Training Camp

Assessing Second Year Head Coaches: Who is Rising and Who is on the Hot Seat?

After each offseason when new head coaches are hired, exciting optimism surrounds the new hires. Once the season rolls around, the results that each coach and their team deliver are what matters as the determining factor of their success.

That said, after one year, there is a lot of turnover, as changes are made and head coaches, like players, can take big second year leaps. After two poor seasons for the Bengals, Zac Taylor had his team firing on all cylinders in 2021, as they made a run to the Super Bowl, as a big-time improvement is not that uncommon.

Going into 2022, the 2021 HC class are all in different situations with their rosters, front offices, schedule, etc. Below, we will take a look at each head coach, their rookie performance, and where they stand going into their second year.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

2021 record: 9-8

Staley made headlines all throughout his first year thanks to his aggressiveness in going for it on 4th-down, both good and bad. Staley’s first year tenure came down to the wire, as LA just missed out on the playoffs with an overtime loss in Week 18 to the Raiders. Despite the difficult division that the Chargers play in, LA has an even more built-up roster with Khalil Mack and JC Jackson to pair with some key pieces in place like Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa, and Derwin James. Both The offense and defense should continue to improve, which could very easily lead to Staley’s first playoff appearance.

Robert Saleh, New York Jets

2021 record: 4-13

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the Jets after this offseason and some hopeful development of their younger players like Zach Wilson, and some reassured health concerns from Carl Lawson and Mekhi Becton. In his first year, Saleh showed the ability to keep the Jets competitive towards the end of the season, but with a young and injured roster, the offensive and defensive units were among the worst in the league. The only way is up for the Jets, as Robert Saleh will need to orchestrate some key improvements on both sides of the ball.

Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles

2021 record: 9-8

The only 2021 HC to make a playoff appearance in their first year, Sirianni and the Eagles snuck into a wild-card spot. His midseason adjustment to turn the Eagles into a heavy running team, as well as their ability to win games that they were supposed to win helped their second half surge. Looking towards 2022, returning to the playoffs should be expected and anything further would be very possible. Philadelphia had a phenomenal offseason headlined by a great draft, whether it was trading for star WR AJ Brown or double-dipping on star UGA defenders.

Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

2021 record: 3-13-1

Questions around Campbell being the right hire for the Lions happened immediately after it was announced, and despite the record, he has gotten the Lions’ roster and fanbase to rally behind his personality. The rebuild timeline is a long one and Campbell did not have too much pressure to win games in year 1, but after improving the roster, Campbell can have the roster ready to be competitive in a lot of games this year, especially in a weaker division than it was last year.

Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons

2021 record: 7-10

Smith and Atlanta had an interesting rookie campaign. While the 7-10 record was not great, it was admirable considering the severe lack of talent on the roster. That said, the Falcons struggled against any playoff team they faced, as the seven wins came against struggling teams. After trading Matt Ryan this offseason, the Falcons have their roster now headed in a different direction. They picked up some good players in the draft and are going into the season with Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder at the QB position. Only time will tell if the Falcons will be competitive this season, but Smith has shown the ability to get Atlanta to win games that they should win.

Expert Thoughts:

Which Second Year Head Coach is in the Best Situation to Succeed Moving Forward?

“Head coach Nick Sirianni is in the best situation set up for success moving forward,” according to former NFL GM Mike Tannenbaum. “The acquisition of AJ Brown and a phenomenal draft class including Jordan Davis were significant improvements, so if Jalen Hurts can play well, Sirianni and the Eagles will be in a really good spot.”

Which Second Year Head Coach Faces the Most Pressure to Succeed Now?

Former NFL Team President Joe Banner believes that “Robert Saleh is under the most pressure out of any of the second year HCs to succeed right now”

While the roster is still young, it is much better, and if Saleh does not help his team improve from the bottom of the league, specifically his defense, and New York cannot start to win games, his seat may get hotter.

Which Second Year Head Coach Has the Most Time Before They Need to Succeed?

Banner thinks that Nick Sirianni is the second year HC, who has the most time before he needs to succeed.

The rapid improvements would suggest that the Eagles see themselves as a team ready to contend, so Sirianni will face some pressure to live up to that and lead them in that direction.

“Due to the success he had in his first year, Sirianni gave himself a cushion in case the season does not go as planned,” Banner added.

Which Head Coach is Most Likely to Have a Zac Taylor-type Rise in Terms of Their Record One Year to the Next?

Banner believes that Dan Campbell is the most likely head coach to have a big leap in success.

“The progress that Detroit showed at the end of the season, the fact that Campbell is a coach that players want to play for, and the question marks surrounding the rest of the division should lead to improvement this season.”

Which 2021 Head Coach Would You Most Want to Lead your Football Team?

“Being biased, I would want Dan Campbell to be leading my team, as his leadership, his relatable personality for players and other coaches, and his great organizational skills are all necessary skills to be a good head coach,” adds Tannenbaum.

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