Many of the coaching hires made this offseason didn't feel like big changes. Of the seven coaches hired, three of them were promoted internal candidates: Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey.
The Eagles went outside the organization for their hire, right back to the coaching tree that ran Philadelphia for 14 seasons. Nearly a quarter of the teams in the NFL changed coaches, yet continuity was a buzzword during introductory news conferences. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Eli Manning won't have to learn new offensive systems. Chip Kelly might retain defensive coordinator Eric Mangini in San Francisco, and Hue Jackson might hire Ray Horton as defensive coordinator only a few years after Horton coached the Browns' defense under Rob Chudzinski.
Some teams also made surprising decisions to retain their head coach. Former Patriots scouting director turned Lions general manager Bob Quinn decided to keep former AFC adversary Jim Caldwell as Detroit's head coach. Colts coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson hugged and made up with a beaming Jim Irsay looking on like a proud father.
We've ranked the new coaching hires below in terms of potential, and you'll notice that we favored teams that made more drastic changes. Continuity for a losing franchise could be missing the point.
Ranking the coaching hires
1. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns: The Browns got their man with decisiveness after a few meandering coaching searches. It's not like Jackson chose Cleveland over other opportunities; Jackson never got an offer in San Francisco and was early in his interview process with the New York Giants. But that doesn't diminish the promise Jackson brings to Cleveland.
Jackson combines two great traits for a head coach: An innovative offense and captivating leadership. His players believe in him, and the city of Cleveland believes in him after his electric opening news conference. That ability to connect with players and fans should not be underestimated because Jackson will need patience to build this team slowly. Even owner Jimmy Haslam warned this rebuilding project will take years, and we hope he follows through with that promise this time around.
"Ranking" any coaching hire before it starts is inherently guesswork. Jackson is fighting an uphill battle, but he's the kind of coach that can turn an organization around. He needs to find a quarterback, but he's shown repeatedly that he can minimize a quarterback's weaknesses and creatively use all the offensive weapons at his disposal. It's another season of hope for the Browns, who have "won" the offseason before.
2. Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers: We like the move to hire Kelly because the 49ers situation required boldness. The team's roster and its placement in the NFC West makes for a mission impossible for nearly any head coach. The only chance San Francisco has for a fast turnaround is to take a huge cut at the plate. Kelly could turn into a misfire that ends in drama like the last two 49ers coaches, but it could also prove forward thinking. This is the boom-or-bust hire of the offseason.
Kelly went 26-21 in three seasons in Philadelphia. Bill Belichick is right; Kelly is a good coach that is difficult to prepare for. Any offense that can rank in the top-five in points scored with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez at quarterback is an offense worth trying. Kelly was out of his depth running personnel in Philadelphia, but that will be general manager's Trent Baalke's job.
Kelly will have to show he's learned from his mistakes as a first-time head coach. He could enter a skeptical locker room and he'll definitely joust with a skeptical media room. Kelly is naturally combative, and he won't be given the same honeymoon period that Jackson gets in Cleveand.
This is a risk worth taking for owner Jed York in part because of San Francisco's quarterback situation. If anyone can get Colin Kaepernick back on track, it's Chip Kelly. The 49ers also have the No. 7 pick in the draft if they want to select a quarterback for Kelly to develop. If nothing else, Kelly's hire ranks high because he's an original in a league full of vanilla suits. He'll be fun to cover one way or another.
3. Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa's bid for "continuity" made more sense than other teams. They feared losing Koetter to the 49ers and did not want to disrupt Jameis Winston's development with a new offensive system. While Lovie Smith never got a true chance to implement his defensive vision, there's no denying the Bucs got much worse defensively after firing Greg Schiano. The Bucs have a few defensive cornerstones and there is a legitimate belief that Smith's defensive principles no longer work in 2015.
We rank Koetter high in part because of his defensive coordinator hire. First-time head coaches often struggle to build a staff, but Mike Smith is a solid, proven coordinator who can handle that side of the ball.
4. Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins: Gase has a higher ceiling than Koetter but will be working with a first-time defensive coordinator in Vance Joseph. Former Colts assistant Clyde Christiansen will be his offensive coordinator. Gase was popular among reporters, but being friendly with writers and having an effective agent isn't predictive of success.
Gase absolutely did a fine job coaching up a loaded Broncos offense in 2013-2014, and Jay Cutler cut down on his mistakes under Gase's watch in Chicago. But the results with the Bears often felt over-praised. Cutler's numbers were right in line with his career averages. The Bears' offense literally finished with the same rankings in yards and points as it did under Marc Trestman in 2014, and those rankings weren't in the top 20. Gase deserves credit for cutting down on Cutler's mistakes and managing an injury-plagued roster very well, but there's just no way to tell if his concepts will translate elsewhere.
5. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles: Owner Jeffrey Lurie was looking for a coach with "emotional intelligence," so he found the closest thing he could get to Andy Reid. Pederson only ranks in the middle because we know so little about him. He was never a playcaller in the NFL until this season, and that only came in situational scenarios, such as the two-minute drill. The Chiefs were perhaps the least successful two-minute team in the NFL.
Pederson was lauded for his work with quarterbacks in Philadelphia and Kansas City. The Eagles obviously know him well as a former player and assistant. He did a nice job with Michael Vick. We also love that Jim Schwartz, a proven difference-maker at coordinator, will run a talented defense. We had Pederson ranked ahead of Gase until he confirmed he was in charge of that dreadful Chiefs' five-minute death march at the end of the Divisional Round.
6. Ben McAdoo, New York Giants: This was a hard move to understand. The Giants essentially blamed the entire recent run of losing on former coach Tom Coughlin. They retained defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who nearly set the record for most passing yards allowed in a season (Spags' defense set the record for most yards allowed during his time in New Orleans).
Perhaps it wasn't Spagnuolo's fault; the roster was lackluster. But general manager Jerry Reese, who has picked all the players, remains in place. Promoting McAdoo provides continuity for a veteran quarterback and offense that has mostly maximized its talent over the last two years. Then again, Eli Manning wasn't thrilled when former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride got the boot, either. That's why players don't fire and hire coaches. McAdoo will have a learning curve like any rookie head coach as he handles aspects of the job like organization and frequent media interaction for the first time.
The lack of a true fresh start also cuts down on McAdoo's honeymoon period. The Giants are shuffling assistants, but they are essentially betting that removing Coughlin will make them better.
7. Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans: It's going to be hard for the Titans to generate excitement over this hire. Mularkey walked away from his first coaching job in Buffalo, a tenure that will be best remembered for perhaps the worst Week 17 choke in NFL history (during the 2004 season, needing a win to make the playoffs, the Bills lost to the Steelers' backup). Mularkey is 18-39 in his coaching career, and perhaps his best moments as a coach, which he referenced in his introductory news conference, came with the Steelers almost 15 years ago.