While coaches spend months—and in some cases, years—jockeying behind the scenes to position themselves for an opportunity at a head coaching job in the NFL, it’s not until we have an actual opening that those ambitions come to light.
Well, we now have an opening.
The Browns fired head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday, jump-starting the market months before what promises to be a hiring cycle unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Why? Teams are casting a wider net. Everyone is looking for a system that can match the relative age and maturity of an increasingly youthful roster. College coaches will be in play. Quarterbacks coaches from forward-thinking organizations will be in play.
Here are a few names to consider:
Lincoln Riley, head coach, Oklahoma
This scenario has as many obvious connections as it does caveats. College coaches with no NFL ties have terrified the league. Chip Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia did not ease the stigma, even if teams have been quietly copying many of Kelly’s standard operating procedures in the years since his exit. The plusses? Riley is young and energetic, much like the roster he’d be inheriting. His creative use of the run-pass option gets great players in space with the ball. He helped mold Baker Mayfield during their time together. The minuses? While NFL teams have been beating down his door to learn his offense, he’ll need an infusion of league-ready staffers to fill in some of the openings on staff. Can he convince a hardened general manager that he’s up to the task? And, can a general manager convince him to leave a beautiful college campus and one of the best teams in the nation?
Matt Campbell, head coach, Iowa State
A pick from MMQB teammate Albert Breer: Campbell, who was born and raised an hour south of Cleveland, is gaining a reputation as a program builder. Just 38 years old, he fits the ideal age range for the second-youngest team in football. He’s coached most positions offensively and has access to a rolodex of talented young playcallers who would mesh well with a quarterback like Baker Mayfield. Perhaps more so than Riley, he’ll face similar challenges having to do with NFL staff building.
George Edwards, defensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings and John DeFilippo, offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings
For two different reasons, both of Mike Zimmer’s top lieutenants will be attractive here. DeFilippo has done wonders with many different types of quarterbacks and knows how to navigate the waters in Cleveland, having been a coordinator during the Johnny Manziel era. Edwards, who was a candidate in Chicago this offseason, has been with Zimmer and can go a long way toward establishing an NFL-style defensive culture on a team brimming with young stars.
Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
Toub and Browns general manager John Dorsey know each other well, and while hiring a special teams coordinator during an era of unprecedented offensive innovation might be a puzzling move, Toub has the advantage of being part of the Andy Reid coaching tree. He may also have access to some of Reid’s offensive staff. People who know Toub describe him as even-handed, with the ability to motivate without chewing someone out. As a long-time special teams coordinator, he’s had his hands on every type of player—most often at the bottom of the roster—and can get them ready each week.
Zac Taylor, QB coach, Los Angeles Rams
A short-statured quarterback who maximized his ability in college despite few scholarship offers? Taylor might fit in well with the Browns and their quarterback, not to mention that any coach associated with Sean McVay is going to get looks this offseason. I think many of McVay’s associates will be careful with selecting a first job. There will be offers and Cleveland, which has not retained a coach for longer than three years since Romeo Crennel, may be a little more intimidating despite the stable of talent.