Though seven NFL teams have opted to change their head coaches at the end of this season, the number was expected to be higher. Uncertainty clouded the futures of several prominent coaches around the league, including Sean Payton, Chuck Pagano, Tom Coughlin and Chip Kelly. As it turns out, Coughlin and Kelly were the only two let go –– and Coughlin technically "stepped down."
In addition to the changes in New York and Philadelphia, the perpetually hapless Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins are all going through overhauls this offseason as well. The San Francisco 49ers are looking for their second head coach in as many years, too, after canning the seemingly overmatched Jim Tomsula.
There arguably isn't a more important decision an NFL owner can make than selecting his or her head coach. It's the person who's often in charge of the entire football operation and sets out to recreate the team in his image. With that reality in mind, let's grade all of the clubs that have either made a coaching change or were rumored to make one. A choice of this magnitude is worthy of scrutiny.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fire Lovie Smith
Despite a four-game improvement over 2014, the Buccaneers opted to fire Lovie Smith after just two seasons. Smith's replacement will be the fourth head coach in Tampa Bay since 2008, a fact that linebacker Lavonte David pointed out on Twitter Wednesday night.
This is stupid, we can't even have a consistent coach, 3 coaches in 5 yrs— Lavonte David (@LavonteDavid54) January 7, 2016
The Buccaneers' decision to oust Smith reeks of impatience, which is a common theme among the league's most stagnant franchises. Tampa Bay is the 11th team to make at least two head coaching changes over the last four years.
Continuity is one of the most important factors for the development of a young quarterback, and No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston will now play for the second head coach of his career. It often takes time to build a winner, but that's apparently a fact that's lost on the Buccaneers ownership.
Tom Landry's first 6 seasons as the Head Coach of the Cowboys. 0-11-1 4-9-1 5-8-1 4-10 5-8-1 7-7 Patience is a virtue.— Sage Rosenfels (@SageRosenfels18) January 7, 2016
Cleveland Browns: Fire Mike Pettine
Perhaps no statistic symbolizes the sorry state of the Cleveland Browns than this: Since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999, Butch Davis' .414 winning percentage is the highest mark among all seven of its head coaches. Romeo Crennel is second at .375 and Mike Pettine –– yes, Mike Pettine –– is tied with Eric Mangini for third at .313.
Not a single head coach has lasted longer than four years in Cleveland since Bill Belichick, and Marty Schottenheimer was the last one to move on with a winning record in 1988. The Browns' current owner, Jimmy Haslam, has cycled through three coaches in just four years.
That's a long way of saying the institution is the problem in Cleveland, not the head coach. Pettine is nothing more than the latest scapegoat who's being blamed for the moribund franchise's everlasting dysfunction.
SB Nation presents: A timeline of the Browns' dysfunctional Week 17
Miami Dolphins: Fire Joe Philbin, expected to move on from Dan Campbell
When Dan Campbell first took over the Dolphins in mid-October, Miami rattled of two decisive victories against the Titans and Houston Texans. Campbell's vigor appeared to be a welcome change from the mild-tempered Joe Philbin and Miami was on the verge of turning its season around.
But then Dolphins dropped seven of their last 10 games to finish in the cellar of the AFC East for the first time since 2007. The final weeks of Miami's wretched campaign were marked with infighting, most notably the overly active Twitter feed of Brent Grimes' wife.
Campbell, a man whose greatest accomplishment this season was shrinking the playbook, is interviewing for the head coaching job, but he's clearly not the answer in Miami going forward. But the question is, who is?
With Mike Tannenbaum in charge of football operations and Chris Grier installed as general manager, whoever the Dolphins hire next will likely be third on the chain of command. No matter how much money owner Stephen Ross is willing to throw at candidates, it's unlikely anybody with a distinguished resume is going to take this job with all of those obstacles in place.
San Francisco 49ers: Fire Jim Tomsula
After a disastrous 5-11 campaign, it's obvious 49ers owner Jed York should've found a way to make it work between Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke last year. But alas, Harbaugh is now at Michigan, and the 49ers are looking for their second head coach in as many years.
Perhaps the highlight of Jim Tomsula's season as San Francisco's head coach is whether he passed gas during one of his press conferences. Yeah, seriously:
The 49ers opted to bench Colin Kaepernick in early November before placing him on injured reserve later that month. It was a forgettable season for Kaepernick, who posted a career-low quarterback rating and reportedly feuded with his teammates as well.
The most important job of the next coach of the 49ers will be to determine whether Kaepernick is his franchise quarterback. The second will be to rebuild a defense that's been depleted due to injuries, retirements and unforeseen circumstances over the last couple of years.
Indianapolis Colts: Keep Chuck Pagano
The Colts did what the 49ers didn't last year, and kept their successful head coach despite his supposedly contentious relationship with the general manager. In four seasons in Indianapolis, Pagano has compiled a 40-23 record and led the Colts to the playoffs three times –– including to the AFC Championship last season. Given Andrew Luck's unavailability for the second half of the year, Pagano probably deserves a mulligan.
What's most shocking about owner Jim Irsay's decision to retain Pagano for four more seasons is that GM Ryan Grigson has been handed a new contract extension as well. Pagano and Grigson's relationship was described as "toxic" just last week, and it's hard to imagine anything changing.
The Colts made the right move committing to Pagano. But Grigson shouldn't have been brought back with him.
New York Giants: Tom Coughlin leaves
The Giants are insisting Coughlin resigned on his own terms, but that seems difficult to take at face value. Few football coaches walk away on their own terms, especially when they have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback at their disposal.
But the fact is, the Giants have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons and finished with a 6-10 record in 2015. Coughlin's teams had a propensity to be undisciplined, too, especially when it came to managing the clock at the end of games.
Coughlin steps away after winning two Super Bowls –– both against Bill Belichick's New England Patriots –– and posting a .531 winning percentage in 12 seasons. That's quite a legacy to leave behind, even though it was probably time for him to go.
New Orleans Saints: Keep Sean Payton
After months of rumors about his pending exit, Payton is staying in New Orleans.
"Here I am and nothing's changing and I plan on finishing my career here," Payton said at his press conference Wednesday. "I think Zach Strief said it best last week: I'll be here as long as they'll have me."
It's been a remarkable run in New Orleans under Payton over the last decade, as the Saints have won a Super Bowl and made the playoffs five times under his watch. Now the questions turn to Drew Brees, who's expected to stay but is also slated to command a whopping $30 million cap hit next season. Last week, reports circulated that the Saints want Brees to take a pay cut in 2016.
The drama may not be over in New Orleans, but the team will rightly be in Payton's hands for the foreseeable future.
Philadelphia Eagles: Fire Chip Kelly
Less than one year after giving Chip Kelly total control over football operations, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to fire him. The case can be made that Kelly deserved to be relieved of his GM duties after a disastrous offseason that featured him parting ways with LeSean McCoy, spending gobs of money on DeMarco Murray and bringing in Sam Bradford as his franchise quarterback.
But as a head coach, Kelly compiled a 26-21 record in Philadelphia. He deserved more time to implement his program.
Now Lurie, who's reinstalled Howie Roseman as his de facto general manager, will try to find another head coach who can lead the Eagles to their first championship –– or at the least, not ruin the holiday party.
San Diego Chargers: Keep Mike McCoy
Oftentimes, head coaches deserve longer than three years with a team before their performance is evaluated. But the exception should be made for Mike McCoy, who's presided over the Chargers' fall into the abyss.
After making the playoffs in 2013 and losing in the Divisional round, San Diego has missed out on the postseason in each of the last two seasons. The Chargers finished 4-12 in 2015, their worst record since 2003.
Team president and CEO Dean Spanos recognizes the need for change, given the dismissal of six assistant coaches. On the heels of the club's rumored move to Los Angeles, Spanos would've been wise to completely clean house and start anew.
Tennessee Titans: Still looking, considering Mike Mularkey
Dismissing Mularkey would be the right move
It's hard to get excited about Mike Mularkey, who now owns an 18-39 record in nearly four full seasons as an NFL head coach. The Titans need to bring on a head coach who can mentor No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota, and Mularkey isn't that guy.
Given Mariota's promise, several intriguing candidates may be interested in pursuing the job. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is reportedly interested in interviewing and Kelly, who was Mariota's college coach, could be a candidate as well.
The one major negative is the Titans' murky ownership situation, as the league is reportedly working with the team to resolve an undisclosed issue. That kind of uncertainty isn't a good look.