The 2023 NFL coaching cycle maintained what's now an 11-year trend in which there have been at least five new head coaches. This year's coaching carousel is in full swing with three of the five head-coaching vacancies now filled -- the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and the Carolina Panthers -- and two teams are still in the interview stages for their openings in the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts.
The Denver Broncos found their replacement to replace the fired Nathaniel Hackett on Tuesday after trading a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for their former Super Bowl Champion head coach, Sean Payton. Their hope is that he can fix Russell Wilson, whom they parted with five draft picks and three players to acquire before signing him to a five-year, $245 million contract extension, right before he had the worst year of his 11-year career in 2022.
The Houston Texans also found their head coach Tuesday, hiring San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans as their newest head coach on a six-year deal. This reunites the former Pro Bowl linebacker with the team that drafted him 33rd overall in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Ryans' 49ers defense led the NFL in scoring (16.3 points per game allowed) and total defense (300.6 total yards per game) as well as interceptions (20) along with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022. No team has forced more fumbles (38) than Ryans' 49ers defenses have during his two-year tenure as Kyle Shanahan's defensive coordinator since 2021.
The Carolina Panthers also went for a homecoming hire, choosing former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich as the fired Matt Rhule's replacement. Reich was the first quarterback in Panthers history after the franchise was founded in 1995. The Panthers hired someone with plenty of experience navigating uncertain quarterback situations since he never had the same passer as his Week 1 starter in five seasons with the Colts.
NFL hirings and firings
The Broncos couldn't have hired anyone better to try to fix their aging, struggling quarterback than Payton. He took an injured Drew Brees and helped mold him into one of the most prolific passers the league has ever seen. Russell Wilson has been on a downward spiral since the second half of the 2020 season, but now he has a coach who made Taysom Hill a real NFL player with value. Wilson couldn't ask for much more than that. Stylistically, this tandem will be one to watch since Wilson likes to hold the ball and hunt for deep shots while Payton's Saints offenses were about quick, precision passes.
The Houston Texans needed some fresh, positive vibes after firing both David Culley and Lovie Smith after one season in each of the past two years. Hiring Ryans, one of the league's top defensive coordinators who happens to be a former player, is a home-run hire for the struggling franchise. Mr. Houston Texan himself, JJ Watt, approves of the hire. If Houston actually honors his six-year deal and gives him leeway to grow a team flush with draft picks, it could finally have a winner down the road.
This hire is comparable to that of the Las Vegas Raiders' choice to hire Josh McDaniels a year ago, in addition to the connection between the two from McDaniels backing out of the Colts job, allowing Reich to be hired in Indianapolis back in 2018. The teams both publicly backed the interim head coaches -- special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia in Vegas and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks in Carolina -- before ownership went with a known commodity as an offensive play-caller. The Panthers have to be hoping to avoid the historically rough first season McDaniels had with the Raiders in which his team became the first in NFL history to blow five double-digit, second-half leads in a season. Step one for the Panthers: Find stability at quarterback, something Reich never had with the Colts.
This is probably the murkiest opening of the five in 2023, thanks to franchise quarterback Kyler Murray's ACL injury. No one knows what he will look like upon his return, which is worrisome for a quarterback whose mobility ranks as one of his top attributes. It's known that he isn't expected to be back for the start of the 2023 season, so whoever takes this job does so with the understanding there likely won't be an immediate turnaround.
As the 2023 NFL Draft order stands right now, the Texans and Colts are the only teams in need of a quarterback in the top four picks, meaning Indianapolis could end up with whomever the Houston Texans decide not to select between Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. However, whichever coach takes this job needs to know if owner Jim Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard are willing to do what it takes to trade up and secure one of those two top prospects. If Young or Stroud end up in Indy, this team could contend for the AFC South crown with running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive lineman Quenton Nelson already in place.