NFL'S 10 most intriguing coaches: Kelly, Carroll, Lovie lead way in 2014
Among our 10 most compelling NFL coaching stories are some on hot seat (Rex Ryan, Mike Smith), others continuing success (Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly) and some new guys (Mike Pettine, Jay Gruden).
All 32 NFL coaches face tons of pressure, so it would be easy to select any 10 to be our most interesting coaches of 2014. So, we broke it down like this: a few on the hot seat, a few on pace for excellence and a few are notable first-year coaches. Combined, they make up 10 most-compelling coaching stories for the upcoming campaign.
1. Chip Kelly, Eagles: He stepped on an NFL field for the first time last season but it was as if he'd been in the league for decades. The former Oregon coach blew up the issues surrounding other former successful college coaches, like Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban, who crumbled when they jumped to the NFL. Can Kelly expand his success by winning the NFC East on again and win at least one playoff game? He developed an offense that was ranked No. 2 in the league last year, then promptly said good-bye to DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant. Those two men accounted for 120 receptions and 12 touchdowns.
2. Pete Carroll, Seahawks: Soon after securing a Super Bowl victory, Pete Carroll was talking about the 2014 season, switching the focus from 2013 to 2014 before the plane landed in Seattle for the celebration parade. Can he lead a club paying big salaries to retain its core to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for a second successive year?
3. Lovie Smith, Buccaneeers: He took a year off after the Bears fired him -- following a 10-win season. His return to Tampa comes complete with decision-making power, much like Bill Belichick has in New England, and he hired former Cal coach and QB guru Jeff Tedford to run the offense -- despite zero NFL experience. I think the ingredients are in place to make the playoffs as a wild card.
4. Jim Harbaugh, 49ers: Does Big Jim really want to stay in San Francisco? Does he want more control over personnel? Is his shelf life running out? Are off-season off the field issues a sign of a breakdown in 49er country?
5. Tom Coughlin, Giants: He has rebounded before from questionable seasons (the Giants were 7-9 in 2013), and GM Jerry Reese gave Coughlin a few veteran players to right the ship. Coughlin took a chance switching offense and hiring a new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo. Will Eli Manning benefit from the new offensive subtleties? If the Giants don't improve the 29th-ranked rushing offense, will Coughlin return in 2015?
6. Rex Ryan, Jets: He's one of league's most colorful coaches, but he needs to win to save his job. How long can he afford to go with Geno Smith over Michael Vick at QB? Can he get former Titans star RB Chris Johnson back on track? Can his front seven on defense protect a back end that was ranked 22nd against the pass?
7. Jay Gruden, Redskins: He inherits Robert Griffin III and what was a successful offense in 2012 before the RG3's knee injury. Will Gruden throw away his playbook and build an offense around the skills of his QB? Or is Gruden sold on his ability to mold Griffin to the new staff's philosophy?
8. Bill O'Brien, Texans: Many were surprised he picked Ryan Fitzpatrick to be his QB, while awaiting the development of Pitt rookie Tom Savage. It will be interesting to see how long Savage is on the sideline. O'Brien still has to convince WR Andre Johnson the new regime isn't going to take long to turn things around.
9. Mike Smith, Falcons: Patience may be growing thin in Atlanta, meaning Smith and his staff need to turn things around quickly. Matt Ryan took a beating last season and the protection has to be better. The defense already lost LB Sean Weatherspoon for the season, and replacing him in the pass rush still hasn't been addressed. Smith has a 61-40 regular- season record but is 1-4 in the playoffs -- and that's an issue. Smith also must find a replacement for the retired future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez.
10. Jim Caldwell, Lions: When the coaching openings were on the table, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said the Lions job looked like the best. Caldwell is an offensive coach, but offense wasn't Detroit's issue in 2013 (the Lions were sixth in the NFL in offense). They bolstered that side of the ball by dding FA WR Golden Tate and drafting TE Eric Ebron. But has Caldwell done enough to help the 23rd-ranked pass defense and the 28th ranked defense in sacks? Ndamukong Suh is holding the team hostage with his contract and they didn't pick up the fifth-year option on Nick Fairley. The Lions aren't going to the playoffs by simply outscoring teams.
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