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Which NFL Head Coach Openings Are the Most Appealing?

The MMQB Podcast discusses each of the NFL's head coach openings.

On this week’s NFL Podcast with Albert Breer, Breer is joined by Jenny Vrentas and Bette Marston (filling in for Conor Orr) to rank the NFL’s eight available head coaching positions...


BREER: I want to go through all eight of these, and I want you guys to tell me YES or NO if this is an attractive opening and why. Let’s start with the Jets. Bette, is this an attractive opening?

MARSTON: No, because the GM [Mike Maccagnan] is still in New York.

VRENTAS: I think it’s attractive. I think Sam Darnold had a good rookie season, and they have a ton of cap space, there's a ton of possibilities to do things. Unfortunately, all of the openings are tied to a sitting GM this year. There was one GM turnover compared to eight head-coaching firings, and the one GM firing was in Oakland, where the head coach is staying.

BREER: That part is interesting because I don't have as huge of a problem with that as other people do. The reason why is because the job of the head coach is to look at the year they are in. The job of the general manager is to look out for the franchise over a five-year period. I remember the Browns were going through this a few years ago when they turned over their GM three times in four years. And I remember somebody saying to me, “How is someone going to go into that job and be looking out for the long-term future of that team when they know this owner just fired three guys who were there for two years?” I think that plays into it with some of these openings. Also, I think a lot of owners are afraid to blow it up because then it’s all on them. It's the same concept as hiring a search firm—if everything blows up, there’s somewhere to point the finger.

VRENTAS: I do think the counterpoint is that this year there are a number of openings in which the GM is on his third or fourth coach. Steve Keim will have his third head coach, Jason Licht will have his third head coach, Elway will have his fourth head coach—a caveat, of course, is that Gary Kubiak stepped down for health reasons. Still, there's a lot of situations in which the GMs have had time, and the head coaches were working with either a quarterback they didn’t pick or a flawed roster for a single season. That is why it’s jarring this year.

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BREER: The one thing I like about the Jets is that it has some of the markings of San Francisco last year. The roster was bad in San Francisco last year, but some head coaches looked at that and said that’s actually a good thing because it's a blank slate. I can walk in and I'm not dealing with many existing conditions and I can set it up the way I want to. I think some coaches look at the Jets and see that they have Sam Darnold on offense, I've got Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams on defense, and the rest is up to me. Some coaches see that as appealing. The Jets have the third pick and $100 million bucks to spend. I can build this the way I want to build this.


VRENTAS: I think Cleveland might be the most attractive head-coaching opening.

MARSTON: I have to agree with that.

BREER: It is the No. 1 job on my list. I think it’s a fantastic job. I think the under-25-year-old talent on that team is great—and it goes beyond just Baker: Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Larry Ogunjobi, Jabrill Peppers, Jarvis Landry. It's a lot of guys on rookie contracts, and there's a lot of money to spend. And there's a competent general manager in John Dorsey. If you don't need control, and if you're OK with division of power, you look at a guy who was largely responsible for building that Kansas City team. The one question there is ownership. Bill Parcells always told his assistants, when they were looking at jobs, is that you cannot change the owner. So there would be some questions about whether or not you're comfortable with ownership, because of all of the turnover in the last six or seven years in Cleveland. But the rest of it … the chance to work with Baker, the young talent on the roster, the money to spend—it’s all there.

MARSTON: The Browns also ended this year on such a good note that you want to be a coach coming in there to coach guys who are feeling good and feeling optimistic. Things are generally trending up about the future, and that I think is the kind of situation you want to walk into.

BREER: I think that this matters, because this could buy you some more rope. If you win 10 games, they’ll throw a parade for you. If you win 10 games, you might get an extra couple of years.

VRENTAS: True. But Rex Ryan did say that when he went to Buffalo, and that imploded.


VRENTAS: I say Green Bay is top three.

MARSTON: I would say it’s a strong one, because you have one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now. Granted you only have him for a few more years, but I think a lot of people would jump at the opportunity to work with Aaron Rodgers.

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BREER: I’m a little afraid on this one. I saw what happened with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers. It’s become so Rodgers-centric there, I just think that there’s more potential for things to go wrong there than what people give it credit for. I still think it’s attractive. I think Brian Gutekunst is going to be a good general manager; you’ve got two first-round picks, that’s a good thing. I don’t think the talent’s great right now – you’re competing with Matt Nagy and the Bears, who look like they’ve got it rolling now. The Vikings have been a contender the last few years.


The other thing is—10 wins there is not a success. Say there’s a bunch of injuries and a head coach goes 8-8—he’s going to be on the hot seat in 2020. And it’s not because the Packers haven’t been patient in the past, they’ve absolutely been patient in the past. It’s like, “shoot, well the clock’s ticking on Aaron. We’ve got to figure this out.”

This is the opening that I think Josh McDaniels could wind up in, because it is such a unique challenge, having to coach someone like Aaron Rodgers. There’s an anxiety to coaching someone like that. There’s an anxiety to coach someone like a Brady or a Manning—how do you give that guy new information? How do you challenge that guy? How do you make that guy not bored listening to you? Because that guy has already seen and done everything.


VRENTAS: I think the challenge of working with Elway has to be considered here. The ownership situation is also very unstable.

MARSTON: I think it’s maybe kind of similar to Green Bay, knowing that your No. 1 task for this head coach is known. And that’s working with Elway to find that next quarterback. That is, again, a daunting task.

BREER: It is challenging working with Elway. He’s hard to work for, and he’s tough on people. The expectations are very, very high there. I think it’s best for both sides that Vance and the Broncos separated here, because I think Elway was out on Vance in like November of 2017. But you kept hearing these stats. “Well we haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons in x amount of years. And this would be the first time we’ve had back-to-back 10-loss seasons.” You just kept hearing all these different things, and it’s like, wow, you hired a coach with like one year of coordinating experience, a projection right? And you’re immediately holding him to like the Mike Shanahan standard.

VRENTAS: And that’s the problem with head coaching hiring. Because unless they’ve done it before, it’s almost a projection. The skillset that you’re asked to do is different from anything you’ve done before. Wasn’t even just these stats surfacing, it was also just Elway’s public comments. It was very clear; you knew where he stood. And that’s a tough spot for a coach to be in. Especially when you’re dealing with a roster where the quarterback decisions have been flawed, and ever since putting together the Super Bowl roster, the roster building has been flawed. And you can argue that, yes that won them a Super Bowl, but that wasn’t a strong, long-term roster-building plan. I think that’s a tough spot to be in. I think there are worse ones, but it’s definitely in the middle.

BREER: It could be a great place to win. You’re going to have resources, but you have to win quick.


MARSTON: The team is young for the most part. They’ll get rid of DeSean Jackson, you’ve got one more year working with Jameis Winston. But that is a team that is not on a positive track right now. They ended on a tough note. They haven’t made the playoffs in their last 10 seasons. That’s going to be a hard place for a coach to come in and pick up the guys and inject that optimism into them that they’ve been lacking for the last several years. Their last three or four head coaches haven’t lasted more than three seasons … that’s going to be a hurdle to get over.

VRENTAS: I do not like this opening because I do not like Jameis. If a coach has a different feeling about Jameis, perhaps. But I think it would be very hard to have a different feeling about Jameis. He’s not a quarterback that you really can trust in any aspect of the job. And so I think I would put this job last, even despite that they do have some young talent, but a lot of teams have some young talent.

BREER: The Jameis thing bothers me a little bit, but the one thing about Jameis, he doesn’t have to be your guy. So the team is going to spend $21 million on him next year, right? But that doesn’t mean that they’re not going to draft one, and if there’s one that you really like, maybe you draft him. And now you’re pulling multiple levers, so maybe you fall back in love with Jameis, maybe Jameis miraculously grows up, because his back’s against the wall.

The thing that bothers me about this job is that you’ve got a partner, a general manager, who’s fighting for his job. And that to me is an issue, because if things really go haywire next year, well then maybe you’re on the hook too. Because maybe then it’s like, we’ve got to blow this thing up completely. Again I’ve heard that they want somebody to create some buzz because they’ve got the empty-seat problem down there.


VRENTAS: Miami hasn’t really been able to decide what they’re doing, right? The last few years they wanted to try to work towards the ultimate goal and not sacrifice seasons. And then Stephen Ross essentially said, if we would have kept Gase, he would have wanted to try to win this year and we just sort of want to start fresh. I guess they’re going all-in on that, but the yo-yoing back and forth for the direction of the team, I think is unsettling to me. I would rank it in the bottom two or three.

MARSTON: I don’t think it’s a good opening because it’s a team that has lacked an identity for many years. Like Jenny was saying, I’m not sure what the direction is down there. And I think that might be hard for a new head coach to go into.

BREER: I’m actually slightly encouraged by what the owner did. I think the issue there was largely between Gase and Tannenbaum. The people that I’ve talked to in that organization speak so highly of Chris Grier, and then you talk to other people around the league, the scouts that are on the road, and seeing him in schools, and they all speak highly of Chris Grier. I think the fact that [owner Stephen Ross] was able to assess his situation and say, ‘There’s the guy that’s the unifier. There’s the guy that’s respected.” I look at that decision that he made there, and I’m actually really encouraged by that. I think that actually shows that he was actually looking at what was happening. And made a decision based on facts instead of just what’s out there or just reacting to the way they lost to Buffalo or anything like that.

VRENTAS: I’ve heard the same things about Grier. I agree that he’s well liked by scouts, is very collaborative, and I think he’s a smart guy. We haven’t really seen what he’s done when it’s all his show. So that’s a fair point.


MARSTON: Arizona is very middle-of-the-pack for me. There’s a lot of problems in Arizona, but expectations are low as well, which is good for a fresh head coach.

VRENTAS: You have the same sort of issue we mentioned in Tampa with the GM fighting for his job and the one-and-done situation is always stressful. They have a quarterback, depends if you like the quarterback or not. I know Rosen was polarizing entering the draft, but now you have more information. You have however many games he started of information. I don’t hate it, but I do think that there’s still a concern of the general manager now on his third head coach.

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BREER: I think there are some things about it structurally that I like. A lot depends again, on what you think of Josh Rosen. I don’t feel like it’s as consensus as, like Sam Darnold is absolutely a positive with the Jets. Baker Mayfield is absolutely a positive with the Browns job. I don’t feel like there is as much of a consensus across the NFL that Josh Rosen makes Arizona a great job. And the problem is, if you don’t like Josh Rosen, are you going to be able to move on from him? Say I’m a coach and I think Josh Rosen is just OK, are you going to be able to go into that room and be like, ‘You know what, let’s trade Rosen and let’s take one of the quarterbacks with the first pick.’ It’s messy because of that.

VRENTAS: It’s not necessarily a great year to have the first pick, either.


BREER: I think Vance Joseph is going to be in the mix there. They’ve always leaned on familiarity, so they’ve got a couple guys in-house too in Bill Lazor and Darrin Simmons who are going to get a look. What do you guys think of this one?

VRENTAS: I feel mediocre about it.

BREER: It’s got to be the right guy I think. You’ve got ownership that’s not going to be wrapped up in what all of us or anyone else is saying about the organization. So you don’t need to deal with some of the volatility that a lot of the other organizations have to deal with. It’s also a place where there’s great loyalty. And I feel like that organization, for the most part, people who work there, like working there. The scouting staff is really small, and the coaches are going to have to be on the road in the spring looking at prospects. And Marvin Lewis fought for over a decade to get an indoor facility, and he couldn’t get that done. It’s an interesting job because I think you’re going to have a lot of say in scouting, which I think a lot of coaches want. They want to have at least a say in the way all that goes. I think there’s loyalty there, there’s a lot of good things there, but also a lot of bad things.

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