Considering the dynamics of the NFL’s coaching carousel, all 32 head coaches have something to prove in 2022, especially with 28% of the league’s head coaches turning over from just one season ago. Only five coaches have held their current position for more than five seasons.
But which coaches stand out from the group in terms of having the most to prove in 2022? Let’s examine.
Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders
Rivera is a well-respected head coach and leader within the NFL but it’s more than fair to call into question his results. A head coach over the last 11 seasons, Rivera’s teams finished with a losing record in eight of them, including his first two years with the Washington Commanders.
In considering his time with the Carolina Panthers, Rivera would be quick to point out that he inherited a 1-15 team but I am quick to remind that the Panthers finished with a losing record in four 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 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 on both sides of the ball, Rivera hasn’t coached a complete team since 2015. The perpetual turmoil coming from the Commanders’ organization could prove helpful in Rivera keeping his job even with another losing season but it’s time for Rivera to prove he can coach a consistent winner.
Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
When Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper gave Matt Rhule a seven-year, $62 million contract with only a season of NFL experience coming back in 2012 as the assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants, Rhule had a lot to prove. So far he’s coached the Panthers to a 10-23 record.
In Rhule’s previous two spots, year three has been the breakthrough season. At Temple, Rhule’s Owls went 8-16 in his first two seasons before a 10-4 mark and Conference Championship. After an 8-17 stretch in his first two seasons at Baylor, Rhule led the Bears to Big Twelve Championship and 11-3 record.
Can the Panthers see a similar jump in Rhule’s third season on the job? The answer to this is likely to be tied to how the quarterbacks perform. While it appears to be Sam Darnold’s job to lose, rookie Matt Corral could push for playing time. That said, expecting Darnold to change the course of his career and a third-round pick catching lightning in a bottle as a rookie are unlikely outcomes.
The good news? The Panthers’ roster outside of the quarterback position looks to be in good shape and Tepper seems committed to Rhule, but another losing season could change that.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Woah… did you really include Bill Belichick who is coming off a 10-win season and made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback? Yes, I did. This piece is about the coaches with the most to prove, not necessarily “on the hot seat” and given the circumstances that Belichick created with this New England Patriots team, it’s fair to include Belichick.
Despite some questionable personnel decisions in the past, Belichick more than earned the benefit of the doubt given the unprecedented success he achieved with Tom Brady at quarterback, but No. 12 isn’t walking through those doors anymore.
Simply put, Belichick hasn’t drafted well of late and his 2021 free agency spending spree was questionable at best. This offseason the Patriots said goodbye to its best offensive player in Shaq Mason and top defensive player in J.C. Jackson. New England also lost Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and opted to not replace him but instead utilize a combination of Joe Judge, Matt Patricia and Belichick to run the offense. Has Belichick’s coaching circles dried up? Does the “Patriot Way” work without Brady? Has Belichick lost his touch as a general manager?
Belichick is a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer and among the greatest coaches in league history but there are plenty of oddities surrounding this year’s Patriots team. Without Brady, Belichick is 70-79 as a head coach and 29-58 against teams with a .500 winning percentage or better. It’s time to prove Belichick can get it done without his long-time signal caller.