NFL Coaches with the Most to Prove in 2022 | Bleacher Report -

NFL Coaches with the Most to Prove in 2022 | Bleacher Report

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    AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

    An NFL head coach’s reputation can change in the blink of an eye.

    2020 NFL Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski was the darling of the league after he guided the Cleveland Browns to the divisional round in his first season. But the Browns slipped to 8-9 in 2021 as Baker Mayfield suffered a torn labrum and saw a major dip in performance. It didn’t take long for reports to surface that Mayfield blamed Stefanski’s play-calling despite the quarterback’s own issues.

    That’s the life of a head coach.

    Only five head coaches have held their position for more than five seasons, and almost a third of the league turned over the role in the last year. The pressure to prove yourself is never-ending.

    We’re not looking at which coaches are on the hot seat, but rather the five head coaches who have something more to prove than being worthy of the job. Some coaches have endured bad injury luck, while others have maintained pristine reputations despite a lackluster recent stretch.

    A great 2022 season can go a long way in proving narratives incorrect.

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    Ron Rivera is a well-respected head coach and leader, but it’s fair to question his results. A head coach over the last 11 seasons, Rivera has fielded losing teams in eight of them. That includes his first two years with the Washington Commanders.

    His supporters would be quick to point out that he inherited a 2-14 Carolina Panthers team in 2011, but it’s just as noteworthy that the Panthers finished with a losing record in three of his last five seasons in Carolina.

    Much of the losing Rivera has seen can be attributed to lackluster quarterback play, but hitching his wagon to the unsteady Carson Wentz isn’t likely to make things drastically better in 2022. And for as inconsistent as the quarterback play has been, Rivera’s defenses have finished in the bottom half of the league in scoring in four of the last six seasons.

    With inconsistency plaguing his teams on both sides of the ball, Rivera hasn’t coached a well-rounded team since 2015.

    After Washington has seen star assistants such as Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur and Raheem Morris depart their organization throughout the years as the team toiled under their previous coaching staffs, their patience with Rivera needs to pay off with wins quickly.

    Otherwise, their efforts will be squandered again by a veteran coach who couldn’t elevate his team as well as the younger hot-shot candidates that surround him.

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    On one hand, the Arizona Cardinals’ 11-6 breakout in 2021 was an impressive accomplishment considering they were expected to be closer to .500. However, the Cardinals’ late-season 2-5 collapse ruined some of the good will that Kliff Kingsbury had built in their 10-2 start. 2021 marked the ninth straight year that a Kingsbury-led team was worse in the second half of the season.

    Whether that incredible streak is directly on Kingsbury or not, that trend cannot continue in 2022. Kingsbury must prove he’s not being thoroughly outcoached once again. He can’t simply create a strategy in the offseason and hope opponents never adjust after seeing film on the Cardinals’ tendencies.

    This is the perfect season for Kingsbury to show growth with a young, talented roster. Can he self-scout his tendencies and become more aggressive in key situations, or will his team be trounced as easily as is was in last year’s 340-11 wild-card loss to the Rams? It’s hard to forget that Arizona was outgained by 192 yards in its third matchup of the year against the eventual champions.

    Starting the 2022 season without star wideout DeAndre Hopkins because of his six-game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy will make Kingsbury’s job more difficult, but it’s another opportunity for growth. The Cardinals offense has been too reliant on quarterback Kyler Murray to make difficult vertical throws or make plays with his legs.

    Kingsbury built an impressive offensive system in college and needs to be more creative with Murray for this team to reach its potential.

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    Rarely do we see proven coaches retire when their team has a great chance to make the Super Bowl. But with Bruce Arians stepping aside, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht had a tough decision between promoting defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

    Bowles was the pick despite an abysmal track record in his first head coaching job with the New York Jets. They mustered a winning season in his first year but then combined for 14 wins over the final three years there. His defensive scoring ranks over those last three years were 28th, 22nd and 29th, respectively.

    Of course, his failed tenure wasn’t all on Bowles. A whopping 74 percent of his games coached featured quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown and Bryce Petty. It’s safe to say that a 45-year-old Tom Brady will perform better in 2022 than any of those three ever could.

    Bowles must prove he was the right choice over the up-and-coming Leftwich and external candidates. He’s done well with a talented group of defenders in Tampa, ranking eighth and fifth in scoring defense in the last two seasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Super Bowl-or-bust for Bowles in 2022, but he’ll have to have this team playing consistently well.

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    The New York Jets had the third-youngest team in the league last year and dealt with several notable challenges that led to a 4-13 finish. Rookie quarterback Zach Wilson looked lost for the majority of the year as he acclimated to the NFL, and Wilson didn’t get much protection, as left tackle Mekhi Becton missed all but one game.

    The Jets offense was abysmal, finishing 28th in points scored—not much better than the 32nd it finished when the team fired head coach Adam Gase at the end of the 2021 season.

    The surprising part of the Jets’ season is they finished last in points allowed. Head coach Robert Saleh likely expected challenges in dealing with a young roster in a competitive AFC East, but we learned little about his capabilities in 2021. His team looked incompetent far too often.

    General manager Joe Douglas infused more talent this offseason, starting in free agency and ending with a fantastic draft class that included first-round picks Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson and Jermaine Johnson.

    There will still be bumps in 2022, as the team is filled with inexperienced talent, but there’s no reason the Jets can’t be a feisty group that annoys opponents with discipline and explosive plays.

    Anything less, and New York may need to wonder whether Saleh’s leadership is enough, or if he was more of a product of elite talent in San Francisco.

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    The Las Vegas Raiders are in a unique situation after Jon Gruden resigned during the season last year and the team still made the playoffs. Few franchises have such an opening with a playoff-caliber roster.

    Vegas was able to lure former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels from New England and its post-Tom Brady era to take over the full-time head coaching gig.

    McDaniels was likely sold on the Raiders roster and their willingness to spend money. He had been linked to countless head coaching opportunities in the past and was often speculated to be the favorite. This is despite flaming out as the Denver Broncos head coach in two years and then backing out of taking the Indianapolis Colts job in 2018.

    All retread head coaches have something to prove in their second stint, but McDaniels is especially notable because of the way he deconstructed the Broncos roster in two years and then spurned the Colts.

    In addition, the Raiders have plenty of eyes on them, having spent over $440 million this offseason on Derek Carr, Maxx Crosby, Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Chandler Jones. Even in a historically deep AFC West, the Raiders expect to compete for a playoff spot.

    In February at his introductory press conference, McDaniels owned up to some of his failings with the Broncos, saying: “When I went to Denver, I knew a little bit of football. I didn’t really know people and how important that aspect of this process, and maintaining the culture and building the team was.”

    If McDaniels falls short in that area again, this partnership could spoil in a hurry. He must show professionalism and the ability to go up against division rivals Andy Reid, Brandon Staley and Nathaniel Hackett in prime-time battles.

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