Being an NFL rookie head coach isn’t easy. The league doesn’t show mercy or patience to those who are just getting their feet wet.
Either you can hang in the fire or you can’t. That’s why there are only 32 jobs like it in the world and only a modest fraction of them are held for longer than 3-4 years. It’s not easy. That’s why getting off to a good start in that first season can often be so important. Some coaches have greater advantages than others, but there are still signs of whether or not the guy might be in over his head or born to do that job.
Here is a report card for every new coach in the league for 2018 and how things have gotten to this point.
Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions): D
There was plenty of hype following Patricia to Detroit after winning multiple Super Bowls as defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Then again every coach who has come directly from the Patriots has not fared well. The Lions defense, which he was supposed to fix is now one of the worst in the league. His rather standoffish attitude with the press, something he inherited from Bill Belichick, isn’t helping his case as the team continues to lose and lose badly.
Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): A-
One of the more brilliant decisions that Vrabel made was getting away from New England and working his way up the coaching ladder elsewhere. He earned his experience in Houston with the Texans and used that to his advantage when he took over the Titans. He immediately instilled in them a relentless drive to compete and a never-say-die attitude. Their games are almost never pretty but they’ve been winning the majority of them, and against some good teams.
Steve Wilks (Arizona Cardinals): C
All things considered, given the level of expectations at the start of the season? Wilks could’ve done a lot worse. He inherited an aging team with loads of questions on the offensive side of the ball. While they’re 2-7 and well out of the picture, they’ve remained competitive in a number of games. Josh Rosen has looked decent at times and some of the younger players on the roster have started to emerge. That will be his job moving forward.
Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): B+
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Most of the credit for the Colts’ recent surge will go to the outstanding play of Andrew Luck but make no mistake. Much of that has been thanks to the work done by Reich and his coaching staff. Not only is Luck being protected for the first time in his career, but the defense has also made a somewhat shocking rebound to relevancy as well. It hasn’t always been perfect but Reich has done far better than anybody expected when he first took the job after Josh McDaniels didn’t want it.
Jon Gruden (Oakland Raiders): F
Snarky fans will say he should’ve stayed retired and they aren’t entirely wrong. Jon Gruden was away from NFL sidelines for a long time. Ten years. He may have stayed close to the game but remember that classic saying: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Gruden is dealing with a far different type of player from a decade ago and decided to add GM to his list of duties too. It’s been one disaster after another this season and there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.
Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears): A
One must understand the backdrop. Nagy inherited a team in Chicago that hasn’t had a winning season since 2012. They had a young, inexperienced kid in Mitch Trubisky as their primary option at quarterback and not a lot of weapons around him. Nagy had to help find those weapons, coach Trubisky up, and find a way to keep the good things that were already happening on defense going. Fast forward to now? The team is 6-3, the defense is elite, and Trubisky is on course for the best passing season a Bears QB has ever had.