Getty Images

Who would be the most likely candidates to fill the head coach, offensive and defensive coordinator, and GM of an NFL expansion team?

By Chris Burke
August 22, 2017

Head coach candidates

1. Matt Patricia (Patriots defensive coordinator): Is Patricia being groomed as the Patriots’ coach-in-waiting for whenever Bill Belichick retires, or does that honor belong to Josh McDaniels? Whatever the answer, both Patricia and McDaniels figure to be in charge somewhere in the near future. The Pats’ defensive coordinator since 2012, Patricia’s intelligence, personality and defensive know-ho would give him a chance at expansion success.

2. Dave Toub (Chiefs special teams coordinator): We often think of offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators as the obvious head-coaching candidates, but the special teams route is not unprecedented—John Harbaugh long held that role in Philadelphia before a brief promotion to DBs coach. And Toub just interviewed for multiple openings during the past hiring cycle. He’s as well-respected an assistant as there is in the league.

3. Teryl Austin (Lions defensive coordinator): Teams have reached out to Austin each of the past three offseasons, only to bypass him for other options. Lions players were thrilled, if surprised, that Austin did not land a job last year. He’s overdue for an opportunity.

Wild card: Jon Gruden (ex-Bucs/Raiders coach, current TV analyst): He always seems to be the “wild card” option when a team needs a head coach these days. But Gruden has been off the sidelines since the ’08 season ended, so convincing him to give up a cushy ESPN gig would be tough. Getting him to do so for an expansion club might be a non-starter.

Matt Patricia, Belichick’s Rocket Scientist

Offensive coordinator candidates

1. Bill Musgrave (Broncos QB coach): Would an expansion club be better off bringing in an established coordinator or rolling the dice on a promising, unproven name? Musgrave falls in the former category—he’s been the O.C. in Carolina, Jacksonville, Minnesota and, most recently, Oakland. He is not the most aggressive or creative coordinator, but Musgrave was vital in Derek Carr’s development.

2. Alex Van Pelt (Packers QB coach): Aaron Rodgers said in January that Van Pelt should be a coordinator candidate, and that’s good enough for Team To Be Named Later. Van Pelt did spend one disappointing season (2009) as the Bills’ O.C., but he did not inherit that post until Sept. 4 and Buffalo’s head coach, Dick Jauron, was fired mid-year.

3. Wade Wilson (Cowboys QB coach): An NFL QB himself for nearly two decades, Wilson has served as Dallas’s QB coach since 2007. (He also held that role from 2000-02, before a stop in Chicago.) Tony Romo’s stunning rise from UDFA to Pro Bowl quarterback was not enough to land Wilson a coordinator shot. Dak Prescott’s rapid emergence could do so.

Wild card: Chip Kelly (ex-Eagles/49ers coach): Would The Chipper give it a go as an NFL coordinator, after busting as a head coach? Probably not, but it would be worth calling to find out.

College Football
ESPN hires Chip Kelly to be college football analyst

Defensive coordinator

1. John Butler (Texans DBs coach): Mike Vrabel’s promotion to defensive coordinator could put Butler next on the list of coordinators-to-be in Houston. Bill O’Brien said last year that Butler has a future as both a coordinator and, eventually, a head coach in the NFL.

2. Perry Fewell (Jaguars DBs coach): He took his knocks as the Giants’ defensive coordinator and eventually was dismissed, but he also helped bring a Super Bowl title back to the Big Apple. While Fewell wouldn’t be a sexy hire for an expansion club, there is something to be said for finding a steady hand to help a new franchise.

3. Adam Zimmer (Vikings linebackers coach): Zimmer is just 33 years old, so he’s a bit of a “wild card” in his own right. That said, he’s been an assistant in the league since 2006 and has spent the past four years on his dad’s staff, where he’s helped oversee impressive development from the likes of Anthony Barr.

Wild card: Mike Pettine (ex-Browns head coach, Bills/Jets coordinator): Pettine’s defenses ranked top 10 in yards allowed all five seasons he served as a defensive coordinator. He’s bound to get another shot to run a defense in the league.


1. Nick Caserio (Patriots director of player personnel): A similar conversation to the earlier one involving Matt Patricia, in that it might be impossible to swipe Caserio from the Patriots. If it were possible, he’d be the prime candidate.

2. George Paton (Vikings assistant GM): The Chiefs recently took a run at Paton, only to be rebuffed. The odd timing of that job coming open could have a played a role; Paton should hear his phone ring again next offseason. Paton has been with the Vikings for upwards of a decade now.

3. Ryan Cowden (Titans director of player personnel): A rising star in the future-GM ranks, Cowden did interview with the Chiefs earlier this summer. Cowden was a scout in the Panthers’ system for 16 years before the Titans came calling. He should receive another upgrade before long.

Wild card: Louis Riddick (ex-Redskins/Eagles director of player personnel, current TV analyst): Far from a Matt Millen-level situation because of Riddick’s extensive experience within NFL front offices. He was rumored to be a Chiefs candidate, too, although he denied those reports.