Ranking the new NFL head coaches by ability to turn their teams around in 2023

2R5D2CF Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton looks on as players warm up during an NFL football organized training activity session Thursday, June 1, 2023, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

• Sean Payton brings experience, winning ways to Denver: The Broncos gave up a significant trade package to acquire Payton's services, and for good reason.

• Shane Steichen, Anthony Richardson form an intriguing pair: The new Colts head coach and the rookie quarterback could create magic in 2023.

• Jonathan Gannon has his work cut out for him: The Cardinals' roster was already considered to be the worst in the league before the team released star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins

Five NFL teams enter the 2023 season with new head coaches. Four of those squads won five or fewer games in 2022. The Carolina Panthers finished with seven wins to lead the group but did so with two different head coaches and three starting quarterbacks.

All of these teams — the Panthers along with the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts — currently carry a heavy load of instability heading into 2023. We’ll examine each of the five new head coaches and rank them by how confident we are in their ability to turn their new franchise’s fortunes around.

1. Sean Payton, Denver Broncos

Leading off is the only Super Bowl-winning head coach of the group. Payton brought noted success to New Orleans and developed a reputation as one of the top offensive play callers of his generation.

The Broncos ended 2022 as arguably the most disappointing team in the NFL. Coming off their massive trade for Russell Wilson and hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, Denver had its sights set on an AFC West title. Wilson floundered to a career-low 66.2 overall grade and never looked comfortable in Hackett’s system. In the end, Denver finished with the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense and a 5-12 record.

The Broncos’ overall talent is not that of a five-win team, though. They finished the 2022 regular season with the NFL’s second-best team coverage grade (89.3). When healthy, their offensive skill group — which includes Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Greg Dulcich and Javonte Williams — should be productive. Payton also clearly wanted to improve the team’s trench play, and he did so by signing right tackle Mike McGlinchey and interior defender Zach Allen in free agency.

The primary focus, however, will be on Wilson. He seems to have finally lost a step in his trademark improvisational skills and struggled to win from the pocket last season. He did have to endure 55 sacks and 18 batted passes, so his teammates need to be better as well. But Denver paid the price for this to be Wilson’s team. He was on a near-certain Hall-of-Fame track before 2022.

The Broncos have the talent to at least compete for a wild card, especially after 10 of their 12 losses last year were by single digits. If anybody can fix Wilson and change the culture in Denver, it’s Sean Payton.

2. Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers

Reich is the only other coach on this list with prior head coaching experience. It could easily be argued that Reich got a raw deal in Indianapolis, considering that 2022 was his only really poor season and he had a different starting quarterback in each of his five campaigns at the helm.

Furthering his case, the Colts started 3-2-1 before losing three in a row and parting with Reich. The team won the following week after his departure and then went on to lose their last seven. That says a lot more about the organization than Reich.

What the Panthers are gaining in their new head coach is a creative play caller with a stoic mindset. Reich’s offenses in Indianapolis graded in the top half of the league in each of his first four seasons before cratering to 29th last season. He continued to deploy productive units despite the instability at quarterback.

This year, Reich will get to develop Bryce Young, who is as talented as any of the big-name quarterbacks he has worked with in the past. Much has been made of Young’s small stature, but Reich also understands the importance of creating balance in the run game and the quick passing game. He’ll make the necessary adjustments to his system so Young doesn’t take too many hits.

Further supplementing the Panthers’ chances is a rushing offense that started to find its groove late last season and a defense that is at least respectable. Young players on both sides, such as left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, cornerback Jaycee Horn and edge defender Brian Burns are all breakout candidates.

The cupboard is not bare in Carolina. They have incumbent talent. They, and many others, believe Young is the best quarterback in the 2023 class. They play in a subpar NFC South. If Young were to have a Rookie-of-the-Year-type season, Reich and the Panthers would have a legitimate chance at a division title, even with just eight or nine wins.

3. Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts

The remaining three coaches are all first-timers, so their projections may be tougher to piece together. The hope in Indianapolis is that Steichen’s work as offensive coordinator of the Chargers and NFC champion Eagles will parlay itself into offensive success as a head coach.

Steichen has recently garnered a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, guiding Justin Herbert to a 79.9 overall grade in his rookie season in Los Angeles. Herbert put up historic numbers and has continued to do so since Steichen left for Philadelphia.

Steichen’s work with Jalen Hurts is even more remarkable, considering Hurts was not thought of as a classic passer like Herbert. Hurts entered 2022 surrounded with questions of whether he was the long-term answer in Philadelphia. He responded with an 85.9 overall grade, an NFC title and an MVP-caliber year. Hurts’ 92.9 passing grade in the Super Bowl was the best mark in the PFF era in a Super Bowl.

The Colts’ new head coach will be looking to work his magic again with uber-talented rookie Anthony Richardson. Maybe the most athletic quarterback ever to enter the NFL, Richardson brings rare talent and running ability but needs time to develop his footwork and accuracy.

Hurts’ adjusted completion percentage was 74.7% in his two seasons with Steichen, a reasonably above-average mark. If Richardson were to ever approach that, the sky's the limit. With Jonathan Taylor still in tow, the running game will remain the primary focus. The same RPO-heavy, no-nonsense approach used in Philadelphia is what Steichen will bring to his new team.

Steichen has the chance to create a modern yet physical team that can shorten the game by running and stopping the run. The Colts will need to add speed in future years, but for now they can establish themselves behind Richardson, Taylor and their offensive line.

Steichen and Richardson may be the most fascinating combination of rookie head coach and quarterback in recent memory. The Colts are banking on Steichen’s ability to turn Richardson into a star like Herbert and Hurts. If he does so, Indianapolis will be dangerous for a long time.

4. DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans

The Texans enter 2023 in an eerily similar fashion to the 2021 New York Jets:

  • Hired a 49ers defensive coordinator as their head coach (Robert Saleh)
  • Drafted a quarterback second overall (C.J. Stroud/Zach Wilson)
  • Carry a roster with a lot of holes

Obviously, Ryans hopes Stroud pans out better than Wilson did for the Jets, but it takes only a couple of good drafts to turn things around. The Jets are beginning to do so, having drafted both of the 2022 rookies of the year, and hope the final piece is Aaron Rodgers.

The Texans are in the early stages of the rebuild, but there is some prime talent. For all of the hype around previous Ohio State quarterbacks, Stroud may be the best one yet. Running back Dameon Pierce is a horse who, among players with at least 100 carries, trailed only Lamar Jackson and Nick Chubb in missed tackles forced per attempt last season.

Houston also has a franchise left tackle in Laremy Tunsil and several defensive cornerstones, such as cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., safety Jalen Pitre and rookie edge defender Will Anderson Jr.

Ryans will pride himself on improving this defense, which carried a league-worst 34.1 run-defense grade last season. The first part of winning games is staying in them. And too often in 2022, the Texans’ front seven did not allow the team to do so.

The relationship between Stroud and first-year play caller Bobby Slowik will be interesting to watch. The entire team, though, will be built in Ryans’ blue-collar image. Without a true WR1 on their roster, the Texans' goal will be to improve the defense and run the ball well.

It’s a developmental year for everyone involved, but the direction of the team is very clear. It will take time, especially in a loaded AFC. Ryans has the requisite time and a good core of talent to work with. The Texans could win a couple more games than expected if things break right.

5. Jonathan Gannon, Arizona Cardinals

This ranking isn’t so much an indictment of Gannon’s abilities as it is of the group he is working with. We recently tabbed the Cardinals as having the worst roster in the NFL, and that was before their recent release of DeAndre Hopkins.

Gannon brings with him a pedigree of defensive success with a prior history as a defensive backs coach. Much like Shane Steichen, he found great success in Philadelphia the past two years, building a defense that finished with the third-most sacks in NFL history in 2022.

Across Gannon’s two years running the Eagles’ defense, his unit ranked first in pass-rush grade and fourth in overall grade. Philadelphia’s defense deserves just as much credit for their Super Bowl run as the offense. They faltered at the very end, but most did against Patrick Mahomes. Gannon’s success against everyone else is what should be taken into account.

The problem is the base of talent Gannon has to work with. The Cardinals finished 2022 ranked 30th in team offensive grade and 27th in team defensive grade. No one who played legitimate snaps on either side of the ball graded out at 76.0 or higher. Meanwhile, his quarterback, Kyler Murray, is recovering from a torn ACL and a season in which his passing grade plummeted to 63.4.

Gannon deserves credit for his willingness to take on such a tough job. The Cardinals should be commended for acquiring Houston’s first-rounder next year while still having a solid draft. But the team is the betting favorite to pick first next year for a reason. It would be shocking to see Arizona win more than five games with this roster, no matter who the head coach is.


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