Latest Rankings of the Top NFL Head Coaching Candidates for 2019

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 1, 2019

Latest Rankings of the Top NFL Head Coaching Candidates for 2019

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    Several NFL head coaches kept their jobs on Sunday and Monday. 

    That might be the headline after the Cincinnati Bengals fired Marvin Lewis, the Miami Dolphins fired Adam Gase, the Denver Broncos fired Vance Joseph, the Arizona Cardinals fired Steve Wilks, the New York Jets fired Todd Bowles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Dirk Koetter within a 15-hour stretch Sunday night and Monday morning. 

    With Mike McCarthy already out in Green Bay and Hue Jackson a goner in Cleveland, that leaves the league with eight head coaching vacancies entering the 2019 calendar year. 

    With a quarter of the league's teams looking for Mr. Right, let's broadly rank the top 15 candidates currently on the market.

          

15. Chuck Pagano

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    Previous/current job: Indianapolis Colts head coach (fired last offseason)

    Area of expertise: Before relieving Jim Caldwell in Indy in 2012, the 58-year-old had spent a decade coaching defensive backs in Cleveland, Oakland and Baltimore (outside of a one-year stint at North Carolina in 2007). He served as the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2011. 

    Pros: He experienced plenty of success when quarterback Andrew Luck was healthy during his time in Indianapolis, winning 11 games in each of his first three seasons there. He has the spirit and temperament for the job, and he certainly knows how to dial up a pass rush. 

    Cons: He didn't have a top-10 defense in any of his six seasons with the Colts, and that unit ranked in the bottom seven in each of his last three years there. Despite his reputation for creating pressure, the Colts had more sacks than only seven other teams during Pagano's tenure.

    Potential landing spots: Two years ago, John Elway went with a relatively unknown defensive mind in Vance Joseph. Could Elway decide this time to go with a more accomplished defensive coach? If so, the Boulder, Colorado, native makes sense. He's also been tied to the Packers

14. Jim Caldwell

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    Previous/current job: Detroit Lions head coach (fired last offseason)

    Area of expertise: The 63-year-old is an offensive-minded quarterbacks coach who worked closely with Peyton Manning for much of Manning's prime. 

    Pros: He's won Super Bowls with two different teams as an an offensive coordinator (2006 with the Colts, 2012 with the Ravens) and he's been to one as a head coach (2009 in Indy). He worked with Manning during quite possibly the best stretch of his career, and Matthew Stafford also had some of his best seasons while working for Caldwell. His scheme isn't exactly innovative, but it's tried and tested, and he has shown a willingness to be flexible and open to an array of ideas.

    Cons: He inherited a great Colts team from Tony Dungy, and it didn't take long for that ship to sink. Then he inherited a talented Lions team from Jim Schwartz, and he proceeded to win zero playoff games in four seasons. An argument could be made he's better-suited as a position coach. And play-calling is not his specialty, so he'd probably need a strong offensive coordinator as well.

    Potential landing spots: He has ties to the Bucs, he's been interviewed by the Packers, and if he's willing to be part of a rebuild, the Jets and Cardinals also make some sense considering their quarterback situations. 

13. Mike McCarthy

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    Previous/current job: Green Bay Packers head coach (fired in December)

    Area of expertise: The 55-year-old worked extensively with Rich Gannon just before his late-career renaissance, he coached Brett Favre, and he groomed Aaron Brooks, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Rodgers

    Pros: As you can see, he has a knack for coaching quarterbacks. He's also a Super Bowl champion head coach who made the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons with the Packers. 

    Cons: Even with Rodgers, he won just five playoff games in his last eight years in Green Bay. His offensive system, which puts too much on his quarterback and receivers, is antiquated and stale, and there are indications he's quite stubborn about said system. 

    Potential landing spots: John Kryk of the Toronto Sun reported on Sunday that the Browns have already reached out to McCarthy, which makes sense considering their obvious desire to coach up young Baker Mayfield under center. By that logic, the Cardinals and Jets also could be good fits, but those jobs probably aren't as enticing. 

12. Eric Bieniemy

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    Previous/current job: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator

    Area of expertise: The 49-year-old running game specialist has been learning from offensive genius Andy Reid the last six years. 

    Pros: The 2018 Chiefs had the third-highest-scoring offense in NFL history, with Bieniemy and Reid getting a potential MVP season out of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. That despite the sudden late-season loss of star running back Kareem Hunt. Bieniemy has only one season under his belt as an offensive coordinator, but he also helped turn Hunt into a star as the running backs coach in 2017. 

    Cons: How much of that has to do with Bieniemy? The offense is still loaded with talent, Mahomes' trademark is making plays that you can't draw up, and Reid still runs the offense and calls the plays.

    Potential landing spots: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports Bieniemy has been contacted by the Jets, Bucs, Dolphins and Cardinals. 

11. Matt Eberflus

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Previous/current job: Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator

    Area of expertise: Coordinating defenses, and linebackers in particular. The 48-year-old has completely turned around a long-beleaguered Indianapolis defense this season, and he always had strong linebacker units while serving as a position coach in Cleveland (2009-2010) and Dallas (2011-2017) 

    Pros: The transformed Colts defense, which ranked 30th in both yardage and points and 20th in takeaways in 2017, finished the regular season ranked in the top 12 in all three of those categories. 

    Cons: Offense is just cooler these days, making it harder for defensive specialists to become head coaches. Fifteen of the last 20 NFL head coaching hires had offensive backgrounds. And teams might want to wait to make sure 2018 wasn't a fluke, as it was Eberflus' first season overseeing an NFL defense. He's also currently coaching in the playoffs. 

    Potential landing spots: The Browns are interested in interviewing him, according to Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. The Broncos hired a defensive coordinator with exactly one year on the job in 2017. 

10. Matt LaFleur

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Previous/current job: Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator 

    Area of expertise: The 39-year-old is an offensive guru with a background coaching quarterbacks. He worked with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in their first two seasons, he coached DeShone Kizer as a freshman at Notre Dame, he was Matt Ryan's position coach in his MVP season, he oversaw Jared Goff's breakout season with the Rams, and he's helped Marcus Mariota cut down on his mistakes in Tennessee. 

    Pros: He's learned from the likes of Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Brian Kelly, and there's little doubt his system is both innovative and contemporary. 

    Cons: His success with the Rams in 2017 has generally been credited to McVay, and his success with Ryan has generally been credited to Shanahan. This was his first year running an offense without an offensive-minded boss, and the Titans had the sixth-lowest-scoring offense in the NFL. Teams might need to see more from LaFleur. 

    Potential landing spots: He might be a little young to work with Rodgers, but he'd be a nice fit pretty much anywhere else and would be a great mentor for Mayfield in Cleveland, Darnold in New York or Rosen in Arizona. 

9. Kris Richard

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    Previous/current job: Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach

    Area of expertise: The 39-year-old's claim to fame is that he ran Seattle's Legion of Boom secondary between 2012 and 2014, but he also had plenty of success as the team's defensive coordinator between 2015 and 2017 before jumping to Dallas. 

    Pros: It wasn't a fluke in Seattle. Richard got breakout seasons out of cornerbacks Byron Jones and Jourdan Lewis in what was a strong all-around campaign for a not-overly-talented Cowboys secondary. 

    Cons: He comes from a defensive background, which again might not be ideal for a team looking for a head coach who could groom a young quarterback. He's also a little busy right now as the Cowboys embark on their playoff journey. His former boss and fellow Pete Carroll disciple Gus Bradley failed in a head coaching stint with the Jaguars, while the jury is still out on former Seattle defensive colleague Dan Quinn in Atlanta. But these are all certainly nitpicks. 

    Potential landing spots: NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reports that the Jets have requested an interview. The Browns would also make sense if they're interested in Eberflus. 

8. Pat Fitzgerald

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Previous/current job: Northwestern head coach 

    Area of expertise: The 44-year-old has simply mastered the trade of being a coach. He doesn't call plays on either side of the ball. And although he comes from a defensive background, he's spent the last 13 years in a head coaching role at Northwestern. He doesn't micromanage. 

    Pros: The 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year has taken the Northwestern program to a new level. He's brought the Wildcats to nine bowl games in 13 seasons, going 96-70 overall.

    Cons: Not being a X's and O's specialist could be a pro or a con, but it certainly puts pressure on management to find the right men for coordinator roles. It'd also likely be very costly to pry him away from Northwestern (where he reportedly made $3.6 million last year), and there's plenty of risk involved in hiring a head coach with no NFL experience. 

    Potential landing spots: Fitzgerald has been linked by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport to the Packers. Though he hasn't exactly denied there's interest, he called Northwestern "home forever" after the Wildcats' Holiday Bowl win on Monday night. 

7. Jim Harbaugh

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    Previous/current job: Michigan head coach 

    Area of expertise: The 55-year-old groomed Andrew Luck at Stanford, got plenty out of Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and went 44-19-1 with a Super Bowl appearance in four seasons with the 49ers. 

    Pros: He went to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons (and three of his four total seasons) as head coach in San Francisco, and he's a quarterback guru with a tremendous offensive mind.

    Cons: Putting it gently, Harbaugh is prickly. He could certainly rub a veteran quarterback like Rodgers the wrong way, and any team interested would have to be concerned that they'd be in for a messy breakup like the one he had with the 49ers. He has also often failed to get the most out of the offensive talent at Michigan, he might be stubborn about his increasingly outdated West Coast power offensive system, and he'd be very expensive. 

    Potential landing spots: He insists he's not going anywhere, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports the Dolphins remain "very high" on Harbaugh. And it sure would be interesting to see him get his hands on Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen. 

6. Brian Flores

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Previous/current job: New England Patriots defensive coordinator 

    Area of expertise: Learning from the best. The 37-year-old has been a Patriots employee for 15 years. He's a defensive specialist, of course, but he has backgrounds in scouting and special teams as well. 

    Pros: Flores took over defensive play-calling duties this season following the departure of Matt Patricia. After getting gashed in last year's Super Bowl, the Pats had the league's seventh-best scoring defense in 2018. They also gave up an AFC-low 14.8 points per game after their Week 11 bye. 

    Cons: Patricia had a rough maiden season as Detroit's head coach. Former Belichick defensive assistants Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel and Jim Schwartz have also failed to deliver in head coaching roles. And while Flores has spent plenty of time in New England, Belichick runs that show. That's the only place Flores has ever worked. 

    Potential landing spots: That doesn't appear to be scaring anyone away. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Dolphins, Broncos, Browns and Packers have requested permission to interview him. 

5. Dave Toub

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    Previous/current job: Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator

    Area of expertise: Kicking and punting and covering kicks and punts and long-snapping and anything that involves upbacks, gunners and/or jammers. 

    Pros: The 56-year-old is widely respected throughout the league. It's hard to measure special teams success, but Football Outsiders does so using its renowned DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric, and Toub's units are consistently ranked among the best in football (both in Chicago and Kansas City). He's still be an unorthodox hire with that background, but former special teams coordinator John Harbaugh has had plenty of success as a head coach in Baltimore. 

    Cons: You'd need to hire strong offensive and defensive coordinators, which is never an easy task. And you'd have to hope those three would work well together. There's more room for error with that many cooks in the kitchen. He's also still coaching in the playoffs. 

    Potential landing spots: He was interviewed by the Broncos when they hired Joseph two years ago, and there's an obvious connection between Toub and former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, who is currently conducting a head coaching search in that role with the Browns.

4. Lincoln Riley

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    Previous/current job: Oklahoma head coach 

    Area of expertise: The 35-year-old is an innovative offensive guru who specializes in coaching quarterbacks. He oversaw Baker Mayfield's development between 2015 and 2017, and Mayfield's Browns are currently searching for a new head coach. 

    Pros: Riley looks and feels like the future, and he runs a flexible, multifaceted offensive system that should translate well to the NFL. It's entirely possible he's the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan, and it would make a hell of a lot of sense for him to rejoin Mayfield in Cleveland. 

    Cons: Like Fitzgerald, he has no NFL experience, and there really is no guarantee he'll seamlessly transition to the pros. That makes him more of a gamble than a retread, even if the upside would be a lot higher.  

    Potential landing spots: The Browns make so much sense, and the Bucs, Broncos, Dolphins or Bengals could work for Riley if they decided to go in new directions at quarterback. But it doesn't look like the well-paid Riley has much desire to leave Norman. 

3. Josh McDaniels

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    Previous/current job: New England Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

    Area of expertise: The 42-year-old has worked closely with veteran future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady for the vast majority of Brady's career. He's been calling plays for one of the league's most successful offenses since 2012.

    Pros: Bill Belichick's influence, Brady's influence, a long history of success as a play-caller, and he even has some head coaching experience.

    Cons: The Belichick coaching tree has produced mixed results to put it kindly, and McDaniels was just 11-17 in his first head coaching stint in 2009 and 2010 with the Broncos. He also pulled out of a head coaching gig with the Colts after making a handshake deal with the team last offseason.

    Potential landing spots: Packers and Browns. He could be intrigued by Sam Darnold and the Jets, too, but it's unlikely he'd be interested in leaving Belichick and Brady for a job with the Buccaneers, Dolphins or Cardinals. There's been plenty of speculation that he's in line to replace Belichick in New England.

2. Vic Fangio

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Previous/current job: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator 

    Area of expertise: The 60-year-old has nearly two decades' worth of defensive coordinator experience. He majored in linebacker studies, and he almost always gets the most out of his linebackers. 

    Pros: His Bears defenses have improved immensely in back-to-back seasons. They surrendered a league-low 17.7 points per game while leading the NFL with 36 takeaways in 2018. He also had four top-five defenses in his four seasons working under Harbaugh in San Francisco. 

    Cons: He isn't young, and he's never been a head coach at any level. It's a little odd how rarely he's even been interviewed for head coaching gigs. 

    Potential landing spots: Per Schefter, the Dolphins and Broncos have requested interviews with Fangio, who is preparing for Wild Card weekend. 

1. Bruce Arians

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    Previous/current job: Arizona Cardinals head coach (retired last offseason)

    Area of expertise: The 66-year-old is an offensive expert who has also spent time coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers in particular. 

    Pros: Arians is two-time Coach of the Year with nearly a decade of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator and a 49-30-1 head coaching record stemming from his five seasons in Arizona and a successful interim run with the Colts. That notably came during Andrew Luck's rookie season, but he went on to squeeze a few surprisingly strong seasons out of an aging Carson Palmer.  

    Cons: It's doubtful he comes out of retirement and joins a team that isn't in position to win, but there's not a lot to dislike about Arians unless teams are apprehensive about his age. I mean, he did "retire" just a year ago. 

    Potential landing spots: He previously said the Browns would be the only team he would consider coaching in 2019, but now Arians is telling Rapoport he'd consider the Tampa Bay job because of his relationship with Bucs general manager Jason Licht.