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What you need to know about NFL head coach firings on Black Monday 2019

Who’s staying? Who’s going? And wither Ron Rivera?

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 offseason was a rough one for NFL head coaches. Eight teams — a quarter of the league — went looking for new playcallers to replace inexperienced and veteran coaches alike.

The 2020 offseason probably won’t see as much turnover, but the coaching wheel started turning midseason. Washington showed Jay Gruden the door in October, while Carolina waited another eight weeks before canning Ron Rivera despite his 76-63-1 career record. Three more names followed, but they didn’t include Adam Gase, Matt Patricia, or Dan Quinn.

Who is on the move? Here are the coaches and general managers who’ll be searching for new jobs this winter.

(Want to know more about the next coaching candidates? We’ve got you covered.)

Head coaches who are gone

Freddie Kitchens, Browns (reportedly replaced by Kevin Stefanski)

Browns record: 6-10

Playoff record: 0-0

How’d they get here: Cleveland knew it was taking a risk when it hired Kitchens. He had never been more than an interim coordinator at any level of football in his two decades as an assistant, and that came over a successful eight-game stint that closed out the Browns’ 2018 season.

That was enough to convince owner Jimmy Haslam to roll the dice and promote from within, but Kitchens was unable to handle his new title. Despite lofty expectations, Cleveland got off to a worse start in 2019 (2-6) than it did in 2018 before Hue Jackson’s firing (2-5-1). Baker Mayfield regressed badly in the process, even with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. Shoddy blocking, questionable decision-making, and undisciplined play doomed the Browns to mediocrity. The end result? Cleveland’s 12th straight losing season.

What’s next: On paper, the Browns have one of the most appealing rosters in football. Mayfield, Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and a healthy David Njoku give them one of the league’s strongest starting lineups of skill players. Myles Garrett was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before whacking Mason Rudolph with his own helmet (his status for 2020 is still yet to be determined). Other players like Larry Ogunjobi, Joe Schobert, and Olivier Vernon could make up the backbone of an intimidating unit.

Alas, this is still the Browns. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong — and no coach has been able to escape that legacy since the franchise’s reintroduction to the NFL in 1999.

Haslam did his due diligence with this year’s hiring process, interviewing several to assistants. In the end, he landed on Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, who spent his 2019 turning Kirk Cousins into one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks. Now he’ll be tasked with unlocking Mayfield’s potential. Going from Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Dalvin Cook to Beckham, Landry, and Chubb should give him plenty of ammunition to work with in Ohio.

Jason Garrett, Cowboys (replaced by Mike McCarthy)

Cowboys record: 85-67

Playoff record: 2-3 (zero Super Bowl appearances)

How’d they get here: Team owner Jerry Jones didn’t have to fire Garrett this offseason — he could just have declined to re-sign the head coach who’d presided over the past nine-plus seasons in Dallas. Instead, he waited until the middle of the Eagles’ playoff game to do so.

Garrett’s teams were rarely awful, save for 2015 when Tony Romo’s broken collarbone sent the team into a tailspin behind Matt Cassel at quarterback. That 4-12 season was the only Cowboy team to finish under .500 in games played under Garrett. That gave the former backup passer a long leash as he navigated through nearly a decade of ultimately disappointing years.

2019 may have been the most frustrating. A weak NFC East gave Dallas plenty of opportunities to repeat as division champion behind its new “big three” of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott. While that offense was intimidating on paper, it struggled in big moments as the team slumped to 8-8 and a spot outside the postseason. The Cowboys failed to turn potential into production thanks to Garrett’s inability to change up his gameplan on the fly. As a result, one of the most talented teams in the NFL wrapped up its season on Week 17 — and that was all Jones needed to see.

What’s next: Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy (who interviewed for the position. while Garrett was still under contract — awkward!) was reported as the hire just a day after Garrett’s official firing. McCarthy will inherit a stacked roster filled with players who’ll need to be paid. Prescott and Cooper are both steaming toward free agency and will need big contract extensions to stay in Texas — top of the market deals akin to the six-year, $90 million deal Elliott signed this fall. That’s going to likely stick the Cowboys in salary cap hell, so what you see in 2020 will likely be the club’s skeleton for the next two to three seasons.

That’s not necessarily a problem! Prescott has proven he can be a high-caliber quarterback in a pass-heavy offense or a pick-his-spots assassin in a run-first offense. Cooper has been a monster in Dallas. But that offense will have to propel this team to some shootout wins if the Cowboys can’t upgrade a defense that ranked 19th in defensive efficiency in 2019. Dallas can be one of this winter’s most attractive destinations for a free agent coach, but the club’s going to have to draft well in order to evolve from also-ran to contender.

If the offense looks familiar under McCarthy, that’s on purpose. The team retained offensive coordinator (and former backup quarterback) Kellen Moore despite its changing of the guard atop its leadership tree.

Pat Shurmur, Giants (replaced by Joe Judge)

Giants record: 9-23

Playoff record: 0-0

How’d they get here: Perhaps the only stat you need to know about Shurmur’s tenure in New York is that it ended with the same exact 9-23 record that got him fired in Cleveland seven years earlier. While 2019 top draft pick Daniel Jones showed flashes of brilliance behind center — he’s one of three rookies in NFL history to have three games with four or more touchdown passes — it wasn’t enough to keep the Giants from a 4-12 campaign.

The Giants ranked just 23rd in offensive efficiency, per DVOA, and fell to 27th on the defensive side of the ball thanks to a unit that allowed more than 28 points per game. That left little help for Jones, whose growth may have been ultimately stunted by a shoddy offensive line, a perpetually hurt receiving corps, and a subpar season from Saquon Barkley, who dealt with injuries of his own throughout the year.

The end result was a team that failed to beat anyone who finished 2019 with a winning record and Shurmur getting the ax.

What’s next: Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge got the job, his first ever as a head coach:

The Giants need Judge to be able to enhance all of Jones’ positive attributes while sorting out the problems that ultimately doomed his freshman campaign — namely the 17 fumbles the marred his 2019. Jones and Barkley are a solid young duo, but there are plenty of other problems that need to be addressed.

Shurmur inherited a bad team in 2018. Judge will take over a roster that isn’t much better and will have to work with the leadership that created the blueprint for this fall’s disappointing campaign. Giants owner John Mara told the press general manager Dave Gettleman will get another opportunity to right his ship in 2020.

Ron Rivera, Panthers (replaced by Matt Rhule)

Panthers record: 76-63-1

Playoff record: 3-4 (one Super Bowl appearance, 0 wins)

How’d they get here: David Tepper waited more than a year to rebuild the Panthers in his image after purchasing the franchise in 2017. That included firing Rivera following an uneven start that’s doomed Carolina to its first back-to-back losing seasons since 2012.

Rivera stuck around after injuries to Cam Newton derailed his 2018 season, only to see another injury to his former MVP quarterback sidetrack 2019. He groomed second-year passer Kyle Allen into an above-average passer, but that success was fleeting as Carolina went from 0-2 to 4-2 and then the 5-7 start that precipitated Rivera’s ouster.

What’s next: Tepper held an hour-long town hall meeting after Rivera’s firing to discuss his plans for the team going forward. It sounds like he’s interested in someone built from the Sean McVay mold:

In the end, Baylor head coach Matt Rhule was the budding young offensive mind Tepper tapped to be his first head coach hire.

Rhule will have to figure out what to do at quarterback. That could mean with Newton — who’s suddenly become injury prone after turning 30 and could be released or traded with $2 million in dead cap behind — or a QB room otherwise built around Allen and Will Grier.

Jay Gruden, Washington (replaced by Ron Rivera)

Washington record: 35-49-1

Playoff record: 0-1 (0 Super Bowl appearances)

How’d they get here: Gruden managed to keep Washington mediocre despite years of roster mismanagement from his higher-ups. The former offensive coordinator followed Kirk Cousins out of the nation’s capital less than two years later after an 0-5 start in 2019. Gruden’s calling card was the ability to field an entirely forgettable team for the bulk of his Washington career; between 2015 and 2018 he never won more than nine games or lost more than seven.

What’s next: On Jan. 1, Washington announced it had hired former Panthers coach Ron Rivera, which is a good move from the team.

More than anything, it needs a nurturer who can turn Dwayne Haskins into the homegrown quarterback the franchise once hoped Cousins would be. While the rookie passer improved as the season went along, he was still the catalyst behind one of the league’s least efficient offenses, and it appears stalwart left tackle Trent Williams won’t be return to the team to keep him upright unless the changes made to the training staff change his mind.

Washington’s head coach position may be the least appealing job in the NFL. It’s been 14 years since the team won a postseason game. Haskins and fellow 2019 draftee Terry McLaurin have made up a promising 1-2 punch to build from, but there’s not a lot of talent on this roster. More may be on the way — especially with a top-five pick looming — but keeping talented players both on the roster and healthy have never been a specialty under Dan Snyder.

General managers who are out

John Dorsey, Browns

Browns record: 13-26-1

Playoff record: 0-0

How’d they get here: Cleveland improved under Dorsey — just not enough to be anything better than a bad team. Dorsey was hired in December 2017, late in the Browns’ 0-16 trainwreck season. While 7-8-1 and 6-10 campaigns followed, the Browns’ inability to live up to their 2019 preseason hype spelled doom for both Kitchens and the team’s general manager.

Dorsey took big swings as general manager. He added Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, and Olivier Vernon via trade and drafted Baker Mayfield with the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although those moves looked great on paper, they failed to transform Cleveland into a winning team. That was all owner Jimmy Haslam had to see before relieving Dorsey of his duties two days after firing his head coach.

What’s next: The Browns have talent on both sides of the ball — especially with a group of skill players headlined by Beckham Jr., Landry, and Nick Chubb. The next step in the team’s never-ending rebuild is to shore up the blocking that limited that offensive attack in 2019. Adding power to a defense that ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency, per DVOA, will also be paramount to the team’s success.

The good news is the Browns have a top 10 draft pick and approximately $51 million in salary cap space to burn next spring. There are several viable blueprints to make the Browns a contender in 2020 and beyond — but it’ll take the right architect to turn those plans into a structure.

Haslam has also said that the team won’t hire a general manager until it lands a new head coach.

Bruce Allen, Washington

Washington record: 45-83

Playoff record: 0-1 (zero Super Bowl appearances)

How’d they get here: Gruden’s firing game way to Allen’s ouster months later. Although not yet official, reports about the longtime GM’s removal began to swirl in advance of his team’s final game of the season.

Allen’s inability to keep Washington stocked with talent played a major role in the team’s lack of playoff success in his eight years (2010-14, 2017-19) at the helm.

Allen was also the man in charge of the roster when Kirk Cousins played out his second year of the franchise tag and bolted to Minnesota. The former GM’s exit strategy was to trade for 34-year-old QB Alex Smith. Smith was merely average before a broken leg took him off the field (and continues to threaten his career), leaving Allen to rumble through a disappointing 2019 with Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, and rookie Dwayne Haskins in a 3-13 campaign.

What’s next: Owner Dan Snyder may be eager to promote from within.

Anyone capable of transforming this club into a playoff team would be in consideration for executive of the year honors.

Declared safe for 2020

Adam Gase, Jets

Gase’s first season in New York saw flashes of potential amidst a backdrop of darkness. Sam Darnold made modest improvements in his second year as a pro, but while the Jets have improved in the standings, they’re still leaps and bounds from contention.

The Jets found a way to lose to both the Jets and Bengals this season, but that wasn’t enough to convince team owner Christopher Johnson to cut Gase loose after one season.

Matt Patricia, Lions

Patricia’s hopeful start fell to pieces following Matthew Stafford’s season-ending back injury (and the team’s curious decision to trade secondary linchpin Quandre Diggs to Seattle). A 2-0-1 start crumbled into a 1-12 finish to push Detroit out of the playoff race and toward the top of the 2020 NFL Draft order. Even so, owner Martha Ford decided to give Patricia a third year — though at the cost of several assistants.

One of Detroit’s biggest problems under Patricia has been a deficient defense. He and general manager Bob Quinn will return for 2020, but they’ll have a short leash if they can’t show explicit improvement next fall.

Dan Quinn, Falcons

Quinn turned up the heat on his own position after getting Atlanta out to a 1-7 start. Then the Falcons put together a 6-2 stretch that included wins over the Saints and 49ers to convince team owner Arthur Blank to keep Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff in town.

Former Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris will take over defensive coordinator duties, a move Blank hopes will upgrade the league’s 22nd-ranked scoring defense.

Doug Marrone, Jaguars

Marrone has gone 11-21 since reaching the 2017 AFC Championship Game, but team owner Shad Khan is giving him one last chance to prove he can turn Jacksonville back into a contender.

He’ll have one less obstacle in his way now that Tom Coughlin will no longer be bring his draconian approach to the Jaguars’ football operations. The longtime coach and executive stepped down amidst a flurry of NFLPA grievances before the end of the regular season.

Marrone will enter his fifth straight year without a stable quarterback lineup, depending on Gardner Minshew’s growth. He’ll also have to revitalize a defense that’s fallen from second in the NFL in scoring defense to 21st in just two years. If he can solve both those massive problems, then his future in north Florida will be secure.