NFL head coaching market: Finding the best fit for all eight openings, including a John Harbaugh trade
We don't know who each of the eight teams looking for coaches will hire, but here's who makes the most sense
The NFL's coaching circus is in full swing. A quarter of the league is searching for new sidelines bosses at a time when, literally, not a single general manager job is open.
Try figuring that out. It makes no sense and speaks to the overriding issues in this league with the backwards and stunted thinking that permeates so many ownership groups. But alas, away we go with corporate jets now taking off around the country to chase the next batch of potential coaches -- many of whom as ill-prepared for the job right now as their just-fired predecessors were 12 or 24 months ago -- with what will surely be a circuitous path for many.
It's far too soon in the process to accurately predict exactly how these searches will go, with some teams set to interview close to 10 men for their position and NFL teams spending seemingly as much time on subterfuge and building a mystery about the process as they are spending on jet fuel to hop around and interview these individuals. But you can start to cull some ideas about where these searches might ultimately land by studying the known candidates for each position, and researching how these owners tend to think and where they may be leaning in terms of the model they are looking for.
You can get a feel for which guys are the best fit in which spot. You can get a sense for which attributes might resonate most with which teams. And you can certainly formulate opinions about which coaches you believe would be best for each spot. With that in mind, here is who I believe makes the most sense to fill the available jobs. I am not reporting these men will be getting any of these jobs; although, frankly, in the end I think some of them will land with these teams. This is my quasi-educated opinion on what I would do if I was involved in these job searches, and where I believe the best fits could be.
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Browns: Josh McDaniels
I am on record as saying I would keep Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens after the superior jobs they did on an interim basis, but that does not appear to be the way the wind is blowing in Cleveland. In which case, I am hiring McDaniels. A lot is being made in some parts about the Browns not racing to formally secure an interview request with him by Tuesday, but I am told McDaniels is on their wish list and they are going to be in New England this weekend talking to Pats defensive coordinator Brian Flores, so, yeah, I'm watching this closely. Owner Jimmy Haslam has coveted McDaniels, a Ohio native, before, and he was huge on Baker Mayfield. The Browns also badly wanted the last QB McDaniels developed, Jimmy Garoppolo, but Bill Belichick wouldn't trade him there. I have long maintained McDaniels will be a rock star whenever he coaches that second time around. This should be it.
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Packers: Pat Fitzgerald
I wrote about the Packers' love of the Northwestern coach and for them, at length, shortly after Mike McCarthy was fired. It makes all the sense in the world. And that was before I realized that Packers defacto owner Mark Murphy was the guy who originally hired Fitzgerald at Northwestern. Maybe he refuses to talk to them. But Green Bay won't walk away easily. Nor should they. He is their guy, and they should try to convince him of that at all costs.
Jets: Gary Kubiak
He probably doesn't want to be a head coach ever again, but if I'm the Jets, I am making him tell me that. The front office has ties to Houston, where Kubiak was a successful head coach. He runs a proven offensive scheme and he is a great CEO-type leader. He could be great for Sam Darnold and he knows how to put a staff together. Mike McCarthy, Adam Gase or Jim Caldwell make plenty of sense too, but I don't see this being the perfect fit for McCarthy and still tend to think he sits out 2019 and recharges his batteries.
Broncos: Mike Munchak
John Elway has proven to be a coach killer, but Munchak has the mentality and temperament to work with him. The offensive line and QB has been a total blind spot for Elway so far, but Munchak would build a stout offensive in short order and he could get that team running the ball. Couple that with the talent on defense and you can Band-Aid 2019 with Case Keenum and buy time to get the next QB. Munchak did good work in Tennessee by and large and I can't see them going with someone inexperienced after the Vance Joseph experiment backfired.
Dolphins: Brian Flores
If this is going to be Chris Grier's show down there, and ownership is truly trying to finally prioritize cohesion and unity, then this is the guy. Grier comes from the Patriots, and the Dolphins need to get a defensive backbone in place. It's time to raid New England in hopes of one day having someone else actually win the AFC East.
Buccaneers: John Harbaugh (trade)
The Bucs have not made a splashy hire since they traded for Jon Gruden way back when. This ownership is up to something, and has a trick up its sleeve. The Bucs have been very slow to put in many interview requests, and some think they are stalling to see what happens in Baltimore. And they should be. They failed to get Chip Kelly or Gruden, again, a year ago. They can't do another Raheem Morris or Greg Schiano or Lovie Smith orDirk Koetter hire now. The stated desire to keep Jameis Winston and the existing front office would be an issue if they did make this pursuit, but then again, you don't try something this big without being willing to make massive changes to see it through. I'd offer two second-round picks the moment the Ravens' season ends -- especially if that comes Sunday -- and I'd offer Harbaugh $11 million per year with the ability to evaluate the entire team, including the quarterback. And if ownership is truly committed to Winston, then I'd be all-in on a college guy, like Kirby Smart, who comes from the same coaching tree as Jimbo Fisher, Winston's college coach, and who might best be able to make this thing work long-term.
Bengals: Eric Bieniemy
Bieniemy was a popular player for the Bengals and Mike Brown loves staying within that family tree. After 16 years of Marvin Lewis, I am looking for younger, fresher ideas and the Andy Reid coaching tree has sprouted some very fruitful coaches. If you think Hue Jackson is good for Andy Dalton, keep him around as a QB coach or whatever. Vance Joseph returning as a defensive coordinator would make sense, too.
Cardinals: Zac Taylor
The owner already aimed big by offering the keys to the kingdom to Mike McCarthy. He said no, and this was already a very tough job to fill a year ago (Munchak, for starters, walked away from it). Josh Rosen will scare some coaches, the roster is not good and they went 3-13 for reasons that went beyond just Steve Wilks. Go get Taylor, Sean McVay's most trusted assistant from division-rival Los Angeles. Let him bring his father-in-law, former NFL head coach Mike Sherman, to help him on offense and pair him with a super-experienced former NFL head coach as the defensive coordinator (Chuck Pagano? Jack Del Rio?). Sound familiar? First-round draft pick QB, coming of a difficult rookie season being coached by a staff that seemed over its head that season, who ends up flourishing in Year 2 in the perfect scheme? Oh yeah, McVay to the Rams in 2017, with Wade Phillips as the DC. Happened right in front of Cardinals ownership's eyes in that division.
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