The NFL is running out of qualified coaches.
The annual churn among coaches continues, and the chasm between the haves and the have-nots in the league appears more gaping than ever. Seven months from now the cycle will begin anew, with close to a quarter of the league's 32 teams inevitably seeking new leaders and the pool of those ready to take the reigns already picked through and tattered.
At some point the situation will hit critical mass, as some older coaches simply won't be coming back to the job and others are going to get very comfortable with the broadcasting booth and be in no rush to return to the sidelines. The run on young talent -- now in its apex with the Los Angeles Rams hiring Sean McVay as the youngest head coach in NFL history -- has made an impact, with coordinators getting head jobs in some cases years before many anticipated. Just think how short, relatively, the rise was for a guy like Jay Gruden going from the Arena League to coaching one of the NFL's signature franchises.
An entire wave of rising offensive coaches have already reached the pinnacle of the sport -- McVay, Adam Gase, Kyle Shanahan -- and the Broncos' hiring of Vance Joseph indicates how quickly the phenomenon can occur on the other side of the ball as well. In the past, many of these men would still be plying their trade as play-callers. But the league can't keep pace producing first-time coaches like that, and the turn away from the NCAA seems as sweeping as ever given the failures of Chip Kelly in recent years, so I'm anticipating a market correction come the end of the season.
Things go in cycles, and this quickly becomes a copycat league. I fully anticipate 2018 to be the year of the retread coach.
Frankly, I don't like that term, as the connotation is less-than-flattering, but the reality is this will be a year when men with former head-coaching experience rise back to the head of the class. Especially if guys like Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher stay on the post-coach path they are on, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
The most in-demand coaching candidates and the guys who will be getting flown around by owners come January are very likely to be people you are already quite familiar with. They may have had middling-at-best success in their previous stint as NFL coaches, but that won't make them any less attractive if they continue to do quality work as assistant coaches in 2017. There just aren't that many other options out there, and this will be their time, again, to get another shot to display what they can do leading an NFL franchise.
Maybe one of them will turn out to be the next Bill Belichick -- and if there is one in the bunch I'd go looking right back in New England for him -- and maybe some will have a better time of it with this opportunity, but regardless I'd anticipate a majority of the hot names getting interviews in 2018 to come from this list.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: He's had numerous opportunities to run teams again in recent years and will wait for the right opportunity to emerge. This year it could very well go down. He remains highly coveted, and his work with young Jimmy Garoppolo has only aided his cause. He learned from his time in Denver, and if he isn't a coach in 2018 it will only be because he didn't find a situation that felt right.
Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator: This unit will get better in the second year under Schwartz and he, like McDaniels, could be the rare coach from the Belichick tree to fully flourish. Great football mind. Like McDaniels, he learned from past mistakes in Detroit. Very organized. I like his chances to relaunch his career next year.
Mike Smith, Bucs defensive coordinator: Smith probably gets a job last year if he doesn't sign an extension with Tampa, but the kind of jobs he gets a crack at in 2018 stand to be better. That defense really took to him in the second half of 2016, and I don't see that trend changing this season. Had great success in Atlanta, and if he can assemble the right staff, he might not need much time to make an impact at his next stop.
Steve Spagnuolo, Giants defensive coordinator: OK, so it went really, really bad in St. Louis. But I ask you, since the Mike Martz regime's decline in St. Louis, who has it gone well for? Stop me if you've heard this before, but some of the micro-managing and sweating the small stuff is out of his system now. And that Giants defense is ready to feast again in 2018 and could lead a nice postseason charge. Spags will be in the mix if so.
Mike Munchak, Steelers offensive line coach: He looks the part, he understands the job, he can make an impact at the micro level with his position group. And he can be the corporate face of a franchise. College might make sense for him as well, but the strides that unit has made since he arrived in Pittsburgh are significant, and I don't expect him to get overlooked in this next hiring cycle.
Mike McCoy, Broncos offensive coordinator: Bad luck, unreal injuries and a franchise on the brink of moving did him in in San Diego. Untenable circumstances to some degree. But McCoy is a QB whisperer, and those guys are always in demand and always jump to the head of the class in coaching searches. Should he get Paxton Lynch going -- this dude won with Tebow, after all -- and get the Broncos offense humming along after stumbling under others the past two years, then McCoy's time as a coordinator could be very short.
Pat Shurmur, Vikings offensive coordinator: Taking over play-calling duties in-season last year, with very limited talent on offense, wasn't going to be easy. A full offseason under his belt will help, and if the Vikings' defense holds up more of its end of the bargain, then this team could surprise some people. Shurmur got short shift during his brief stint as the Browns coach -- um, who wins in Cleveland? -- and he got the best out of Sam Bradford a year ago.
Todd Haley, Steelers offensive coordinator: Probably not corporate enough for some. Definitely not much of a politician or a climber. But he can coach up an offense, and the Steelers will have the best unit in football if they can stay healthy. Maybe Haley will get another crack at it. Working under Scott Pioli in Kansas City was never going to work.
Scott Linehan, Cowboys offensive coordinator: Another former Rams coach on this list, and, yeah, no one won there. Linehan had a particularly rough time of it, and I wasn't surprised he didn't get as much traction in coaching searches a year ago as others predicted. But if Dak Prescott avoids a sophomore slump and this offense continues to thrive, he'll be a more viable candidate this time around.