A Look at the NFL Coaching Carousel


Sean Payton is now head coach of the Denver Broncos, one of the many coaching changes that have occurred this offseason. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Black Monday in the NFL is the day immediately following the end of the regular season, when underachieving head coaches discover if their job is secure or not.

Although five coaches were released from their duty this past football season, it was a quiet Black Monday with the lone firing on that day being former Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The other four were fired either during the season in Matt Rhule, Frank Reich and Nathaniel Hackett, or as soon as the season concluded in Lovie Smith’s case.

After a 1-4 start to the season, Rhule was the first coach to go this past season with over half of his seven-year, $62 million contract remaining with the Carolina Panthers. Rhule, who found much of his success in college football, returned to that realm after quickly agreeing to an eight-year deal with the University of Nebraska following his departure. Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season, finding much more success than his predecessor. Wilks went 6-6 as head coach, leading Carolina within one game of the NFC South title. At the conclusion of the season, the Panthers decided to move on from Wilks and hire another fired head coach from this past season, Reich.

Wilks was then hired by the San Francisco 49ers to be their defensive coordinator, a position that has seen the prior two holders be named head coaches.

Before being hired by the Panthers, Reich was the lead man for the Indianapolis Colts for the last four seasons before a 3-5-1 start led to the team moving on from him. Reich’s tenure with the Colts included two playoff appearances, although he will be remembered for having a different starting quarterback at the beginning of each season. With the Panthers holding the ninth overall pick, Reich can only hope that this franchise, one in which Reich himself was the first-ever starting quarterback for in 1995, will provide him with a cornerstone quarterback for the future.

With Reich getting the boot midseason, the Colts turned to former All-Pro center Jeff Saturday as their interim coach. A highly criticized move at the time, Saturday proved to be a dud with the Colts managing to win only one more game all season. Saturday did not do enough to win the head coaching job after the Colts signed Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen. Steichen helped guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance this past season with one of the best offenses in the game. Steichen’s role in the development of quarterback Jalen Hurts has been pivotal, and the Colts hope that their recent quarterback woes can be solved with him and the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft.

The reigning NFC Champion Eagles not only lost their offensive coordinator in this coaching cycle but also their defensive coordinator as well in Jonathan Gannon. The Arizona Cardinals fired Kingsbury at the conclusion of the season just one year into a six-year contract extension. After an abysmal season that saw the Kansas City Chiefs win more games in Arizona, two, than the Cardinals managed all year, a change in leadership was deemed necessary. Gannon will look to revitalize an Arizona team that is one year removed from a playoff appearance, however without their star quarterback Kyler Murray for the foreseeable future due to a torn ACL.

In recent years, being a coordinator on Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco has led to a head coaching position. Former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh became the head coach of the New York Jets while former offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel holds the title for the Miami Dolphins. Going into this coaching cycle, DeMeco Ryans and his resume of leading one of the top defenses in the game the past couple of seasons looked to continue this trend. He did just that after being hired by the team he used to play for, the Houston Texans.

Ever since Deshaun Watson’s odd ending to his Texans career, Houston hasn’t had a winning culture. After two head coaches in the last two seasons, Ryans will look to break this trend and build a competitive team in the uncompetitive AFC South division.

After acquiring Russell Wilson last offseason and hiring a supposed offensive guru in Hackett, the Denver Broncos looked in prime position to be contenders in the AFC. Instead, Hackett and Wilson managed to produce the statistically worst offense in the entire NFL. Averaging less than 17 points per game, Hackett did not even last the entire season and was fired this past December. In the recent coaching cycle, they were able to nab the highly coveted Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton. After taking a year off from coaching, Payton will look to revitalize Wilson’s career and live up to the high expectations that were made for the previous regime.

Hackett meanwhile found himself a new job as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets in their pursuit of Aaron Rodgers.

With the head coaching cycle for the 2023 season complete, teams that succeeded and teams that failed will not be determined until the next season and beyond. What could look like a promising hire could turn out to be a complete disaster, and vice versa.