With five new head coaches hired across the NFL, we now have an opportunity to take an early look into how they’ll do. So we started by ranking new NFL head coaches based on what we know about them.
Any ranking this early in the process is bound to be flawed, but no one ever has all the information. Given what we know, here’s how we rank the new NFL head coaches
Ranking the New NFL Head Coaches
1) Sean Payton, Denver Broncos
With the top slot, it’s hard to go with anything but a Super Bowl-winning coach who has helped engineer some of the top offenses in league history.
Not only has Sean Payton helped design high-level scoring attacks, but he’s well-established in the league and has a number of contacts from a number of different coaching trees, allowing him to staff his coaching roster with some of the top minds in the NFL.
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There are certainly questions about whether or not it made sense to give up high-level assets to trade for his rights. There are also valid concerns regarding the run of sub-.500 football he experienced before a draft-driven revival in 2017, but the fact remains – Payton is a winning, experienced coach that has seen it all and has already guided one organization out of the doldrums into perennial success.
Given that the Broncos have much more concern at quarterback than anywhere else, it seems perfect that Denver has found someone who specializes in creating high-level offense.
2) DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
It’s hard to separate out the coaches who have never held the top job before. Being a good coordinator doesn’t mean someone will be a good head coach. The reverse is true as well – Payton ranked 15th, 21st, and 22nd in scoring offense in his sole years as an offensive coordinator before becoming a head coach. But what we know of DeMeco Ryans tells us that he’s likely a hit.
Not only was he identified as a head coach candidate while he was a player by multiple people in the role, but he also spent time making sure he learns all the elements of becoming a good head coach well before the opportunity arrived. He dove into personnel and offensive coaching and learned about management styles and finding success at every level of his coaching path.
He was a candidate for promotions and was approached for elevated jobs outside of the San Francisco 49ers for years. Now, the opportunity to prove so many right has arrived.
3) Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts
Fresh off of coordinating the top offense in the NFC, Steichen has been given a completely new task – taking over for the person who mentored his former boss in Indianapolis, Frank Reich. Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni was the offensive coordinator under Reich, and it seemingly has come full circle with Steichen moving to Indianapolis to take over the Colts.
The Colts have much that needs to be turned around – from making sure the defense lives up to its talent to the offensive line to the gaping hole at quarterback. Steichen’s experience coaching quarterbacks – from Justin Herbert to Jalen Hurts – could be helpful in regard to that last step.
His willingness to innovate and design offenses while keeping the complexity appropriate to his quarterback is a breath of fresh air among offensive minds, but it’s hard to get a sense of what his organizational philosophy is or how that will translate to becoming a head coach.
4) Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers
There are only two head coaches hired this cycle that have previous head coaching experience. One, Payton, has won a Super Bowl and turned an organization around, while the other, Reich, has struggled without a franchise quarterback of his own.
Part of that had to do with his own intervention in the quarterback decisions in Indianapolis – which may not be relevant in Carolina – and part of that was outside of his control. But certainly, an inability to connect with multiple quarterbacks and maintain defensive consistency is worth noting.
To Reich’s credit, two of his five seasons as a head coach were winning seasons that saw playoff appearances, and coaches can often do better with a second chance. If he can readjust his own assessment of his ability to coach quarterbacks, Reich might be a great success. There were some excellent teams in Indianapolis before things fell apart.
5) Jonathan Gannon, Arizona Cardinals
The Eagles’ 2022 defense was excellent, but there had long been frustration in Philadelphia with the overall performance of a unit that had largely been average until last year’s Super Bowl run.
The influx of talent may have had more to do with it than Jonathan Gannon’s coaching, but it’s worth crediting him for helping to identify key pieces and working in a system that took advantage of the diverse skillsets brought into the building.
Gannon had been a head coaching candidate for more than just this past season and was a finalist for three different organizations in the 2022 offseason. Flexibility is a key component of being a good head coach, and that seems to be his calling card.
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And though the defensive collapse against Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl is worth noting, it’s also the case that the Eagles’ defense held the top offense in the league to just seven points in the first half, with KC’s only other points in the first 30 minutes coming off of a fumble return.
Gannon has a background in the front office as well – both as a college and pro scout. Dipping one’s toes into multiple elements of football operations is a critical element to becoming a successful head coach.
But even though we know that there is only a loose relationship between success as a coordinator and success as a head coach, one has to worry that Gannon’s 2022 defensive performance is boosting an otherwise lackluster resume.