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Coaching Carousel

Are some of the NFL off-season’s biggest coaching changes warranted?

   The past two weeks have seen five NFL coaches fired or resign, and I think some of these changes were not the best choices for their respective teams. Three of those teams include the New England Patriots with head coach/GM Bill Belichick, the Tennessee Titans with head coach Mike Vrabel and the Atlanta Falcons with head coach Arthur Smith. The firings range from unwarranted to franchise saving moves and somewhere in between. I think these three coaching changes represent each spot on that range.

   First off, Belichick and New England decided to part ways after 24 seasons and six Super Bowl wins. This was a terrible choice for the Patriots. Belichick, as a coach, was perfectly fine, however, the real issue was his recent track record as the team’s general manager. Belichick’s coaching style, albeit slightly coarser than most other coaches, was going to work. It worked throughout the 2000s and 2010s with the Tom Brady led teams, but it just needed time after Brady left and the right roster. Where this all went wrong was the personnel decisions Belichick made as GM. 

   Belichick didn’t do enough to help the team’s young, prospective franchise QB, Mac Jones who they drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, surrounding him with below-average receivers and injury-prone offensive linemen. Opting not to re-sign wide receiver Jakobi Meyers last season was one of Belichick’s recent mistakes, instead choosing to allocate that money towards Juju Smith-Schuster, who spent half the season injured with a concussion and ankle injuries. Meyers tripled Smith-Schuster’s receiving stats this season while playing on almost identical contracts. It also didn’t help that the team was paying tight end Hunter Henry $15.5 million, further hindering their ability to get offensive talent. 

   Some believed that Belichick’s coaching style of requiring every player to play their role perfectly and emphasizing defense over offense was aging out of style. I somewhat agree with that as the NFL is a league that is experiencing all-time offensive production from most teams so Belichick’s strategy of having a less than impressive offense in exchange for a great defense feels somewhat misguided when considering how the league is changing. However, a great defense can win you games as long as the offense doesn’t throw the game away. In some ways, I understand the claims of people who don’t think Belichick’s firing was a mistake but I still think the root cause of the Patriots’ misfortunes was the mismanagement from Belichick as GM.

   The defense under Belichick was never a problem, in fact, it was one of the team’s specialties, but the mismanagement of their offensive personnel killed the Patriots as they finished with the NFL’s second worst scoring offense. New England would’ve been better off keeping Belichick as the head coach while relieving him of his GM duties.

   Another change which shocked me was the Tennessee Titans firing of Mike Vrabel. Yes, the Titans finished with a terrible 6-11 record, but I would like to see it as overachieving considering their horrible injury luck and middling QB play as Ryan Tannehill/rookie Will Levis combined to lead a bottom five passing offense in yards and completion percentage. 

   Vrabel also led the Titans to some incredible seasons, beating the defending champion Patriots and first-seeded Ravens in the 2019 playoffs while also earning the number one seed in 2021 while winning coach of the year in the process. I don’t see why he was fired, as Titans ownership claimed they needed a “fresh perspective from a new coaching staff,” according to the team press release on Vrabel’s firing, which, if that was truly the case, they could’ve traded Vrabel for draft picks and gotten a new coach afterward. In my eyes, this comes down to serious organizational malpractice as Vrabel has already garnered interest from several teams, as he has already had an interview with the Los Angeles Chargers and has been scheduled to interview with the Falcons soon.

   Speaking of Atlanta, Arthur Smith might be the most deserving fire of this coaching cycle as he led the Falcons to their third straight 7-10 season. Smith’s teams were never quite bad enough to get a really good draft pick but weren’t good enough to make the playoffs either. I have never seen generational talent misused as badly as Smith did with the Falcons’ roster. The team drafted a generational tight end and running back with Kyle Pitts in 2021 and Bijan Robinson in 2023. Both were selected with top-ten draft picks. Pitts and Robinson both won the respective awards for best collegiate player at their position in their final season of college football, the John Mackey award for best tight end and the Doak Walker award for best running back.  

   Pitts’ scheming and quarterback play has resulted in him not being able to realize his potential to become possibly the greatest receiving TE ever. His receiving skill set combined with his ability to run a 4.44 second 40-yard dash at 6-6” was not prioritized by Smith and the coaching staff which was quite a travesty. 

   Robinson is the best RB talent since Saquon Barkley and could’ve had a record-breaking rookie season had Smith not decided to tone his usage down to near zero in multiple games this season. Robinson finished his last season at Texas with almost 1600 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns while finishing top ten in Heisman voting. 

   All together, not every firing has been handled perfectly, however, I think it will make for an interesting 2024 season as these teams have serious questions about their future direction and we could see teams that have been staples of consistency or perennial bottom-feeders flip those reputations very soon.


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Were these firings warranted?


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