NFL Coaching Hot Seats & Possible Candidates

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Changes are a-coming. Black Monday is almost here.

We’ll be seeing, at minimum, five job openings in the NFL head coaching ranks this offseason. The New York Giants have already dismissed Ben McAdoo, the Browns claim to be hanging on to Hue Jackson (can’t see this happening), John Fox is non-answering his way through press conferences on his way to possible retirement, and Marvin Lewis has already said he’s not coming back.

Tampa Bay has stated Dirk Koetter is coming back, which seems like an odd decision given the apparent dysfunction with a supposedly up-and-coming squad this year. The Jets have handed Todd Bowles an extension, which seems like the least they could do considering they couldn’t give him a quarterback and he helped them exceed expectations.

We won’t know until Monday, how everything may shake out, but I wanted to look at three things:

  1. Take a look at what jobs may come open and based on a few metrics I put together, what jobs should come open.
  2. Find the most likely and qualified potential candidates based on successful hires of the recent past
  3. What coaches could be matches for the jobs likely to open up?

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Hot Seat

First, for the 26 non-first year head coaches in the NFL (I left first-year head coaches out because I don’t believe in firing guys after one year absent extreme circumstances. I bet Vance Joseph wishes I was his owner), I developed a measurement to assess whether a coach should or should not be on the hot seat using the following metrics:

  • W% -Total winning percentage as a head coach in current job
  • L2W% – Winning percentage the last two seasons
  • L2W%Diff – The difference in winning percentage the last two seasons versus the coaches’ overall winning percentage on the job, meant to signal whether the coaches’ performance may be in decline or on the rise
  • 1YrO/U – 2017 wins over/under the preseason over/under win total
  • 2YrO/U – 2016+2017 wins over/under the preseason over/under win total
  • Poff/Reg – Playoff games relative to total games coached in current job

Ratings above 60% are meant to pinpoint those coaches most likely to get their walking papers. Jackson, Fox, Lewis and Pagano heading up the list makes sense.  Koetter and Bowles both will be coming back, absent any changes of heart. Bill O’Brien shouldn’t be let go in my opinion given the QB hand he’s been dealt over the course of his Texans career, but he’s on the list as well. McAdoo has already been dismissed and a report this week said Arizona’s Bruce Arians will leave. The rating system did a fairly good job of finding the high risk coaches. The tier below, from 60-40%, are the moderate risk coaches and 40% or below are in the low risk category.  

If I had to venture a guess based on information already released to the public and the data presented above:



Said to be Back: TB, NYJ

Should Be Back: HOU

Will Be Back: GB, CAR, BAL, SEA, NO, MIN,

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Candidates

What I wanted to do at this point was find out what candidates that could be available for the open positions would best fit. And I’m not talking about best fit within the context of each particular team.

I’m talking about looking at what backgrounds the most successful, recent NFL head coaching hires have had and what current candidates possess those traits. To do this, I looked at the current NFL head coaches that were hired in 2011 or prior. There aren’t many. Nine to be exact, with one coming off that list this year (Lewis). Without digging into the entire career arc of these coaches, I took a very surface-level glance at their background and what common threads I could find.

Eight of the nine coaches were between the age of 35-39, eight of the nine had at least two years of experience as an NFL coordinator (offensive, defensive or special teams) and only two were previous NFL head coaches, though it can be argued they constitute the most successful coaches on this list.

Based on this information, and in conjunction with various rumors of who may be available or who the media would like to be available, I collected the data on 48 potential head coaching candidates and used the following information to concoct a totally unofficial scoring system.

I used the previously referenced age range (with -1 points for ages 50-59 and -3 points for 60+), years as a coordinator, NFL head coaching experience and even threw in bonus points if that particular coach served as a coordinator and navigated a Top 10 unit over the past two years and another bonus if they’ve done it for two consecutive years.

The master list below orders the coaching candidates, not on my own beliefs about who should be candidates, but only on the scoring system mentioned above. Visit the Google sheet for a cleaner view


The candidates are separated by the point thresholds established by the list of longest tenured NFL coaches. Outside of Mike Tomlin, all other coaches had at least five points without incorporating the Top 10 bonus points. The section of candidates in blue are those coaches who meet that five point threshold. Those in yellow are candidates like Tomlin that meet the three point threshold and those in red are below the three point mark.

My initial comments on the list:

  • No surprise that McDaniels is at the top of the list based on the scoring system, but I was shocked to see Rob Chudzinski check in at second. He had a rough stint with Cleveland, but who hasn’t lately?
  • Want a candidate like Sean McVay (based of course on the very surface level comparisons we’re making)? Look at Jim Bob Cooter from the Lions
  • Certain members of the yellow tier that had a shot as a head coach – Gus Bradley, Jim Schwartz, Steve Spagnuolo, Leslie Frazier, Mike Smith – are probably better served as coordinators. Wade Phillips is definitely in that category. But one guy in there I think would be interesting if given another shot as a head coach is Pat Shurmur because his tenure with the disastrous Browns was so short.
  • I threw Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh on the list, but based on the scoring scale, both fall into the bottom tier. I have little doubt Saban will stay at Alabama, but I do think Harbaugh could be enticed to return to the NFL. If the Bears give him a call, there is a 100% chance he listens.
  • No. I’m not including Hue Jackson on this list.
  • The five guys I’m bringing in for an interview, based on my preference for candidates: Kris Richard, Pete Carmichael, Marquand Manuel, Matt LaFleur and Dave Toub.

To get a better sense of the candidates that are out there and how they compare to the current coaches in the NFL as far as backgrounds before getting their jobs, I’ve listed them all next to each other based on age (under 50 or not), whether they served two seasons as a NFL coordinator and whether they previously served as a NFL head coach.


All teams are hoping to find the next Belichick, a second chance head coach that learned from his first experience, and that’s why McDaniels should hear his phone ring off the hook. The largest group of NFL head coaches are those that served as a coordinator for at least two years and were under the age of 50. Candidates like Richard, Patricia, Guenther, Goodwin and Cooter have had their names passed around in early rumors and would add to the list.

What happens next and what candidates obtain interviews really depends on the makeup of the respective teams and the preference of those running those teams. McDaniels may fit for some, but others may look at his previous head coaching failure as something he can’t rebound from.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The Matches

What I would like to do in this area is not pinpoint the exact candidate, but provide three possible candidates that, for whatever reason, fit in with the current personnel or culture with each of the five jobs most likely to come open.

Chicago Bears

Candidates: Dave Toub (KC ST), Josh McDaniels (NE OC), Harold Goodwin (ARZ OC)

I don’t want to say Toub is the sentimental candidates, but he’s one of the most well-respected special teams coaches in the league and was the Bears special teams coach from 2004-2012 when Devin Hester broke onto the scene. McDaniels would be the “swing for the fences” candidate if the Bears wanted to bring in someone in the Belichick mold, but risk that he may not have learned from his stint in Denver. He has a brilliant offensive mind and certainly would be a pro-Trubisky pick. If they wanted. Goodwin, like Toub, was on the Bears staff from 2004-2006 so he’s familiar with the organization. He’s served on three staffs of successful offenses since then (PIT, IND, ARZ) and would be going to an organization that hit a home run with their last first-time head coach minority hire (Lovie Smith).

Cincinnati Bengals

Candidates: Paul Guenther (CIN DC), Kris Richard (SEA DC), Pat Shurmur (MIN OC)

If the Bengals organization is okay with staying the course and trusts members of the current staff, Guenther could be the choice. The main Bengals problem recently has been inconsistent offense, not the other side of the ball. Richard would be a hire very much in the mold of Lewis: another minority hire with a successful track record as a defensive back coach and defensive coordinator. If the Bengals are looking to change things and perhaps bring in an experience offensive mind to salvage Andy Dalton (or work with a new QB), Shurmur has done great things with a hamstrung Minnesota offense and is deserving of a second shot as a head coach in a non-Cleveland organization.

Indianapolis Colts:

Candidates: McDaniels, Matt Patricia (NE DC),  Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw

The Colts can go one of three ways. They can maximize the offensive skill of the team by bringing in an offensive mind like McDaniels who can work with Andrew Luck or, if Luck’s not healthy, former Patriot Jacoby Brissett who has already worked with him. If they want a guy with a defensive mindset, they can dip right back into the Patriots’ organization and give Patricia his first head coaching job. Or, if Jim Irsay swings for the fences he can attempt to lure one of Andrew Luck’s former head coaches, Harbaugh or Shaw, from the college game. Harbaugh of course is very familiar with the Colts organization already.

New York Giants:

Candidates: Steve Spagnuolo (NYG DC), McDaniels, Steve Wilks (CAR DC)

Spagnuolo would be a relatively boring hire who had little success in his first head coaching stint, but for a team with a solid defense one year removed from the playoffs, this is a hat tip to contitunity. The offensive coordinator hire would need to be dynamic. McDaniels would certainly create more of a spark from the outside than Spagnuolo and would get the opportunity to salvage the final years of Eli Manning’s career or work from the ground floor with a young quarterback. New GM Dave Gettleman worked previously with Wilks in Carolina and may want to give the Panthers’ defensive coordinator a shot at  his first head coaching position.

Arizona Cardinals

Candidates: Goodwin, Matt Nagy (KC OC), Todd Haley (PIT OC)

If it is an amicable departure between the organization and Arians (rumors are that Arians will retire), hiring Goodwin would allow for the team to keep much of their current structure in place. Nagy is a young offensive coordinator in the Sean McVay mold who helped pump up the Chiefs’ offense this year. Given the questions surrounding the Cardinals at quarterback, he would get the chance to work directly with the team’s potential quarterback of the future. The second-chance, experienced head coach that could get a call is Haley, who has the Steelers’ offense flying once again and served as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator when they went to Super Bowl XLIII.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jfey5 and find his other work here, including a comparison of modern Super Bowl teamsthe best playoff QBs in recent memory, and his predictions for the 2017 Heisman Trophy race.

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