With the regular season complete and most of the NFL set to watch the playoffs on television, the question being asked more fervently around the league is: Where will the next crop of head coaches come from? And the answer will be, in many cases, from the recent past.
With the list of up-and-coming coordinators looking slim, and particularly with so many young offensive minds already snapped up as head coaches before many expected, there is a dearth of talent available in that regard. Instead, I expect the hottest competition will be for a small group of men who are coming off strong seasons as coordinators and/or position coaches who already have ample experience as head coaches: Josh McDaniels of the Patriots, Pat Shurmur of the Vikings, Jim Schwartz of the Eagles and, from the Steelers, offensive line coach Mike Munchak and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. For many of them, at a time when upwards of 10 vacancies could occur, now is their time.
The group of head coaches who will be or could be let go includes few automatic rehires (Bill O'Brien of the Texans might be the only one, and it remains to be seen if he becomes available). The big fish from the college game who NFL teams covet (Nick Saban, David Shaw, etc.) likely aren't going anywhere, and even with Jon Gruden seeming more poised than ever to leave the broadcast booth and return to the sidelines, there are going to be a lot of voids to fill and few proven commodities to fill them.
McDaniels remains the most coveted candidate, and at a time when guys like Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay are all the rage in the NFL and with so few quarterback gurus on the market, some team will be willing to wait for this guy until after the Super Bowl if necessary. A quarter of the league needs a new quarterback through trade, free agency or the draft, and McDaniels is as bright as they come. He's learned much from his earlier issues in Denver as head coach there and while he has every right to be picky, he'll certainly listen to four teams next weekend when he can conduct interviews. I'm not sure he'd be a great fit with new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, but perhaps he and New England personnel man Nick Caserio would be a pairing in Chicago. Tennessee and Detroit will want to talk to him, and if Houston opened up that would be a team to watch as well.
Shurmur didn't get much of a shake from the Browns during his brief stint there, which dovetailed with Jimmy Haslam taking over as owner and beginning his reign of terror there. That final season in Cleveland was lost almost before it began, with new owners about to make changes, and Shumur's work with Case Keenum this season is being lauded around the NFL. Anyone looking offense -- Indianapolis and Denver leap to mind -- would want to talk to him, and he could certainly be a match with the Giants as well.
Schwartz will talk to the Giants too, I'm sure, but I don't know many people who believe his personality would be a fit with Gettleman and the Giants ownership. Schwartz is super-smart and driven and he got the Lions to the playoffs, which in itself is no small accomplishment. He was a rising coordinator for years in Tennessee and that, to me, would be a strong potential landing spot for him now.
Munchak and Haley get far less hype and publicity than the rest -- and the Steelers aren't exactly notorious for outwardly pushing their guys for outside jobs -- but they merit serious consideration for openings in 2018. Munchak actually checks many of the boxes the Giants will be looking for. He had a decent stint coaching the Titans, he is very buttoned up and corporate and can handle the media. Munchak has elite expertise in the offensive line, which needs to be rebuilt, and he and Gettleman seem compatible to some around the league who know both. It's not super sexy, but then neither was Doug Marrone a year ago in Jacksonville.
Haley went to the playoffs during his time coaching the Chiefs, and he's done great work with the Steelers. He was knocked in the past for being a hothead, but has managed to deal with Ben Roethlisberger without sideline incident and he's controlled his emotions and there is no doubt he can coach football. He deserves a closer look, especially in this marketplace.
Of the coordinators/assistant coaches without head-coaching experience, I expect Matt Patricia (Patrots), Steve Wilks (Panthers), Dave Toub and Matt Nagy (Chiefs), George Edwards (Vikings), Mike Vrabel (Houston), Frank Reich and John DeFilippo (Eagles) and Paul Guenther (Bengals) to be of particular interest. As for those with NFL head coach experience who are outside of the league right now, besides Gruden, Jim Mora and Jeff Fisher could get opportunities to interview as well.
More Week 17 notes
- I would not be surprised at all if the Cowboys had new offensive and defensive coordinators next season. The predictability of the offense and play calling is something players have been grousing about there for weeks, league sources said, and the regression of Dak Prescott was a very real thing ... The name I have heard connected to the Packers defensive coordinator position more than the rest is Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio is a free agent and will have other options for sure. Many are linking Chuck Pagano to the Ravens as defensive coordinator if Dean Pees does in fact retire, but some close to Pagano could see him taking some time to recharge, and Fangio has strong ties to Ravens coach John Harbaugh. ... Speaking of former Ravens coordinators, teams are coveting Gary Kubiak as their offensive coordinator and he's remained in contact with many of his former assistants in the league and outside of it. Ultimately, however, I wouldn't be stunned if Kubiak ended up as a personnel assistant, perhaps identifying talent in that regard rather than coaching. ...
- Guenther is another coach who will be hotter than many think. He, too, is a free agent and if the Bengals don't work quickly to name his as Marvin Lewis's replacement as head coach there, he will have numerous opportunities as a coordinator elsewhere (and likely a few other head coaching looks as well) ... If I am an Eagles fan, I'm pretty worried right about now. This team has not looked right the last two weeks and Nick Foles, in particular, does not look up for this. He was jumpy and fidgety and inaccurate in a brief string Sunday, at home, against a Dallas team with nothing to play for. He turned the ball over and couldn't get in tempo, and this could be a one-and-done in the playoffs for Philly. I'm not feeling what I'm seeing and the loss of Carson Wentz cannot be overstated. ... Still seems utterly insane to me that the Giants benched Eli Manning to "get a look at Geno Smith and Davis Webb," which amounted to one start for Smith at Oakland. Why the hell did they sit him down again? ...
- Hue Jackson is really going to keep his job? After DeShone Kizer continued to regress and after his team succumbed to the Steelers back-ups and after they called a timeout with two seconds left on the playclock and the ball already at the one-inch line (take the half-an-inch penalty) and after fumbling and dropping another game away, and after now going well over a calendar year without a win and with somehow finding a way to get worse from a 1-15 season a year ago? Seriously? With his team just as unable to give games away in Week 17 as it was in Week 1? What planet am I living on? Vince Lombardi wouldn't keep his job in most scenarios off an 0-16. Even for Jimmy Haslam, this would be a new low in the annals of bizarre decision making if he truly foisted this head coach on his new general manager, John Dorsey, for 2018, along with whatever quarterback he selects with the first overall pick.