Assessing Arthur Smith, Nick Sirianni and 2021 head coaching class this season

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NFL head coaches have an excruciatingly challenging task when taking over a franchise. Not only are they responsible for game planning week-to-week, but they also act as a sort of CEO trying to multi-task and instill their own culture into the organization. It’s one of the toughest things to do, and that’s why it pays so well.

The Falcons, Chargers, Eagles, Lions, and Jets all hired new coaches last hiring cycle, and those men are in the middle of their second season with varying results. Much like players, coaches can have second year leaps. Going into 2022, the 2021 head coaching class is all in different situations with their rosters, front offices, and schedules.

Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons

2021 record: 7-10

2022 record: 4-4

While the 7-10 campaign wasn’t impressive on paper, it was admirable, considering the severe lack of talent on the roster. Now, the Falcons have moved on from Matt Ryan with Marcus Mariota under center. The team remains competitive in most contests this season, despite boasting one of the least talented rosters in football. A couple of weeks ago against the Bengals was the first game that the Falcons have been completely outmatched. Arthur Smith has instilled a tough, resilient culture built around pounding the ball on the ground and playing a bend don’t break style of defense. The future looks bright in Atlanta with Smith at the helm. He’s easily making more out of less than anyone in this group.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

2021 record: 9-8

2022 record: 4-3

The Chargers just missed out on the playoffs last season with an overtime loss in Week 18 to the Raiders. With players like Khalil Mack, JC Jackson, Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa, and Derwin James, the expectations for Staley are much higher than for Smith. Despite being over .500, the Chargers have looked incompetent at times. LA dropped an ugly game in Week 7 to the Seahawks in which they were outplayed in every facet. The four wins aren’t exactly convincing, either. Staley might have a playoff-caliber record thus far, but his performance has been anything but that. He’s not on the hot seat, but wasting away the cheap years of Herbert like this has to be frustrating for fans.

Robert Saleh, New York Jets

2021 record: 4-13

2022 record: 5-3

The Jets have already eclipsed their 2021 win total, but it wasn’t exactly the highest bar to reach. The most impressive victory of the season was over the Packers, in which the Jets played bully ball and pushed Green Bay all over the yard, capitalizing on their mistakes. New York plays a similar brand of football as Atlanta — centered around pounding the rock. Saleh is a defensive-minded head coach and doesn’t want his unit on the field more than his offense, so controlling the clock is a big point of emphasis up there. Zach Wilson looks very lost, and the defense is underachieving compared to its talent, but Saleh is not underperforming in the win column.

Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles

2021 record: 9-8

2022 record: 7-0

Sirianni is the only member of this class to make a playoff appearance in their first year. The Eagles had a phenomenal offseason headlined by a great draft, whether it was trading for star wideout AJ Brown or double-dipping on star UGA defenders. And Sirianni is steering the ship masterfully. Jalen Hurts has been a fantastic signal caller for Philly, and they look like the class of the NFC. Other than Brian Daboll, Sirianni has to be the favorite for Coach of the Year. Thus far, it seems Sirianni is the best of the bunch, followed by Arthur Smith. To be fair, though, Smith’s respective roster isn’t even CLOSE to the Eagles. Sirianni has the best team in his class, and it’s not particularly close.

Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions

2021 record: 3-13-1

2022 record: 1-6

With a record in 2022 of 1-6 and an overall mark of 4-19-1, Campbell has started to face heavy scrutiny regarding his tenure at the helm. The Lions looked like a fun, scrappy bunch last season and this offseason on Hard Knocks. But it’s about winning football games. Regardless of the state of the roster, which is on par with Atlanta’s, the Lions haven’t even looked competitive recently. If any of these coaches are on the hot seat, it has to be Campbell. Still, I doubt he will get canned this year or even next; the roster is just that bad.

I believe the 2021 head coaching class power rankings are 1) Nick Sirianni, 2) Arthur Smith, 3) Robert Saleh, 4) Brandon Staley, and 5) Dan Campbell. Yes, the Chargers’ head coach is second-to-last. Nobody is doing less with more than him. The Chargers are dealing with injuries, but on paper, the talent is undeniable compared to Atlanta or even New York. In contrast, Smith is doing the most with the least. The Falcons, Jets, and Lions have similarly talented rosters and are having wildly different results. The difference between the top two coaches compared to the bottom three is vast. Falcons fans should feel thankful they didn’t land Staley.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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