Second-Year NFL Head Coaches’ Season Outlook

While most of the attention is bestowed upon rookie head coaches entering a new season, second-year NFL coaches are also under a microscope. Let’s examine 2010′s second-year head coaches and the outlook on their season.

Jim Caldwell (14-2), Indianapolis Colts
Caldwell reeled off 14 straight wins as Tony Dungy’s successor in 2009, and set the best record for a rookie head coach in the process. However, he also received a generous amount of criticism for pulling his starters in the third quarter of their Week 16 matchup against the New York Jets, ruining a possible perfect season in the process.

Caldwell’s biggest problem is that as long as Peyton Manning continues to quarterback the team, Caldwell will never receive full credit for victories. He has remained on the offensive side of football for his entire coaching career. Thus, if Manning is running the offense and Caldwell is an offensive-minded head coach, where does player end and coach begin?

Still, the Colts were last year’s Super Bowl runner-up and will continue to pace the AFC this year. They have a dynamic offense once again but will need to improve on defense. Defense, as stated above, is not Caldwell’s forte. Regardless, the Colts will make the playoffs and contend for a Super Bowl once again.

Rex Ryan (9-7), New York Jets
Ryan coached the stingiest defense and top rushing attack in the NFL to a surprising playoff appearance last season despite relying on an unreliable rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez. The Jets even won two playoff games before losing to the Colts in the AFC Championship game, their first appearance since 1998. As a result, Ryan was rewarded with a two-year contract extension in July that will keep him as head coach through the 2014 season.

Always a media favorite due to his uncensored words and brash humor, Ryan has already created a sensation this season in HBO’s Hard Knocks for his profanity. In fact, a media circus surrounded the entire Jets organization after Darrelle Revis and Jets owner Woody Johnson took their contract negotiations public.

Meanwhile, Ryan has the Jets primed as the “soon to be champs.” The prediction may not be far off as the Jets return a No. 1 defense that has only gotten better with the additions of CB Antonio Cromartie and LB Jason Taylor. In addition, RB LaDainian Tomlinson brings a load of experience to the team as backup to Shonn Greene.

Although Ryan is using the same winning formula of a heavy ground game and stout defense as he did in 2009, he has also buffed up his receiving corps with Santonio Holmes, who is coming off his best NFL season. Expectations are high, and rightfully so. The Jets are legitimate contenders this year, and will surprise no one with their impending success.

Josh McDaniels (8-8), Denver Broncos
McDaniels is a true Bill Belichick disciple after spending his entire coaching career under Belichick at New England (minus two years as a graduate assistant at Michigan St.). An aggressive strategist, McDaniels traded away Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler and did not get along with stud receiver Brandon Marshall.

However, McDaniels surprised everyone by leading the Broncos to a 6-0 start. The season full of promise turned into a monumental collapse as they finished at .500 and missed the playoffs.

Like his mentor, McDaniels is known for bold moves. Drafting Tim Tebow 25th overall was a high-risk move that made little logical sense, especially since they had to trade away a second, third, and fourth round pick to the Baltimore Ravens. Tebow was generally projected as a second or third round pick.

As the second youngest head coach in the NFL, McDaniels probably feels immense pressure to prove himself capable of the job. Getting out from under Belichick’s shadow isn’t easy either. As a result, McDaniels has made rash decisions throughout his short tenure in Denver.

Already with a reputation for cockiness, McDaniels needs to have a good showing in 2010. His decisions are being questioned, and he could find himself on the hot seat if the Broncos fail to reach the playoffs.

Eric Mangini (5-11), Cleveland Browns
The Mangenius somehow convinced team president Mike Holmgren to retain Mangini for the position of head coach after an awful 5-11 season that left Browns fans bitter and angry. Sports Illustrated‘s Joe Posnanski even called Mangini the “worst NFL head coach hire in 25 years.”

With such strong praise, Mangini is clearly on the hot seat in his second year. As Holmgren is breathing down Mangini’s neck, the Browns head man must show significant progress in team development and in shedding the reputation that he is just a Belichick clone who lacks independent thought and football prowess.

No one expects the Browns to be a great team this season, but the task to become a competitive team got tougher after second round rookie RB Montario Hardesty got put on IR with a torn ACL. The fact that the Browns gave up a third round pick and two fifth round picks to the Philadelphia Eagles to get Hardesty only makes the injury sting more.

Neither Brady Quinn nor Derek Anderson are in Cleveland anymore, but Jake Delhomme is, and he’s not much of an improvement, if at all. Among qualified players in 2009, Delhomme’s QB rating of 59.4 was second worst to only JaMarcus Russell. Mangini is essentially counting down to doomsday.

Todd Haley (4-12), Kansas City Chiefs
Haley’s coaching style is the opposite of the man he succeeded, Herm Edwards. Edwards was known as a laid-back, players’ coach who “kept practices short, spewed more positive vibes than is humanly possible, and made everyone feel great about themselves no matter the score.”

Instead of hugs, the Chiefs got a madman who often ranted and screamed inside the locker room and on the sidelines. Haley’s control over the team has finally been established after a year of weeding out bad apples (Larry Johnson included).

Now, he is focusing the majority of his time on playing mind games with his running backs. Haley knows that Jamaal Charles is clearly the most explosive player on the team, but psychological games are often effective as motivational tools. Charles is not only far too talented, but he has thoroughly outplayed Thomas Jones in the preseason and deserves the starting spot.

Haley’s tough love and motivational strategies are not meant to instantly turn around decades of soft coaching from Marty Schottenheimer, Dick Vermeil, and Edwards. The Chiefs realize that a rebuilding process can take years. Therefore, expectations for 2010 should be tempered; reasonable expectations should see a few more wins than the four from last year, but the playoffs are highly improbable.

Raheem Morris (3-13), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Morris’s first year was ugly after getting off to an 0-7 start. As the youngest head coach in the NFL and an in-house hire with no head coaching experience, Morris had many questioning whether he was the right man to begin with.

People won’t have to ponder that question for very long because if Morris repeats the year he had in 2009, his job surely won’t belong to him anymore.

Morris’s coaching background is in defense, which doesn’t bode well for a Tampa Bay offense that went through three quarterbacks last season. Josh Freeman will continue as the starter but a 59.8 quarterback rating (third worst behind Russell and Delhomme amongst qualified players) and a 54.5 percent completion rate doesn’t exactly instill confidence.

Defensively, the Bucs finished dead last against the run though their passing defense was in the top third. Morris and company are committed to improving the defense, which explains why they took DT Gerald McCoy with the third overall pick in this year’s draft and DT Brian Price with the third pick in round two.

WR Mike Williams is the real deal and should be Freeman’s go-to receiver this year, but Freeman is still just a 22-year-old kid who is very prone to making bad decisions. Morris doesn’t have time to wait for his quarterback to develop, so if things start going sour with Freeman, a swift QB change to backup Josh Johnson is possible.

Jim Schwartz (2-14), Detroit Lions
Schwartz took over a hapless Lions squad that had just become the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The Lions drafted QB Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall and won two games with him, including a gutsy comeback performance against the Browns. That day, Stafford became the first rookie since 1937 to throw five TDs in a game.

This season, the Lions will feature an offense built for shootouts. Stafford’s big arm, quick release, and toughness have earned the confidence and admiration of his teammates and coaching staff. With stud WR Calvin Johnson and newly drafted RB Jahvid Best in tow, the offense will not be the issue this season.

Although the Lions got DT Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 overall pick this year and added DEs Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams, their secondary is weak and highly susceptible to giving up big plays. Second-year LB DeAndre Levy is coming off a nice rookie campaign, but that won’t be enough to solidify this defense.

However, the Lions have the potential to dramatically improve this season. A .500 record is not out of the question and would be considered a huge success. The organization and fans have had to endure miserable seasons for nearly a decade. The last time Detroit finished at .500 or above was in 2000, so Schwartz understands that making a perennially bad team a contender is not an overnight job.

Steve Spagnuolo (1-15), St. Louis Rams
Like Schwartz, Spagnuolo realizes he’s in for the long haul. The Rams have only managed to get to .500 once since their last playoff appearance in 2004. St. Louis still has an elite running back in Steven Jackson and a potential franchise QB in Sam Bradford. However, their top receiver, Donnie Avery, tore his ACL in a preseason game and was relegated to IR.

In addition, the Rams have spent top 35 picks on DE Adam Carriker (traded to Redskins in Apr. 2010), CB Tye Hill (traded to Falcons in Sept. 2009), LB James Laurinaitis, and DE Chris Long in the past four years, but have consistently finished as one of the league’s worst defenses.

Instead of wasting their top overall pick on Suh or McCoy on defense in 2010, the Rams took Bradford in order to build the franchise around the most important offensive asset. However, St. Louis has a long way to go before they can become competitive again.

Spagnuolo, a defensive whiz, knows that the rebuilding process will take years to complete. As for this year, another losing season is in the books.

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