Though the NFL season comes to a close with Super Bowl XLIX on February 1, many front offices around the league are already actively seeking to fill coaching vacancies in anticipation of the 2015 offseason. Since only one team reigns supreme at the conclusion of each season, 31 franchises look for different ways by which they can upgrade their team each offseason. In anticipation of the 2015-16 NFL season, several organizations seek a coach who can turn around the fortunes of their franchise while others search for a leader who can help lead them to an elusive Super Bowl title.
Here are a few key storylines from around the NFL coaching market.
Doug Marrone: Former Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills currently searches for a job.
In his second season as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone helped coach the Bills to a 9-7 record, their first winning record since 2004. The Bills pulled off some bold moves in the offseason, landing Sammy Watkins in the first round after trading away next year’s first round pick to the Cleveland Browns. The Bills defense, led by star defensive end Mario Williams, led the league in sacks and was a dominant unit for most of the year. However, the team’s offense struggled with quarterbacks Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel under center, as inconsistency plagued the team throughout the season. Throughout the year, the team’s offense was criticized for its conservative style and its reluctance to throw the ball deep.
The Bills’ offensive struggles led to the team extending their NFL-best 15-year playoff drought. Despite Marrone’s fairly successful season, he chose to opt out of his current contract, which had a clause that allows him to collect $4 million from the Bills organization even if he didn’t coach the team this year. It was widely believed that the New York Jets’ head coaching job was waiting for him, but, after a poor interview, he has been forced to interview for positions like the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator position. Despite a decent season, Doug Marrone has not attracted considerable interest for head coaching positions due to what many analysts have called an “abrasive” personality.
Marrone’s case is proof that in the NFL, often times it’s not a great idea to merely “take the money and run”.
Rex Ryan: New head coach of the Buffalo Bills (Prior Head Coach New York Jets)
After a 4-12 campaign in 2014 that once again failed to land the New York Jets in a playoff spot, Rex Ryan was fired by the organization. The Jets were a complete disaster this year, as Geno Smith and Michael Vick frequently replaced each other as the team’s starting quarterback. The Bills’ inept offense relied too heavily on the run and was almost incapable of passing. Each of these factors, coupled with years of internal frustration within the organization, contributed to Ryan’s release.
But he did not lose his head coaching status for long, as the Buffalo Bills elected to hire him shortly after his termination from the Jets. Both the Pegulas, the owners of the Bills, and Doug Whaley, Buffalo’s General Manager, liked what Ryan brought to the table. The coach inherits a 9-7 team that had a monster defense this year, which shut down the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning this season. Defensive standouts Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Jerry Hughes all contributed to the Buffalo Bills 56 sacks this year. The key shortcoming of the Buffalo Bills this year was at the quarterback position, and that struggle will likely continue into the team’s ‘15-16 campaign. Last year’s starter, Kyle Orton, chose to retire in order to spend more time with his family, leaving the Bills with the inconsistent E.J. Manuel and undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel.
Nonetheless, Ryan has to believe that he can turn the Bills around and help them end their 15-year playoff drought.
Todd Bowles: New head coach New York Jets (Prior Defensive Coordinator Arizona Cardinals)
Todd Bowles led one of the most successful defenses in the NFL this year with the Arizona Cardinals. His defense, led by star cornerback Patrick Peterson, helped lead the team to an 11-5 record and a wild card berth, despite the fact that both starting quarterback Carson Palmer and backup quarterback Drew Stanton went down with serious injuries. The Cardinals allowed only 18.7 points a game, enabling them to win even with a complete lack of a running game and Ryan Lindley throwing frequent interceptions.
Though Bowles inherits a Jets team that has just lost its head coach and general manager, the team has some pieces in place that could help the Jets make a playoff run. Geno Smith, who had a perfect passer rating in his week 17 game against the Dolphins, is improving and Eric Decker and Percy Harvin are quality receivers on the outside. The team’s defense, despite losing Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, is a force to be reckoned with while Sheldon Richardson is still anchoring the center of the defense. If the Jets can get some quality cornerbacks to replace the weaker ones this year, they will have a chance to improve heading into next season.
John Fox: New Head Coach Chicago Bears (Prior Head Coach Denver Broncos)
John Fox helped coach the Denver Broncos to a 12-4 record and the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs with a little help from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. But after another early playoff exit from Peyton Manning and the Broncos, John Elway was fed up with what he saw on the field and decided to fire the team’s head coach. The Chicago Bears snapped him up in coaching free agency and he will inherit a team that has the potential to have one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Matt Forte is one of the best dual-threat running backs in the league– an athlete who can threaten opposing defenses in the running and passing game. Forte racked up over 1000 yards rushing and 808 yards receiving this year. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are also two of the best and tallest receivers in the league who regularly pull down balls that look uncatchable. Jeffery had over 1000 yards receiving and Marshall had 8 touchdowns in 2014.
The key deficiencies for the Bears this season were their inconsistent defense and quarterback situation. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who signed for a 7-year, $126 million deal, is quickly becoming a headache for the Bears organization. The turnover-prone quarterback threw 18 interceptions this year, tied for the most in the league, and his lackadaisical attitude doesn’t help much with his public perception. The team’s defense allowed 19.9 points per game, good for 23rd best in the league and they were very bad against the run, ranking 27th in the league. The one bright spot for the defense came in the form of cornerback Kyle Fuller, the Bears’ first round draft pick this year who played extremely well before getting injured. Fox will have the task of turning the defense around and creating an offense that does not turn the ball over so much, but there is massive potential for the Bears to make a postseason run next season.
Photo: David L. Selby/Wikipedia