Fired NFL Coaches and Their Future

NFL+Head+Coaches+have+been+canned+left+and+right%2C+all+of+this+happening+well+before+the+offseason+officially+begins.+%0A%28courtesy+of+Twitter%29

NFL Head Coaches have been canned left and right, all of this happening well before the offseason officially begins. (courtesy of Twitter)

Lou Orlando, Contributing Writer

The first Monday after the end of the NFL regular season has been deemed “Black Monday,” on which waves of head coaches are fired. All in all, eight coaches were fired by the end of the 2021 season.

Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden were the only two coaches  forced out before the end of the season. After a 3–1 start, Gruden was forced to resign amid leaked emails containing racist, homophobic and sexist language. The Raiders appointed assistant head coach and Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia as interim head coach. Despite even more drama surrounding former first round picks Henry Ruggs III and Damon Arnette, both of whom were subsequently released, Bisaccia led the Raiders to a 10–7 record and a fifth seed finish in the AFC. 

It would make sense for the Raiders to hire Bisaccia as their head coach for the 2022 season given his success amid so much controversy, as well as public support from Raiders’ captains Derek Carr and Maxx Crosby. Crosby went as far as to say, “Rich is my pick if it were up to me. He’s a leader of men. He’s a great coach from top to bottom.” 

For Meyer, a combination of public scandals and underwhelming play abruptly ended his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Off-the-field issues aside, Meyer’s Jaguars failed to meet expectations in a year when not much was expected from them to begin with. The Jaguars went 2–11 under Meyer, suffering through eight losses by a margin of ten points or more. Meyer mishandled second-year running back James Robinson after a sensational rookie year and failed to cultivate a productive environment for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who had a rather forgettable rookie season. The future of the Jaguars will likely rest on whether or not Lawrence can live up to his massive expectations. Lawrence was excellent in an impressive 26-11 win over the playoff-vying Colts in Week 18, but it’s tough to evaluate him after a tumultuous first season. 

The Jaguars are reportedly targeting Todd Bowles and Byron Leftwich, the defensive and offensive coordinators of the Buccaneers, as well as Nathaniel Hacket, the offensive coordinator for the Packers. Whether they go with Bowles, who has previous head coaching experience with the Jets, or someone like Leftwich or Hacket from the coordinator level, it should be more successful than hiring a coach with no NFL experience whatsoever. 

Speaking of which, Meyer’s future is currently in limbo. Meyer’s disastrous season in Jacksonville likely closes any doors to a coaching gig in the NFL, but there could still be a place for him at the collegiate level. Meyer won three national championships with the University of Florida and the Ohio State University, and boasts a .854 winning percentage over 17 years. 

The remaining coaches weren’t good enough to keep their jobs, but they were good enough to stick around until the end of the season. That almost wasn’t the case for Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy. 6–11 might not seem like an absolutely awful record but they were just lifeless for most of the season. From week six to week 15, they managed just one win: a nail biter against the Detroit Lions team that had yet to win a game. For a team that had made the playoffs in two of the last three years, that was enough to give Nagy the boot in his fourth year. 

The Bears are in conversations with Bowles and Leftwich, but fans seem to be enamored with the Bills Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll. The Bills may have been eliminated in an overtime thriller, but Daboll’s offense shined by scoring 83 points, 12 touchdowns and netting 920 total yards in just two postseason games. Daboll helped mold Josh Allen into an elite quarterback after just his second season and there’s a chance he could do the same with Justin Fields, who showed clear arm talent in his rookie season.

The final season in Chicago is a troubling end to Nagy’s coaching tenure but let’s not forget that he was once a highly lauded coach. After all, he won Coach of the Year in 2018, leading the Bears to a 12-4 record in his first season as a head coach. It’s also worth mentioning that he had the league’s best defense in 2018. At the very least, Nagy showed promise in his one season as an offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. Nagy catapulted an Alex Smith-led offense from the 20th best unit in football in 2016 to the fifth best unit in his one and only season as offensive coordinator. He may not be highly sought after as a head coach, but it’s certainly possible he could be hired as an offensive coordinator. 

For the third time in a row, the New York Giants have fired their head coach after just two seasons. Despite reports in December that Joe Judge was expected to return, a six-game losing streak to end the season in which the Giants were outscored 163 to 56 was enough for the Giants to cut ties with him. It’s also safe to assume that his job security was not helped by his 11-minute postgame rant in which he threw shade at the previous Giants administrations and called the Washington Football Team “a clown show organization” right before a 22-7 blowout loss to Washington at the end of the season. The Giants went from a bottom ten offensive unit last season to a bottom three offensive unit this season with its only saving grace being a tough and gritty defense that was hampered by injuries. In his end-of-the-year press conference, co-owner John Mara said this is his lowest moment as owner of the Giants, admitting, “I kept thinking we hit rock bottom and then every week it got worse.” 

With Joe Schoen hired as the new Giants’ general manager, the search for a new head coach can begin. Fans are clamoring for Brian Flores who showed he can flip a culture around down in Miami. The head coaching decision may be determined by which direction the Giants wish to go in the next couple of years. Little cap space and tough-to-move contracts to players in the prime of their careers like Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay and James Bradberry aren’t exactly ideal for a full-out rebuild. On the other hand, if the Giants want to try and make a playoff push with the team they have, there’s massive uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. Daniel Jones is through his third year and it’s tough to say if he’s just not all that good or if he’s the victim of an absolutely horrendous offensive line and terrible coaching. 

Giants’ fans saw promise in Judge after a 2020 season that had the Giants in playoff contention until the very last week. At 6–10, it seems that was more likely a product of an abysmal NFC East than of good coaching and a culture change. Despite emphasizing that his team would play gritty and tough football,  Judge’s Giants were lifeless down the stretch. Once Jones was ruled out for the season, the Giants played like the worst team in football and they very well may have been that. It appears he won’t be getting an NFL head coaching gig anytime soon and it’s not even a lock that he gets hired as a coordinator anywhere. 

Longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was fired after three years as head coach of the Denver Broncos. After finishing 7–9 and in second place in the AFC West in his first season, Fangio’s Broncos finished in fourth place in back-to-back years. Fangio leaves with just a .388 win percentage due to a myriad of offensive issues. His offenses finished in the bottom half of the league in all three seasons as head coach. Particularly this year, the Broncos had an elite defense that was held back by an offense that was never able to click. Fangio was never able to find a consistent starting quarterback, resulting in a carousel that included Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater and Brandon Allen. 

Favorites for the Broncos job are former Falcons’ head coach and current Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as well as Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. This could be one of the most desirable coaching jobs available. The Broncos’ defense is in an excellent spot, allowing the third fewest points this season. While the offense is clearly an issue to be addressed, there are promising players like running back Javonte Williams and receiver Jerry Jeudy who have already shown promise with plenty of room to grow. They’re already a borderline playoff contender as-is, but if they can find a quarterback,, the potential for this team is sky-high. The AFC West is a tough division for sure with the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders all poised to be legitimate threats in the next few years, but there’s enough in Denver to be a scary Wild Card team. 

Fangio’s best fit would be a return to defensive coordinator. It’s unlikely another team would give the 63-year-old another crack at head coach after three losing seasons, but he has 19 years under his belt as an NFL defensive coordinator. That includes the No. 1 ranked Chicago Bears defense of 2018 and the elite San Francisco 49ers defenses in the early 2010s. Denver’s defense certainly wasn’t the problem under Fangio, so he could be a prime candidate for any team looking for a defensive coordinator. 

Out of all the fired coaches, Mike Zimmer is quite possibly the most accomplished. Zimmer’s eight years as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings include four postseason trips and three seasons with ten wins or more. The highlight of that span is 2017 when the Vikings went 13–4 before losing in the conference championship. Zimmer was known as a defensive coach and from 2015 – 2019, the Vikings were consistently a Top 10 defense in the NFL. That was not the case the last two seasons when the Vikings finished 29th and 24th in points allowed and a losing record. 

Denver may have potential but out of all the available teams, Minnesota is in the best spot to win now. Reports show that Dan Quinn is high, “if not at the top,” of their list while Todd Bowles is also said to have a legitimate shot. The Vikings have an elite offense with one of the best running backs in the NFL in Dalvin Cook and an extremely talented receiving core led by Justin Jefferson and supported by Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has one more year left on his contract, but trade rumors are swirling and it’s no guarantee he’ll be with the team come August. Quarterback situation aside, this team has an extremely talented set of skill position players and while their defense has holes, their offense should be able to make up for it. The NFC North is a relatively weak division as is, and the uncertainty of Aaron Rodgers’ future could open up a lane for the Vikings to make a play for the division. 

I wouldn’t completely rule out a future head coaching gig for Mike Zimmer, but I’d be surprised if he gets one right away. Injuries aside, the Vikings underperformed the last two seasons so it’s tough to have enough faith in Zimmer to hand him the keys. However, Zimmer is still a respected defensive coach, spending 14 years as a defensive coordinator before his eight years with Minnesota. His head coaching experience could be a big plus for any team looking to add a defensive coordinator. 

The last two coaches are the biggest surprises. Houston opted to fire David Culley after just one season. A 4–13 record is by no means impressive, but it’s tough to fault when you put the 2021 season in context. With Deshaun Watson sitting out, the Texans were forced to start a combination of Tyrod Taylor and rookie third-rounder David Mills. Their skill position players weren’t particularly great either with their best option probably being Brandin Cooks. Overall, it wasn’t a very talented offensive unit and it showed in the results. Despite all this, the Texans actually got better down the stretch, winning two of their last four games, including an impressive 41–29 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and falling short by three points in a near comeback against the top seed Tennessee Titans in week 18. Mills showed promise as well, throwing for 1,258 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last five games. All in all, the Texans had as many wins under Culley as they did in Watson’s best season.

The Texans coaching position isn’t all that attractive. They’ve interviewed a lot of potential candidates from Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy to former journeyman quarterback Josh McCown. Whoever they hire will inherit the same mess Culley did: a rebuilding, talent-deprived team that will likely be a bottom feeder for the next couple of years. Culley got the most out of a really bad situation and I’m a firm believer he could excel if he’s hired by an organization that’s actively trying to win.

Finally, the biggest headline was the Miami Dolphins firing head coach Brian Flores. Flores spent three years in Miami and while they were never able to crack the playoffs, Flores showed a lot of promise in his ability to change the culture of a franchise. After a rather unremarkable 5–11 record in his first season, Flores’ Dolphins went 10–6 in 2020 and overcame a 1–7 start in 2021 by winning seven straight games and eight of their last nine to end the season 9–8. Reports surfaced that Flores had disagreements with ownership, particularly over Tua Tagovailoa, a key factor that certainly played a role in Miami’s decision to split ways with the young head coach.

A frontrunner has yet to emerge for the Miami job but the names being thrown around include Dan Quinn, 49ers Offensive Coordinator Mike McDaniel and Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore among others. Miami looks like it could have a bright future ahead. Their defense was one of the best in football during their winning streak and can be Top 10 in the league. Offensively, Jaylen Waddle had a fantastic rookie season while DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki and Myles Gaskin round out a pretty solid skill position unit. Whether or not Tagovailoa is the quarterback for Miami k remains to be seen, but the last two seasons should give hope that this Dolphins team is trending toward a postseason appearance. 

The decision to fire  Flores was curious  for sure, as he immediately becomes one of the top head coaching candidates available. Sources close to the Giants and Bears say that Flores is toward the top of their list, given that Flores is from Brooklyn, NY. . Flores is the only coach to be fired in a season where his team had a seven-game win streak and there’s no denying that the Dolphins have been a surprisingly fun team the last two seasons. And, for what it’s worth, he’s 4–0 against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots since 2020. Just a thought for any team trying to prevent another two-decades-long run of dominance from the Pats.