Grading Recent Head Coaching Hires Around the NFL

Was Harbaugh the right option for the 49ers?

Grading a team when hiring a head coach is like grading a team after the draft in that it’s nearly impossible to get a real good understanding of how well the team actually did until some games are played.

The only thing really to go off of is past performance as a coach — whether that be as a head coach, coordinator, etc. — and how well the coach’s personality and philosophy meshes with the current roster.

So far this offseason, the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos have hired new head coaches. Only the Oakland Raiders remain without a head coach and, with Al Davis calling the shots, they might not have one until the middle of August.

With all that in mind, let’s do some grading.


San Francisco 49ers – Jim Harbaugh

As the head coach at the University of San Diego and Stanford University, Harbaugh recorded a record of 58-27 on his way to bringing both programs to respectability. Harbaugh was also a quarterback in the NFL and a former first-round pick out of Michigan, so he understands how the NFL works.

Grade: B+

Harbaugh was highly sought after for a reason. The guy has done a good job wherever he’s been, the only question is whether or not he’ll be able to find the 49ers a quarterback that can play better than he did.

Carolina Panthers – Ron Rivera

A couple years ago, Rivera was very high on a lot of short-lists for head coach. It didn’t work out for him that offseason and then once he took over the San Diego Chargers defense, it was very bad at first. He continued to drop out of the minds of a lot of teams looking for a head coach until this season when the Chargers were the No. 1 defense for a good portion of the season.

Grade: B-

To this point, all of Andy Reid’s disciples have worked out well. Brad Childress turned Minnesota around, Steve Spagnuolo appears to be doing the same in St. Louis, and John Harbaugh has turned the Baltimore Ravens into perennial contenders. For that reason, the Panthers get a higher grade than for just hiring a guy who clearly knows defense.

Minnesota Vikings – Leslie Frazier

Frazier took over for the fired Brad Childress a little past the mid-way point and, even though the team didn’t look spectacular under him, they clearly were responding better. Fraizer, like Rivera, has been on the short list for a long time and I think the hire was more a matter of not wanting Frazier to get away. He was going to get a job somewhere, so why not with the Vikings?

Grade: B-

Like Rivera, Frazier is a guy who learned under Reid in Philadelphia and, more importantly, under Jim Johnson, the Eagles’ late defensive coordinator. So not only does he know the importance of a good defense, but he knows how to coach guys up the way Reid does and Johnson did. Like the Panthers, the Vikings get a bump.

Dallas Cowboys – Jason Garrett

Raise your hand if you didn’t see this coming. If you hand is in the air, please use the other to punch yourself. This has been in the works for years. Jerry Jones knew it, we all knew it, and Wade Phillips knew it. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the team was 5-3 under Garrett as opposed to 1-7 under Phillips, but this was inevitable either way.

Grade: C

Jones needs a head coach who stand up to him and tell him to butt out. Jimmy Johnson did that, and so did Bill Parcells, but that’s really where it ends. Garrett seems too much like his boy and will likely have a tough time telling Jones to let him run the team, which will ultimately guarantee his, and the team’s, demise.

Cleveland Browns – Pat Shurmur

When Spags got the job as the Rams head coach, he took Shurmur with him. Shurmur, at the time, was the Eagles quarterbacks coach but had bounced around under Reid for about 10 years. Spags made Shurmur his offensive coordinator, but the Rams finished in the back-half of the league in almost every major statistical category and even the great Steven Jackson was only able to muster 3.7 yards per carry in Shurmur’s offense.

Grade: D+

And that’s with the “Reid Disciple Bump.” Shurmur is not ready to be a head coach. Mike Holmgren probably loved the fact that their philosophies are about the same since Reid is a branch on Holmgren’s tree. Similar minds are easier to work with, and that’s probably what landed Shurmur the job as opposed to actually earning it.

Denver Broncos – John Fox

Clearly, Pat Bowlen is not interested in winning a single game. Sure, Fox did a little bit of winning with the Panthers but he was nowhere as good as the hype. What they got was a coach that is two games over .500 (73-71) in nine seasons and has only three playoff appearances to show for it. In fact, his only three winning seasons were the playoff years. Fox clearly phoned it in for his final season in Carolina, and I’m not sure what gave the Broncos any inkling that he’d be better a mile above sea level.

Grade: D-

Were it not for the seldom instances of winning, this would be a complete failure. Fox has shown in the past that he can build a team, but he seems uninterested as of late and I’m not sure he’s a good enough coach to turn the Broncos around. As a matter of fact, I’m highly doubting it.

Topics: AFC, AFC North, AFC West, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Football, Jason Garrett, Jim Harbaugh, John Fox, Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, NFL, Pat Shurmur, Ron Rivera, San Francisco 49ers

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