Analysis

Each New NFL Head Coach’s No. 1 Preseason Priority

New Head Coaches

This offseason, eight NFL coaches were fired meaning there are eight new head coaches heading into their first preseason with their new teams this week. Each of them will face a different task to become successful coaches in a league that is unforgiving to those who don’t succeed quickly.

Here’s a breakdown of each new head coach’s biggest priority heading into training camp and the preseason.

Matt Eberflus – Chicago Bears

Priority: Build up Justin Fields’ confidence

When the former Colts’ defensive coordinator sat down to face reporters at his introductory press conference he did so knowing he had an answer to the most important question that could be asked of him: who’s your starting Quarterback?

Eberflus, now entering his first preseason as an NFL Head Coach, inherited 2021 first-round pick Justin Fields from the previous regime. He has said nothing but good things to say about the young quarterback since day one. Of course, no coach is going to publicly trash his quarterback, but still there seems to be hope in Chicago’s front office—and amongst the fan base—that Fields could be their guy.

Eberflus needs to focus on developing the young quarterback’s confidence early on by making sure Fields is comfortable in the offense and taking advantage of his elite athleticism to make plays downfield. 

Lovie Smith – Houston Texans

Priority: Establish a new identity 

Houston’s decision to trade Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns was one of the biggest stories of the NFL’s offseason. Shrouded in uncertainty and mired in legal trouble, Watson’s situation was too risky. With the former face of the franchise now gearing up for Cleveland, it’s first-year Head Coach Lovie Smith’s job to start rebuilding the team’s culture.

Smith hopes number three overall pick Derek Stingley Jr and rookie second-rounder Jalen Pitre to be difference makers in a retooled secondary. After finishing in the top-10 in points allowed last season, Texans fans are desperate for the team to keep points off the board this season.

Smith had his most success as the head coach of the NFC Champion 2006 Chicago Bears, a team legendary for its defense. In his first three years there, Smith’s teams finished 5-11, 11-5 and 13-3. 

That’s the success he needs to replicate in Houston. It’s possible Smith will lean on emulating his past and piece together a scrappy, physical defense that anchors the organization for years to come. 

Doug Pederson – Jacksonville Jaguars

Priority: Build trust with Trevor Lawrence

Another former Super Bowl Head Coach—this time a former champion— Doug Pederson has the one thing all first-year coaches are hoping to find: a quarterback with superstar tools. 

Trevor Lawrence is a potential breakout candidate this season, and Pederson is a reason why people are hopeful for an improved second season from the former number one overall pick. Combine Pederson’s arrival with the additions of veteran guard Brandon Scherff—one of the most highly sought-after linemen on the market—and former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk, and there is reason to believe Lawrence will take a step forward.

If Pederson can develop a stable relationship with the young quarterback, then the Jaguars’ offense could reach new heights. 

The good news for Pederson is the bar is quite low. Urban Meyer’s tumultuous tenure in Jacksonville left team leaders dying for some professionalism, and it seems like they’ve finally got some. 

When asked about what it’s been like under the new regime, star edge rusher Josh Allen told reporters, “man it feels good to be part of a professional locker room.”

Brian Daboll – New York Giants 

Priority: Stay off the back page

The New York Giants’ organizationally struggles recently have become the new normal in East Rutherford. First-year Head Coach Brian Daboll’s job is to restore pride and respect to an organization desperate for it. But for now, his job is much simpler: put an end to the embarrassment. 

During the last five seasons, the Giants have compiled an abysmal 22-59 record. But somehow, that does not capture the full, inept picture. 

Throughout the last two seasons, the Giants have scored 30+ points just one time—a week five loss to the Cowboys during the 2020 season. The team has not had a winning record at any point since the conclusion of the 2016 NFL season. 

There is some reason for optimism though. Along with Daboll—the former Buffalo Offensive Coordinator—the Giants brought in highly regarded Bills executive Joe Schoen as their new General Manager. 

With a pair of top ten picks to develop—former Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and Alabama tackle Evan Neal—Daboll only needs to show signs of improvement and competency to consider this preseason a success.

Kevin O’Connell – Minnesota Vikings

Priority: Lean on Kirk Cousins… and Sean McVay

Coming off a Super Bowl victory as Offensive Coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, Kevin O’Connell came to terms with the Minnesota Vikings as their new Head Coach. 

The organization had some success under former coach Mike Zimmer but as last season came to a disappointing 8-9 ending, the whispers that Zimmer had lost the locker room turned to shouts. 

Vikings ownership decided to make a sweeping change, bringing in the fresh-faced O’Connell and a brand new general manager, former Cleveland Vice President of Football Operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. 

With veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins already in place, it’s entirely possible the Vikings are a competitor from day one. O’Connell has the luxury of looking to his quarterback to set an example for younger players and help him adjust to life as the top dog. 

At only 37, O’Connell is the second youngest head coach in the NFL—behind his former boss Sean McVay—and is the newest in an emerging trend in new coaching hires. The trend of hiring McVay assistants is taking the league by storm.  

In only five years in the league, Sean McVay has lost four assistants to new head coaching opportunities in the NFL. Their success has been notable.

Zac Taylor led the Cincinnati Bengals team to a Super Bowl appearance last season. Packers Head Coach Matt Lafleur has made it to the NFC championship twice in his three seasons. Add in the success Brandon Staley had for the Los Angeles Chargers last year, and there is reason to believe O’Connell can follow that blueprint. 

Mike McDaniel – Miami Dolphins

Priority: Harness the Tua-Tyreek connection

If you polled executives around the league and asked them to name the brightest up and coming offensive minds in football, McDaniel’s name would come up in a hurry. 

As offensive coordinator for Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers in 2021, McDaniel helped grow one of the league’s most consistent offenses, finishing seventh in both rushing yards and total yardage. 

He also helped unlock dynamic first-team All-Pro Deebo Samuel’s potential as a receiver and overall offensive weapon. Samuel took a huge leap under McDaniel, accounting for 1770 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns. This development bodes well for the new coach to try and get the most out of second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle and new addition Tyreek Hill. 

McDaniel’s ability to foster the connection between Hill and young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be a major focus for the Dolphins this preseason. Miami could trot out one of the league’s most explosive offenses in 2022 if that connection is built. 

Dennis Allen – New Orleans Saints

Priority: Step out of Sean Payton’s shadow

Replacing a legendary and beloved head coach is as tough a job in football as you’re likely to find. Certain head coaches earn an unparalleled mystique amongst the fanbase. 

Like Bill Belichek in New England, Bill Parcells in New York or Bill Walsh in San Francisco there was a strong belief in New Orleans that Sean Payton could mold a winning football team out of anything. 

Although that mystique is gone, the shadow cast by its supplier has never been darker. In his first year as the Saints Head Coach, Dennis Allen has the unenviable job of eclipsing a legend. The good news for Allen is for the last few seasons he has served as an extension to Payton’s influence. 

As the Saints’ defensive coordinator since 2015, Allen has built a reputation as an experienced and consistent voice. If he can take advantage of what makes him different from his predecessor, without making things too different in the locker room, Allen can continue the Saints’ streak of five consecutive winning seasons. 

Nathaniel Hackett – Denver Broncos

Priority: Let Russ Cook

Nathaniel Hackett was named the new head coach of the Denver Broncos in January of 2022. Soon after, the Broncos traded two first-round selections, two second-round selections and a fifth-rounder to the Seattle Seahawks for a fourth-round pick and former All-Pro QB Russell Wilson. 

For a coach that had cut his teeth with a superstar under center—Hackett was the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator—it was exactly the gift he hoped for. 

Despite being named to nine pro-bowls and winning a Super Bowl, rumors persisted in previous years that Wilson was unhappy with Seattle’s run-heavy offense. Wilson has never finished top five in passing attempts or passing yards in a season. 

The Broncos should have a more potent offense this season that takes advantage of Wilson’s elite deep balls and athleticism. Should Hackett’s offense succeed in doing so the first-year head coach is likely to hear plenty of praise and plenty of “Russell Wilson for MVP” chatter.