How does one evaluate the strength of a coaching staff?
The NFL is a process-oriented game but a results-driven business, creating a sophisticated dynamic. Experience, depth, in-game tactics, adaptability, and stone-cold results are among the factors that come into play.
We've examined each club and used our aforementioned criteria to rank all 32 staffs entering the 2019 season:
HC: Zac Taylor
OC: Brian Callahan
DC: Lou Anarumo
Don't sweat if you haven't heard these names before - not many fans had when the Bengals announced their arrivals. Taylor, formerly a quarterbacks coach, was a stunning hire earlier this year. The 36-year-old struggled to fill out his staff and ended up with a pair of coordinators who have barely any experience calling plays - Anarumo was an interim defensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2015. All three could turn out to be geniuses, but for now, they're just unproven.
HC: Adam Gase
OC: Dowell Loggains
DC: Gregg Williams
Notable assistant: Jim Bob Cooter (RBs)
Cooter might be the Jets' best offensive play-caller, and he's no higher than third-in-command behind Gase and Loggains. Speaking of Gase, he looked lost in his three-year tenure with the Dolphins, and his confrontational personality probably won't mesh well with that of his fiery defensive coordinator. Williams has very little recent success to speak of, yet berating players with profanities and demeaning commands remains his go-to motivational strategy. Given their collective lack of achievement, it's hard to understand why the Jets' top coaches are so stubborn.
HC: Brian Flores
OC: Chad O'Shea
DC: Patrick Graham
Notable assistant: Jim Caldwell (QBs)
Miami is the latest team to hire a collection of former Patriots staffers in an attempt to replicate New England's success. The problem here is Flores has no head coaching experience and wasn't even officially bestowed the title of Patriots defensive coordinator in 2018. O'Shea and Graham are also undertaking their first coordinator jobs as the Dolphins' rebuild extends to the coaching staff. At least Caldwell will be there to guide the novices along.
HC: Jon Gruden
OC: Greg Olson
DC: Paul Guenther
Notable assistant: Tom Cable (OL)
The jury is still out on whether the game passed Gruden by while he was in the broadcast booth, but it sure looked that way in Year 1. While he was dusting off his west coast offense binder, his NFL peers were installing more dynamic and modern material into their playbooks. Gruden's staff is littered with older coaches who may not be able to relate to the millennial generation of players. Cable is notable in that no matter where he goes, his unit almost always flops. His early returns with 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller were depressing.
HC: Pat Shurmur
OC: Mike Shula
DC: James Bettcher
New York's one-year returns from Shurmur and his staff were not good. The team bottomed out for a second consecutive season, prompting the departures of Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, and Landon Collins. Now, Shurmur will be expected to do more with less. Fair or not, his tenure will be remembered for how well the team transitions from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones at quarterback - whenever that transition finally takes place.
HC: Matt Patricia
OC: Darrell Bevell
DC: Paul Pasqualoni
Notable assistant: Al Golden (LBs)
Patricia thought emphasizing "The Patriot Way" would instantly breed success in the Motor City, but he discovered it ain't that simple in the NFL. As a rookie head coach, the ex-New England assistant failed to get his players to buy in, and his subsequent strategy of acquiring as many former Patriots players as possible seemed very narrow-minded. Bevell and Pasqualoni were uninspiring gets, with the former known mostly for his dubious pass call at the end of Super Bowl XLIX against Patricia's Pats. We'll give Patricia kudos for devising the game plan the Patriots adapted to stifle the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
HC: Kyle Shanahan
DC: Robert Saleh
Shanahan was the hottest candidate on the market when he was hired in 2017. Two years in, he's still unproven as a head coach. The Niners have yet to produce a winning season, although Shanahan's had Jimmy Garoppolo as his quarterback for just eight games. His staff is woefully inexperienced: Saleh had never held a defensive coordinator position before joining Shanahan, and many of the coaches surrounding him are either recently retired players (Miles Austin, Wes Welker, DeMeco Ryans) or little-known assistants.
HC: Kliff Kingsbury
DC: Vance Joseph
The social experiment of Kingsbury's hiring will be one to watch. The 39-year-old comes straight from the college game, bringing his Air Raid offense and teaching methods for millennials (eg. social media breaks during meetings) to the pro level. If he and Kyler Murray make fireworks, Kingsbury will be the hottest thing since Sean McVay. Like McVay, Kingsbury won't have to worry much about the defense; the Cardinals did him a favor by hiring defensive maestro Joseph to oversee that side of the ball.
HC: Jason Garrett
OC: Kellen Moore
DC: Rod Marinelli
Special assistant: Kris Richard (DBs/passing game coordinator)
The Cowboys probably would have gone to a Super Bowl by now if Garrett was capable of doing more during games than clapping his hands. Dallas deserves credit for finally moving on from Scott Linehan, the stalest offensive coordinator in the league, but it remains to be seen if Moore is any better. Dallas would be ranked even lower if not for its strong defensive staff, headlined by Marinelli and Richard.
HC: Matt LaFleur
OC: Nathaniel Hackett
DC: Mike Pettine
Few coaching staffs enter the 2019 campaign with more questions than Green Bay's. The 39-year-old LaFleur was championed as a wonder child despite a severe lack of coaching experience, and it's not like his one year running Tennessee's offense churned out great results. He was pressured into retaining Pettine even though arranged marriages seldom work out in the NFL, and Hackett, his offensive coordinator, once held the same role with the points-starved Jaguars. The combination just seems out of place.
HC: Doug Marrone
OC: John DeFilippo
DC: Todd Wash
Notable assistants: Dom Capers (defensive assistant), Scott Milanovich (QBs)
The Jaguars made major offseason changes everywhere - except where most expected. Owner Shad Khan's decision to keep both Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell after a disappointing 5-11 season came as a mild surprise. Marrone has proven incapable of managing the talents and tempers of star players Leonard Fournette and Jalen Ramsey. But the front office chose to keep the same dynamic and hope changes at offensive coordinator and quarterback will change the results.
HC: Mike Vrabel
OC: Arthur Smith
DC: Dean Pees
Ah, yes, the team that promoted its tight ends coach to offensive coordinator this offseason. The Titans' hopes of unlocking Marcus Mariota's potential in his contract season rest with a first-time coordinator with no play-calling experience. It's a bold move by Vrabel, who's entering just his second year as an NFL head coach. Pees makes up the difference with his 15 years of coaching experience.
HC: Vic Fangio
OC: Rich Scangarello
DC: Ed Donatell
Notable assistant: Mike Munchak (OL)
The Broncos possess an intriguing staff with some highly regarded coaches in positions they haven't previously held. Fangio, a first-time head coach, brought Donatell with him from Chicago to help redesign the defense. He also plucked Scangarello off the Shanahan tree in San Francisco. His most impressive hire was Munchak, a heralded offensive line coach who spent the last five years in Pittsburgh. It all sounds good in theory, but we have to see results before vaulting the Fangio crew up the rankings.
HC: Mike Tomlin
OC: Randy Fichtner
DC: Keith Butler
Notable assistant: Teryl Austin (defensive assistant)
Tomlin won the power struggles with superstars Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, which means he keeps his job and loses generational talents. Though ownership put its support behind its head coach of 12 years, Tomlin likely enters the 2019 campaign on the hot seat. The Rooney family values continuity, and Fichtner and Butler have been with Tomlin since he took over in 2007. Tomlin is signed through the 2020 season. If he's able to reassert Pittsburgh's power in the AFC North, he could see another extension.
HC: Dan Quinn
OC: Dirk Koetter
Notable assistants: Raheem Morris (DBs/passing game coordinator), Mike Mularkey (TEs)
The Falcons have assembled a staff rife with head coaching experience. The benefits are obvious, and it should give Quinn plenty of shoulders to lean on. Quinn will also return to his roots and take over defensive coordinator responsibilities. But the area of concern has been the offense ever since Kyle Shanahan's departure following Super Bowl LI. Steve Sarkisian was fired after two seasons, leading to the return of Koetter after four seasons with the rival Buccaneers.
HC: Sean McDermott
OC: Brian Daboll
DC: Leslie Frazier
McDermott, Daboll, and Frazier aren't the flashiest names, but they've quietly squeezed some juice out of their rosters in Buffalo. The McDermott-Frazier defense ranked second in the NFL last year even though it had only one Pro Bowler, Kyle Williams, who was selected as an alternate. Not much could've been expected from a talent-depleted offense in 2018, but a great coach finds a way to finish better than 30th in the league. The Bills have shown promise in McDermott's two years at the helm, but they're 15-17 over that time, and none of the main man's assistants are reinventing the wheels they steer.
HC: Ron Rivera
OC: Norv Turner
DC: Eric Washington
Notable assistant: Perry Fewell (secondary)
Rivera, a two-time Coach of the Year, is one of the game's most respected coaches. He owns a .559 winning percentage and has guided the Panthers to the playoffs in four of his eight seasons at the helm. The team's success meant many of Rivera's top assistants were poached for head coaching gigs of their own (Sean McDermott, Steve Wilks). Turner was a curious hire, but his first season as OC was a success. Rivera took play-calling duties from Washington late last season.
HC: Bill O'Brien
OC: Tim Kelly
DC: Romeo Crennel
Notable assistant: John Pagano (senior defensive assistant)
Before poaching Patriots staffers was en vogue, former Bill Belichick disciples O'Brien and Crennel went south to build a staff in Houston. The Texans have won their division in three of the five seasons since. Crennel and Pagano form a respected defensive front. O'Brien had been the de facto offensive coordinator the past two seasons, but this year he's turning things over to...*checks notes*... someone named Tim Kelly.
HC: Jay Gruden
OC: Kevin O'Connell
DC: Greg Manusky
Notable assistants: Bill Callahan (OL), Jim Tomsula (DL), Rob Ryan (LBs), Ray Horton (DBs)
Gruden, O'Connell, and Manusky don't have the most decorated resumes, but their subordinates are some of the best in the business. Callahan and Tomsula are both top-five coaches at their positions, while Ryan and Horton have both been coordinators and boast plenty of NFL experience. The Redskins' staff finishes around the middle of the pack, just like the team often does in the standings.
HC: John Harbaugh
OC: Greg Roman
DC: Don "Wink" Martindale
Harbaugh has proven a capable leader when overseeing operations in a CEO-type role and outsourcing unit-specific responsibilities to assistants. Even as the NFL skews in favor of offenses, Baltimore remains one of the scariest teams to play against, and it's Harbaugh who's responsible for upholding a culture of toughness. His offensive hirings over the years have left plenty to be desired, but he's got an ace of a coordinator in Martindale, who engineered the top-ranked defense of 2018. We'd be remiss not to mention the several instances of Baltimore not knowing the rules of the NFL - both in practice sessions and during games. It's a solid staff, but it falls short of elite.
HC: Anthony Lynn
OC: Ken Whisenhunt
DC: Gus Bradley
If ever third-year head coach Lynn is in a pinch, he has 12 years of head coaching experience to count on between Whisenhunt and Bradley. Lynn hasn't found himself in such a position yet; he's led the Chargers to two consecutive winning campaigns and took L.A. to the divisional round last season. The Bolts have also finished in the top 15 in both offense and defense in each of the past two seasons.
HC: Freddie Kitchens
OC: Todd Monken
DC: Steve Wilks
Notable assistant: Chris Jones (defensive assistant)
Kitchens' head coaching credentials are up for debate, but he did well to surround himself with a talented group of aides after earning the full-time job. His biggest hire was Wilks, who's back in a coordinator position after one season as head coach of the Cardinals. Monken also carries a pedigree after helping the Buccaneers rack up the third-most yards in the league last year. He, too, has experience as a head coach, albeit in the college ranks at Southern Miss. The addition of Jones, who built an excellent resume in the CFL as both a coach and general manager, flew under the radar.
HC: Mike Zimmer
OC: Kevin Stefanski
DC: George Edwards
Notable assistant: Gary Kubiak (assistant head coach)
Zimmer's disdain for offensive coordinators resulted in the abrupt departures of John DeFilippo and Norv Turner in recent seasons. His demand for a more balanced offense and an effective running game puts the onus on Stefanski, his handpicked choice at OC. If Stefanski stumbles, Kubiak - an offensive guru - is there to pick up the pieces. Zimmer's defenses, meanwhile, have had no such stumbling over the years. Led by Edwards since 2014, the unit has finished in the top five in each of the past three seasons.
HC: Matt Nagy
OC: Mark Helfrich
DC: Chuck Pagano
Notable assistant: Brad Childress (offensive assistant)
That the Bears could lose beloved defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and still earn a top-10 ranking on this list is a testament to Nagy and Helfrich's work in their first years at their respective positions. Nagy earned Coach of the Year honors for turning a 5-11 outfit into a 12-4 division champion, and Helfrich led the progression of Mitch Trubisky despite a supporting cast lacking a signature talent. Pagano inherits the No. 3-ranked defense in football.
HC: Bruce Arians
OC: Byron Leftwich
DC: Todd Bowles
Notable assistant: Tom Moore (no official title)
The Buccaneers may not have the best players, but their coaching staff is one to be reckoned with. Arians, an offensive-minded coach who preaches a "no risk it, no biscuit" approach, has a track record of success. The ascending Leftwich will benefit from having a maestro like Arians in his ear. Bowles was one of the league's top defensive coordinators the last time he held that post - which was in Arizona with Arians - and is known for crafting dynamic blitz packages. The additions of 80-year-old Moore and veteran special teams coach Keith Armstrong give Tampa a very deep staff.
HC: Pete Carroll
OC: Brian Schottenheimer
DC: Ken Norton Jr.
Carroll is among the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL after nine seasons in Seattle. He hasn't had a losing campaign since 2011 despite recent turnover both on the Seahawks' coaching staff and in the locker room. The steady-handed 67-year-old seamlessly followed the departures of longtime lieutenants Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard with the hires of Schottenheimer, a respected OC, and his pupil Norton at DC.
HC: Frank Reich
OC: Nick Sirianni
DC: Matt Eberflus
Notable assistant: Howard Mudd (offensive assistant)
Indy doesn't have the most recognizable names, but the job Reich and Co. did last year shouldn't be understated. Reich and Sirianni teamed up to give the Colts the NFL's seventh-ranked offense, while Eberflus coordinated the 11th-ranked defense without the benefit of multiple Pro Bowlers or All-Pros. Not many coaching staffs could lead a team out of a 1-5 hole and into the playoffs as the Colts' did last year. They added legendary offensive line coach Mudd as a special assistant for 2019, strengthening an already formidable group.
HC: Andy Reid
OC: Eric Bieniemy
DC: Steve Spagnuolo
Notable assistant: Dave Toub (special teams)
Reid's genius consistently has Kansas City among the contenders. Yet, much like former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer, Reid's reputation is of one who can't win the big game. His lone Super Bowl appearance came in 2004 with the Eagles. His coaching tree has sprouted the successful head coaching careers of Brad Childress, Doug Pederson, and Matt Nagy, leaving little concern about former running back Bieniemy's credentials as offensive coordinator. The Chiefs finally relieved former DC Bob Sutton of his duties after a horrendous 2018, replacing him with Spagnuolo, one of Reid's assistants from his early Eagles days.
HC: Doug Pederson
OC: Mike Groh
DC: Jim Schwartz
You can't win a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback then follow it up with another admirable run under similar circumstances without elite coaching. It's safe to say the Eagles have that. Pederson has gotten the most out of both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles since arriving in Philly, and more coaches ought to emulate his aggressive style. Schwartz, a former head coach with a strong defensive pedigree, has routinely helped players outperform expectations. It would be silly to omit the fact that Pederson and his mates repeatedly get the Eagles to peak at the right time of year.
HC: Sean Payton
OC: Pete Carmichael
DC: Dennis Allen
Notable assistants: Darren Rizzi (special teams), Dan Campbell (TEs), Mike Nolan (LBs)
Led by the innovative Payton, the Saints have one of the brightest and deepest staffs in the league. Payton and Carmichael have been engineering high-powered offenses for years - even as the personnel around them has changed. Allen has stabilized a previously punchless defense over the last couple of years and emerged as a head coaching candidate for vacancies around the league. Campbell and Nolan both have experience as head coaches and are now in specialized roles, a big plus for New Orleans. After leaving the Dolphins, Rizzi picked the Saints over a handful of other interested teams in the offseason.
HC: Sean McVay
DC: Wade Phillips
Notable assistant: John Fassel (special teams)
McVay is credited as the leader of the NFL's offensive surge. His control of the Rams' offense is unprecedented - he's in quarterback Jared Goff's ear until the play is called in the huddle. Yet his ability to delegate should also be commended. He installed Phillips as his DC and the respected veteran rewarded him with a championship-caliber performance in the Super Bowl. If not for McVay's uncharacteristically poor showing on the offensive side of the ball, the defense would have won him his first Super Bowl ring.
HC: Bill Belichick
OC: Josh McDaniels
Notable assistant: Dante Scarnecchia (OL)
Belichick's brilliance makes up for whatever experience his subordinates will lack in 2019. A frenzied offseason saw the Patriots lose several assistants, though Belichick's two most important helpers - McDaniels and Scarnecchia - remain in Foxborough. The absence of a defensive coordinator is notable, but should hardly faze a defensive guru like Belichick, who is expected to call the plays himself this year. New England's staff may not be the deepest, but it should be regarded as the best as long as Belichick is at the top.