Revisiting the 2021 New Coaching Hires

By Stephen Juza

November 11th, 2022

Each offseason, a new batch of coaches gets elevated to the pinnacle of their profession: NFL Head Coach. Most coaches are hired into difficult positions – few successful teams replace a head coach – but which have fared the best from the 2021 first time head coaches?

In this blog post, we rank the five first time head coaching hires from last season and offer a historical perspective on their success, or lack of, leading up to the halfway point of their second season.

#1. Nick Sirianni – Philadelphia Eagles (68% Win Percentage)

Nick Sirianni has been the most successful hire from last season, leading the pack with a record of 17-8 for his career and a league leading 8-0 record for the current season. Sirianni has the Eagles leading an incredibly tough NFC East division this season after coming in second to the Dallas Cowboys in his inaugural year.

The Eagles have made a great decision hiring the former Colts offensive coordinator and handing him the reigns to the franchise. Sirianni’s work with quarterback Jalen Hurts has helped Hurts make major strides in his third season. Sirianni’s win percentage puts him toward the top of the pile among coaches starting out. Only six coaches have a higher winning percentage to start their career than Sirianni, and most of them have appear in numerous conference championships or Super Bowls. The future is bright in Philly.

Historical Comparison: Mike McCarthy (67% Win Percentage)

His early win percentage is right in line with Mike McCarthy's early tenure with the Green Bay Packers. Both coaches came from the offensive side of the ball, QB coaches before becoming offensive coordinators. Over the course of his almost thirteen seasons with the Packers, McCarthy won one Super Bowl and made nine playoff appearances.

After a middling first season, McCarthy opened his second season 8-1 to finish the season with a loss in the NFC Championship to the eventual Super Bowl champions.

#2. Brandon Staley – Los Angeles Chargers (56% Win Percentage)

Despite coming from a defensive background, the Chargers have not been winning games based on the strength of the defense. In Brandon Staley's time with the Chargers, the offensive unit has looked strong. Last season they were top-five in both yards and points. Quarterback Justin Herbert had the second most yards last year while running back Austin Ekeler tied for the most touchdowns in the league.

The AFC West looks to be a competitive division at the top for the foreseeable future, but Herbert’s continued development will help position them toward the top of the division year after year. If Staley can replicate the success of the Rams defense in his sole season as a defensive coordinator, the Chargers will be Super Bowl contenders for the next decade.

Historical Comparison: Dan Quinn (56% Win Percentage)

In 2015, Dan Quinn was hired after a brief stint as the Seahawks defensive coordinator to lead the Atlanta Falcons. He inherited a team that had missed the playoffs for two seasons. Taking over a team with a talented and experienced quarterback (Matt Ryan) in a tough division filled with top QB talent, he was able to carve out a moderately successful five-year stint at head coach.

While the offense was consistently in the top-ten in yards, the defense struggled to match the success. After five seasons, one Super Bowl appearance and one wild card berth, Quinn was fired five games into his sixth season at the helm.

#3. Arthur Smith – Atlanta Falcons (41% Win Percentage)

Arthur Smith was hired last season by the Atlanta Falcons after two seasons as the Titans offensive coordinator that saw the team make the playoffs both seasons. Smith has struggled so far in Atlanta as they replaced franchise quarterback Matt Ryan this offseason with former Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Unfortunately for the Falcons, the offense has sputtered with inconsistent quarterback play during Smith’s tenure. Ryan posted his worst season in a decade in his final season with the team before being traded to the Colts. Mariota has posted stats placing him toward the bottom of the QB rankings for the 2022 season.

Smith will have to figure out the Falcons quarterback situation to be able to stick with the team long-term. The NFC South is ripe for the taking, as every team is searching (or will be searching very soon) for their long-term solution at the position. The team that figures it out first will be able to dominate the division for several years to come.

Historical Comparison: Gary Kubiak (41% Win Percentage)

Gary Kubiak came to the Houston Texans after a lengthy career with the Denver Broncos, first as a backup quarterback to John Elway. After his retirement, he joined the coaching staff and rose through the ranks to their offensive coordinator. During his first two seasons with the Texans, Kubiak dealt with turnover at the quarterback position. Former first overall pick David Carr played his last year for the Texans in 2006, and the team settled the position after trading for Falcons quarterback Matt Shaub.

Kubiak brought the Texans their first winning season in the franchise’s brief history, and their first two division championships in 2011 and 2012, while Shaub is still the winningest quarterback in Texans history with 46 wins.

#4. Robert Saleh – New York Jets (38% Win Percentage)

Robert Saleh was a hot coaching prospect after his time as the 49ers defensive coordinator, but a slow start in his first season led to concerns about his hiring. The Jets have consistently hired defensive-minded head coaches – he is the eighth defensive coach of the last nine head coaching hires for the team – during a time when the league has emphasized offensive hiring.

However, Saleh has the team in prime position for their first playoff appearance in a decade. While the offense has struggled with quarterback Zach Wilson, and the running game took a hit with Breece Hall’s torn ACL, the defense has looked incredible behind budding rookie star Sauce Gardner.

The Jets are 6-3 entering the second half of the season, positioned for their first playoff appearance since 2010.

Historical Comparison: Lovie Smith (48% Win Percentage)

Lovie Smith was another defensive coordinator that was hired by the Bears ahead of the 2004 season. After a disappointing 5-11 campaign in his first season, the Bears rebounded with their first of three division titles under Smith. They struggled with consistent quarterback play during his nine seasons in the Windy City, once having a different quarterback lead the team in passing for six consecutive seasons. His final record with the team was 81-63, with 3-3 in the playoffs.

#5. Dan Campbell – Detroit Lions (20% Win Percentage)

Dan Campbell has struggled to gain traction during his time in Detroit. After struggling in Year 1, the former defensive coordinator has yet to make any significant noise in the Motor City in his second year. While this is Campbell’s first ever head coaching role, he did serve as the interim coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 2015 after the team fired Joe Philbin after a 1-3 start. That season, Campbell led the Dolphins to more wins (5) than he has led Detroit to, a result that does not bode well for the team moving forward.

Campbell has a short leash remaining in 2022. Few coaches have won fewer games than him through their first season and a half and continued into Year 3.

Historical Comparison: Jim Schwartz, Zac Taylor (15% Win Percentage)

Campbell has been off to one of the worst career-starting stretches of the last twenty years. Only four coaches started with a worse winning percentage through the first twenty-five games. However, not all is lost. Two of those four saw dramatic improvement in Year 3 – should Campbell come back – that the Lions would be ecstatic for.

In Year 3, after only six wins through his first two seasons, Zac Taylor led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl. In Year 3 as the Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz led the team to their first playoff appearance in more than a decade.

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Urban Meyer – Jacksonville Jaguars

While Urban Meyer was hired during the same offseason, he failed too last even a single season, becoming the second head coach since 1994 to not complete his first NFL season as a head coach, putting him in the esteemed company of Bobby Petrino. Scandal after scandal rocked the team under the former college coach’s tutelage, ranging from allegations about kicking players in practice, to staying in Cleveland after a team loss when the team flew home.

Not only did Meyer come up last in this list, but he may also go down as one of the worst head coaching hires in NFL history. Poor performance, constant scandals, and concerns about ruining generational prospect Trevor Lawrence with poor coaching make Meyer the textbook example of ‘boom-or-bust ’ college coaching hires.

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