With the recent firing of now-former Browns head coach Hue Jackson, and his replacement with interim head coach – oh god – Gregg Williams, we’re officially in midseason coach firing season. What a wonderful time of year! Any team can sack a coach at the end of the year, but to be dumped midseason, that coach must be truly bad. So how do you know if your head coach is awful? Well, here are a few tells that mean you should start reading about highly-rated coordinators.
Most head coaches enter the job full of fresh ideas, excitement, and the will to win. That manifests in playcalling which takes advantage of matchups, unpredictability, and utilising competitive advantages. However, bad head coaches stick to established game scripts instead of adapting to the game flow. They stick with the same personnel groupings whether they’re working or not. And they get predictable: run on first down, poor pass on second, short run on third-and-long, punt. They are Jason Garrett.
(Ron Jenkins/AP Photo)
Garrett’s never been a playcalling savant, but has benefitted from some really strong rosters, particularly in 2016 when teams also didn’t have NFL tape on Ezekiel Elliott or Dak Prescott. Now that teams know how to counter that threat, you’d think Garrett could add wrinkles. Use running backs differently, more misdirection, mixing up run and pass plays. Nope. He won’t use tight ends to give blocking help to struggling tackles, an issue with a QB who struggles with any pressure. Garrett is out of ideas how to diversify or free up the offense, if he ever had any.
Want another example? How about a head coach who always promised to get a dynamic, rushing-and-receiving back involved but could never draw up a gameplan that did, yet the moment he was fired the new man in charge of the offense did it with ease. (Cleveland still lost, mind.)
Mediocrity That Breeds Resentment
Sometimes, head coaches are not awful but merely visibly fail to transcend their situation. They make some duff decisions, but generally just fail to get top play out of players, build locker-room resentment, plan boring games to watch that need moments of individual brilliance from otherwise stifled players to succeed. They are Vance Joseph.
John Elway’s never found a competent quarterback to help Joseph, sure. But the players have never really seemed to be on Joseph’s side. It can be hard to get players onside when you’re not winning, but for one, this is a decent Broncos roster that should win more, and for two, strong leaders can unite a team even when they’re losing. Joseph makes poor decisions in close games. Against Houston, he took a low-percentage 60-plus yard field goal attempt with time remaining if missed for Houston to get downfield and score a field goal of their own. They missed the field-goal. Six-point swing. Then he called a hyper-conservative gameplan on the final drive, culminating in needing a 51-yarder for the win, when there had been opportunity to get closer. Again, missed. Houston win, Joseph gets the deserved snark from recently-traded Demaryius Thomas.
Your Head Coach Seems To Have Checked Out
Some head coaches never seem the most emotive. They remain stone-faced as the game ebbs and flows. Sometimes, these coaches can be incredibly observant figures, taking in every detail and masterminding a genius victory. Others just seem kind of disengaged, and maybe that shows up in unthinking game management, like say leaving in a center with a hand injury who can’t snap. They are Todd Bowles.
Bowles’ Jets were one of the more miserable 10-win teams when they went 10-6 a few years ago and have regressed to type even since then. Games just sort of happen to the Jets. When we get bad Sam Darnold, he makes the same mistakes without the team trying to help him, create opportunity or easy and meaningful completions. But as we see often in teams with good defences and poor offenses, the locker room can get fractious. And when that happens, coaches who comparatively aren’t into it, can’t save it.
Your Head Coach Is Lashing Out
You don’t always need to see a game to know when a coach isn’t very good. Some coaches just can’t hack even being questioned by the media. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if they’re lashing out when asked reasonable questions, and haven’t been a head coach long enough to have earned the benefit of the doubt, they’re likely struggling and short of other people to blame. They are Matt Patricia.
We all know that they look silly, too. Given his (in)famously unkempt appearance, Patricia’s barb was all the more hilarious. But it gives sign as to how his approach might prove…sub-optimal. We heard early in the season that he was already alienating veterans. What so so many coaches from the Belichick tree don’t realise is that Belichick can get away with being all shitty, low-grade unpleasant because he is a legendary, talented and thoroughly thoroughly proven coach. Josh McDaniels in Denver was a first-time head coach who hadn’t proved himself – he thought he had. Patricia in Detroit seems to expect people – players and media members – to get in line just because he is Matt Patricia. It won’t work.
Self-Promotion and Blame-Deflecting
Some coaches are everyone’s least favourite work colleague. The one who not only claims credit for things they didn’t do, but blames others for their own shortcomings. Such coaches are often exposed as charlatans, but not before damage is done. They’re often barely in touch with reality. They are Jon Gruden.
Happier times (Hector Amezcua/ Sacramento Bee)
Look, we were all baffled about how much the Raiders wanted Gruden back. Though he won a Super Bowl in 2003, his six years in Tampa Bay after that produced a 45-51 record, with two playoff appearances, both one and done. By the end of that, his teams looked pretty superannuated. And this year’s team looks similarly out-of-step. But heck, he sure wants you to make you think he has. Leveraging his hilariously bad contract, Gruden has gone from talking the we-can-win-it-all talk to walking the tanking walk.
Lest you thought I let Hue Jackson off lightly on this account, he is a man who is convinced he was the man to turn a 3-35-1 team around, despite being responsible for that 3-35-1 record. Delusional? Yep. Self-promoting? Yep. Blaming others for his failures? Yep.
Your Head Coach Is Literally Asking To Be Fired
And yet the Buccaneers leave Dirk Koetter in purgatory.