First Year Coaches Struggle
All Five Rookie Head Coaches Lose in Week 1
When NFL teams hire a new head coach they have one expectation – improvement over the coaches that left the team. There are seven new head coaches in 2018 – five of them rookie head coaches – and every single one of them lost in Week 1.
Was it really that bad for the new head coaches – and especially the rookies trying to make their names in the NFL?
Yes and no.
The two retread head coaches were Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders and Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants. Gruden’s return to the Raiders resulted in a double-digit loss to the Los Angeles Rams due to a second half collapse. Shurmur’s Giants five-point loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was not quite as bad, but there is still room for improvement.
However, all eyes were on the rookie head coaches. Can any of these men match the level of a Sean McVay in 2018?
Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Starting at the bottom of the barrel, Matt Patricia had possibly the worst start to an NFL career of any of this year’s rookies. His Detroit Lions have been playoff contenders for years, but ownership wanted more and thought Patricia could take them over the bubble.
Patricia did spend years coaching the defense under Bill Belichick at the New England Patriots. However, Belichick spent years earning players trust, and Patricia is off to a bad start.
Players said they felt he overworked them in the preseason and some predicted that the team would end up gassed when Week 1 finally arrived. What happened is that the New York Jets – one of the worst teams in recent NFL memory – blew them out 48-17.
Patricia is the first coach since Tom Cable of the Raiders to lose his first game as a head coach by more than 31 points. Plus, he might have lost his players.
Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals
A lot of Arizona Cardinals fans are beating up Sam Bradford for an underwhelming performance in his debut game as the Cards quarterback. However, there is little that a quarterback can do when his coaching staff is calling such underwhelming plays.
The Cardinals are rebuilding, which is tough for veteran head coaches. For Wilks, it might be too much. Larry Fitzgerald is the star and he is getting up there in years. David Johnson is coming off an injury and needs to get his legs back to full strength.
However, that defense was terrible. Adrian Peterson, who struggled while playing for Arizona last year, ran all over them for 96 yards and a touchdown and second running back Chris Thompson was a stud in the air and on the ground. Alex Smith was flawless.
Arizona lost in Steve Wilks debut, 24-6, at home. The fans booed and Wilks, to his credit, said they deserved to get booed.
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans legend Mike Munchak came into a difficult situation in 2011 and coached the Titans to a 22-26 record over three seasons. Tennessee fired him and looked for something better. Ken Whisenhunt came and won three games in just under two seasons. Mike Mularkey replaced him and after he led the Titans to the playoffs in 2017, Tennessee fired him.
It seems like the Titans don’t want to win.
One year after Mularkey led his Titans to the playoffs, new head coach Mike Vrabel opened the 2018 NFL season with a 27-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Marcus Mariota played a terrible game, throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes and then he was injured. The defense, which is supposed to be a Vrabel specialty, gave up big numbers to Ryan Tannehill and a 35-year-old Frank Gore. This is not a good start for the Tennessee Titans rookie head coach.
Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
Matt Patricia had Matthew Stafford, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL, and couldn’t do anything with him. Frank Reich has Andrew Luck, who was one of the top passers before falling to injuries, returning to action.
If anything, Reich decided to sink-or-swim based on Luck’s arm, sending his franchise quarterback out and having him throw the ball 53 times in the game. It seems ridiculous to overwork a quarterback who has been out for most of the last two seasons, but that is what Reich did.
What is worse is that the Colts had a 13-point lead and then ended up losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 34-23. For his part, Reich admitted to making mistakes in his rookie outing as a head coach and seems ready to learn and move on.
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
The best performance from a rookie head coach in the first games of the 2018 NFL season came with Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy. Yes, Nagy lost, just like the other four rookie head coaches – but that was almost expected.
However, when the Bears went into halftime beating the Green Bay Packers 17-0, Bears faithful had to be seeing visions of Mike Ditka in their heads. They even hurt Aaron Rodgers and knocked him out of action.
However, Aaron Rodgers is a cyborg and returned to action in the second half to lead his Packers back from behind to win, 24-23.
It is troubling to see the Bears only manage two field goals in the second half, but they can’t be slammed for falling to an Aaron Rodgers come-from-behind victory. No one expected the Bears to do much in Nagy’s first season, but he has Chicago faithful seeing a bright future ahead of them.