As we hit the middle of November, there’s plenty of chatter about who might not be back next year for their respective teams and about the pool of candidates out there to replace them. Let’s take a look around the league and see which names are headed in the right and wrong directions.
1. Josh McDaniels. Who would’ve thought that Josh McDaniels would alienate a locker room and fail as a head coach? If only there were signs...
I personally believe that people can grow and change and learn from previous experience. It’s an important part of being human. Not all people learn from their previous experience and it appears that Josh McDaniels is one of those guys. Interestingly, McDaniels is only 47 years old and was part of all six Super Bowl winning Patriots teams as an assistant or offensive coordinator. He’s linked to that team and Bill Belichick forever, but his opportunity to lead an NFL team again is almost certainly dead.
2. Antonio Pierce. From the ashes of the McDaniels firing rise an interesting opportunity for Pierce. You may remember Pierce as a linebacker for the Giants during their Super Bowl championship run in the 2007 season. He served as the linebackers coach for the Raiders starting last year after four years at Arizona State. It’s a thin coaching resume to take over a team full time, but with his extended audition off to an excellent start, he’s got the inside track on the Raiders job.
Your mind might jump to Mike Vrabel as a similar path. Playing linebacker in the NFL for a long time and working their way through the ranks to get an opportunity. Vrabel spent three years as an assistant and one year as defensive coordinator for the Texans before getting the Titans job, so Pierce would be accelerated from Vrabel’s story. The other path for Pierce might be similar to Dan Campbell, who got an extended audition for the Dolphins in 2015, replacing Joe Philbin. Campbell’s Dolphins went 5-7 and elevated his profile. He moved on to the Saints with the Assistant Head Coach label for five seasons before finally landing the Lions job. Either way, fun to see what happens with Pierce.
3. Brandon Staley. The Los Angeles Chargers went all in this off season to give Brandon Staley a chance to push the Bolts over the top. So far, the Chargers are the same disappointing team despite the regular brilliance of Justin Herbert. At 4-5, the Chargers are in the scrum of the AFC Wildcard chase. I’m not sure there’s any chance Staley can save his job with anything short of a second half surge and a playoff win.
Staley will likely get another chance to coordinate a defense despite the Chargers lack of success. He’s still incredibly young (he’ll turn 41 next month) so he may get another shot down the line if he can rehab his career with some successful defenses.
4. Jim Harbaugh. Let’s talk about it. Despite the drama or maybe even because of the drama in Michigan this year, there’s been plenty of speculation about Jim Harbaugh’s return to the NFL. Many link the Bears as an ideal Harbaugh destination. This has been going on for a while with Harbaugh rumors during the Bears hiring cycles in 2015, 2018, and 2022. This makes sense as Harbaugh has expertly used the Bears job as leverage for new contracts from Michigan and he played for the Bears for his first seven NFL seasons.
However, what some people might forget is that Harbaugh played his final two years in the league for the Chargers and coached the University of San Diego, Stanford, and of course, the San Francisco 49ers. He’s as much California as he is Midwest, so if the Chargers job opens up, don’t be at all surprised if Harbaugh emerges as the top candidate.
5. Ron Rivera. Let’s talk about the Washington Commanders and Riverboat Ron Rivera. A great hire for an organization that was burning down with previous ownership. River kept an even keel in turbulent times, peaking with an 8-8-1 record last year. With the Commanders off to a 4-6 start and new ownership now on board, the writing is on the wall for a new chapter in Washington football. This was Rivera’s second opportunity and likely his last in the NFL at the age of 61. Despite a lack of playoff appearances in Washington, I do think this was mission accomplished to bring stability to a train wreck of an organization.
The strongest rumors for the Washington job as of right now, which again is way too early to tell on these things, is actually the legend himself...
6. Bill Belichick. It seems crazy that the New England Patriots would part ways with Bill Belichick. Winner of six Super Bowls, Belichick is considered by many to be the greatest coach of all time. It would not be a surprise if they named the AP Coach of the Year award after Belichick at some point. He’s third all-time in regular season wins behind only Don Shula and George Halas.
He’s 71 years old so this isn’t exactly a long-term answer for Washington if they go this direction. While he may not want to coach anymore, I could see Belichick wanting to pass Shula, which is about a three-year commitment to a new spot. A new owner might want to snag a legend to start their regime. It’s not a crazy thought.
It would also not be the first time Washington grabbed a legend from another team. Vince Lombardi left the Packers after the 1967 season to be wooed back to coaching in Washington. He died before his second season started. Washington also hired Mike Shanahan in 2010 and had a spike of success with rookie sensation Robert Griffin III in 2012. That Shanahan staff is currently occupying an impressive amount of head coaching jobs around the league plus one potential candidate we’ll get to below.
7. Frank Reich. This might seem a little crazy for the Panthers to dismiss Reich after only one season. Owner David Tepper seems like the type of guy that just doesn’t care about the unwritten rules of the NFL niceties or writing big checks to pay off mistakes. Tepper, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has not been pleased with Reich’s development of Bryce Young. Further, Reich has let it be known that he and his staff was in on CJ Stroud headed up to the draft but Tepper made the choice for Young.
Now, I’m all for being able to make the decision that you want as an owner of the team, but Tepper needs to own this mess. He made the decision for Young after hiring Reich. You’re committed to Young for the foreseeable future. It might be the best for all involved to go back to the well and find someone that will build around your, er, young quarterback.
8. Bobby Slowik. Could the answer for Tepper be the guy that is coaching CJ Stroud down in Houston? The surprising Texans have created quite a buzz around the league, including the young Slowik. This would be a meteoric rise for the 36 year old Slowik, but he was on the aforementioned Mike Shanahan staff in Washington and spent the previous six seasons with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
For young offensive minds, you have to move quickly and be a year early to hire them because someone will give them a chance. He will get interviews and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if that Shanahan tree adds yet another branch this off season.
9. Matt Eberflus. This is a critical stretch for the Chicago Bears head coach. He has yet to win a divisional game through eight tries. He’ll get the Lions twice and the Vikings on the road over the next three games. He’s lost assistant coaches, bumbles through his press conferences, and inspires little confidence in people outside of the building. It would be aggressive for George McCaskey to move on from a coach after two year because coaching contracts are guaranteed, but it would also be a difficult sell to the fanbase to bring him back for another year.
Many Bears fans are trying to talk themselves into a win total that would bring Eberflus back. I think he’s already shown us more than enough that he’s not the future in Chicago. The best thing that Chicago can do is bring in an offensive head coach and let that guy help you pick your quarterback of the future with the pick you’re getting from Carolina. Maybe a guy like...
10. Ben Johnson. The Detroit Lions are playing good football. Much of the credit for that goes to coach Dan Campbell and the staff that he has put together including Ben Johnson. The 37 year old has been in the league since 2012, coaching for the Dolphins and Lions. Interestingly enough, Johnson survived the Matt Patricia years and was kept on when Campbell took over as he coached with Campbell in Miami. He also survived the change from Philbin/Campbell to Adam Gase in Miami, moving from assistant QB Coach to assistant WR coach.
With two years of play calling under his belt for the Lions, he’s about as close of a safe bet as there is to land a head coaching job next year. Can Chicago pull off the trifecta of firing the wrong coach early, hiring a hot head coaching candidate to lead the offense, and steal from a division rival? It would be a change, but it might be time to try something new.
Those are my thoughts this week. Let me know yours in the comments below.