NFL head coaching carousel: Who will replace Urban Meyer? Jim Harbaugh, Jim Caldwell to return? Will Byron Leftwich and Eric Bieniemy get their chance? | NFL News


Byron Leftwich is one of the leading head coach candidates

Byron Leftwich is one of the leading head coach candidates

The NFL is in the thick of its annual head coaching cycle, when job interviews are held and firings precede hirings as teams seek out the figurehead they hope can steer them to Super Bowl glory.

Black Monday has been and gone with the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings becoming the latest head coach-needy organisations, and there could yet more as the New York Giants, Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks weigh up their own future.

Here’s a look at the NFL’s job openings so far and some of the notable candidates on the market…

  • Head coach vacancies
  • Notable candidates
  • Other names to watch
  • Confirmed head coach interviews

Head coach vacancies

Head coach openings

Team Former head coach
Chicago Bears Matt Nagy
Denver Broncos Vic Fangio
Jacksonville Jaguars Urban Meyer
Las Vegas Raiders Jon Gruden
Miami Dolphins Brian Flores
Minnesota Vikings Mike Zimmer

Chicago Bears

The Matt Nagy era in Chicago is finally over, he and general manager Ryan Pace coming off second-best in their all-or-nothing ‘prove it’ year as the Bears finished 6-11. It had become an all too inevitable end for a not-so-long-ago 2018 Coach of the Year after leading the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Nagy finished 34-31 and with two playoff appearances to his name across four years with the Bears, with criticism of his play-calling combining with the regression of Mitchell Trubisky and subsequently unsuccessful trade for Nick Foles in contributing to an oomph-sapped situation in need of fresh leadership.

He leaves behind what the Bears believe is their franchise quarterback for the next decade and beyond in Justin Fields, a top 10 defense including Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, and a handful of talented skill position players.

The best of the action from the clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos in Week 18 of the NFL season

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The best of the action from the clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos in Week 18 of the NFL season

The best of the action from the clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos in Week 18 of the NFL season

Denver Broncos

Vic Fangio was fired by the Broncos after three playoff-less losing seasons in what had marked his first head coaching opportunity after more than 30 years in the NFL. Another job at the top elsewhere looks unlikely, but the defensive guru offered enough quarterback-confusing savvy at Mile High to suggest he will stroll straight into a coordinator role.

In the end, his undoing was the lack of an upgrade on mere average quarterback play, with neither Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater providing a long-term answer under center. The Broncos have had 11 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset – might a certain Packers play-caller be tempted their way this offseason?

That could be what the organisation’s next head coach has to look forward to, along with a loaded pool of offensive toys including Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Javonte Williams, Noah Fant, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Urban Meyer experiment crashed and burnJed in Duval. Meyer was fired after 13 games in December, the final straw of his tumultuous tenure being a report in the Tampa Bay Times in which former Jags kicker Josh Lambo had claimed the former college coach kicked him in the leg during warm-ups before a practice in preseason.

Before that, Meyer reportedly called his assistant coaches “losers” and questioned their résumés, he had been criticised for a video that showed a young woman dancing close to his lap in his Columbus restaurant after he had opted against flying back with his team post-game, he signed former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow to play tight end in training camp in the offseason and shortly after his arrival had hired former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, who had been accused of making racist remarks and bullying during his time with the Hawkeyes. On top of that, the Jags were heading towards another NFL-worst record.

The Jags’ prime selling points? No. 1 overall pick quarter Trevor Lawrence – whose generational talent reputation Meyer had tossed into oblivion – another No. 1 overall pick to make use of in 2022, 12 draft picks in total and a third-highest cap space.

Ryan Leaf and Phoebe Schecter discuss the firing of Urban Meyer as Jacksonville Jaguars head coach after only 13 games in charge in the NFL

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Ryan Leaf and Phoebe Schecter discuss the firing of Urban Meyer as Jacksonville Jaguars head coach after only 13 games in charge in the NFL

Ryan Leaf and Phoebe Schecter discuss the firing of Urban Meyer as Jacksonville Jaguars head coach after only 13 games in charge in the NFL

Miami Dolphins

The humdinger shock of ‘Black Monday’ was the Dolphins’ firing of Brian Flores after three seasons, across the latter two of which he went 19-14 having finished 5-11 with arguably the most under-staffed roster in the league in 2019. Ultimately, his departure appeared the result of a power struggle with general manager Chris Grier, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport pointing towards tension behind the scenes, particularly when it came to the use of Miami’s extensive draft capital in recent years.

Flores led a perhaps ahead-of-schedule Miami to a 10-6 finish leaving them just shy of the playoffs in 2020 and saw his team begin this past season 1-7 before winning seven consecutive games to threaten a late postseason push. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released a statement following Flores’ sacking explaining that he did not see the progress he had expected from the team. Mid-season trade speculation surrounding Deshaun Watson amid his legal troubles did not help, while a shoddy offensive line and the offensive coordinator hirings of Chan Gailey in 2020 and the pairing of Eric Studesville and George Godsey in 2021 did little for the development of Tua Tagovailoa.

The roster talent in Miami is largely appealing. The Miami decision-makers, less so.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings promised so much, but could never quite get over the line with Mike Zimmer, who was relieved of his duties after eight seasons in charge of the franchise.

Minnesota missed out on the playoffs for the second straight year after finishing 8-9, leaving Zimmer with a record of 72-56 since arriving in 2014. The closest he came to Super Bowl glory was at the end of the 2017 campaign when the Vikings were beaten by the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game; backup Case Keenum had starred at quarterback and Minnesota boasted the No. 1-ranked defense in the league behind Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter.

Hopes that Kirk Cousins would lead the Vikings to silverware under Zimmer have failed to materialise, while defensive regression for a unit that would rank 30th overall in 2021 proved defining. The Vikings lost 14 of their 17 games by one possession this season, line-getting-over the tale of the tape yet again.

Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook are fun, welcome presents for Zimmer’s successor, and Cousins is statistically sound, but that defense needs work.

The best of the action from the clash between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18 of the NFL season

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The best of the action from the clash between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18 of the NFL season

The best of the action from the clash between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18 of the NFL season

Las Vegas Raiders

It might be wrong to assume the Raiders will look beyond interim head coach Rich Bisaccia when looking for a long-term successor to Jon Gruden, who resigned in October after the release of racist, homophobic and misogynistic emails dating back to 2010.

Between Gruden’s departure, the release of Henry Ruggs III after his involvement in a fatal car accident and the release of Damon Arnette following a video in which he is seen threatening to kill someone while holding a firearm, Bisaccia has had to contend with more than most in the league. And here they are, competing in the playoffs.

If he hasn’t earned the job, you would think he has earned consideration.

Notable candidates

The Miami Dolphins fired Brian Flores on Monday

The Miami Dolphins fired Brian Flores on Monday

Brian Flores – Former Miami Dolphins head coach

Miami’s loss could prove another team’s gem of a gain, Flores’ contentious exit quite possibly catapulting a new name to the top of coaching wish-lists elsewhere in the league. You need only look at the reaction to his dismissal from Dolphins players on social media to understand the extent of his popularity.

You would not put it past Bill Belichick to snap up his wronged former Patriots assistant, who inherited a less than so-so defense and turned it into one of the league’s most turnover-savvy and window-dressed blitz-loving groups in the league.

The job interviews should come in their numbers.

Brian Daboll – Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator

Printed in bold capital letters on the resume of Brian Daboll is the name Josh Allen. Chiseling, nurturing and transforming the Buffalo Bills quarterback from turnover machine to upper-echelon MVP-contender has been one of his crowning achievements.

Daboll’s arrival in Buffalo in 2018 coincided with Allen’s early struggles as the Bills ranked 30th on offense before rising to 23rd. Last season his offense finished second in both yards and scoring, followed by fifth and third in those areas in the regular season just gone as he and Sean McDermott eye a Super Bowl run.

Devin Singletary got his brace late on as Buffalo ran out 27-10 winners over the New York Jets to secure the AFC East division title

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Devin Singletary got his brace late on as Buffalo ran out 27-10 winners over the New York Jets to secure the AFC East division title

Devin Singletary got his brace late on as Buffalo ran out 27-10 winners over the New York Jets to secure the AFC East division title

It’s really been in Buffalo where he success has come, Daboll’s unit with the Cleveland Browns having ranked 32nd in 2009 and 29th in 2010 before his 2011 Miami Dolphins offense finished 20th in 2011 and his Kansas City Chiefs offense dead-last in 2012. Allen’s evolution has come with Daboll’s evolution, and vice versa.

He’s just 46 with over 20 years of coaching experience under his belt. His run game in Buffalo may be a little meh, but the success through the air with modernised quad formations is a prime attraction.

Jim Harbaugh – Michigan head coach

Harbaugh just guided the Michigan Wolverines to a first conference title since 2004 and a spot in the College Football Playoff for the first time in the programme’s history. Could he be tempted by a return to the NFL?

The 56-year-old is an argument to what has typically been a rocky transition for coaches stepping between college and the NFL (ask Urban Meyer). He finished with a 44-19-1 record across four years with the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-2014 having inherited a 6-10 team before reaching two NFC Championship Games either side of a, albeit losing, Super Bowl appearance in 2012.

Harbaugh spent 14 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL before beginning his coaching career as quarterbacks coach with the Raiders followed by head coaching roles with San Diego (2004-2006) and Stanford (2007-2010).

The father of four-star Michigan commit Darrius Clemons recently said Harbaugh admitted he will entertain opportunities in the NFL. We’ll see.

Jim Caldwell – Former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions head coach

From one possible NFL comeback to another. Jim Caldwell is your culture-shifting respect-demanding locker room favourite many would feel is deserving of at least consideration of another shot on the sidelines.

Caldwell led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl ring in his first season in charge in 2009 followed by a second successive division title the next year before a 2-14 finish in 2011 in the absence of Peyton Manning, who had undergone neck surgery, saw his tenure come to an end.

He subsequently recorded three winning seasons and reached the playoffs twice in four campaigns as head coach of the Lions from 2014-2017, his .563 winning percentage the best for a Detroit head coach since Buddy Parker in the 1950s. Caldwell was hired as Miami Dolphins assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach in February 2019 but saw his time come to a premature end when he took a leave of absence due to health issues.

The circumstances of his departure in Miami and the fact he is now 66 aside, Caldwell marks an immediate player favourite.

    Byron Leftwich – Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator

    Believe it or not, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich did not receive a single interview request amid the annual coaching search this time last year. Not one, despite overseeing the Tom Brady-led offense that reached and won the Super Bowl having faced a COVID-stricken offseason during which to get prepared with his new quarterback.

    Leftwich helped a Jameis Winston-guided, turnover-heavy Bucs offense rank third overall and fourth in scoring in 2019, before calling the plays that saw Brady and co. finish second in passing and third in scoring last season. He began his coaching career with the Arizona Cardinals as quarterbacks coach (2017-2018) and interim offensive coordinator (2018), with Arians eventually taking him to Tampa.

    He and the greatest to play the position have gone from strength to strength since an understandably-slow start in their first campaign together. He may have been blessed with elite weapons across the board, but an unsung component to his success has been the ability to keep them (most of them) satisfied and firing as far as targets go.

    Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator

    Will this be the year Eric Bieniemy gets his opportunity? Lovers of the Chiefs’ dizzying and draining offense have long rallied for Andy Reid’s right-hand man to get his chance at the helm. For whatever reason, it has been yet to happen.

    A prevailing suggestion for that has been the reality that it is Reid calling the plays at Arrowhead, though only ignorance would deny Bieniemy the credit he deserves for the role he has played in Patrick Mahomes’ impact since entering the NFL.

    One major tick in his column this season has been Mahomes and the Chiefs’ ability to adjust to the two-deep coverage trends teams have employed in a bid to cut off the chunk plays that have made them so dangerous. It’s been a case of tempering the switchblade immediacy with dink and dunk paper cuts.

    Nathaniel Hackett – Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator

    If Aaron Rodgers is a fan, you are probably doing something right. And Nathaniel Hackett has done a lot right since taking over as Packers offensive coordinator in 2019.

    You may remember Hackett for extracting the best of a Blake Bortles-led offense as the Jaguars reached the AFC Championship Game in 2017. Nowadays he is helping Matt LaFleur draw and dial up the quad formations unlocking the explosive plays that have made Rodgers and Davante Adams one of the league’s automatic connections.

    With the possibility of Rodgers departing this offseason in mind, hire the No. 12-endorsed Hackett and your chances of luring No. 12 are boosted. He comes with an infectious enthusiasm for progressive thinking and imparting that on those with which he works.

    Highlights of the Week 17 clash between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers

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    Highlights of the Week 17 clash between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers

    Highlights of the Week 17 clash between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers

    Kellen Moore – Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator

    At 33, the Cowboys offensive string-puller is likely to be the youngest of the serious contenders to secure a head coaching job this cycle. The former six-year backup quarterback entered the fold as quarterbacks coach in 2018 following his retirement from playing, before being promoted to offensive coordinator in January 2019.

    His unit led the league in average yards in 2019, before falling to 14th in 2020 in the absence of injured quarterback Dak Prescott and this year returning to top spot in both yards and scoring. He’s widely-deemed the NFL’s latest young, fun and Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan-style wonderkid, which may be unfair pressure. While there are zero question marks over his football IQ, what will come under the spotlight is his experience leading an entire team.

    Dak Prescott throws a career-high five touchdowns to finish with 37 on the season, breaking Tony Romo's franchise record for the Cowboys

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    Dak Prescott throws a career-high five touchdowns to finish with 37 on the season, breaking Tony Romo’s franchise record for the Cowboys

    Dak Prescott throws a career-high five touchdowns to finish with 37 on the season, breaking Tony Romo’s franchise record for the Cowboys

    Doug Pederson – Former Philadelphia Eagles head coach

    It’s hard not to feel like it’s a matter of ‘where’ and not ‘if’ when it comes to Doug Pederson earning another head coaching job in the NFL. Not so long ago he knocked off the New England Patriots to win a Super Bowl with the Eagles behind a backup quarterback in Nick Foles. So there’s that.

    Pederson has a 42-37-record having reached the playoffs and finished with winning records in three of his five seasons as a coach. Bad quarterback play will get you fired, and unfortunately Carson Wentz’s decline in Philly coincided with the end of Pederson’s time with a team that slumped to 4-11-1 in 2020.

    For what it’s worth, Pederson is good friends with Dolphins great Dan Marino. He is also a leading advocate for the RPO offense tailored to Tua Tagovailoa.

    Dan Quinn – Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

    Quinn was 43-42 in five-and-a-bit seasons as Falcons head coach, reaching Super Bowl LI when Atlanta famously blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots before reaching falling in the NFC Divisional Round the next year. Two straight losing seasons followed until Quinn was fired after a 0-5 start to the 2020 campaign.

    He has since rebuilt his reputation in Dallas by transforming a porous and lifeless Cowboys defense into one of the league’s most dynamic units. Quinn’s outfit finished the 2021 regular season as league leaders in takeaways (34) having been tied-seventh (23) the previous year, their defensive EPA (expected points added) of 138.74 after 17 games was up on a 23rd-ranked -45.2 in 2020, and they have averaged a seventh-fewest points per game (21.1) compared to a 28th-ranked 29.6.

    The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 18 of the NFL season

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    The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 18 of the NFL season

    The best of the action from the clash between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 18 of the NFL season

    The 51-year-old has had to tinker and adapt his Cover One/Cover Three Legion of Boom-cultivated philosophies to meet the needs of a modern defense, posing more questions of quarterbacks and offenses with simulated coverages and post-snap movement while having a personal hand in the multi-faceted explosion of rookie Micah Parsons

    Quinn’s possible departure is also interesting for how it potentially throws British-born Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde into coordinator contention.

    Other names to keep an eye on

    • Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator: Bowles four-year tenure as New York Jets head coach ended with three straight losing seasons, but he has since constructed one of the league’s most feared defensive units in Tampa and played a starring role in shutting down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Super Bowl LV.

    • Mike McDaniel, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator: Having been promoted from run game coordinator prior to the season, McDaniel has assisted Kyle Shanahan in complementing Jimmy Garoppolo with one of the most sophisticated and inventive rushing attacks in the NFL.

    • Jerod Mayo – New England Patriots linebackers coach: Mayo is 35 and only in this third year as a coach, but already has glowing references for his role with a Patriots defense that ranked No. 2 in points allowed and No. 4 in yards allowed.

    • Matt Eberflus – Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator: Eberflus is no stranger to head coach buzz having interviewed with the Cleveland Browns in 2019. His Colts defense just finished ninth in scoring and 16th overall.

    • Leslie Frazier – Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator: Frazier’s Bills defense just closed out the regular season ranked No. 1 in yards allowed and scoring. He went 21 of 32 as Vikings head coach between 2010 and 2013, but is deserving of another look.

    • Kevin O’Connell, Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator: O’Connell is one of the youngest names on the block at 36, but it pays to be part of Sean McVay’s offensive setup in LA. If not now, then he’s one to watch in the future.

    Confirmed Head Coach interviews

    Head coach interviews

    Chicago Bears Denver Broncos Jacksonville Jaguars Miami Dolphins Minnesota Vikings
    Todd Bowles, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Jaguars interim head coach Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator
    Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, 49ers offensive coordinator
    Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, former Lions and Colts head coach
    Leslie Frazier, Bills defensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Packers offensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator
    Nathaniel Hackett, Packers offensive coordinator Jerod Mayo, Patriots inside linebackers coach Nathaniel Hackett, Packers offensive coordinator
    Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator
    Doug Pederson, former Eagles head coach Kevin O’Connell, Rams offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator
    Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, former Texans head coach
    Doug Pederson, former Eagles head coach
    Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator

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