Grading 2022 NFL head coaching hires: Giants, Jaguars hit home runs; Texans make puzzling move

A literal quarter of the NFL sought new head coaches this offseason, and now all eight vacancies have been filled. Some teams made quick decisions. Others took their time. Some opted for lots of experience. Others not so much. But which teams made the right calls? Only time — typically several years, at least — will tell whether the following hires were smart. But with candidates’ track records and future outlooks in mind, here’s how we’d grade the new hires off the bat:

Previous role: Colts defensive coordinator (2018-2021)
Replacing: Matt Nagy (2018-2021)

At the end of the day, leadership and adaptability matter more than whether he hails from a certain side of the ball. And this is probably a better bet than banking on a retread like Dan Quinn. But still, in today’s NFL, offensive innovation really matters, especially when you already have a potential franchise QB in tow. Tabbing ex-Packers QB Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator is at least a promising sign for Justin Fields‘ development. But can Eberflus, who oversaw both middling and dominant defenses in Indy, do what Matt Nagy failed to do and generate more than a feisty low-scoring team?

Grade: C+

Previous role: Packers offensive coordinator (2019-2021)
Replacing: Vic Fangio (2019-2021)

Is he just a giant token to lure Aaron Rodgers to Denver? If so, and it works, then good on them, because they’re an A-Rod away from contending. If not, or if it fails, this is still a reasonable hire. They already reached their ceiling with an old-school, defensive approach. Hackett ensures the focus will be on fixing the most important position — QB — and working from there. He nearly led a Kyle Orton-led Bills team to the playoffs and a Blake Bortles-led Jaguars team to the Super Bowl, so he’s built from scratch before.

Grade: B

Previous role: Texans associate head coach and defensive coordinator (2021)
Replacing: David Culley (2021)

No offense to Lovie, who deserves all the credit for his Super Bowl bid with the Bears earlier in his career. But what is this hire? Drawing out a search is one thing. Drawing it out to basically hire the defensive equivalent of David Culley, the guy you just fired after one year in a rebuild? Smith, going on 64, doesn’t feel like a long-term building block for a program very much in transition. He oversaw one of the NFL’s worst defenses in 2021. Maybe a CEO role better suits him and better personnel will help. But he also hasn’t had a winning season as a head coach — either in college or the NFL — since 2012, posting a 43-77 record since his last playoff trip in 2010.

Grade: D

Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Pederson

Previous role: Eagles head coach (2016-2020)
Replacing: Urban Meyer (2021), Darrell Bevell (interim 2021)

If Byron Leftwich was the best high-upside play, Pederson is the slightly safer alternative. His offense got more stale than most realize at the tail end of his Eagles tenure, but he was also outfitted with an aging, injury-prone lineup. After a year off, with Trevor Lawrence at his disposal, the creative juices should be flowing. His inviting, galvanizing locker-room presence, meanwhile, might be just as important as his literal Super Bowl ring coming off the tumultuous Urban Meyer experiment. Who knows if he’ll get proper support from the front office, but few men are better wired for a rise from the ashes.

Grade: A-

Previous role: Patriots offensive coordinator (2012-2021)
Replacing: Jon Gruden (2018-2021), Rich Bisaccia (interim 2021)

There’s little doubt McDaniels can stage an offense, which counts for a lot in today’s NFL. With or without Derek Carr, the Raiders should be able to move the ball. But the track record of both McDaniels and basically every other apple to fall from the Bill Belichick tree is entirely spotty. Sure, his failed run as Broncos coach back in 2009-2010 is old news, but his heel turn as would-be Colts coach is more recent. In other words, while McDaniels is a flashy name for a flashy market, are we sure he can build and sustain a program rather than just design a decent offense?

Grade: C+

Previous role: 49ers offensive coordinator (2021)
Replacing: Brian Flores (2019-2021)

There’s a reason they zeroed in on him quickly. A snappy 38, McDaniel hails from the famed Mike Shanahan Washington staff that produced Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay and recent boss Kyle Shanahan. That doesn’t promise success, but his smarts and personality do. His roles as a top Shanahan lieutenant — run-game coordinator and offensive coordinator — suggest a conservative approach, but he’s actually a bold, transparent character. Can he figure out QB? Manage an entire staff? We’ll see, but they’re rightly swinging for the fences after the curious dismissal of Brian Flores.

Grade: B+

Previous role: Rams offensive coordinator (2020-2021)
Replacing: Mike Zimmer (2014-2021)

Set to finalize his deal after the Super Bowl, O’Connell was a jarring reverse of course from rumored favorite Jim Harbaugh, giving Minnesota potential over proven success. But you could do a lot worse if you’re also starting over at GM and, perhaps sooner rather than later, at QB. Post-Mike Zimmer, this team has to have a fuller, longer reloading in mind. A quick QB-turned-tutor and top Sean McVay assistant for one of the NFL’s steadiest contenders and (now) most explosive offenses, he’s got the “tools.” Now we find out if he’s also got the wherewithal to do it on his own.

Grade: B+

Previous role: Saints defensive coordinator (2015-2021)
Replacing: Sean Payton (2006-2021)

Allen, 49, was a brilliant one-game replacement for Payton during the latter’s bout with COVID in 2021, and he’s certainly grown as a defensive mind over the years, shepherding at least a piece of the Saints’ “D” for 12 of Payton’s 16 years in town. But he feels too much like a stopgap, as if Payton will be back to reclaim the saddle in 2023. With another dire salary-cap situation and a QB spot in flux, this felt like the right time to lean into the reset button. Forget his failed stint as Raiders coach (2012-2014); at this stage, Allen may have made more sense as an assistant head coach — a veteran set of eyes for a freshened-up regime.

Grade: C+

Previous role: Bills offensive coordinator (2018-2021)
Replacing: Joe Judge (2021)

Pairing coaches and GMs shouldn’t be a necessity, but Daboll arriving with ex-Bills executive Joe Schoen makes his hire all the more encouraging. On his own merits, the former Buffalo OC sure seems like a wise deviation from Joe Judge, who spewed tough talk but never oversaw any actual development, especially on offense and under center. Whether it’s Daniel Jones or someone else at QB, Daboll’s work with Josh Allen — and prior time at Alabama and with the Patriots — at least proves he’s helped grow and sustain flourishing organizations.

Grade: A-

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