Harbaugh to LA? Belichick to Falcons? Assessing the NFL head teaching candidates

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Harbaugh to LA? Belichick to Falcons? Assessing the NFL head teaching candidates

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Harbaugh continues his will-he-won’t-he dance with professional soccer. Final 12 months, he mentioned after interviewing with the Minnesota Vikings that it could be the “final time” he spoke to an NFL franchise, earlier than inserting an exit clause into his Michigan contract that allowed him to skedaddle from the school sport to the professionals at any time when he sees match.

It’s value remembering that earlier than he returned to Michigan to information his crew to a nationwide championship, earlier than his (a number of) NCAA infractions and a sign-stealing scandal, Harbaugh thought he was on his means again to the NFL for good. Harbaugh was sizing up drapes in Minnesota after interviewing for the Vikings job in 2022’s cycle. A miscommunication meant that Harbaugh thought he had agreed to take the Vikings gig, earlier than Minnesota turned to then-Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell.

Together with his work full at Michigan, Harbaugh will as soon as once more be on the high of the candidate lists. The 60-year-old has been linked to the Los Angeles Chargers job, the place he can be tasked with unlocking Justin Herbert’s potential. The Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders have additionally expressed curiosity. Some house owners may have little interest in coping with Harbaugh’s peculiarities. However he stays on the vanguard of offensive soccer – and in all places he goes, he wins.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Los Angeles Chargers head coach

Invoice Belichick, New England Patriots

Belichick is out in New England. However the 71-year-old has given no indication that he plans to retire. If the best to ever do it says he nonetheless needs to educate, somebody will take an opportunity on him rediscovering among the previous magic. The query is who? And the way a lot energy will an proprietor devolve to Belichick? Will they insist that Belichick works with a basic supervisor or will they hand over the franchise to the best architect of the fashionable period?

New Proprietor Syndrome dictates that Washington will entertain the concept of a blockbuster title to kick off a brand new period for the franchise. And you can not rule out Carolina Panthers proprietor David Tepper chasing the shiniest toy on the shelf. The Chargers have additionally been mooted as having some curiosity – as long as Belichick is a free agent and a commerce is just not required to safe his providers. Given what he’s executed for the Patriots, it’s seemingly the crew’s proprietor, Robert Kraft, will let Belichick out of his contract in order that he’s free to select the place he works with out having to fret in regards to the situations of a commerce.

Belichick might additionally sit out the primary spherical of the hiring season, ready to see which playoff performers resolve to half methods with their coach. If the Dallas Cowboys crash and burn early on, Jerry Jones might look to Belichick to recover from the championship hump.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Atlanta Falcons head coach

Brian Flores, Minnesota Vikings

“Modern” is overused in soccer. Some coaches discover delicate methods to iterate. Others hop on developments on the proper time. Most “improvements” are merely a part of the sport’s cyclical nature; what’s previous turns into new once more.

Flores is totally different. He’s teaching on a distinct planet, totally different environment, totally different gravity from everybody else. His newest doozy: turning a lackluster Vikings protection right into a High 10 unit by DVOA, the type of achievement that ought to see him obtain some type of presidential honor, by no means thoughts a head teaching nod.

What the previous Miami Dolphins head coach has executed in Minnesota this season has been groundbreaking. He’s fused two discordant types in a means no one has ever seen earlier than – at any degree. If the position of a coach is to present his crew an on-field benefit, few do it as constantly as Flores.

Nonetheless: Flores’s time in Miami was rocky. He has a gruff character that rubs some gamers, colleagues and executives the improper means. He walks round with an I-know-best bluster, usually as a result of he does. In 2022, he sued the league and three groups alleging racism of their hiring practices. After submitting the swimsuit, it seemed like several shot he had at turning into a head coach once more had ended – the case remains to be making its means by way of the courts. It might have even dominated him out from any high-profile job. However as soon as he was handed the keys to a unit once more, Flores did what he does finest: he coached championship-level protection.

Flores is deserving of a second shot. Whether or not somebody will grant him one is one other matter.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Stays with the Vikings

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys

Dan Quinn is tipped to return to the pinnacle teaching ranks. {Photograph}: Jasen Vinlove/USA Right this moment Sports activities

Quinn has topped the head-coaches-in-waiting charts for successive cycles however has determined to sit down out the carnival in favor of sticking with the Cowboys. In Dallas, he has been the chief constructor of the crew’s suffocating protection.

Barring a postseason failure, Quinn will in all probability take the leap again into the pinnacle teaching ranks this 12 months. Some worrisome indicators dotted his final go round within the high job, in Atlanta. Quinn too usually fell foul of the traditional coordinator-to-head-coach trope: pondering he wanted to play a cartoon capital-C coach slightly than getting on with managing the sport. His in-game administration was poor; as soon as Kyle Shanahan left his aspect, he couldn’t manufacture a good offense.

Quinn will get one other stab on the high job. However he could also be destined to be a terrific defensive coordinator who by no means cracks it as a head coach.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Elevated to Cowboys head coach

Raheem Morris, LA Rams

The Rams’ protection has been this season’s happiest shock. There have been some analysts (you might be studying one) who had been calling for congressional hearings within the preseason for the hand the franchise had dealt Morris. The Rams entered the season with solely 4 day one and day two draft picks on their defensive depth chart.

Morris, who did a very good job the 12 months earlier than in tough circumstances, was handed one other dud. However, as ever, he squeezed essentially the most out of the least. The Rams completed the season twentieth in EPA per play on protection, an achievement that ought to rank alongside Michelangelo’s David or blasting a canine into area.

Morris is savvy, ultra-confident and comfy in his personal pores and skin, the everyday logos of head coaches who hit the bottom operating. He turned a barren defensive roster into an efficient unit, serving to coax a league-average degree out of a batch of rookies. He’s additionally distinctive in having expertise teaching on either side of the ball and previous head teaching expertise.

Morris won’t be a splashy rent. He’s not an A-list title. For any crew staring down a tough reset, although, Morris would be the supreme candidate to educate a younger crew.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Stays with the Rams

Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens

Nonetheless solely 36, Macdonald is to defensive soccer what Sean McVay was to the offensive aspect of the ball six years in the past. He’s more likely to be the No 1 possibility for a bulk of groups this cycle. He has lived within the Harbaugh orbit for many of his teaching profession. He labored underneath Jim Harbaugh on the Baltimore Ravens earlier than becoming a member of Jim at Michigan and overhauling the crew’s protection – setting them on a path to their nationwide title bid. After finishing his work there, he was referred to as again as much as the Ravens by Harbaugh Sr.

Macdonald has been the champion of the meta-defensive developments which have sprung up all through the sport to decelerate an period of offense. Not like different defensive czars, although, Macdonald is just not doctrinaire. What he constructed with Baltimore has not been a revolution, however extra about tweaking what labored earlier than. He’s proven a capability to toggle his scheme to no matter is required, relying on the expertise accessible and the opposition he’s dealing with. If there’s an organizing precept that governs Macdonald’s defensive philosophy, it’s clever chaos.

A wise franchise will look to the DeMeco Ryans-CJ Stroud mannequin the Houston Texans have struck gold with: pairing probably the most clever defensive coaches with a hot-shot younger quarterback.

Predicted subsequent transfer: Matt Eberflus can be out in Chicago; Macdonald takes his spot

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions

In Detroit, Johnson has been the writer of one of many league’s most spectacular offenses. He’s helped curb a few of Jared Goff’s worst instincts and has constructed an idiosyncratic run sport that has fuelled a lot of the Lions’ success. Johnson turned down head coach interviews final season to stay with the Lions, and appears intent on ready on the proper job (learn: the proper quarterback) slightly than leaping on the first or greatest supply.

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In a year with few candidates with strong backgrounds on the offensive side of the ball, Johnson will probably be the most in-demand coach in the league.

Predicted next move: Washington Commanders head coach

Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins

When Miami hired Mike McDaniel, they pinched away Kyle Shanahan’s run-game guru. So who will pinch the guru’s guru? Smith is the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, and has helped oversee the team’s offensive explosion over the past 24 months.

In a recent poll by the NFLPA, Smith was voted the No 1 offensive coordinator in the league by 1,700 players. If you’re looking for wackadoo offensive designs – *cough* the Falcons *cough* – then Smith is the guy.

But the difference between the coordinator’s chair and the head coach’s office is huge. You go from thinking about play designs and gameplans to worrying about flights, building out a staff, and figuring out how to appease a guard who’s upset because your center is making more money.

Smith has proven himself as a gameplanner and play designer, but, as with the other coordinator candidates, it’s an open question whether he has the chops to run an entire team.

Predicted next move: Stays with the Dolphins

Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

Jerod Mayo has been a coach and a play in New England
Jerod Mayo has been a coach and a play in New England. Photograph: Stew Milne/AP

Sometimes you just know a coach has it. When DeMeco Ryans was rising through the ranks, it was clear he had the secret sauce. Likewise for Dan Campbell. The same is true of Mayo. He oozes charisma and bravado.

The young linebacker coach has worked in concert with Belichick to build a competent defense while the rest of Foxborough has fallen into decline. Belichick still takes a strong lead on all things defense, but players rave about Mayo’s attention to detail and his day-to-day coaching of technique. Throughout his time with the Patriots, Mayo has consistently turned down overtures for jobs elsewhere.

Some will be put off by the flops from Belichick’s coaching tree of yesteryear, and there are some warning signs: Mayo hasn’t worked outside the Belichick ecosystem; he played for the team for eight seasons; there has been tension inside the building that he demands too much from players. There may no stronger embodiment of the Patriot Way than Mayo – and it’s a philosophy that hasn’t exactly worked well when transported elsewhere. But for a franchise looking for a refresh, Mayo will be exactly what’s ordered.

If Mayo isn’t coveted outside New England, he may assume Belichick’s throne if the Kraft family decides to keep the Patriots job within the franchise.

Predicted next move: Mike Vrabel takes the Patriots head coaching job; Mayo replaces him in Tennessee

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans

Up next on the Kyle Shanahan conveyor belt: Bobby Slowik. Slowik worked on the famed Washington staff of 2011-13 that included Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel and Shanahan. He moved outside the Shanahan vortex to buffer his own reputation this season, landing in Houston with Ryans (who he worked with in San Francisco) and helping pilot Stroud through his rookie season.

Given the lack of available, young offensive-minded coaches on the market this year, Slowik may well get a look – the success of McDaniel in Miami will certainly help. But Slowik has had one year of running an offense in Houston, and did so with a brilliant prospect in Stroud. Together, the two formed the shrewdest offense in the NFL. But how do you separate Slowik’s early success from Stroud?

Predicted next move: Stays with the Texans

Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders

Perhaps the best case for Bieniemy is not what happened with the Commanders this season, but what happened to the Chiefs’ offense once he left town. The Chiefs’ struggles are mostly to do with a lack of talent at receiver and some iffy personnel choices along the offensive line, but it has at least armed Bieniemy with some interesting stats for his PowerPoint.

The likeliest outcome is that Bieniemy returns to KC after the playoffs. Yet despite a miserable year in Washington, he could still receive some head coach shine after spending a year away from Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid – the biggest blemish on his on-field résumé in past cycles.

Predicted next move: Returns to the Chiefs as assistant head coach

Aaron Glenn, Detroit Lions

Glenn is a timely reminder that whatever alchemy makes a great head coach is not the same as that which makes a top coordinator. Glenn has been excellent in Detroit, building a coherent, fiery defense despite some weaknesses at all three levels. But he’s not a schematic maverick. He concentrates on the details, drills them into his unit and wrings every ounce of talent out of his players as possible. Glenn has drawn more out of the Lions roster by decluttering; he recognized he was demanding too much schematically in his early days in Detroit and scaled it back.

That sense of self-awareness, of being able to build something that fits your roster rather than what showcases your own intellect, of being able to teach it, with repetition, over and over until your players are mumbling the keywords in their sleep, is what prepares someone to be a head coach.

Culture is a vague term that is more easily recognized than defined. The Dan Campbell Show is fun, but the true essence of the Lions’ culture comes from the team’s willingness to sharpen habits – and Glenn has been the driver of that success on defense.

The Commanders have already requested an interview with Glenn. With a young, rebooted roster, Glenn would be an ideal fit.

Predicted next move: Stays with the Lions




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