How success for the NFL’s three first-year head coaches will be measured

In recent years, the NFL has seen significant annual turnover in its head coaching ranks. And while plenty of men occupied flame-flecked seats in 2009, fewer than 10 percent of the teams opted to make a change once the dust of a failed season (for the three teams involved) settled.

With two Super Bowl rings and an All-Pro QB, the bar is set high for Mike Shanahan.
With two Super Bowl rings and an All-Pro QB, the bar is set high for Mike Shanahan.

The question of whether each new coach succeeds in his first year will be based on specific expectations that apply to each team.

So let’s take a look at what it will take for each of the three new coaches to come out of 2010 as something other than abject failures. 

Mike Shanahan, Redskins

The former Broncos coach faces the highest expectations, due both to his past accomplishments (two Super Bowl wins) and the team’s "win-now" offseason moves. The biggest of these moves resulted in the highest nudging of the bar north — the trade for quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But the Redskins remain in the most competitive division in the league. Move them to the NFC West, and they become the instant favorites. In the NFC East, it’ll be a challenge to get out of the basement.

That doesn’t mean the fan base (or the owner) will settle for another fourth-place finish. In the days when all teams squat on a 0-0 record, optimism builds. And bringing in a guy like McNabb will make the locals expect the Redskins to contend for a wild-card berth.

Complicating matters has been the ill-advised decision to shift from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. The Redskins had the personnel for a 4-3, and the defense wasn’t the problem in 2009. Changing philosophies already has proven to be a mistake, given that defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has seized on the shift to support a boycott of the offseason program and a public attempt to get out of town.

In the end, Shanahan likely needs to get close to .500, if not above it, to be regarded a success in Year One. Given that six games will be played within the division, that may be too tall an order.

Pete Carroll, Seahawks

Carroll returns to the NFL with the kind of rah-rah rhetoric that doesn’t often resonate with grown men who are motivated mainly by money. (Then again, money apparently was one of the motivations at Carroll’s last collegiate stop, too.)

The problem with talking big? Fans hear it, and they begin to believe it.

Regardless of what the talent (or lack thereof) on the roster suggests.

That said, Carroll and GM John Schneider have brought in talented new faces, like left tackle Russell Okung, safety Earl Thomas, and receiver Golden Tate. Carroll’s decision to trade for former USC running back LenDale White and then cut him shows that there will be no sacred cows, and that the only way to get paid will be to do things Carroll’s way.

Whether it works remains to be seen. But Carroll’s success at Southern Cal (which has been tempered a bit by the sanctions imposed against the program) and his high-energy confidence raise the stakes, especially in a weak division.

It’ll be a surprise if the Seahawks can muster more than six wins, but failure to do so will still be met with disappointment in a city that believes a new coach can create the same turnaround that Mike Smith brought to the Falcons, Tony Sparano brought to the Dolphins, and John Harbaugh brought to the Ravens in 2008.

The best news for Carroll? Even if he doesn’t win a game, the Seahawks won’t be likely to fire a head coach after only one season for a second straight year. 

Chan Gailey, Bills

Gailey has a long history of being associated with successful football programs. He now runs a team that hasn’t had much success since the last of those four straight Super Bowl appearances.

Of the three new coaches, Gailey faces the lowest expectations. And for darn good reason. The cupboard generally is regarded as dog-bone bare in Buffalo, with a three-headed, none-of-the-above quarterback situation and an offensive line that does few offensive things to opposing defensive linemen.

With three high-quality teams in the AFC East, no one expects the Bills to do much. And this means that the bar will be very, very low for Gailey in his first season on the job.

Still, it’s possible that Gailey is the most vulnerable of the three new coaches. With owner Ralph Wilson well into the Leon Hess phase of his tenure, the average male life expectancy nearly two decades into the rear-view mirror, Wilson could decide after yet another bad season to push the chips into the middle of the table and go after a big-name coach who possibly would be able to deliver that long-coveted Super Bowl title.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

In recent years, the NFL has seen significant annual turnover in its head coaching ranks. And while plenty of men occupied flame-flecked seats in 2009, fewer than 10 percent of the teams opted to make a change once the dust of a failed season (for the three teams involved) settled.

With two Super Bowl rings and an All-Pro QB, the bar is set high for Mike Shanahan.
With two Super Bowl rings and an All-Pro QB, the bar is set high for Mike Shanahan.

The question of whether each new coach succeeds in his first year will be based on specific expectations that apply to each team.

So let’s take a look at what it will take for each of the three new coaches to come out of 2010 as something other than abject failures. 

Mike Shanahan, Redskins

The former Broncos coach faces the highest expectations, due both to his past accomplishments (two Super Bowl wins) and the team’s "win-now" offseason moves. The biggest of these moves resulted in the highest nudging of the bar north — the trade for quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But the Redskins remain in the most competitive division in the league. Move them to the NFC West, and they become the instant favorites. In the NFC East, it’ll be a challenge to get out of the basement.

That doesn’t mean the fan base (or the owner) will settle for another fourth-place finish. In the days when all teams squat on a 0-0 record, optimism builds. And bringing in a guy like McNabb will make the locals expect the Redskins to contend for a wild-card berth.

Complicating matters has been the ill-advised decision to shift from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. The Redskins had the personnel for a 4-3, and the defense wasn’t the problem in 2009. Changing philosophies already has proven to be a mistake, given that defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth has seized on the shift to support a boycott of the offseason program and a public attempt to get out of town.

In the end, Shanahan likely needs to get close to .500, if not above it, to be regarded a success in Year One. Given that six games will be played within the division, that may be too tall an order.

Pete Carroll, Seahawks

Carroll returns to the NFL with the kind of rah-rah rhetoric that doesn’t often resonate with grown men who are motivated mainly by money. (Then again, money apparently was one of the motivations at Carroll’s last collegiate stop, too.)

The problem with talking big? Fans hear it, and they begin to believe it.

Regardless of what the talent (or lack thereof) on the roster suggests.

That said, Carroll and GM John Schneider have brought in talented new faces, like left tackle Russell Okung, safety Earl Thomas, and receiver Golden Tate. Carroll’s decision to trade for former USC running back LenDale White and then cut him shows that there will be no sacred cows, and that the only way to get paid will be to do things Carroll’s way.

Whether it works remains to be seen. But Carroll’s success at Southern Cal (which has been tempered a bit by the sanctions imposed against the program) and his high-energy confidence raise the stakes, especially in a weak division.

It’ll be a surprise if the Seahawks can muster more than six wins, but failure to do so will still be met with disappointment in a city that believes a new coach can create the same turnaround that Mike Smith brought to the Falcons, Tony Sparano brought to the Dolphins, and John Harbaugh brought to the Ravens in 2008.

The best news for Carroll? Even if he doesn’t win a game, the Seahawks won’t be likely to fire a head coach after only one season for a second straight year. 

Chan Gailey, Bills

Gailey has a long history of being associated with successful football programs. He now runs a team that hasn’t had much success since the last of those four straight Super Bowl appearances.

Of the three new coaches, Gailey faces the lowest expectations. And for darn good reason. The cupboard generally is regarded as dog-bone bare in Buffalo, with a three-headed, none-of-the-above quarterback situation and an offensive line that does few offensive things to opposing defensive linemen.

With three high-quality teams in the AFC East, no one expects the Bills to do much. And this means that the bar will be very, very low for Gailey in his first season on the job.

Still, it’s possible that Gailey is the most vulnerable of the three new coaches. With owner Ralph Wilson well into the Leon Hess phase of his tenure, the average male life expectancy nearly two decades into the rear-view mirror, Wilson could decide after yet another bad season to push the chips into the middle of the table and go after a big-name coach who possibly would be able to deliver that long-coveted Super Bowl title.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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