Rough start for new NFL coaches: Cardinals, Raiders, Lions and Giants all 0-2 to begin 2018
ALAMEDA, Calif. — Jon Gruden was welcomed back to Oakland as a returning hero when he got hired for his second stint as coach of the Raiders.
There was a party he hosted for fans at a local sports bar, loud ovations in the preseason and a heightened level of excitement that Gruden could get the Raiders back to being the consistent winner they were during his first stint that started two decades ago.
The reality has been far different after two weeks. Fans are frustrated by the trade of the team’s best player, Khalil Mack, the crowd booed at the end of a lopsided, season-opening loss, and an 0-2 start have raised questions about how long it will take to turn the Raiders into a winner.
“We’re going to keep building our football team. Whether that translates into one win or four wins or any wins, I’m not going to make any predictions,” Gruden said.
“I want to continue to play good, hardnose football. Keep improving. Keep improving and good things will happen. I’m not going to sit here and make any predictions about anything other than we’re going to play hard and provide the best effort we can.”
Gruden’s not alone when it comes to getting off to slow starts in a new tenure as coach. All seven new coaches lost on the opening weekend for the worst debut performance in NFL history for a new class of coaches.
There was some improvement in Week 2 as Indianapolis’ Frank Reich, Chicago’s Matt Nagy and Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel all got into the win column for the first time in their head coaching careers.
“It always helps to win,” Vrabel said. “When you’re trying to explain things to a team, or trying to get a message across, there has to be some tangible evidence to say, ‘Hey, when we do these things we give ourselves a chance to win.’”
The other three new coaches are in the same boat as Gruden, searching for that elusive first win and facing questions about whether they were the right choice for the job.
The New York Giants have looked listless on offense in their first two games under former Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, scoring only one TD in the opener and not making it into the end zone until 1:27 remained in a 20-13 loss to Dallas this past week.
It’s the defense that’s been the problem in Detroit under former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Lions have allowed 78 points in losses to the Jets and San Francisco, the third most in franchise history after two games.
“I certainly understand their frustration and we’re doing everything we can possible to make sure we get this turned around,” Patricia said of Detroit fans who have celebrated just one playoff win in the past 60 years.
“I expect to win every single week and go out and we work extremely hard to make sure we get that done, and we have to keep pushing forward.”
The Cardinals have been perhaps the worst team of all under Steve Wilks, getting outscored 58-6 the first two weeks against Washington and the Rams and failing even to cross midfield until the next-to-last play of the game in Sunday’s 34-0 drubbing against Los Angeles.
There are already questions about coordinator Mike McCoy’s status in Arizona and about when rookie quarterback Josh Rosen should take over from Sam Bradford.
“We all need to look in the mirror and check ourselves and figure out, ‘What can I do to help this team win games?’” Wilks said.
“I don’t think your actual long-term vision changes and your expectations, but you have to be able to adapt in this league. We’re looking to make changes. We’re looking to make this thing better and make it right.
“So, to say that we’re satisfied, (to say that) I’m satisfied to where we are right now not scoring a touchdown in two games and having a lack of production on the offensive side of the ball, no. We’ve got to make some changes.”
One of the problems for these new coaches is the reason they were hired in the first place was that something was wrong with their franchises.
The Titans are the only one of the seven teams to make the playoffs in 2017 and the Lions are the only other that had a winning record.
The Cardinals are in a major transition after the retirement of coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, while the Raiders, Giants and Colts combined for just 13 wins a year ago.
With those recent struggles and coaches who are bringing in new assistants and systems, there is also the usual roster turnover that comes with a new regime.
Implementing that is even harder now than it was in the past because of limited practice time in the offseason and a league-wide move to cut back on playing time for regulars in the exhibition season. “Everybody’s learning, every week we’re going to learn and get better and make improvements. That’s what we have to do,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said.
“When you have a new offense, new players, new guys coming in, there is a learning curve to it so we’ve just got to keep grinding and keep preparing and don’t get down. Have the desire to get better.
“If we all want that, we all have that, and we’ve got to make the improvements that the coaches are giving us, and that will give us a better opportunity to win the game.”