I have been waiting to write this article until all the head coach spots were filled, because I did not feel like doing a separate article for each hire. Coaching is one of the most important elements of fantasy football. A good coach and a good offense system can maximize star players’ fantasy value and produce countless sleepers that can help your fantasy team win a title. Bad head coaching can handcuff good players and make them overvalued in fantasy football.
There is really no surefire way to tell if a head coach is going to have success at that position. If a person is being considered for a head coaching job they either have a successful track record as a head coach or were the coordinator for a very good team. Teams do not go and hire coaches that presided over horrible teams and have never had a winning record at any level. It is kind of like the NFL Draft, every first round pick looks like a future Hall of Famer; it is not until you see the player in action that you can make some sound judgments. Eight NFL teams feel like they have the next Bill Belichick, but we will not know that for at least a few years.
That said, we still make projections on how we think rookie running backs and receivers are going to do. There is no reason not to do the same with head coaches. Here is my take on the eight hires; I listed them in alphabetical order by the team they were hired by, not by how I think they will rank at their new job.
Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians – Arians did a masterful job this year. He was supposed to be the offensive coordinator for a first year coach (Chuck Pagano) and rookie QB Andrew Luck. He was suddenly thrust into the head coaching spot when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians still managed to go (9-3) as the replacement coach and guide the Colts to a playoff berth. Pagano returned in Week 17 and Arians was rewarded with a chance at his own head job in Arizona.
I am rather indifferent about this hire, because I really do not believe that the problem in Arizona was Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was fired because he grossly mismanaged the replacement of retired QB Kurt Warner in 2009, not because his offensive system was unimaginative. He thought QB Derek Anderson could be the answer in free agency. Then he traded for QB Kevin Kolb and gave him a bunch of money only to find out he cannot stay healthy or play consistently. They turned to QB John Skelton, who was a failure. When that failed, they turned to QB Ryan Lindley and he was an epic failure with no touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a QB rating of 46.7 in 2012. The Cardinals lost faith in Whisenhunt being able to find the quarterback of the future and did not want him in charge of the decision on who their next quarterback would be.
The problem I have with Arians is he did not have success in Indy with some quarterback they found in the third round that nobody expected to compete. He found success with the most prepared college quarterback since Tennessee Volunteers QB Peyton Manning back in 1998. The Cardinals do not have a good young quarterback on their roster; in fact they do not have any good quarterbacks on their roster. They are going to have to find one in the draft and there is no player like Luck sitting there. This is a class that has a lot more questions than answers; I am not sure Arians is going to have a significantly better chance of finding and developing a sleeper quarterback than Whisenhunt would have.
At the end of the day, Arians has had a lot of success working with quarterbacks, as he was the Steelers offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2011, which saw the Steelers appear in two Super Bowls and win one. He was a great asset to QB Ben Roethlisberger before working with Luck last year. He is a solid offensive mind, which is good news for WR Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald stunk this year as he was forced to play with non-NFL quarterbacking talent.
The problem was not the scheme; the scheme worked fantastic when Warner was the starter from 2007-2009. Unless, Arians is able to fix that QB issue, I am not really seeing a big increase in production. Arians will run the same mediocre offense that Whisenhunt ran if he has to use one of the currently rostered quarterbacks. I am not elevating or dropping any Cardinals skill position players until after the NFL Draft in April. I want to see who projects as their starter in 2013 before I make any commitments on established players or sleepers.
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone – He comes from the college ranks, which always gives me pause, but he briefly played in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints in the late 1980s. He was on NFL staffs from 2002 to 2008 and was New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008, so he has a nice NFL background. Saints head coach Sean Peyton called the plays in New Orleans, so I would not give a lion’s share of the credit to Marrone for the big numbers Brees puts up, but he has been a part of some very good offensive teams and that deserves credit.
I like this hire. The Bills are not a very attractive job right now. They have a 94-year-old owner, play in a very small market and are stuck in a division with the big spending New England Patriots and New York Jets. That is not a combination that is going to make Mike Holmgen, John Gruden or Bill Cowher come to town and hitch their legacies to the Bill’s wagon. There is potential to do well there though, because they have some nice pieces. Running back C J Spiller is a dynamic runner and WR Stevie Johnson is a very exciting receiver. They made some moves to upgrade their defense when they signed LB/DE Mario Williams and drafted CB Stephon Gilmore. This is an underrated job. The Bills have talent and I just do not think Chan Gailey was the man to put it together.
The Bills still have challenges. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has had some good games the last couple seasons, but he struggles with consistency. I do not think he is a franchise quarterback, so the Bills will have to make some decisions there. They signed and drafted a ton of pieces to fix their defense, but it ranked 26th in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. They were arguably the worst rushing defense in the NFL, surrendering 2,333 yards rushing (31st) and 23 rushing touchdowns (32nd).
If they can add some more pieces and Marrone can fix what went wrong there, the Bills could be a sleeper team in 2013. Spiller is going to be a RB1 and Johnson is a low end WR2 to high end WR3. Depending on what Marrone does with this offense, those two could be stars in 2013. For sleepers, keep an eye on WR David Nelson. As a second year player, he was the 49th ranked fantasy receiver in 2011 and tore his ACL in the 2012 opener. He should be healthy and ready to go next year and a new offensive scheme could make him an attractive fantasy option in 2013.
Chicago Bears Head Coach Marc Trestman – This is one of those moves that is either going to put Bears GM Phil Emery in the Hall of Fame or on the permanent unemployment line. He hitched his fortunes to a coach that had a ton of experience in the NFL, as a coordinator. Trestman’s best job was probably in 1995 and 1996 with the San Francisco 49ers. In 1995, WR Jerry Rice set a then NFL record for receiving yards in a season (1,848) and the 49ers led the league in points scored (457) and were second in yards gained (6,087) behind Hall of Fame QB Steve Young. He was also the assistant head coach in Oakland from 2001 to 2003. QB Rich Gannon had a MVP season in 2002 when he tallied 4,689 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Trestman has been coaching in the West Coast Offense family for the better part of 20 years and has had remarkable success with quarterbacks. This move was made for the Bears to make a final attempt to maximize the potential with QB Jay Cutler. They gave up two first round picks to acquire Cutler and they wanted to find a very quarterback-friendly coach; Trestman fits that bill.
The reason the hire is so unconventional is that Trestman has not been involved in the NFL game since 2004. He spent some time as an offensive coordinator at NC State and took a head coaching job with the CFL Montreal Alouettes. He did lead them to back-to-back Grey Cup titles in 2009 and 2010 and has been on the radar of other NFL teams. He interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012 and the Cleveland Browns this year.
Being a coach is not just about being a good play caller or Xs and Os guy. It is about being able to hire a good staff and delegate responsibility to competent people. I think this guy understands offense, but he really has not been heavily involved in the NFL since the 2004 rule changes. The West Coast Offense was a great offense in the 1980s and 1990s, but it has evolved considerably since then. It is always a long shot taking a guy that has never been a head coach in the NFL, but to take a guy that has not been employed in the NFL since the 2004 season and who was coaching in the CFL is a big roll of the dice for a team that was in the NFC Championship Game in 2010 and won 10 games last year. I do not hate the hire, but I am not sure I love it. There is a lot of risk there and it could end very badly if it was the wrong decision.
For fantasy football, I do not think the hire has a ton of impact on its own. WR Brandon Marshall is still going to be an elite wide out and RB Matt Forte is an aging running back that is probably at low RB1 to high RB2 status at this point in his career. I am not sure this hire changes that. The Bears have a lot of questions at their other receiver spots. Second year WR Alshon Jeffery is a good sleeper bet as he showed potential in an injury riddled rookie season. I think I would be writing that whether Trestman was hired or not hired.
The big question is whether Cutler improve on his poor fantasy numbers. Cutler has not been able to top 4,000 yards passing, 30 touchdown passes or 90.0 QB rating since arriving in Chicago back in 2009. If Trestman is the right guy for this job and he can improve this offense, Cutler is the one who stands to benefit the most and see the biggest spike in fantasy production. That is going to benefit a lof of other players as well. Cutler could be a steal in fantasy drafts, although I think there is a ton of risk with him, because of the wild cards surrounding this coaching hire and because he has not been able to put it together in Chicago to date.
Cleveland Browns Head Coach Robert Chudzinski - His nickname is Chud, and that just about says it all. He has been with the Browns before, starting his NFL resume there as a tight ends coach in 2004 and serving as their offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. He has had some success in the NFL as a coordinator. In 2007, his Browns team finished eighth in yards gained (5,621) and eighth in points scored (402). That was with QB Derek Anderson leading the offense, so it is pretty impressive his team did that well with that below average of a quarterback talent. He was also the Panthers offensive coordinator in 2011, when the Panthers seventh in yards gained (6,237)and fifth in points scored (406), despite having a rookie quarterback running their offense (Cam Newton). Chud has had success with two very different quarterbacks, so that speaks to his ability to run different schemes that fit the talent he has on the roster.
My biggest criticism is that his offenses regressed in his second year. There were high hopes in Carolina for their offense this year and they finished 18th in points scored (357) and 12th in yards gained (5,771). That is actually a major improvement over what happened in Cleveland in 2008, when his offense finished 31st in yards gained (3,985) and 30th in points scored (232). Some of that speaks to Anderson, but there is no doubt that Chud has had up and down success in the NFL. I have a hard time believing that he was one of the eight most qualified people on the planet for a NFL head coaching job, so you wonder if this was the best Cleveland could find to accept the job or if they reached.
I do like the hiring of Mike Lombardi to be the VP of Personnel and Norv Turner would have been a horrible head coaching hire, but as an offensive coordinator he could bring some ingenuity to an offense that desperately needs it. Turner has always been running back friendly, so it could be a big boost for RB Trent Richardson, a talent that can put up big numbers with bad coaching. That hire makes Richardson’s RB1 value rise even higher. WR Josh Gordon could also benefit from the Turner offense, which tends to favor the vertical passing game. Gordon had 50 receptions for 805 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He also ranked 29th with 12 receptions over 20 yards.
It remains to be seen if starting QB Brandon Weeden will fit the new Turner offense, so until there is some clarity at quarterback, any of their pass targets are questionable options. It is going to be difficult to have much faith in anyone other than Richardson and Gordon unless Weeden significantly progresses this year or the Browns upgrade that position.
Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley – You have to feel bad for the Jaguars. They are in a small market and not likely to draw the interest of some of the bigger names in the NFL coaching profession. Their hiring a coach was not going to create a big splash to begin with, but they tried when they hired Bradley; he was the defensive coordinator for the top scoring defense in the NFL. That followed an already solid hire of GM David Caldwell, who impressed me when he said that he could not envision a scenario where the team would bring in QB Tim Tebow.
They need to sell tickets, but bringing in a substandard NFL quarterback will not help them in the long term. They need to win games and put a watchable product on the field. The Jaguars struggle to generate headlines as they are not a history rich team or in a big market. Normally, their head coaching hire would have made news and been talked about, but to make matters worse, it happened at the same time that the Manti Te’o's dead girlfriend hoax story broke. If you were not actively trying to find out who the Jaguars hired, chances are you missed it in the barrage of coverage of Te’o.
I like the hire. The Jaguars are going to have a challenge playing in the same division with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, but they seem to be making good football decisions over gimmicks and quick fixes. I hated the hire of Mike Mularkey last year and was not surprised it ended in a (2-14) season. They needed a change and they seem to be bringing a group of steady people to the table.
Still, this is not a quick fix and the Jaguars are not going to turn this around overnight. A better defense would help keep their offense on the field more and they have some nice young receivers in WR Justin Blackmon and WR Cecil Shorts, who should be WR3 caliber next year. They will have to decide what they want to do with RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who battled injuries this year after his holdout spanned the entire preseason. None of his backups were overly impressive. They also need to settle in on a quarterback. Are they going to keep the Blaine Gabbert experiment going, roll with Chad Henne or go for another quarterback in the draft or free agency?
Until they have some stability at their quarterback position, it makes their skill position players a roll of the dice. Still, this is a team that seems like it has some competent leadership going forward and they may be able to turn things around here in the next couple years. For now, MJD, Blackmon and Shorts are the only real reliable fantasy options. MJD is a solid RB2 with age and injury issues and Blackmon and Shorts should command WR3 value with both having upside if they find a good quarterback option.
Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid – I really like this hire, it is my second favorite hire of the eight teams that decided to go with new head coaches. The Kansas City Chiefs have been a disaster since Dick Vermeil left the team. They hired Herm Edwards, who did make the playoffs once but eventually ran RB Larry Johnson and the team into the ground. They tried to go with a fresh look on offense with Todd Haley. He made the playoffs once, but was fired before he completed his third season. They tried going with a player-friendly coach in Romeo Crennel. His teams won only four of their 19 games that he coached. Last year, they became the first team since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons to never have the lead in regulation for their first eight games to start the season. The mess of the last five years is a big reason why GM Scott Pioli lost his job.
The Chiefs have a passionate fan base. They were justifiably upset this year. They had planes flying over the stadium with banners to fire the GM. They wore all black to several home games. The Chiefs organization could not sell to their fan base an unconventional hire, a college coach or a coordinator with a brief track record. They needed someone that could fire them up and Reid is that guy. He is an offensive minded coach that went to five NFC Championship Games from 2001 to 2008. He has been a head coach since 1999, and won a ton of games in this league. Even though his last two years in Philly were uninspiring, it did not undo a great decade of success. The only thing missing from his resume is a Super Bowl win, but nobody doubts he can make it over that mountain. The Chiefs also hired John Dorsey to be their new GM. He comes from the Green Bay Packers organization, one of the best front offices over the last 20 years. This should help the Chiefs find better players to put on the field.
The problem is that the Chiefs were ranked 32nd in points scored and 24th in yards scored. The big key to their success will be ridding themselves of the players that helped them tally a 2-14 record. I think this hire is a boost for RB Jamaal Charles. It will probably hurt his total carries, but Reid likes to throw to the running backs and Charles can be a duel threat. Reid is criticized for not running the ball enough, but Brian Westbrook tallied a league leading 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007 and LeSean McCoy tallied a league leading 20 touchdowns in 2011. Both finished second among fantasy backs those seasons, so to say a running back cannot excel in Reid’s offense is not accurate, even though he does tend to run a pass heavy offense that abandons the running game. The Chiefs also have the first pick in the draft and are likely to add several impact players in this year’s draft. The future looks bright in Kansas City and in a couple seasons they could have several high profile fantasy players.
Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly – I would be lying if I said I was excited about this hire. There is no denying what Kelly did at Oregon, accumulating a 46-7 record and winning at least 12 games per season his last three years there. His high tempo offense was one of the most innovative offenses college football ever saw, averaging 44.7 points per game and surpassing 46.0 points per game each of the last three seasons. His offense has been so genius that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke to Kelly about his offense in the offseason and implemented some of its characteristics into their offense this year. The result was a Patriots offense that was the third highest scoring in NFL history, tallying 557 points.
That seems like a pretty exciting proposition, so why would I not be pumped about the hire? College coaches with no NFL experience tend to flame out in the NFL. Pete Carroll has done great in Seattle coming from USC, but keep in mind he was a head coach with the New York Jets (1994) and the New England Patriots (1997-1999). He spent 15 years in the NFL from 1984 to 1999 before going to USC. San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had never coached in the NFL, but he was a quarterback for 14 years in the NFL; he was very familiar with the pro game.
Kelly has coached as many games in the NFL as a head coach and an assistant as I have coached. That does not mean it will end in disaster, but the only college head coach with no previous NFL experience in recent years that can say his pro career was a success is Jimmy Johnson, and he was hired more than 20 years ago in the 1989 season. Barry Switzer won a Super Bowl in 1995 with Jimmy’s players, but was not able to sustain success at the NFL level. I would have much rather seen Kelly come to the NFL as an offensive coordinator, but that was not realistic given his college resume.
I think elements of Kelly’s offense will work, but if he is going to try to run a straight read option that strives for 100 offensive plays per game in the NFL, it will backfire on him. He needs to adopt a NFL offense and implement some of his principles to it, similar to what the Patriots did this year. His willingness to adapt will be a big factor in his success or failure.
As for fantasy, I think McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin and WR DeSean Jackson should all be good options in 2013 and could all improve on their 2012 campaigns. QB Nick Foles is probably done in Philadelphia, I cannot imagine that he is going to be able to run Kelly’s scheme. QB Michael Vick is very suited to run what Kelly ran in college, but I do not think he can stay healthy running a read option. He also has a monster contract, so he may not be back in 2013. Regardless, I wouldn’t waste a high pick on Vick as several fantasy owners have regretted doing so in 2011 and 2012. The quarterback of the future is probably not in Philadelphia right now, which makes Maclin and Jackson WR3 options until that is resolved. McCoy is still a RB1 and could flourish in this system if he can stay healthy. He is still a first round pick in my mind and could have a monster season if this offense translates at the NFL level.
San Diego Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy – This was my favorite hire of the group, it is just convenient that he was hired by San Diego so that I could save the best for last. First, I think San Diego was the best situation of any of the available openings. The new head coach is no longer going to be handicapped by the bad personnel decisions of former general manager, AJ Smith. The team hired Tom Telesco, who I think was an excellent hire. He learned from Bill Polian in Indianapolis and Telesco has been in the NFL since the mid-1990s, despite being only 40-years old. I think there is great potential in this front office and the Chargers should have much more success targeting good players in the draft and free agency.
The second reason I like this opening is that I believe the Chargers have the best quarterback situation of all the vacant positions. It is easy to forget with the past two sub-par years, but QB Philip Rivers averaged 4,324 yards passing, 30.7 passing touchdowns, only 11 interceptions and had a QB rating between 101.8 and 105.5 in all three seasons between 2008 and 2010. No quarterback in this group has had that record of success, and Rivers led the Chargers to the playoffs four times from 2006-2009 and played in the 2007 AFC Championship Game. That is hard to remember with his high 80s QB ratings and 35 interceptions over the last two years, but Rivers was once an elite quarterback and he is only 31-years old. I believe he was the victim of bad personnel decisions by Smith and poor coaching by fired coach Norv Turner.
Enter in McCoy, who has been the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator since 2009. He has shown that he can work with a number of different quarterbacks. QB Kyle Orton had a career year in 2009, throwing for 3,802 yards, 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. In 2011, McCoy revamped the offense for QB Tim Tebow and the Broncos recovered from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs. In 2012, McCoy went away from the spread option of Tebow to a more conventional attack with Indianapolis Colts free agent QB Peyton Manning. Manning was the All-Pro first team quarterback, throwing for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, despite missing all of 2011 with four neck surgeries.
What I like about McCoy is he does not seem to be married to one system. He goes with the personnel he has and tries to come up with a scheme that can win games. I think he will sit down with Rivers and find ways to tweak his offense to suit Rivers and his strengths. I also like the hire of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt. I think that move will help McCoy adjust to his first year in coaching and will also help Rivers cut down on interceptions, something Whisenhunt helped Warner with in Arizona. I think Rivers is going to be a candidate for a bounce back season and could be a fantasy steal as people become infatuated with some of the younger quarterbacks. I also think that their receivers could improve their numbers. This offense ranked just 20th in points scored and 31st in yards gained. That is going to be on the upswing. That means players like Danario Alexander, WR Robert Meachem and WR Michael Floyd call all have upswings in their production. I would still be weary of TE Antonio Gates (age) and RB Ryan Matthews (injury-prone), but if they can stay healthy they too could be in for an upswing under McCoy.