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2013′s new coaches fare pretty well in first years

It’s Black Monday. Early indications are that Mike Shanahan, Leslie Frazier and, surprisingly, first year Browns coach Rob Chudzinski are among those packing their bags and moving on.

Overall, however, the crop of new coaches in 2013 did quite well in their first seasons. Three led their teams to the playoffs and two more led near misses. And those who were leading the worst of the 2012 squads almost all gave their players and fans reason for hope.

Here’s a synopsis:

Team New coach 2013 record Old coach 2012 record
Arizona Bruce Arians 10-6 Ken Whisenhunt 5-11
Buffalo Doug Marrone 6-10 Chan Gailey 6-10
Chicago Marc Trestman 8-8 Lovie Smith 10-6
Cleveland Rob Chudzinski 4-12 Pat Shurmur 5-11
Jacksonville Gus Bradley 4-12 Mike Mularkey 2-14
Kansas City Andy Reid 11-5 Romeo Crennel 2-14
Philadelphia Chip Kelly 10-6 Andy Reid 4-12
San Diego Mike McCoy 9-7 Norv Turner 7-9

Arizona Cardinals

Arizona finished 7-2 after a slow start, improving throughout the season and becoming one of the NFC’s strongest teams by season’s end. The 10-6 finish was a five-game improvement on 2012 and this was probably the best team in the NFL to not qualify for the playoffs.

Ken Whisenhunt brought the Cardinals to a Super Bowl and he undoubtedly will get another shot in the NFL as a head coach. And Bruce Arians had the benefit of at least moderately competent QB play from Carson Palmer throughout 2013, but the early returns on this change are positive.

As ESPN notes, one of Arians’ early goals was changing the culture of a team that was merely hoping to win, morphing it into one that sees winning as an expectation. It seems as though that mission was accomplished. There are improvements to make and there are tough competitors in the deep NFC West, but this team is ascending and doing so rapidly.

Early verdict: Success

Buffalo Bills

I didn’t see a lot of the Bills this season, but my sense was this team was more consistently competitive than Bills teams of recent lore. But the record was still 6-10.

Buffalowdown.com seemed to confirm that sense. In its end of season grades post, the blog notes that Doug Marrone took a young, raw team and gave Bills’ fans hope for the future. They scored 21.7 points per game. They broke a five-decade old team sack record with 57. And they have some building blocks. It will be interesting to see how rookie QB EJ Manual develops over the next few months into 2014.

Early verdict: Cautiously optimistic of success

Chicago Bears

Lovie Smith was a surprise firing at the end of the 2012 season after the Bears finished 10-6 and a game out of the playoffs. In 2013, Marc Trestman took over and Chicago finished 8-8 – a half-game out of the playoffs.

The offense was impressive. Brandon Marshall continued to be an all-time great and Alshon Jeffery turned into one of the league’s best young receivers. Offensive line play improved. That side of the ball could be great for years.

The defense was another story. In un-Bears-like fashion, the run defense was among the worst in NFL history. This doesn’t all fall at the feet of Trestman. The team dealt with retirement (Brian Urlacher), injuries (Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Jay Cutler) and inexperience (Jon Bostic, et al), but it’s an unfamiliar position for this team – which happens to face several decisions this offseason, such as whether or not to break the bank to bring Cutler back.

Early verdict: Incomplete? Hard to say what this team could look like with a couple good defensive pieces.

Cleveland Browns

Things looked good for Rob Chudzinski after nine games. The Browns were 4-5 and appeared headed in the right direction. The ship sank in the second half, as Cleveland went winless the rest of the way, for a final result of one fewer win than in 2012.

Ownership moved quickly after the season, releasing a statement announcing Chudzinski’s dismissal. This seems rash to me. The team lost Brian Hoyer, who really had the Browns rolling, to a torn ACL at mid-season. And of the 12 losses, five were by eight or fewer points.

As Dawg Pound Daily notes, the Browns had five Pro Bowl selections, won games with three QBs and have sky-is-the-limit talents such as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron on the roster.

And it doesn’t sound like the players – important players like tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson – were happy to hear the news. That’s not a good sign for ownership.

I think Chudzinski had this team turned in the right direction with a solid defense and some offensive building blocks. There has to be something going on behind the scenes of which the public is not yet aware.

Early verdict: Failure, but in my mind, this is on the organization and not Chudzinski, until more details emerge.

Jacksonville Jaguars

I’d say it’s a little too early to say the Gus Bradley transition is a complete success, but I was impressed by the team’s improvement. These guys got their tails kicked repeatedly in starting 0-8, but fought back in the second half to go 4-4, at one point winning four of five. And two of its season-ending three losses were by four and seven points.

The team cost itself the first overall pick in going on its winning streak and, as such, finding the franchise QB it desperately needs is going to be slightly more difficult. But it’d be hard to say this team didn’t at least gain some momentum heading into 2014 with the way it closed.

Early verdict: Success

Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid headed west from Philadelphia to inherit a talented roster that was dammed in 2012 by coaching, injuries and QB play. There was no doubt the Chiefs had some talent – the 2-14 team sent six players to the Pro Bowl. Reid teamed with QB Alex Smith to improve the record by nine wins.

The 11-5 Chiefs started 9-0 before faltering when the competition improved. Still, this season was an unqualified success after last year’s disaster. Kansas City gets some bonus football too, with a very winnable first-round game at Indianapolis.

Kansas City isn’t heading into the playoffs on a roll. They’ve lost five of seven, including four versus AFC West foes and fellow playoff participants Denver and San Diego. But this one-year turnaround has to have fans excited about the future.

Early verdict: Unqualified success

Philadelphia Eagles

Reid had a lot of good years in Philly before leaving for Kansas City. Chip Kelly inherited a semi-talented roster with a lot of holes. And he produced a six-game improvement and an NFC East championship.

There’s still a lot of improvement needed before the Eagles are a Super Bowl team. But what I liked about Kelly is that he seemed to realize early on that he couldn’t maintain quite the same pace of play in the pros as he did in his Oregon days, and he adapted.

The team was streaky. It started with a win, lost three, won two and then lost two before finishing with seven wins in eight games. The Eagles really seemed to start hitting stride at the mid-point. There are too many shortcomings, I think, for a deep playoff run, but I think the future is bright in Philly.

Early verdict: Success

San Diego Chargers

Mike McCoy has put yet another nail in the coffin of Norv Turner’s chances of again becoming an NFL head coach. McCoy took a roster that had stagnated in recent years and led it to an impressive late-season surge that resulted in the final AFC Wild Card spot.

As part of the renaissance, QB Philip Rivers rejuvenated his career and RB Ryan Mathews finally started showing the skills that made him a first-round draft pick.

I’m not sure the Chargers even expected the Chargers to be a playoff team this year. And I don’t think the stay will be a long one. But this team, other than a less-than-stellar finale against Kansas City’s backups, is peaking into the postseason. It’ll be interesting to see how this team evolves as McCoy brings aboard his guys in years ahead.

Early verdict: Success

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