*Where they rank as potential head coaching options in brackets
The Safe Options
Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs STC (1)
Rarely does it seem that a special teams coordinator is hired to be an NFL head coach. Maybe it isn’t the sexiest hire, nor the most exciting for a fan base to get behind, but special teams coordinators usually know the entire roster up and down as opposed to just one side of the ball. It’s hard to find NFL head coaches who worked their way there via special teams. The only active head coach whose main area of expertise is special teams is the Baltimore Ravens John Harbaugh, whom Dave Toub worked under in Philadelphia. This past offseason Toub was rumored as a potential head coaching candidate, but ended up back in Kansas City coaching specials. Toub has been around the league for almost two decades coaching successful special teams units in Chicago and Kansas City. His name doesn’t jump off the sheet, but neither did Harbaugh’s when the Ravens hired him. Knowing the ins-and-outs of a roster and where the pieces fit is more important for a head coach than having been a successful play-caller on one side of the ball. A lot of the time head coaches don’t end up sticking as primary play-callers because they need to focus on a roster as a whole. Toub has a lot of respect around the league and would likely have no problem hiring an experienced staff. A place like Indianapolis could use a steady safe option like Toub. The Colts are a perfect fit especially because their new GM Chris Ballard worked in Kansas City with Toub.
Best landing spot: Indianapolis Colts
Teryl Austin, Detroit Lions DC (3)
Every offseason, Teryl Austin’s name is floated around as a potential head coaching candidate. Austin has interviewed for nine head coaching jobs over the last three years, but has failed to be hired. Maybe teams are using him to fulfill the Rooney Rule? If so that’s their mistake because what Austin has done in Detroit defensively is a miracle. He took over as the Lions DC in 2014 and moved them from 14th in defensive DVOA all the way to 3rd. In 2015, despite the loss of Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and an injured DeAndre Levy, the Lions still finished 16th in defensive DVOA. In 2016 with a defense full of injuries and subpar talent, Austin had them fall to last in the league in defensive DVOA, but they played far better in the second half of the season than the first. Point being, when Austin has defensive talent, he can turn that side of the ball into a powerhouse. Remember every offseason for the last three years how the Jaguars were/are the dark horse team in the AFC? Well, they aren’t, at least not with Blake Bortles and Doug Marrone. If Tom Coughlin isn’t tempted to take the team over himself, hiring Austin would be a perfect fit- giving him a defense full of veteran and young talent with the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, and Telvin Smith.
Best landing spot: Jacksonville Jaguars
Russ Grimm, Tennessee Titans OL (5)
People forget that Russ Grimm was suppose to replace Bill Cowher when he retired as the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. Fast forward over a decade since the “Grimm as Steelers new head coach” debacle and the Pro Football Hall of Famer still hasn’t received a head coaching offer. One of the original members of the “Hogs” playing on Washington’s offensive line in the 80s, Grimm has been coaching in the NFL since he retired from playing. Grimm is likely the best offensive line coach in the league, transforming o-lines everywhere he goes. He’s helped turn the Titans offensive line into one of the three best in football. Although, he’s not the hire fans will necessarily love, hiring Grimm might be the safest coaching move in the NFL. A team like the Jets who are usually in the news for all the wrong reasons could use the steadying hand of Grimm. At the very least the Jets terrifyingly pathetic offensive line would benefit by bringing Grimm into New York.
Best landing spot: New York Jets
The Belichick Effect
Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots OC (2)
Already having failed as a head coach in Denver, Josh McDaniels name might be the hottest name among GMs looking for a new head honcho. Despite going 11-17 and being fired in his second season as Broncos head coach in 2010, McDaniels is considered one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. He’s been one of the all-time best offensive coordinators, a title he has held in New England twice from 2006-2008 and again from 2012-Present, with that fun 2011 St. Louis Rams season as OC sprinkled in. The two biggest questions surrounding McDaniels are, how much of his success is the Bill Belichick effect? And will he learn from the mistakes he made in Denver? The best case scenario for a bright creative offensive mind like McDaniels is to land the Tennessee Titans head coaching job, assuming they move on from the less than arousing Mike Mularkey. Tennessee has a top three offensive line, one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, a talented backfield, and a solid receiving core. All they lack is a beautiful mind calling plays- the major appeal of hiring McDaniels would be to have him continue to call plays. Well there’s an argument to be made that it’s Belichick or Tom Brady, you can’t deny the success New England has had while McDaniels has called plays. New England has finished top 10 in offensive DVOA every year under McDaniels; 2006- 4th, 2007- 1st, 2008- 7th (Brady missed 15 games), 2012- 1st, 2013- 4th, 2014- 6th, 2015- 5th, and 2016- 2nd. He deserves another shot as a head coach and it’s clear he’s been waiting for the right opportunity as to avoid what happened in Denver from ever happening to him again.
Best landing spot: Tennessee Titans
Matt Patricia, New England Patriots DC (9)
You might not know who Matt Patricia is, but you actually do. He’s the large bearded man wearing the red backwards Patriots hat that matches his always red Patriots sweater or jacket on the sideline beside Bill Belichick. There’s two ways it usually plays out for Belichick’s coordinators, the first being well-known and highly regarded, like Josh McDaniels. The second being relatively unknown hidden in the shadows of Belichick’s success, that’s where Patricia lands. Patricia has been on the Pats staff since 2004 working on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. He rose to DC in 2012 and has quietly been doing a terrific job ever since. In his first year as DC he took New England from 30th in defensive DVOA up to 15th and has only once had them finish outside of the top half of the league. Patricia is just 42-years old and maybe not ready to take on the duties of a head coach, but Lions GM Bob Quinn worked in the New England front office from 2000-2015. With the Lions up and down success under Jim Caldwell, it might be time for Quinn to bring in his own guy come 2018 to help sure up a lackluster defense.
Best landing spot: Detroit Lions
Mike Vrabel, Houston Texans DC (14)
Since Mike Vrabel retired from the NFL he’s been coaching and rising up the ranks quickly. After a few years coaching at his alma mater, Ohio State, Vrabel jumped to the NFL and had been the Texans linebacker since 2014 until being promoted to defensive coordinator this past offseason. Although, he’s never coached under Belichick, Vrabel was a New England favorite- playing for three Super Bowl winning teams. He’s been coached by Bill; therefore, the Belichick effect applies. Just 41-years old and taking on his first coordinator job with one of the best defenses in the league, it won’t be long until Vrabel is talked about as a head coaching option, it just won’t be in 2018.
Best landing spot: Return to Houston
Failed Head Coaches Who Deserve Another Shot
Scott Linehan, Dallas Cowboys OC (4)
The last time Scott Linehan was a head coach he was being yelled at by his star players Torry Holt and Steven Jackson in St. Louis and never got the Rams anywhere. Linehan went 11-25 as Rams head coach in the mid-2000s, it was a train wreck. Since then Linehan has become one of the most respected offensive coordinators in the game, doing his best work tutoring young QBs. Linehan helped develop Matthew Stafford in Detroit as OC from 2009-2013. He took over as Dallas OC in 2015 and the team struggled when Tony Romo was injured. In 2016, with the same old Romo story, he helped turn a rookie fourth round pick into a franchise quarterback. Linehan deserves a ton of credit for the development of Dak Prescott. He took concepts from the spread offense Prescott ran at Mississippi State and infused them into the Cowboys playbook early. As the season progressed he added more and more to Prescott’s plate, slowly developing him. And by seasons end Prescott was reading defenses and running the entire offense like a Pro Bowl QB. Chicago is in a rough situation with head coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace not being on the same page with trading up to the number two pick in the 2017 NFL Draft to select quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It’s likely Fox is on his way out if Pace is brought back and he’ll be looking for a coach to develop a young QB with NFL caliber tools.
Best landing spot: Chicago Bears
Todd Haley, Pittsburgh Steelers OC (7)
Maybe, Todd Haley wasn’t given a long enough chance in Kansas City as head coach. He went 19-26 and even made a playoff appearance with Matt Cassel as his quarterback. Haley is a massive reason the Steelers identity went from a defensive juggernaut to a scoring-at-will offensive powerhouse. The last three years with Haley calling the plays Pittsburgh has finished 2nd, 3rd, and 7th in offensive DVOA. If Haley is given a lengthy opportunity, he has proven that he can transform an offense. The key for Haley will be finding a team with a trustworthy GM and time to invest in a long-term plan. Let’s be real the Jets are tanking and come 2018 they should be looking for a new coaching staff and front office. If, and it’s a big if, they hire a GM willing to invest time into building an offense and allowing Haley to work with a first round rookie QB like a Sam Darnold or Josh Allen, this fit could be very interesting.
Best landing spot: New York Jets
Jim Schwartz, Philadelphia Eagles DC (6)
Looking at Jim Schwartz all you can think is, “now, that’s a football guy.” Schwartz has been a head coach and taken a team to the playoffs. He’s also been one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. The biggest issue for Schwartz will be finding a team to takeover with an established offense; he’s struggled with success as a head coach due to lack of offensive productivity. The man can coach, he just needs to wait for the right team and until then be one of the best DCs in the game. In his first year in Philadelphia he took them from 17th in defensive DVOA to 4th and his lone year in Buffalo he had them finish 2nd in defensive DVOA. At the very least you’re getting great defensive coaching with Schwartz.
Best landing spot: Return to Philadelphia
The Next Sean McVay’s
Todd Downing, Oakland Raiders OC (15)
It’s way too early to be talking about Todd Downing as an NFL head coach, but the 37-year old certainly will be talked about. The Raiders QB coach the previous two seasons was just bumped up to OC due to his great relationship with Derek Carr. Downing is taking over play-calling duties for one of the most talented offenses in the league and it won’t be long until his name surfaces for head coaching gigs.
Best landing spot: Return to Oakland
Jim Bob Cooter, Detroit Lions OC (13)
Who doesn’t love Jim Bob Cooter and his fantastic name. He helped turn the Lions offense into a quick hitting attack and reach the playoffs despite an abysmal defense and no run game. Cooter is only 33-years old and working with a franchise QB in Matthew Stafford. Another impressive season from Stafford and the Lions passing attack will help the buzz around Cooter’s name. Ideally if Teryl Austin is hired to be an NFL head coach, Cooter will follow him as OC and prove the Lions effective passing game has more to do with him than Stafford. Cooter is close with Peyton Manning and if Manning ever returns to the NFL as a GM don’t be surprised if he calls Cooter.
Best landing spot: OC for Teryl Austin
Bald Seattle DC with a Goatee
Kris Richard, Seattle Seahawks DC (12)
Gus Bradley has the worst NFL win percentage ever, minimum 50 games coached. Dan Quinn is coming off a season where he led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl. There’s’ a 50/50 chance Kris Richard, the third straight Seahawk DC to be bald with a goatee, will be a good NFL head coach. Seattle has finished 4th and 5th in defensive DVOA with Richard as DC, but they were good under Bradley and Quinn too, so who knows. He should return to Seattle and build his resume.
Best landing spot: Return to Seattle
The Coaches in Waiting
Paul Guenther, Cincinnati Bengals DC (17)
If Marvin Lewis ever retires (there’s rumors he will after the 2017 season), it’s more likely than not owner Mike Brown will promote from within. I can’t imagine any Bengals fan would be happy with the promotion of Paul Guenther to head coach, but at least the move won’t surprise them. Oh Mike Brown, you are far too predictable.
Best landing spot: Return to Cincinnati
Harold Goodwin, Arizona Cardinals OC (11)
Bruce Arians is a beloved offensive mind and Harold Goodwin is his right hand man. Goodwin worked with Arians in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis before becoming his OC in Arizona in 2013. Arians has been the primary play-caller in their time together, but recently Goodwin has been phased into a larger play-calling role. Arians is 64-years old and has mentioned retirement in the past, while Goodwin is in his early 40s. If Goodwin sticks by Arians side he’ll eventually take over the Cardinals head job when Arians calls it quits.
Best landing spot: Return to Arizona
DON’T DO IT
Mike Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers DC (18)
Have some free time? Throw on the 2014 Atlanta Falcons Hard Knocks season, then try to make a legitimate argument that Mike Smith is head coach material. He’s a very solid defensive coach that should stick around for years as a coordinator, but nothing more. He lucked into a very talented team built by GM Thomas Dimitroff and that explains his 66-46 head coaching record. Two years after he’s gone, the Falcons make the Super Bowl. They had the talent they just needed the coaching staff.
Best landing spot: Return to Tampa
Mike Shula, Carolina Panthers OC (20)
No matter what, do not hire Mike Shula as a head coach. The Alabama team that Nick Saban took over and turned into a consistent SEC champion and National Champion contender is the same team Shula coached first. Shula’s record at Alabama says enough that he should never be a head coach again. From 2003-2006 as Bama HC, Shula was 26-23 and 10-23 after taking away the wins vacated for breaking NCAA rules… let that sink in.
Best landing spot: Return to Carolina
Darrell Bevell, Seattle Seahawks OC (19)
Never hire the guy that called a pass on the half-yard line in the Super Bowl despite having Marshawn Lynch as his running back. That’s just going to be a PR nightmare.
Best landing spot: Return to Seattle
The Football Guys Who Always Get Mentioned
Jon Gruden, ESPN Analyst (8)
Does anyone actually know if Jon Gruden is a good NFL head coach? The lore has certainly grown since he retired and headed for the Monday Night Football booth. Now we just hear about the “Gruden Grinder” or him saying “Spider 2 Y Banana” anytime there’s a touchdown pass. Gruden might be an incredibly average head coach who lucked into a Super Bowl title thanks to a defense built by Tony Dungy in Tampa. Or he might be a film obsessed offensive mastermind ready to turn an NFL team around. Nobody is really sure, so it’s time Gruden show us what he is and take over the New York Jets in 2018 led by his pick off Josh Allen or Sam Darnold.
Best landing spot: New York Jets
Tom Coughlin, Jaguars Executive (10)
When Jacksonville is 3-6 in November with Blake Bortles leading the league in interceptions, it’s going to be hard for Coughlin to ignore that itch to return to the sideline. The Jaguars made a wise decision bringing in Coughlin as an executive, but if Doug Marrone falters as head coach will Coughlin trust anybody else to coach them? At 70-years old it’s a better move for the organization to keep Coughlin as an executive and have him find the ideal coach for the Jaguars: *cough* Teryl Austin *cough*.
Best landing spot: Return as Jacksonville Jaguars executive
Bill Cowher, CBS Analyst (16)
Likely a future Pro Football Hall of Fame coach, Cowher has been out of the league for over a decade. Although, he’s only 60-years old and very well respected around the league it would be hard to imagine an NFL team trying to rebuild with Cowher in charge. Unless the perfect opportunity comes around it’s best for Cowher to stick to the studio and NFL teams to look elsewhere.
Best landing spot: Stick to the studio