Monday afternoon, in his press conference discussing the decision to fire head coach Mike McCarthy, team president Mark Murphy mentioned an apt corollary. “I felt change was needed, and Mike’s tenure had run its course,” Murphy said. “We needed a new voice, and it happens in our league. I look at the situation a couple years ago with Andy Reid in Philadelphia.”
After 14 seasons leading the Eagles, Reid was let go at the end of the 2012 season. The Eagles’ next coach, Chip Kelly, didn’t stick, but five seasons later, under Doug Pederson, they won a Super Bowl. Reid, meanwhile, landed the job in Kansas City four days after he was fired; he has a 63-29 record and is on track for his fifth playoff appearance in six seasons there.
Don’t be surprised if this shakes out a similar way, with McCarthy on a different sideline next season. A few weeks back, while surveying NFL decision-makers for our list of 2019 head-coach candidates, two names kept coming up first: Josh McDaniels and, if available, McCarthy.
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Yes, McCarthy’s 13-year tenure in Green Bay ended with a whimper, with the Packers firing him after an embarrassing home loss to the Cardinals. And yes, one year ago McDaniels had an 11th hour change-of-heart, spurning the Colts after a press conference had been set up to announce his hiring. No one is claiming both coaches will definitely be at the helm of a team next season—but both will be in demand, and are likely to have options.
This year’s crop of candidates is an unusual one. Hiring a head coach is always something of a projection, but there are fewer ascending coordinators with the years of NFL play-calling experience that teams long held as a barrier to entry for a head coach (which, as a side note, is not even necessarily the most important criteria for a person to lead a football team; Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, a Coach of the Year candidate this season, was hired in Los Angeles after less than one full season as the Bills offensive coordinator). Teams are looking for their own Sean McVay—a risky proposition in itself. But while McVay broke the traditional mold simply by being hired as the Rams’ head coach at age 30, he’d also already had two seasons of NFL play-calling experience in Washington. Kyle Shanahan, too, had multiple years’ experience helming an offense when he was hired by the 49ers at age 37.
Since McVay calls the Rams’ offensive plays, for example, the young assistants on his staff like Zac Taylor and Shane Waldron aren’t currently getting that experience. And while Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley will be a hot name, thanks in part to the wall coming down between NFL and college offenses, he has two years of head coaching experience at the college level, which doesn’t necessarily translate to the pros. The quest to find another just like McVay is both a fool’s errand and could very well lead to some even bigger-than-usual projections being made in the next round of head-coach hiring.
The reason both McCarthy and McDaniels will garner plenty of interest in January is their wealth of experience designing and calling an offense, and working with a Hall of Fame quarterback. In McCarthy’s case, the bumps in his relationship with Aaron Rodgers in recent years have been well-documented, but they won a Super Bowl together and McCarthy took the team to the playoffs nine times. The sense I get from other teams is that no one believes McCarthy can no longer coach, but similar to Reid in 2012, they just think he (and Rodgers) needed a fresh start.
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As for McDaniels, I don’t sense that what happened last February will have much of an impact on his opportunities to be a head coach this year. That might sound crazy, considering the shockwaves sent through the NFL 10 months when he decided to stay in New England after reaching an agreement with the Colts, but I don’t think it’s going to be a barrier to a team trying to hire the guy they want. Teams will ask him to explain what happened, and he’ll need to give an honest answer about what triggered his change of heart and why it won’t happen this time—provided there’s a job that he really wants. I imagine there are multiple answers that would satisfy teams.
McDaniels’s criteria for a job that would get him to leave a near-perfect situation in New England have always been a team with a quarterback he really likes, or the opportunity to draft one, and a good partner as GM. I’d also add, he’s probably looking for a relationship with the club owner similar to the one he has with Robert Kraft so that he could feel confident in the job’s stability. Geography might also be a factor; when he withdrew from the 49ers search two years ago, McDaniels mentioned not wanting to uproot his wife and four kids to the West Coast.
One interesting part of this year’s hiring cycle is that, since there are fewer “obvious” candidates, teams may have to go in with more of an open mind and cast a wider net for their next head coach. But two of the top contenders in this year’s mix will be familiar names.
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