Niners offense for a few years now, mainly focusing on the run game until last year when he took the reigns of the entire offense. McDaniel made Jimmy G look like a franchise QB sometimes, and though it was never the most firing offense, they could put up points against just about anyone.
He has to figure out how to work with Tua in all his inconsistencies, but he has a decent offense to work with. This team needs a bit of retooling this offseason, but the roster is solid. It’s a tough job in a tough young division, but if McDaniel can help the Dolphins be consistent, he can pick up wins and lead Miami into the playoffs relatively soon.
Nathaniel Hackett (Broncos)
Hackett’s done his time around the league as an OC and a QB’s coach. The last three years have been his best and most of that is a result of working with the back-to-back MVP, Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers’ offense has been one of the best for a long time, but in the last couple of years with Hackett in charge, it’s been elite. Denver has the weapons, more than he had in Green Bay, and they have a defense on the come-up.
All they are missing is a quarterback. Once they figure that out, Hackett will have everything he needs to succeed.
The only problem is the other three QBs he has to stop to win the division are Pat Mahomes, Derek Carr, and Justin Herbert. It’s going to be tough to compete in this division, but Hackett has the winning mentality and a winning roster, just one move away from contending.