Wednesday, July 17, 2024

NFL coaches on the rise and decline: Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell trending up, Patriots’ Bill Belichick sliding

One game is not enough time to judge a head coach, let alone a team. But in the NFL, every week matters. And some coaches — both first-year hires and longtime veterans — certainly looked more promising than others in Week 1.

As we approach the next wave of 2022 action, here’s a look at which head coaches are already on the rise and decline:

Trending up

Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell

Season: 1st | Record: 1-0


Kevin O’Connell USATSI

The NFL‘s second-youngest coach behind Sean McVay, O’Connell was probably the biggest winner of Week 1, not only because he routed the rival Packers, but because of how his team did it. Freeing Kirk Cousins from a conservative, old-school approach, the ex-Rams coordinator further enabled Justin Jefferson to emerge as the offensive focal point. His defense, entrusted to the grizzled Ed Donatell, was just as impressive, especially up front. Most of all, O’Connell has been lauded for the “family” atmosphere he’s created in the locker room. For once, the feeling in Minnesota is that the guys in purple can escape mediocrity.

Seahawks’ Pete Carroll

Season: 13th | Record: 1-0

He’s still respected league-wide, but at 71, restarting at quarterback after dealing Russell Wilson, Carroll had become something of a punching bag for those skeptical of his ancient commitment to the run game. And yet, in prime time to open 2022, it was his offense and defense that stood up to Wilson and the more talented Broncos. Who knows whether Seattle can sustain success with Geno Smith under center and Jamal Adams now sidelined on “D,” but his club looks a lot spunkier than expected.

Giants’ Brian Daboll

Season: 1st | Record: 1-0

Grading Daboll throughout 2022 may be a tricky task considering the mid- to low-level personnel he’s been afforded during step one of their rebuild. But Week 1 was encouraging in just about every possible way: he was visibly frustrated rather than inexplicably unaffected by turnover-happy QB Daniel Jones, fed Saquon Barkley to keep the ball in New York’s best weapon’s hands, and his late-game boldness — to play for a win rather than overtime — sets the right tone for a team in transition.

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Trending down

Patriots’ Bill Belichick

Season: 23rd | Record: 0-1


Bill Belichick USATSI

It’s time we really start reckoning with the fact that the NFL may be passing Belichick by. No one can dispute his place among all-time greats, but it’s now been over three years since “The Hoodie” won a playoff game, and his decision to apparently double and triple down on a defense-first strategy since then has literally left his new QB, Mac Jones, battered and confused. Belichick is too smart for the Pats to crumble completely, but his presence no longer instills fear in opposing sidelines.

Broncos’ Nathaniel Hackett

Season: 1st | Record: 0-1

Hackett deserves props for his authenticity; he’s unafraid to be himself and face the heat from his own decisions — like Monday night’s ill-fated call to trust Brandon McManus for a 64-yard walk-off field goal rather than Russell Wilson, the QB his team paid a premium to acquire this offseason. But no matter how you slice it, he oversaw a big blunder in a big spot, and his full explanation afterward suggests he only regretted the infamous field-goal try because McManus didn’t make it.

Falcons’ Arthur Smith

Season: 2nd | Record: 0-1

Considering the Falcons’ dearth of depth and/or talent the last two years, Smith has certainly kept Atlanta competitive, nearly spoiling the Saints‘ opener in Week 1. But situational football has been a recurring problem under his watch, and Smith suggested, in an irritated tone after Sunday’s loss, that the real issue is outside critics counting them out. Actually, the proof is in the pudding, and Smith’s Falcons have now lost four of their last five games dating back to 2021.

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