Remember how some of these teams thought they found the next Sean McVay?
Not so much, as it’s turning out.
“The truth is, this wasn’t a great group of [head-coaching] candidates who were available,” a front-office executive with one NFL franchise said. “If you were going to fire your coach [after last season], it was at your own risk.”
The Green Bay Packers are doing just fine with Matt LaFleur at 3-1. The Cleveland Browns are 2-2 with Freddie Kitchens, as are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Bruce Arians.
But they’re the exceptions. The New York Jets, with Adam Gase, are 0-3 after a Week 4 bye. Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals are 0-3-1. The Miami Dolphins’ Brian Flores, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Zac Taylor and the Denver Broncos’ Vic Fangio are all 0-4.
“To be quite honest, it starts with me,” Taylor said after the Bengals’ loss Monday night in Pittsburgh. “I’ve got to make sure the standard is higher than what it is right now because I haven’t done a good enough job, and there’s certainly things that I’ve got to improve on. So I look in the mirror. The players look in the mirror. … We didn’t expect to be an 0-4 team.”
The LaFleur and Taylor hires were the most obvious examples of NFL teams searching for McVay prototypes, given that both had worked for McVay with the Los Angeles Rams and fit the mold of young would-be offensive masterminds. Kitchens, Arians, Gase and Kingsbury also are offensive-minded coaches. Only Flores and Fangio come from defensive backgrounds.
LaFleur always seemed to have a good chance for first-year success, given that he inherited a Packers team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback and that was coming off an expensive offseason retooling of the defense. Kitchens, too, took over amid the promise of immediate prosperity. He was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach and given the task of building on the Browns’ gains made last season with rookie Baker Mayfield at quarterback. Hope in Cleveland soared with the team’s offseason trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The expectations were more modest for Arians with the Buccaneers, Gase with the Jets and Fangio with the Broncos; those were teams that seemed capable of improvement but still had significant questions. It was clear from the start that Kingsbury, Taylor and Flores faced major rebuilding projects. The immediate task for Flores in Miami became even more daunting when the Dolphins traded left tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, amassing a handsome haul of draft picks to aid their future retooling but reinforcing the widely held belief that they were surrendering this season.
“You can’t judge him in any way on what happens this year,” the NFL executive said of Flores. “If he wins two games, he should be coach of the year. They’ve given him no chance.”
Arians, Gase and Kingsbury will be evaluated, in large part, by how they do with their quarterbacks. Arians is trying to get the most out of Jameis Winston and seems to be making progress, with Winston’s passer rating at 95.8 through four games. Gase’s work with Sam Darnold was put on hold when Darnold was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Kingsbury brought his version of the “Air Raid” offense from the college ranks to the NFL and was put in charge of the development of Kyler Murray, the top overall selection in this year’s draft. Murray has four interceptions to go with four touchdown passes, has been sacked 20 times and has a passer rating of 78.8 four games into his rookie season.
Fangio’s Broncos have been among the league’s biggest disappointments after adding Joe Flacco, the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, in the offseason. Two of their losses have come on opponents’ field goals as time expired.
“It’s the little things that go into finishing a game that you have to do well,” Fangio said at a news conference Wednesday. “It’s not just, ‘Well, let’s go finish the game.’ You’ve got to do the details that allow you to finish the game.”
New coaches rarely are handed contending teams. It’s all about progress. So far, that is coming slowly for most in this group.
“I’m just up here making excuses is what it feels like, to be honest with you,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to get it done. We’ve got to figure it out. I’ve got to figure it out.”
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