There’s a roster of new coaches across the nation, from Mike McCoy in San Diego to Doug Marrone in Buffalo. It spans the top of the standings with Andy Reid and 5-0 Kansas City to the bottom with Gus Bradley in 0-5 Jacksonville.
The changes have brought an up-tempo offense to Philadelphia under Chip Kelly and newfound confidence to 3-2 Cleveland with Rob Chudzinski. Folks in Arizona should be thrilled to be 3-2 under Bruce Arians — the 2012 Coach of the Year after filling in for Chuck Pagano — while fans in Chicago are dismayed to share that record under Marc Trestman.
Kansas City clearly had too much talent in 2012 to be a 2-14 team. Reid’s achievements, along with that of general manager John Dorsey, has shown that the work of Chiefs management last year was the biggest drawback to success.
“Nobody expected us to be 5-0. We surprised ourselves as well,” says running back Jamaal Charles, knowing full well that no NFL team has gone from two victories in the previous season to a spotless first five games. “I’m just glad that we continue to come out here and play games and win.”
Reid’s early success shows why he was hired so quickly by the Chiefs after his 14-season tenure ended in Philly. One of the NFL’s best coaches for more than a decade, who’s to say he wouldn’t be working the same magic in San Diego or Arizona, two other places that wanted him when the Eagles no longer did.
Typically, Reid displays no satisfaction with being tied with Denver atop the AFC West.
“Listen, were 5-0 and we’re not ashamed of that,” Reid says. “But we also know that we got a ton of room to improve. It’s important that we continue to do that.”
While Reid’s revival of the Chiefs is the prime example of a new coach energizing a franchise, it’s fair to say that Chudzinski and Arians have done the same. So has Trestman in Chicago, but the challenge was less daunting with the Bears, who had only one losing season in the last five under Lovie Smith.
The Browns, by contrast, have been downtrodden pretty much since returning to the NFL in 1999, with flops by coaches including Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden credits Chudzinski with keeping Cleveland’s players of the same mindset. That hasn’t been easy with changes at quarterback, injuries, and the stunning trade of running back Trent Richardson.
“Our main focus is keep doing what we’re doing and keep it rolling,” Weeden says. “Just keep taking it week to week. That’s what we’ve done really the last five weeks. We’ve stayed within the week. That goes back to Chud. Chud does an unbelievable job of keeping us really dialed-in each and every week and focused on what’s in front of us. Guys listen and stay the course.”
Staying the course has been more difficult in Jacksonville, where Bradley inherited a weak roster that has been ravaged by injuries in an 0-5 start. Already, people are wondering if the Jaguars will win a game, and 0-16 would make it extremely difficult for ownership to keep the only man with a defensive background to get a head coaching job after last season.
It’s easy to feel sorry for Bradley, who doesn’t have nearly the talent to work with that even Marrone and Kelly have on their 2-3 squads. He doesn’t want to hear it.
“I think getting better is a cliche,” Bradley says. “But I think really that’s what we hold onto. We’re just looking for improvement in each of our position groups and as a unit. We feel like if we keep improving, then we just trust the results will come. I think our players have really bought into that.”
The best measure of a new coach’s early work isn’t necessarily in the won-loss column, anyway. Many Hall of Fame coaches — Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells — had ugly debuts.
But they changed the environment within their teams, and as new talent joined them, mainly through the draft, they soon became winners. And champions.
So judging any of them too early is a mistake, particularly Bradley, McCoy, Marrone and Chudzinski, whose rosters need to either be filled out or overhauled. And remember this: The coaches on the hottest seats entering this season were Rex Ryan and Mike Munchak. Both are 3-2.