We didn’t even have to wait for Black Monday this season. Teams got a head start on firing their coaches before the season ended, beginning with the Los Angeles Rams paying Jeff Fisher to go away after he locked up his fifth straight losing season with the team (and was just one loss away from the NFL record for most losses by a head coach).
With three firings done and one more expected, it’s time to break out the old report card and give these teams a subjective letter grade based on the moves they’ve made.
Before we jump into the grades, it’s worth pointing out something about the bigger picture of coach firing and hiring. A coach is just one man, one man with a lot of power, but still one man. More to the point, he’s a man who answers to the owner, and it’s ownership that really screws up a team.
Sometimes it meddles too much in the daily operations of the team, inserting itself into decisions that are best left to competent personnel people. Sometimes it is too far removed from the operation and doesn’t know when to step in and make the changes necessary to produce a winning team.
And then there’s also the environment it creates inside a front office, letting it devolve into a place where politicking, backstabbing and paranoia are the norms. In those situations, a new head coach and/or general manager is only going to be able to do so much to put a winning team on the field, much less sustain one.
Fired Rex Ryan (and his brother Rob)
Two seasons, less than two seasons in Ryan’s case, isn’t a lot of time for a head coach to do much with a team. That’s not the case with Rex Ryan, who made the mistake of promising playoffs when he couldn’t deliver.
But hucksterism isn’t Ryan’s greatest fault. He has a tendency to disappear in big moments. Look no further than Buffalo’s Week 16 overtime loss to the Dolphins, a home game. In the extra frame, Ryan couldn’t even get 11 players on the field for Jay Ajayi’s game-breaking 57-yard run. No single incident better summarizes Ryan’s coaching career.
Rex is supposed to be a defensive specialist, but his defense has allowed opponents to score more than 27 points in six of the Bills’ last nine games. Players complained about the defense, which was apparently being run by Rob Ryan, being too complicated this year. They said the same thing last year.
Fired Gus Bradley
No team won the offseason with as much celebration as the Jaguars. They had a great draft, landing Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack in the first two rounds. They spent big in free agency and had the kind of roster depth that powers teams deep into the playoffs.
Unfortunately, they did not have the right man for the complicated job of turning personnel assets into a winning team. Bradley was way over his head, and nowhere was that more clear than on offense, where Blake Bortles’ struggles undid the team week after week. Bradley fired his offensive coordinator earlier in the season but still came up short for answers.
Interim head coach Doug Marrone only needed one game to coax a winning performance out of the team and get the best performance out of Bortles we’ve seen all season. As cliche as it sounds, Bradley just couldn’t build a culture there that valued wins.
Bradley isn’t the only problem the Jaguars have, but firing him was a step in the right direction. He had four seasons to get better, and he got worse instead.
Los Angeles Rams
Fired Jeff Fisher
The Rams are a cautionary tale about what happens when you have an owner who’s more concerned with the bottom line than the product itself. Moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles — one of Stan Kroenke’s motivating factors in hiring Fisher to begin with, his experience with moving — tripled the team’s value overnight. Who cares about “7-9 bullshit” when you just turned a mere billion-dollar business into a $3 billion asset?
Los Angeles cares. Fans and the media in the Rams’ new home did not prove to be as tolerant of Fisher’s dull, losing brand of football. It rankled Eric Dickerson enough that he criticized Fisher on the radio. Fisher didn’t like that, fired back at Dickerson (and lied in the process of doing so), and started a war he couldn’t win.
Fisher’s biggest mistake was promising in his now infamous Hard Knocks soliloquy that his very own brand of 7-9 football was not enough. He was “not fucking going seven and nine ... or eight and eight ... or nine and seven.” Whoops. With this garbage Rams offense, seven wins would’ve been a success.
Oh, and Fisher had an excuse for why the team stunk. He has excuses for EVERYTHING. Hell, he even tried to blame general manager Les Snead, who was more of a glorified project manager under Fisher, for the team’s inability to field a competent roster, never mind the fact that Fisher ran the personnel department, too.
San Francisco 49ers
Fired head coach Chip Kelly and GM Trent Baalke
One year isn’t a lot of time for a head coach, and now the 49ers have fired a guy, or will fire him, after just one year for the second season in a row. Bonus fact: The Niners are the only team to have done this, and they’ve done it twice in the history of the team.
Kelly the innovator proved to be mostly a disappointment. His offensive style that we were so excited about four years ago hasn’t done much to change the NFL ... or even win a few games when he needed it.
Still, one year barely registers as giving the guy a chance to succeed. But this is the 49ers, a team rotting on the inside thanks to sophomoric power struggles and interoffice politics. Nothing sums it up like the 2016 Tweet of the Year:
Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) January 4, 2016
That definitely applies to Baalke, Jed York’s chief lackey, who helped drive away Harbaugh, the franchise’s most successful head coach in more than a decade.
Baalke was once the toast of the football world for helping to put together the roster that Harbaugh took to three consecutive NFC Championship games (including one Super Bowl appearance). Since then, his work seems to have been more focused on winning front office feuds than building a team. And it’s finally catching up to him.
Until the 49ers can do something about York, don’t expect much improvement.
Grades: Firing Kelly, C; Firing Baalke, A
San Diego Chargers
Fired Mike McCoy
Nothing that McCoy did as head coach was especially impressive. But on the other hand, nothing was especially bad either. He led the team to a 9-7 record in his first two seasons as head coach and even won a playoff game his first year.
The Chargers have been plagued by injuries over the last two years. They lost Keenan Allen in both seasons, though it didn’t quite derail things as dramatically as it did last year. McCoy managed to get Melvin Gordon until he got hurt in the first quarter of a Week 14 loss to the Panthers.
Eight of the Chargers’ losses this season were decided by a touchdown or less.
Injuries weren’t the only shitty circumstances McCoy had to deal with. San Diego’s ownership is aggressively terrible, and the issue of relocation hung over the team for all of McCoy’s tenure there. And it’s fair to ask just how different the Chargers’ season would’ve been had the team not kept Joey Bosa off the field for the first four games of the season because of a ridiculous contract dispute.
But he also lost to Browns, giving Cleveland its only win of the season. You just can’t do that.