The 2020 NFL season is barely underway, and already fans, owners, players, agents and general managers are looking around and openly asking about the list of head coaching candidates for the upcoming hiring cycle.
If owners are already talking about it, then we should be too.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN has reported that the New York Jets' Adam Gase is "under intense scrutiny." The decline of the Atlanta Falcons following a season in which Dan Quinn nearly lost his job puts them on the list of teams looking for a new direction. These franchises are far from alone.
Who are the top teams rumored to have interest in a coaching change? Who are the top candidates? We have you covered.
Eric Bieniemy, Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
A top head coaching candidate last season, Bieniemy once again is near the top of most lists, per NFL insiders. A former standout running back at Colorado and successful coach every step along the way since retiring after the 1999 season, Bieniemy is more than the guy next to Andy Reid.
Players in Kansas City rave about "E.B.'s" leadership, mind for strategy and his ability to cultivate a culture within his offensive groups. "He's the type of coach that will be respected by rookies and veterans," said one former player.
Reid's lieutenants have had mixed results as NFL head coaches, but Bieniemy has more than earned his chance to run a team and employ his blend of West Coast spread offense.
Brian Daboll, Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Head coaching lists usually boil down to which candidates are on winning teams and on a side of the ball that's having big success—Brian Daboll fits the bill there, but he's also a young (45 years old), successful coach who has excelled both at the college and pro levels. He's also the man garnering the most respect for the work done with quarterback Josh Allen, who is playing like an MVP candidate through three weeks.
Daboll's big-play, down-the-field offense will be tempting for owners and general managers with bright young quarterbacks or those with an early pick in the first round. He's a shoo-in to receive multiple interviews and calls this offseason.
Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator, Baltimore Ravens
Much like Daboll with Allen, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman is the beneficiary of Lamar Jackson's success. Teams will look at Roman's ability to mold and craft not only Jackson but also to tailor his offense to match the strengths of his quarterback, and that's exciting.
Roman's reputation around the league is spectacular. He's had success as an offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers, Bills and Ravens. His scheme works well with athletic quarterbacks—of which the 2021 NFL draft class is full.
Teams expecting to draft a signal-caller early in Round 1 should be all over Roman as a quarterback mentor and X's and O's strategist. At just 48 years old, he is on the younger end of the head coaching spectrum, but he's earned his spot near the top of the list.
Robert Saleh, Defensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Robert Saleh's case to be a head coach was strong when the 2019 season ended, but the injuries that have decimated the 49ers' defensive depth chart (which include Nick Bosa's torn ACL) have only increased the reputation he carries into the 2020 hiring cycle.
The 41-year-old is another young candidate with a bright mind and a defensive scheme that mixes elements of the Seattle Seahawks' Cover 3 and the Wide 9 defensive line and pays homage to the athletic middle linebackers of 49ers' past.
Saleh, in a crowded list of coaching candidates, is the top option with a defensive background.
Brandon Staley, Defensive Coordinator, Los Angeles Rams
It's as simple as what one top NFL decision-maker told me: "Write it down. He will be a head coach very soon, and this one has nothing to do with Sean McVay. Brandon Staley is one heck of a coach."
Staley, who is 37 years old and in his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator, was a marquee outside linebackers coach with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos after he entered the NFL ranks in 2017. His work with players such as Khalil Mack, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb opened eyes, but what he's doing in rolling out a much more aggressive Rams defense has turned heads in just three weeks.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that McVay is telling everyone who will listen that Staley is his next assistant to be a head coach.
Adam Stenavich, Offensive Line Coach, Green Bay Packers
"This one might be a year too early, but I guarantee you that Adam Stenavich is a future NFL head coach," an NFL coaching agent said.
Look at the Green Bay Packers offense, and you'll see Aaron Rodgers and his greatness, but a deeper look shows the offensive line and how well the running game funnels the entire game plan. That's the handiwork of Stenavich. His ability to scheme the running game is incredibly important to the Packers' success, and NFL decision-makers know this.
At just 37 years old and in his fourth year of coaching in the league, Stenavich belongs on the list, even if it's a bit early.
Anthony Weaver, Defensive Coordinator, Houston Texans
Were it not for the Houston Texans' 0-3 start, defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver would be getting much more hype and praise as a head coaching candidate. But some around the NFL believe that no matter how the season ends for the team, Weaver's stock will remain soaring in league circles.
Troy Vincent, the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL, has even expressed belief in Weaver as a top candidate for the upcoming offseason cycle.
Given Weaver's experience as an NFL player—seven years in the league as a second-round pick out of Notre Dame—plus his work with J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and many other defensive standouts, his name should pick up steam and hit the minds and mouths of top insiders and NFL decision-makers as the season gets closer to an end.
Chance of a coaching change: 75 percent
Quinn is on thin ice after the Falcons' 0-3 start and following a 2019 season that saw him nearly fired. The fact that the Falcons have led in two of three games—a 28-12 lead at the end of three quarters in Week 1, a 29-10 lead at halftime in Week 2—before dropping a close game in Week 3, is concerning and could make last season's rumor that Quinn was on his way out a reality.
Quinn's Falcons haven't quit on him, but the players look less than motivated. There is no fight. There is no hunger. That ultimately falls on Quinn, whose team hasn't been the same since surrendering its 28-3 halftime lead in the Super Bowl to New England in February 2017.
One NFL trend is that once a defensive-minded coach is fired (Quinn), an offensive-minded coach replaces him. This feels like an easy fit for Bieniemy.
Chance of a coaching change: 85 percent
A Week 3 win may have temporarily saved Matt Patricia's job. Since taking over as head coach of the Lions in 2018, Patricia has gone 10-24-1 with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. He's also presided over the exits of Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs—two moves that didn't sit well in the locker room—while trying to imitate Bill Belichick without the decades of winning to back it up.
Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn are most likely on the way out following the 2020 season, with league sources expecting the team to go heavy after an offensive coach who can get the most out of Stafford and the weapons the roster is stocked with.
Bieniemy is the first name that comes to mind for offensive openings, but if the Lions want to go with a more aggressive system, both Daboll and Roman would fit the bill.
Chance of a coaching change: 25 percent
This one is a tougher prediction because Bill O'Brien serves as head coach and general manager, but CEO Cal McNair could make a clean sweep in an effort to bring in leadership that will build a winner around Deshaun Watson.
Protecting Watson has to be the key, but equally important is building a culture and ensuring that superstars like DeAndre Hopkins aren't forcing their way out of town. Good NFL coaches must be able to draw up plays, but they're more CEO than anything in the modern era. Finding someone who can plan and implement a winning culture is most the important thing.
With that in mind, promoting Weaver is a strong possibility. The team's defensive coordinator is loved around the NFL, and the support internally would allow for a clean transition from the O'Brien regime. Weaver's connections and ability to build out an impressive NFL coaching staff is another feather in his cap.
Chance of a coaching change: 25 percent
Doug Marrone hasn't dominated the win column, but people around the league believe he has the support of ownership, and barring a major disappointment of a season, he'll be back to navigate the rebuild. And while Marrone doesn't necessarily inspire awe as a strategist, insiders rave about his leadership skills.
Jacksonville's roster is built with a strong core of young players on defense and a few bright lights on offense, but the team badly needs an injection of energy. Should Marrone falter, Daboll and Roman could boost the offense, while Saleh's ability to coach up defenses would fit the strength of the roster.
New York Jets
Chance of a coaching change: 100 percent
It's a matter of when, not if, the New York Jets fire Gase. That means Joe Douglas will be tasked with hiring his first head coach since taking over the role of general manager in June 2019. What Douglas looks for will be telling, but many league insiders expect Roman to be very high on his list of wants because of their Baltimore connection.
Whomever the Jets bring in as head coach, the most important hire will be offensive coordinator. If the team rolls with Sam Darnold at quarterback in 2021 (with or without competition), he needs a new voice in his ear, and the offense badly needs a shot of adrenaline to go with added playmakers through the offseason. Daboll could do that, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Douglas go after a young guy with an excellent X's and O's reputation in Stenavich.
Many people who look at what the Packers are doing offensively point to head coach Matt LaFleur, but Stenavich is highly revered because of his running game scheme.
Chance of a coaching change: 5 percent
It is hard to imagine the Eagles moving on from Doug Pederson, but with the team starting 0-2-1 and Carson Wentz playing his worst football, there is of course a slim chance of this happening. If Pederson were fired, general manager Howie Roseman would likely go with him; again, this is very unlikely, but there are often surprise firings, and this one has to be considered given the terrible start by a team with playoff expectations.
So what would the Eagles look for if that happens?
Wentz is the present but also the future. Finding an offensive mind to work with him and unlock his talents makes the most sense. That puts Bieniemy, Daboll and Roman at the top of the list. But if the Eagles consider a college coach, Florida's Dan Mullen deserves mention given his pedigree and experience.
It's doubtful the Eagles would make a move, but it would immediately be the most coveted job in football if it did open up.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.