Who Are the Hottest NFL Coaching Candidates Right Now?

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterOctober 8, 2019

Who Are the Hottest NFL Coaching Candidates Right Now?

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder scheduled a 5 a.m. meeting with head coach Jay Gruden on Monday. It's the coaching version of being asked to hand in your playbook. Instead, Gruden handed in his key card.

    Snyder will begin his search for another new head coach after Gruden's five-and-a-half unremarkable years on the job. But this isn't about Gruden, the dysfunctional Redskins front office or how that team won't be able to win until Snyder and team president Bruce Allen make changes to their management style. No, this is about finding someone to replace a fired head coach in the NFL—because it seems like there will be many this offseason.

    The Redskins' 0-5 start prompted the move, but so too did Gruden's resistance to playing rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The relationship was clearly suffering. For the other struggling teams around the league, there isn't yet a clear picture of what will happen, but as losses pile up, it's becoming more obvious there will be a high number of hot seats throughout the season.

    So who replaces Gruden and the other fired coaches? That question was posed to a handful of NFL sources (coaches, general managers, owners) on Monday morning. Their answers follow.


Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    "Everyone wants what Andy [Reid] has, plus the success of [Doug] Pederson and [Frank] Reich and [Matt] Nagy will have owners tapping back into his coaching tree." — AFC team executive

    Eric Bieniemy has been on short lists since the Kansas City Chiefs lost Matt Nagy to the Chicago Bears, but unlike Nagy's last year at Arrowhead Stadium, we're not seeing Bieniemy call plays. Yet.

    That could change, but many around the league believe "EB" is still a year away from being ready to build out his staff and handle the duties of a head coach. That said, a team could try to lure him out of Kansas City a year early with a head coaching offer, the same way the Chicago Bears went after Nagy after league insiders said he was a year away. Similarly, the Los Angeles Rams hired Sean McVay "one year too early instead of one year too late," as one team executive with the team told me.

    Bieniemy was a player in the NFL for nine seasons and has worked under Reid since 2013. He'll be the next Chiefs assistant to get a head coaching job, and that could be as soon as after this season.

Todd Bowles, Defensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    "A lot of people think he'll just stay [in Tampa] and replace Bruce Arians as head coach once he retires there. But I bet his name ends up on some short lists." — former AFC director of scouting

    Todd Bowles, who flamed out as head coach of the New York Jets and was fired by then-general manager Mike Maccagnan, resurfaced quickly with his old friend Bruce Arians as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive coordinator.

    The Bucs defense hasn't been lights out, but Bowles' reputation is unmatched among NFL defensive coordinators. He's smart, able to get production out of a low-budget defense and widely respected as a leader and high-character coach.

    That could tempt owners, like the one in Washington, to give Bowles a call and pry him away from Arians once again.

Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State University

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    David K Purdy/Getty Images

    "I really don't think he leaves for just any gig—he didn't want the Jets job last year—but he's going to at least get calls and be on lists." — NFC front-office member

    Will Matt Campbell actually leave Iowa State? It's a similar situation to Lincoln Riley in Norman, Oklahoma. There is a widely held belief in NFL circles that Campbell will only leave Ames for a perfect job where ownership and the front office are aligned in a common goal. The Pittsburgh Steelers were mentioned in a conversation about him.

    Campbell is a unique name because the 39-year-old coach isn't an offensive guru like Riley or Sean McVay but is instead highly regarded because of his reputation as a leader and a CEO-like head coach.

    Iowa State has done a good job of locking Campbell up—he recently signed an extension that keeps him on campus until 2024—but those contracts always have a buyout. If the right team comes calling, Campbell will be a hot name again following the 2019 season.

Matt Eberflus, Defensive Coordinator, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    "Well, that Sunday night game might get him more calls, but he should have been on a lot of lists last year when everyone hired offensive guys. I bet he gets a job this offseason." — NFC front-office executive

    Shutting down the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday Night Football definitely adds to the profile of Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. If NFL teams go back to hiring defensive-minded head coaches, his name should be near the top of the list.

    Eberflus, who is just 49 years old, has steadily climbed the NFL coaching ladder. Many scouts credit him with how well Dallas Cowboys linebackers played in his 2011-17 stretch with the team. Looking at what he did with Dallas and now with the Colts, it's easy to see why Eberflus is a highly sought-after coaching candidate.

    The question will be if he wants a head coaching job badly enough to jump to a less-than-ideal situation or if he'll wait for a top-tier gig, like Colts GM Chris Ballard did when leaving the Chiefs as the top front-office candidate on many teams' lists.

Jerod Mayo, Linebackers Coach, New England Patriots

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    "I think he has to be on the list because of the job he's done, but I'd love to see him get more coordinator experience first." — former AFC team president

    Jerod Mayo is a highly respected linebackers coach and future defensive coordinator with a bright path to being an NFL head coach. Whether he'll jump ahead in the process and go from position coach to head coach remains to be seen, but there is already talk around the league about his abilities and his ties to Bill Belichick.

    Said one executive with knowledge of the Patriots: "They love Mayo up there. Bill raves about him like he did with [Miami Dolphins head coach] Brian Flores. He'll get a job off that connection alone—not even taking into account how good of a coach he is."

    Owners and general managers will covet Mayo's longstanding ties to the New England Patriots, but Belichick's coaching disciples have not done well outside his shadow when taking head coaching jobs. However, Mayo, who played under and now coaches with the all-time great, could be seen as another Flores or Mike Vrabel type with strong enough leadership and positional coaching qualities to succeed on his own.

Mike McCarthy, Former Head Coach, Green Bay Packers

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    "I think he wisely sat out this year to figure things out, but he'll get back in. Too many teams need offensive help." — NFC scouting director

    Mike McCarthy won 125 regular-season games with the Packers. He's worked with Aaron Rodgers and built an explosive offense. He won a Super Bowl ring. That might all feel like a long time ago, but McCarthy is only 55 years old and has had just one head coaching job.

    Some team will bank on McCarthy to learn from the mistakes made late in Green Bay and hope his quarterback development tools will work for it. If you're the Washington Redskins or Atlanta Falcons, you have to be tempted by the steady hand McCarthy would bring to the table and what he's shown he can do working with quarterbacks.

    Should the Falcons move on from Dan Quinn, expect an offensive hire; the team hasn't been the same since Kyle Shanahan left as offensive coordinator. Maybe McCarthy can be the one to get Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley the ball in the end zone.

Kevin O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator, Washington Redskins

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    "There's already that 'next Sean McVay' talk with O'Connell, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Redskins hold on to him or he uses them as leverage for another head job." — AFC personnel executive

    Kevin O'Connell was an NFL draft prospect not that long ago as a third-rounder from San Diego State drafted by the New England Patriots in 2008. Having Bill Belichick's stamp of approval on you as a third-rounder is a nice line for the resume, even if O'Connell's playing career didn't live up to that draft standing.

    After bouncing around the league for five teams in as many seasons, O'Connell started working as a private quarterbacks coach before joining the Cleveland Browns in 2015. O'Connell has quickly moved through the ranks to where he is now as the Redskins' offensive coordinator.

    Although he's only been a coach for a short time and a coordinator for just this season, O'Connell's star is rising so fast that a team could attempt to hire him now rather than risk losing him to another ballclub. That might mean a stay in Washington after this season if his audition as coordinator goes well in the next 11 weeks.

Kris Richard, Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach, Dallas Cowboys

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    "Everyone is going to talk about Kellen Moore, but I don't think Jerry [Jones] would let him leave. The one to watch is Kris Richard." — NFC pro scout

    Kellen Moore has certainly earned himself a raise and a ton of praise, as the first-time offensive coordinator has taken the Dallas Cowboys offense to another level this season. As mentioned, though, it's Kris Richard who gets the most talk around the league as an upcoming head coach candidate.

    Richard has been coaching in the NFL since 2010 when he became a defensive backs assistant under Pete Carroll in Seattle. He also has experience as a player (2002-07), which is seemingly becoming a prerequisite to be a defensive head coach.

    As the Dallas defense, especially the back seven, continues to play well and show remarkable player development, Richard's star will only burn brighter. With the trend expected to swing back to defensive-minded coaches this next hiring cycle, Richard could be in line for his own team.

Lincoln Riley, Head Coach, Oklahoma

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    "Good luck. Everyone wants him, and he has one of the best jobs in all of football already. I don't get the sense that he's in any hurry to leave Oklahoma." — NFC front-office executive

    It's no secret that the hottest name in football coaching is Lincoln Riley. After taking castoffs Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray and developing them into Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall draft picks in the last two seasons, Riley is basically a kingmaker at the position. He was able to identify and develop talent in Mayfield and Murray that previous coaches didn't want, which is very attractive to evaluators and owners.

    Riley will be able to demand a starting salary unlike anything the NFL has seen in my decade covering it. And yes, that includes Jon Gruden's reported 10-year, $100 million contract. If Riley wants that and total roster control, someone will give it to him. There is no limit to what he could ask of an owner hungry to win.

    Knowing this, the expectation is that Riley will be patient and wait for the right job. That might be the Dallas Cowboys or Cleveland Browns depending on which rumors you choose to believe, or there might not be an NFL job he wants badly enough to leave a dream situation at Oklahoma.

    As the hiring cycle heats up, Riley's name will remain at the top of every list until he takes an NFL job or announces he's staying at Oklahoma.


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