Of the four first-time NFL head coaches entering the league in 2016, I figure Miami’s Adam Gase has the most work ahead of him in order to establish his credentials and possibly compete for an immediate playoff spot.
Admittedly, this contradicts the official strength of schedule numbers, which are based on the 2015 records of opponents.
Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter, for instance, must face a slate of opponents that combined to go 139-117 a year ago. That .543 winning percentage is tied for the fifth-toughest in the league for 2016.
Gase and the Dolphins are scheduled against a group that went .516 last season. That ranks as the 11th-toughest schedule.
Koetter has two advantages over Gase, however.
First, he doesn’t open the season with trips to Seattle and New England. The Bucs open at Atlanta and Arizona instead, a difficult draw but not as brutal as Miami’s, and that opinion isn’t changed by the strong possibility that Tom Brady won’t be available early to the Patriots.
Second, Koetter previously has been a head coach, three years at Boise State and six more at Arizona State. There are things about delegation and organization you can’t know until you’ve actually done the job, things that Gase will be picking up on the fly.
Two other first-time NFL head coaches got a break in scheduling, as if any NFL schedule can be considered a light load.
Doug Pederson of Philadelphia draws the 26th-toughest schedule in 2016. The Giants’ Ben McAdoo goes against a group that ties for 30th.
Gase, 38, is the youngest head coach in the league and has never run an entire program at any level but he doesn’t lack for confidence. In the end, he will probably fall into the middle of the pack when it comes to first-time NFL head coaches who made their debuts with the Dolphins.
Tony Sparano won the AFC East in 2008, leading Miami to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff spot. Tony had previous college head coaching experience at New Haven.
Nick Saban went 9-7 with the Dolphins in 2005 without a playoff appearance. His college head coaching experience was extensive and impressive both before and after that NFL experiment.
Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron had no head coaching experience when they took the Dolphins’ job. Joe went 7-9 in his first season and Cam went 1-15.
Each coach has a different set of circumstances and strength-of-schedule is only one of them.
It might help to know, though, that the three teams in Miami’s division face a slightly tougher list of opponents than the Dolphins do. The New York Jets’ task is tied for seventh-toughest, New England comes in at No. 9 and Buffalo is No. 10.