The NFL ended up with nine openings for Head Coaches this off-season and now all have been filled. As we begin to turn the page from the 2021 season, which ended Sunday, toward the 2022 season, it’s time to look at these new coaches and what it might mean. Below are all the new coaches in alphabetical order by team name. Along with a briefly look at their credentials, I’m looking at the biggest challenge facing each coach.
Chicago Bears: Matt Eberflus
About: Eberflus is a first-time head coach and tapped to lead the charge in Chicago after the Bears parted ways with Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace. Eberflus began his coaching career in 1992, working in the collegiate ranks until joining the staff of the Cleveland Browns in 2009. He served as a defensive assistant with the Browns and Cowboys until becoming the Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator in 2018. Now, he gets a chance to work with the Bears, a team with some talent but plenty of questions. The Bears seemingly under-achieved on offense and defense in 2021 but have historically been a franchise known for defense. After relying on a couple offensive-minded head coaches in a row, it makes some sense they’d swing the pendulum back the other way. Eberflus could also have some good pieces to build around on defense if the Bears keep star Khalil Mack and others.
Biggest Challenge: Can the Bears build around second-year quarterback Justin Fields? That task will likely fall heaviest on new Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy, who came over from the Packers. The Bears traded up to grab Fields in the 2021 draft and now have to find a way to get the most out of him and develop a consistent offensive identity.
Denver Broncos: Nathaniel Hackett
About: Hackett is another first-time Head Coach that has plenty of experience as an assistant. While the Bears shifted from offense to defense, the Broncos did the opposite. After two defensive-minded head coaches in a row, the team gravitated toward Hackett, hoping he can solve the biggest problems for the franchise since Peyton Manning’s retirement—what to do at quarterback. Hackett has had good success as an Offensive Coordinator for three teams—the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Green Bay Packers. He was the OC for the Jaguars the year the team made the AFC Championship Game and shifted to become OC for the Packers the past three seasons. He wasn’t the primary play caller, but Aaron Rodgers, among others, spoke highly of his work for a team that’s won 13 games in each of the last three seasons. Now, he gets his shot as a Head Coach and play caller in Denver.
Biggest Challenge: Who will play quarterback? Since Manning retired, the Broncos have had a revolving door at quarterback, including draft picks like Drew Lock that haven’t solidified into the answer. Many assumed that Hackett’s hiring indicated a strong pursuit of Rodgers. It may, but regardless solving the quarterback riddle will be key to Hackett enjoying success in Denver.
Houston Texans: Lovie Smith
About: The Texans parted ways with David Culley after one season. The search for his replacement took an interesting path before landing back with Smith, the team’s Defensive Coordinator in 2021. Smith is a long-time NFL coach that comes with plenty of experience. Smith was the Head Coach for the Chicago Bears, going 81-63 in nine seasons, including making the Super Bowl following the 2006 season. He got another shot in Tampa Bay but went just 8-24 in two seasons. From there, Smith headed to the collegiate ranks, serving as Head Coach at the University of Illinois for five seasons before returning to the NFL and the Texans last season. Now, he gets his third Head Coach position in the NFL and probably his biggest challenge in the re-building Texans.
Biggest Challenge: Who are the Houston Texans? The Texans have shed a lot in the past few seasons. J.J. Watt is in Arizona, as is DeAndre Hopkins, while Deshaun Watson is with the team but didn’t touch the field in 2021. The Texans were a team that seemed to overachieve in a lot of ways in 2021, winning four games. The franchise is still trying to recover from personnel decisions that left them devoid of talent and draft picks. That begins to change this off-season, giving the team a chance to re-make itself and, ideally, compete. But what will that identity be? What do the Texans do well? That’s the first task for Smith and his new staff.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Pederson
About: The Jaguars entered last off-season with an opening at Head Coach, a void at franchise quarterback and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. A year later, only one of those things had been solved, and there are even questions about that. Last off-season the Jaguars made a splashy hire of Urban Meyer as Head Coach and spent the top draft pick on Trevor Lawrence. The season was a disaster, with Meyer being fired before it ended and Lawrence struggling mightily. The Jaguars have the No. 1 overall pick again, and now how Pederson can be the answer for the franchise and its public face, Lawrence. Pederson spent much of his NFL career working with Andy Reid, first as an offensive coach in Philadelphia and then as the Offensive Coordinator in Kansas City. That earned him a shot as Head Coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, where he won the Super Bowl in his second season in 2017. But after five years, going 42-37-1, Pederson parted with the Eagles. After a season away, he’s back to take on an even more daunting challenge in re-building the Jaguars, a team that appeared broken on the field and off the field in 2021.
Biggest Challenge: Developing Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence was not only the No. 1 overall pick, he seemed to be the best prospect at quarterback in years. It didn’t play out that way on the field. Lawrence completed less than 60 percent of his passes, threw for 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions as a rookie. Now, it’s up to Pederson and his staff to right the ship and see if they can turn Lawrence back into the prized pick he was last off-season. Pederson faced a similar task in Philadelphia with Carson Wentz, turning that into a Super Bowl title. Can he do it again? That’s the challenge that awaits him.
Las Vegas Raiders: Josh McDaniels
About: The Raiders were a team that faced plenty of turmoil in 2021, beginning with the early-season resignation of Head Coach Jon Gruden. It continued with off-field issues among players, and yet Interim Head Coach Rich Bisaccia held the team together on the field, finishing 10-7 and earning a playoff berth. In the search for a permanent replacement, the Raiders settled on long-time Patriots Offensive Coordinator McDaniels. It isn’t McDaniels’ first Head Coaching job, as he was tapped by the Broncos for that spot in 2009 and ultimately flamed out quickly. He made a flurry of brash personnel moves, going 8-8 in year one and 3-9 before being fired mid-season in 2010. McDaniels says he’s learned a lot from that, and from a near miss with the Colts in 2018. Now, he’s ready for a shot to be the guy and hoping for better success.
Biggest Challenge: Competing in the AFC West. The Raiders are locked in an uber-competitive division that includes Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. It could also soon contain Aaron Rodgers. McDaniels has some pieces on offense in Derek Carr, Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller, but how does he build up the rest of the team around them to remain a playoff contender.
Miami Dolphins: Mike McDaniel
About: The Dolphins finished above .500 each of the past two seasons, but neither resulted in a playoff berth. After a 10-6 season in 2020, the team struggled to a 1-7 start in 2021 before finishing 9-8. That was enough for the team to decide to make a change. Brian Flores was let go and, eventually, Mike McDaniel was hired. McDaniel is another first-time Head Coach, one that only has one season as an Offensive Coordinator. But he’s been a long-time assistant, beginning his career as an intern in 2005 for Mike Shanahan and spending the last few years on staffs with Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan. His specialty was the running game, something that’s been sorely lacking for the Miami Dolphins.
Biggest Challenge: Getting the most out of Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins bottomed out after the 2019 season, earning a high enough draft pick, along with other assets, to grab Tua, one of the prized quarterbacks in the draft. But Tua enjoyed two uneven seasons in Miami, and likely the concern about his development and the Dolphins’ offense in general spurred the motivation to make a change at head coach. As Tua goes, so will go the Dolphins. That puts plenty of pressure on McDaniel to get the right tools in place to help the franchise quarterback thrive.
Minnesota Vikings: Kevin O’Connell
About: This one isn’t official—yet. But we know O’Connell is the Vikings’ man, he just needed to finish his duties with the Rams in the Super Bowl. This is another selection of a first-time Head Coach, this time a young coach with just a few seasons of experience. O’Connell is 36, and has been an Offensive Coordinator for three seasons, coaching in the NFL since 2015. He was with the Browns and 49ers for a season before landing with the Washington Football Team, where he spent two seasons as an assistant before becoming Offensive Coordinator in 2019. For the past two seasons he’s been the Offensive Coordinator for Sean McVay and the Rams, and now he heads to Minnesota to replace veteran Head Coach Mike Zimmer. That could mean big things for a talented offensive unit that includes Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Biggest Challenge: Getting some consistency in Minnesota. The Vikings have had talent the past few years but they have struggled to put it all together. That, ultimately, doomed Zimmer. The Vikings were 72-56-1 in Zimmer’s eight years, but made the playoffs just three times, going 2-3. The team is 15-18 in the last two seasons. O’Connell will be tasked with turning that around, which also likely means evaluating whether the investment made in Cousins is the way to go.
New York Giants: Brian Daboll
About: The Giants needed a change and needed some better production on offense. The team seems committed to Daniel Jones, now entering his fourth season, and affirmed that commitment by hiring Daboll, a gifted offensive mind and play caller. Daboll has been coaching in the NFL since 2000—minus a 2017 season spent as Offensive Coordinator for the University of Alabama—and has been the Buffalo Bills’ Offensive Coordinator since 2018. During that time, he helped develop Josh Allen into one of the premier passers in the NFL. The hope is Daboll can work the same magic with Jones and get the most out of an offense that features Saquon Barkley at running back and a receiving group that includes Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney.
Biggest Challenge: Getting the most out of Jones. Jones has shown flashes at times but it hasn’t been consistent. The Giants’ ownership expressed an interest in doing better, which means Daboll needs to look at scheme and supporting pieces—specifically the offensive line—to give Jones the best chance to succeed.
New Orleans Saints: Dennis Allen
About: It’s a true changing of the guard and the end of an era in New Orleans, which saw future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retired following the 2020 season and now has seen Head Coach Sean Payton step down following a 2021 season where the Saints’ battled injuries to finish 9-8, coming up just short of the playoffs. The Saints stayed in house, so to speak, promoting Allen, who has been the Defensive Coordinator since 2015. Allen also served as the Interim Head Coach when Payton was out with COVID during the 2021 season. The Saints’ defense was arguably the best part of the team in 2021, and Allen is an experienced coach. He’s also been a Head Coach before, serving for two seasons and four games with the Raiders, going 8-28 in that time. He faces another tough challenge with the Saints, which have plenty of questions and a major salary cap headache heading into 2022.
Biggest Challenge: Getting the offense nailed down. With Payton and Brees gone, the Saints have lost the core of their offense. Not only do they need to solve the quarterback question, but the team also needs to come up with a new scheme and offensive identity. In addition, the team faces big questions about its two biggest stars—receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara. Thomas missed all of the 2021 season and may have played his last down for the Saints, while Kamara faces serious legal issues. That’s a lot to tackle for any coach, let alone a first-year coach trying to establish a winning tradition.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.