The Tomsula Scale: 2022
By Max Saito
Job security isn’t something that head coaches are partcularly blessed with in the NFL, though some are offered more time to deliver success than others. Guest writer Max Saito from The Stiff Upper Lip Podcast introduces ‘The Tomsula Scale’, and measures the likelihood of the newest hires paying the ultimate price come the end of the year:
It is certainly indicative of the kind of work we do at the Stiff Upper Lip Podcast that, just over a year ago at this time, while our more reputable colleagues were putting the finishing touches on the draft coverage that they had agonised over for months, we were introducing the world to ‘The Tomsula Scale’. The Tomsula Scale is ultimately, like its origins, very simple. It is a way of grading any freshly appointed head coach on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the maximum likelihood of said newbie replicating the unfortunate first year of its namesake, Jim Tomsula, who was dismissed within hours of the final game of his first season. Whether it was because his surname sounds like a full name, because of his often sweat-drenched brow on the sidelines, or because of his introduction of coaching practices such as giving players breaks during meetings in which to check their social media, Tomsula has become one of the faces of the one-and-done coach in recent NFL memory.
While the league invariably sees a handful of teams putting out job adverts for the head coach role each year, TomsulalandTM has historically been reserved for only the most catastrophic hirings, including the man who replaced him in San Francisco – Chip Kelly. Whether by coincidence or because we picked up some sort of disturbance in the league’s balance, the 2021 season actually saw two coaches join the ranks of one-and-done coaches. Both Urban Meyer of Jacksonville and David Culley of Houston were sent packing, albeit in very different circumstances. Meyer displayed the kind of lack of common decency and wildly inappropriate conduct usually reserved for politicians, whereas Culley was made to be something of a fall guy for a Texans team stripped bare of talent against the backdrop of a franchise quarterback facing some of the most serious legal allegations the league has seen.
These two examples are instructive to how the Tomsula scale is calculated. Obviously, you must consider the talent that a coach has to work with, as well as the expectations of the team. A coach that takes over a dreadful roster for a perennial loser is a lot less likely to feel the heat than a coach stepping into a team believing it has a franchise quarterback and expecting to win now. Hue Jackson, for example, somehow avoided the sack despite compiling a 1-31 record over two years with the Browns, after having plunged into the icy waters of Tomsula territory in 2008 despite going 8-8 with the Raiders. This was in no small part because they had traded a first- and second-round pick to Cincinnati that season for a then-retired Carson Palmer. However, as with any scouting assessment in the NFL, intangibles also play a massive part. If you listen to our original Tomsula scale podcast, you will hear us talk a lot about ‘vibes’ – an extremely nebulous concept, but not one that should always be dismissed. Urban Meyer, for example, went into last year while being tossed around in a maelstrom of bad vibes, and the season played out exactly as anticipated.
Bearing all this mind, let’s take a look at how this 2022’s new hires shake out on the Tomsula scale:
Kevin O'Connell, Minnesota Vikings: 1.8/10
The Vikings have had 6 head coaches in total since 1986, with the shortest of those tenures being the 4 year stint that Leslie Frazier had between 2010 and 2013. Even before coming into the ownership of the Wilf family, Minnesota has never been quick to pull the trigger on dismissing their hires, and it is hard to imagine the circumstances required for O’Connell to go one-and-done. Vikings fans will feel that anything less than an immediate return to the playoffs would be a disappointment, but I would expect that this squad has enough talent to return six wins as an absolute minimum. O’Connell was also hired by new GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, which is a huge factor in his job security. The Vikings can sometimes be slow to react (maybe it’s the cold), but they have always been above the kind of chaos and instability which comes with having front office and coaching personnel on wildly different trajectories.
Brian Daboll, New York Giants: 2.6/10
Once upon a time, the Giants and their owners, the Maras, would also have considered themselves to be above the bungling antics of the league’s slapstick franchises, but a run of 5 different lead men since Tom Coughlin departed in 2015 has changed public opinion of the boys in blue. From Ben McAdoo benching franchise god-figure Eli Manning for Geno Smith to Joe Judge getting excited by massive brawls breaking out in training, the Giants have been seeking a saviour for the better part of a decade at this point.
Brian Daboll comes highly rated from Buffalo, having turned Josh Allen from a nervy, scattergun kind of quarterback into a highly-composed destroyer. I genuinely have no idea whether that kind of success is replicable in New York, but there is one factor which keeps Daboll’s Tomsula rating relatively low: he has a fall guy. The Giants declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Daniel Jones this offseason, which seems a sound decision considering his highly inconsistent form since being drafted in 2019. Jones has flashed tempting upside, but if the Giants turn in another losing season this year, it seems a lot more likely that Daboll will be given a second chance with another signal caller than the Giants electing to try and finally fix Jones with a fourth head coach.
Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins: 3.5/10
I don’t have enough words here to get into everything highly questionable about the Dolphins’ hiring practices under current leadership, so I’ll keep this explanation to two relatively simply points. Firstly, Mike McDaniel also profits(?) from the same quarterback uncertainty as Daboll. Despite the fierce backing of TuAnon, it is safe to say that public opinion on Tua Tagovailoa has been mixed at best. He has struggled to stay healthy, has a bit of a popgun arm, and has hardly lit up the South Beach skies with the sort of aerial fireworks that an offence including Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill, and Cedrick Wilson promises. On a more positive note, I genuinely do rate McDaniel quite highly, and believe that the sort of plug-in-and-play running scheme he used in San Francisco will do wonders to take the pressure off of Tua this year. There is a genuine chance that the Dolphins could be exciting this year for the first time since the era when the NFL was first being shown in the UK.
Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears: 4.1/10
In an era when having a promising young quarterback on a rookie contract is akin to striking gold, the Bears have decided to zig while everyone else zags. While teams like the Rams, Chiefs, and Eagles have found success by loading up on veteran weapons using the cap afforded by a rookie QB contract, the Bears have lost Khalil Mack, Eddie Goldman, Tarik Cohen, Danny Trevathan, Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, James Daniels, Bilal Nichols, and a host of other contributors. Even the punter left.
It seems very odd to leave Justin Fields with a patchwork offensive line, throwing to the likes of Equanimeous St. Brown and Byron Pringle, but perhaps the new Matt and Ryan know something that the old Matt and Ryan didn’t. The vibes here are absolutely wretched, and the only reason I don’t have Eberflus higher is because the Bears didn’t fire their last head coach even when fans were chanting for it at his son’s high school playoff games. Even with the exodus of talent, it’s hard to imagine the situation in Chicago becoming more toxic than it was last year.
Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders: 5.3/10
There is a very solid chance that the Josh McDaniels’ Raiders finish with the best record of any of the teams in this list. However, when a team locks up their franchise QB to a new extension and trades away two premium picks for one of the league’s best receivers, the expectations that follow are likely to be sky high. Under Jon Gruden, this Raiders outfit have often lacked the same mentality as the season goes on, and their collapses of form after Thanksgiving have been evidence of this.
McDaniels’ last stay in the big seat was back in 2010, when he failed to see out two full years with the Broncos, and he reneged on a handshake agreement with the Colts in 2018. Although he did somehow engineer moderate success in Denver with Tim Tebow, his tenure ended sourly, and the Colts did not take kindly to having the rug pulled out from underneath them. There is every chance that McDaniels finds success in the desert, but he has a history of being a wildcard, so don’t be shocked if going all in comes back to bite the Raiders this year.
Nathaniel Hackett, Denver Broncos: 7.1/10
One key thing to understand about the Tomsula scale is that it is not a percentage, where 10 means there is a 100% chance that a coach goes one-and done. The Tomsula scale is not an exact science and is more of an organic, holistic gauge of how vividly we can see envision going totally wrong. Having watched Hackett for the last couple of years as a Packers fan, I do genuinely believe that he possesses a very good offensive mind, and is an honestly funny and good-natured person. However, I think the Broncos probably consider themselves to be Super Bowl or bust in 2022 after trading for Russell Wilson, despite the need to battle out of a brutal AFC West while contending with a defence which failed to live up to expectations last year under Vic Fangio.
The Broncos’ schedule features the Seahawks, Texans, Jets, Jaguars, and Panthers, who all track to be well-below .500 teams this year. If Denver were to lose even a couple of these games, combined with going around .500 in the division, it suddenly becomes a very difficult task to get into the playoffs. Russell Wilson has a carefully manicured public persona, but despite all of the flowery words, it is clear that his departure from Seattle was part of a power struggle with Pete Carroll. The Broncos have shown they are fully committed to number 3 this year, so if Hackett’s offence fails to live up to ‘Let Russ Cook’ hype train, is it possible that he is ousted after a year? There are plenty of former Seahawks players who will gladly tell of their disharmony with Wilson behind the scenes.
Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars: 7.7/10
The decision making in Jacksonville over the last decade has been somewhere between the feeling I get when watching Uncut Gems, as Adam Sandler’s character makes decision after decision that wrack with you bewildering anxiety, and watching Sideshow Bob walk into rake after rake in The Simpsons. This is a team that simply cannot get out of its own way, and to make matters worse, GM Trent Baalke is basically the lookout on the Titanic…
Baalke is the king of the Tomsula hire – he has been a General Manager for a total of 7 years in the NFL, and in this short space of time, he has overseen THREE Tomsula hires! This includes the man himself, the man who replaced him, and arguably the apex of the genre of catastrophic hires – Urban Meyer, just last year. Since 2015, Trent Baalke has been involved in the hiring of three head coaches and they have ALL lasted one year! For context, the other 31 teams have combined for TWO Tomsula hirings in that timeframe (Steve Wilks in 2018 and David Culley in 2021).
Add to this the fact that Doug Pederson kind of feels like a scorned former lover of the Eagles who has come back to town with the sole aim of desperately trying to make them feel jealous, the way that the Jaguars have spent inordinate amount of cash on mediocre free agents, and the most highly rated quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck wasting his career away, and I absolutely hate the situation in Jacksonville this year. The only silver lining I can see is that Pederson is far too much of a professional to cause the sort of off-field issues that his predecessor did. Maybe next year this comes back as the Meyer scale.