No NFL coaches have it easy and few have much in the way of job security.
Jay Gruden, Redskins: Gruden just named Kirk Cousins the team’s starting quarterback for, in Gruden’s words, the 2015 season. The future — or lack thereof — of benched former franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III with the organization is said to be Gruden’s decision. That perhaps does not bode well for Griffin staying in Washington, given Gruden’s apparent lack of faith that Griffin can succeed in the team’s current offensive system.
That puts plenty of pressure on Gruden. The close relationship between Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Griffin has been well documented. When he was hired, Gruden was advertised as the coach who would fix Griffin’s career in D.C., not end it. Scot McCloughan, the first-year general manager of the Redskins, inherited Gruden as his coach. He didn’t hire Gruden and isn’t necessarily tied to him as a coach.
The Redskins gave Gruden a five-year contract when they hired him. This is Year 2. But the Redskins under Snyder have discarded head coaches regularly. There is plenty of room to wonder if a coach, any coach, can win consistently these days with this franchise. It remains to be seen if Gruden will be given long enough to find out if he’s the one who can.
Joe Philbin, Dolphins: Owner Stephen Ross said the Dolphins never made a bid last offseason to hire Jim Harbaugh after his exit from San Francisco. But the fact that there was widespread speculation about such a move says plenty of Philbin’s perceived job security.
The stakes have been raised for this season. The Dolphins signed free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to a mega-deal. They gave a handsome long-term contract to young quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The pieces for a contending team perhaps are in place. Now it’s up to Philbin to make it work.
Chip Kelly, Eagles: It’s all about Kelly this season in Philadelphia. He probably would have it no other way.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made Kelly the winner in the coach’s power struggle with Howie Roseman, who lost the general manager title but remained in the team’s front office.
Kelly put his new power to use with an offseason roster overhaul in which he parted with tailback LeSean McCoy, quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin while adding quarterback Sam Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray. Kelly has stocked his roster with his former Oregon players and ignored the prevailing league-wide sentiment about Tim Tebow as an NFL passer by bringing in the quarterback to vie for a spot on the team.
Kelly has won so far and this is not to say there is any immediate danger that Lurie would fire him if things don’t go well this season. But Kelly clearly has put his reputation on the line and there will be no one else to share the credit or the blame for the Eagles’ 2015 fortunes.
Jeff Fisher, Rams: There is so much talk about how the Rams used the draft choices obtained from the Redskins in the Griffin trade in 2012 to rebuild their roster. Fine. That is undoubtedly true and Griffin’s dramatic career plummet in D.C. reinforces the notion that the Rams did the right thing.
But the fact remains that the Redskins made one playoff appearance with Griffin as a rookie while the Rams are yet to reach the postseason since the deal. Fisher is yet to have even a .500 season in St. Louis. In fact, the Rams’ record has been in regression under Fisher, from 7-8-1 in 2012 to 7-9 in ’13 to 6-10 last season.
Bradford’s injury issues no longer are the Rams’ concern. There are hopes for on-field improvement this season even as the franchise’s uncertain future in St. Louis hovers overhead. It’s about time for the Fisher-led Rams to produce.
Marvin Lewis, Bengals: Lewis is a very good coach who has built a consistent winner in a place where winning consistently is far from the norm. But it is impossible to ignore that the regular season success has not been accompanied by even a single postseason victory for the Bengals with Lewis as the coach and Andy Dalton as the quarterback. The burden is on both of them to add a playoff triumph or two to their NFL resumes.
Tom Coughlin, Giants: He has won two Super Bowls with the Giants and his coaching legacy is secure. But the Giants have had three straight non-playoff seasons and co-owner John Mara has acknowledged he considered ousting Coughlin and General Manager Jerry Reese after last season.
So it is now-or-never time for Coughlin and Reese to orchestrate a turnaround. The parts are there for the Giants on offense, particularly with Victor Cruz joining Odell Beckham at wide receiver as quarterback Eli Manning enters his second year in the West Coast scheme of coordinator Ben McAdoo. The biggest questions are on defense, particularly given the unclear playing status of standout pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul.
Jim Tomsula, 49ers: Some eyebrows were raised when the 49ers promoted Tomsula from defensive line coach to head coach to replace Harbaugh rather than bringing in a coach from the outside regarded as a rising star, such as former Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase. So the scrutiny will be on Jed York, the team’s chief executive officer, and Trent Baalke, its general manager, every bit as much as it is on Tomsula. The difference is that Tomsula can’t fire York and Baalke if things don’t go well.
It is difficult to envision things going well for the 49ers this season after their offseason of player exits on the heels of Harbaugh’s departure. It also would be misguided for anyone to blame Tomsula if things don’t go well, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Coaches and quarterbacks are the first to be blamed when NFL teams don’t succeed, so Tomsula steps into a potentially very difficult situation.