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Grades for 2024 NFL head coaching hires: Chargers get ‘A’ for Jim Harbaugh swing, Panthers bank on upside

The NFL playoffs are fast approaching their anticipated finale, with Super Bowl LVIII just around the corner. In the meantime, the 2024 coaching cycle is in full swing, with close to a half-dozen teams already naming new head coaches and several still in search of a top candidate. In the end, more than 20% of the league will enter the new season with fresh leaders on the sideline.

It’s impossible to know which of this year’s hires will actually pan out. Some years, the least-celebrated promotion ultimately has the last laugh. Just as in free agency, big names don’t always translate to big results. This is a team game, remember, and that means coaches, like quarterbacks, are often affected by the staff and supporting cast around them.

But how do the hires register right now? Here’s our best attempt to grade each of the head coaching additions:

Chargers: Jim Harbaugh

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Jim Harbaugh Getty Images

We’ve seen big-name hires from the college ranks flounder before (see: Urban Meyer, Matt Rhule, Chip Kelly), but the difference is, Harbaugh’s been an undisputed winner everywhere he’s coached, and that includes the NFL. One win away from a Super Bowl title with the 49ers back in 2012, now he’s back on the West Coast with a franchise quarterback and playoff-caliber roster already in place, guiding the team he once played for in the ’90s. It’s a perfect match, pairing a talented but sometimes-sheepish contender with a rugged program-builder who knows how to dial up splashy offense. The AFC West is interesting again.

Grade: A

Panthers: Dave Canales

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Dave Canales Getty Images

Impatience has been the name of the game in Carolina, with owner David Tepper burning through coaches and QBs in recent years. At 42, fresh off his first year as an offensive coordinator, Canales could represent a genuine pivot for the franchise. He’s certainly more of an unknown than his fellow 2024 hires, but he doesn’t lack for promising credentials, working 13 years as a Pete Carroll assistant in Seattle before helping revive Baker Mayfield’s career as the Buccaneers‘ play-caller. An ascending QB whisperer, he’s precisely the kind of coach who could accelerate Bryce Young’s growth under center.

Grade: B+

Patriots: Jerod Mayo

New England Patriots v Cleveland Browns

Jerod Mayo Getty Images

Is this more of the same in New England, or a changing of the guard? It’s a tricky question to unpack considering Mayo has only ever played or coached for Bill Belichick, the man he’s replacing. The track record of ex-Belichick disciples as head coaches is uninspiring, to say the least. Mayo’s transparent approach suggests a more inviting personality at least, and he’s had a direct hand in the Pats’ perennially feisty defense. But the key here will be whether he differentiates from Belichick in terms of offensive staffing and roster-building, at least since Tom Brady’s 2020 exit left a crater in the organization.

Grade: B-

Raiders: Antonio Pierce

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Antonio Pierce USATSI

Team owner Mark Davis opted for a splashy outside hire over a known interim in 2022, and it quickly backfired, so he was destined to give Pierce a fuller look after the latter went 5-4 as Josh McDaniels’ in-season replacement. Personality-wise, it’s apparent Pierce’s player-friendly bravado has the locker room’s support. But he has just six combined years of college and NFL coaching experience, so it’s hard to get any real sense of his big-picture vision. Like fellow former linebacker DeMeco Ryans with the Texans, his future probably depends just as much on the personnel and staffing decisions that accompany his promotion.

Grade: B-

Titans: Brian Callahan

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Brian Callahan Getty Images

If prolific connections were priority No. 1 for a head coach, Callahan would easily ace this. The son of longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan, who led the Raiders to the Super Bowl back in 2002, he’s worked with Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow over the years, most recently as the Bengals‘ OC from 2019-23. The mere fact he intends to bring a modern offense to Tennessee makes him an enticing replacement for the tough-nosed but defensive minded Mike Vrabel. And yet, as with many, so much of his impact will come down to what he does or develops at QB.

Grade: B

Falcons: Raheem Morris

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Aug 18, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris looks on during a joint practice against the Las Vegas Raiders. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

CBS Sports Lead NFL Insider Jonathan Jones reported Thursday that the Falcons are nearing a deal to name former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris their new head coach. The Falcons interviewed a whopping 14 candidates for their head coaching job, including Bill Belichick. However, it was Morris who stood out. 

Morris actually served as the Falcons’ head coach for 11 games as an interim lead man back in 2020, and went 4-7. He also served as the head coach for the Buccaneers from 2009-11, going 17-31. It would have been nice to bring in an offensive mind that could get the most out of guys like Drake London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson, but Morris is a bonafide leader that has the support of his players. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey even reacted to the news on social media saying: “Falcons got one of, if not the best coach in the NFL forreal!”

The offensive staff is something all Falcons fans will have an eye on. Jones reports that Morris could bring current Rams pass game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Zac Robinson to be his offensive coordinator. 

Grade: B-

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