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Bucs’ Bruce Arians didn’t have worst debut among NFL’s new coaches

A win might have put Arians atop the list, but that spot went to the only coach to earn a victory in Week 1.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians, Dolphins coach Brian Flores and Browns coach Freddie Kitchens all had their struggles on Thursday, but which new NFL coach had the worst debut. [Tampa Bay Times/Associated Press]
Bucs coach Bruce Arians, Dolphins coach Brian Flores and Browns coach Freddie Kitchens all had their struggles on Thursday, but which new NFL coach had the worst debut. [Tampa Bay Times/Associated Press]
Published Sep. 10, 2019

They surely would have enjoyed any kind of java, from the exquisite Hawaiian Kona blend to a grande Pike Place Roast to an old-fashioned good to the last drop mug of Maxwell House.

MORE BUCS: Arians grants Jameis Winston absolution on two of three interception

But coffee’s for closers, and that means five of the NFL’s eight new coaches walked away from Week 1 with empty mugs. Matt LaFleur’s Packers made the needed plays at game’s end to seal victory for the Packers. Five other coaches, including the Bucs’ Bruce Arians, had a chance to win in the closing minutes but didn’t find a way to get it done. Meanwhile, the Browns’ Freddie Kitchens didn’t come close to smelling the aroma of victory, and the Dolphins’ Brian Flores got roasted.

Here’s how we rank the debuts.

1. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay: Won at Chicago

Packers coach Matt LaFleur belied his offensive background by designing a defensive effort that held Chicago and quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a field goal. [CHARLES REX ARBOGAST | AP]

An easy choice for the top spot. LaFleur is the only new coach who won, but he earned no style points from Packers fans who love to see Aaron Rodgers sling it all over the field. The former Rams and Titans offensive coordinator guided the Packers to a 10-3 victory with the help of a defense fortified by free agents Preston Smith (1.5 sacks), and Za’Darius Smith (sack). Rodgers? He got sacked five times and passed for a relatively pedestrian 203 yards. But a win is a win, and it came on the road on Thursday night.

Up next: vs. Vikings.

Notable: Rodgers’ longest completion of the night, a 47-yarder, went to former USF receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling.

2. Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals: Tied the Lions

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury found a way to help his team rally for a 27-27 tie against Detroit, fostering hope for Arizona's future. [RICK SCUTERI | AP]

The doubts about Kingsbury’s ability to succeed didn’t exactly evaporate in his debut. Critics quickly point out that Kingsbury finished his six seasons at Texas Tech with a losing record: 35–40 (including 13 victories over lower-tier Group of Five and FCS competition) overall and 19–35 in Big 12 play. For three quarters, the critics appeared prescient as the Cardinals fell behind 24-6. But Kyler Murray, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft saved the day, going 15 of 19 for 154 yards and two touchdowns to fuel a furious fourth-quarter rally that eventually sent the game into a 27-27 overtime tie and helped Kingsbury save face — for a day, at least.

Up next: at Ravens.

Notable: 36-year-old Terrell Suggs had five tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble.

3. Zac Taylor, Bengals: Lost at Seahawks

Bengals coach Zac Taylor, right, steered quarterback Andy Dalton to a quality start against Seattle, but the Bengals faded in the fourth quarter. [STEPHEN BRASHEAR | AP]

When a copycat league searches for a duplicate version of the Rams’ Sean McVay, you end up with the 36-year-old Taylor. A former Dolphins quarterback coach and Rams receiver coach, he’s never served as a coordinator. But he got the Bengals off to a good start and Andy Dalton says he’s playing with renewed confidence thanks to Taylor. That rejuvenation resulted in a career-best 418 passing yards for Dalton, but the Bengals wasted too many scoring opportunities and lost 21-20. They had three possessions inside the Seattle 36 in the third quarter and failed to score. In the fourth quarter, the Bengals had first-and-goal at the Seattle 4 and settled for a field goal. Still, given Dalton’s promise and the challenge of winning in Seattle, not a bad start at all.

Up next: vs. 49ers.

Notable: As a player, the former Nebraska quarterback and Norman, Okla., native spent the 2007 preseason with the Bucs.

4. Vic Fangio, Broncos: Lost at Raiders

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. Oakland won the game 24-16. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) [BEN MARGOT | AP]

Fangio, 61, went against the league’s young gun trend. He also went against type in leading the Broncos Monday night. The former Bears defensive coordinator who spent 32 years as an NFL assistant, did not yield a stout first-half effort from his unit against the Raiders. Denver gave up a touchdown on Oakland’s opening drive and fell behind 14-0 at the half. The Broncos closed to within a score, but the Raiders salted the game away. Denver’s comeback attempt fell short in part because the Broncos had to settle for field goals on three red-zone trips in the second half. But to have a chance to win in a Monday night road game at Oakland lends hope.

Up next: vs. Bears.

Notable: In three seasons under Fangio, the Bears defense went from 30th in the league in defense to 10th.

5. Bruce Arians, Bucs: Lost to 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians watches the replay during the fourth quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium on September 8, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 17 to 31. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]

For a week, let’s produce the silver-linings playbook for the new Bucs coach. The defense played well, keyed by Vernon Hargreaves’ pick-six interception. The running game appeared rejuvenated, especially with Ronald Jones’ second-half surge. With two minutes remaining in the game, the Bucs had a chance to win. But they didn’t because of one huge mistake by one particular player (see Winston, Jameis). Arians’ opening effort ranks below Fangio because the Bucs lost at home. With an unforgiving 2019 schedule, Tampa Bay can’t throw away any victory, and it really needed this one.

Up next: at Carolina (Thursday night).

Notable: Arians is 2-4 in season openers, 2-5 if you count his first game as Indianapolis’ interim coach in 2012.

6. Freddie Kitchens, Browns: Lost vs. Titans

Browns coach Freddie Kitchens says his team's 43-13 loss to Tennessee is just one defeat, but it was a bad one. [DAVID RICHARD | AP]

Kitchens spent Monday telling Browns fans not to overreact to the Titans’ 43-13 defeat of his team at home. He had to, because Cleveland became the offseason darling of pundits who apparently overlooked the fact that the Browns have a lot of question marks on their offensive line. The Titans’ Cameron Wake had 2.5 sacks and Logan Ryan had 1.5 sacks. The harassment helped force Baker Mayfield into three interceptions. Add in 18 penalties for a stunning 182 yards and you have a discipline issue crying for Kitchens’ attention. But he ranks above two other new coaches because the Titans are pretty good.

Up next: at Jets (Monday night).

Notable: As the Alabama quarterback, Kitchens guided the Tide to a win in the 1997 Outback Bowl.

7. Adam Gase, Jets: Lost to Bills

Jets coach Adam Gase and his team suffered a late-game letdown against Buffalo. [BILL KOSTROUN | AP]

Another coach who didn’t close. The Jets went up 16-0 before blowing the lead and losing at home 17-16 to Buffalo. It didn’t help that C.J. Mosley exited in the third quarter with a groin injury. Even Bills quarterback Josh Allen called Mosley’s injury a game-changer. And, it didn’t help that Jets kicker Kaare Vedvik, claimed last week off waivers from Minnesota, missed an extra point and a 45-yard attempt. But Jets safety Jamal Adams said it felt like the team’s energy died. That’s a coaching issue, and if you’re going to make noise in the NFL, you have to beat Buffalo at home.

Up next: vs. Browns (Monday night).

Notable: Gase is 2-2 in season openers.

8. Brian Flores, Dolphins: Lost to Ravens

After the Ravens took everything from the Dolphins in a 59-10 drubbing, Miami coach Brian Flores took responsibility for the loss. What else could he do? [BRYNN ANDERSON | AP]

In a weird training camp dispute, Flores played a series of Jay Z songs at a Dolphins practice after Kenny Stills questioned the hip-hop mogul’s new deal with the NFL. At the time, he said he wanted to challenge Stills. Now Stills is catching late-game touchdown passes for Houston and Flores is catching hell after a lopsided loss that defied NFL logic. Former NFL quarterback Carson Palmer said on Good Morning Football Tuesday that at times it looked like Miami was playing with eight defenders. Newsflash: You’re supposed to play with 11. The league is a funny entity. Fortunes can flip in a week. Flores can go from goat to hero. But for now, he might want to put the Jay Z/Linkin Park Numb/Encore mashup on repeat. The Dolphins are number and they don’t need an encore to this game.

Up next: vs. New England.

Notable: This sounds familiar. The announced crowd of 65,012 appeared to be about half of that, and it may not get better.

Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow @hoop4yhou


  1. In this file photo, Bucs coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston walk off the field after a season-opening home loss to San Francisco. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
  2. Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) runs for a touchdown during the first quarter of last season's home opener against Boise State. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  3. He may look happy here, but Bradley Pinion seems pretty overjoyed (at least on social media) at the prospect of the team dumping this uni design. [Times]
  4. Kacey Reynolds announces that LSU linebacker Devin White has been selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round at the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The Bucs announced Sunday that Reynolds had died at age 20 after a three-year battle with Hodgkin lymphoma. [MARK HUMPHREY  |  AP]
  5. Linebacker Shaquil Barrett's bet on himself is about to pay off, in Tampa Bay or elsewhere. [PAUL SANCYA  |  AP]
  6. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99),  during the first half of a game against the Chiefs on Jan. 12, 2020, took to Twitter to give his view of the owners' labor proposal: "A hard no." (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann) [REED HOFFMANN  |  AP]
  7. Monte Kiffin, shown here talking to safety John Lynch during a preseason game against the Jaguars on Aug. 16, 2002, this season will be the 14th inductee into the Bucs Ring of Honor. [WHITE, KEVIN  |  St. Petersburg Times]
  8. Washington quarterback Jacob Eason in action against Southern Cal in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) [ELAINE THOMPSON  |  AP]
  9. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, left, and his son Stephen Jones, the team's executive vice president, leave after NFL owners meet to discuss a proposed labor agreement, Thursday Feb. 20, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews) [BEBETO MATTHEWS  |  AP]
  10. Former Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a free agent after one season in Carolina. [TIM IRELAND  |  AP]
  11. An ESPN analyst's recent criticism of Jameis Winston was based on what he saw as excessive delay-of-game penalties. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  12. FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2016, file photo Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016 inductee Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., talks with reporters in Canton, Ohio. President Donald Trump pardoned DeBartolo, former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in gambling fraud scandal. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) [GENE J. PUSKAR  |  AP]