EDITOR’S NOTE: An updated list of NFL head coaching candidates to watch can be found here.
It is too early in the season for an owner to be thinking about a new head coach in 2020, though that does not stop the thought processes from actually occurring. I think that most good owners and general managers have a list at the ready when a season goes awry, and that they keep an eye on good position coaches and coordinators who are having success elsewhere.
While we are—again—far too early in the season to be thinking about which positions could be vacant this winter, we are not too far into the season to think about who may be on those lists. A lot of the work done by coordinators and position coaches this offseason has already been showcased. Some of the offensive and defensive trends may fade, but the ingenuity is part of the equation for people in hiring positions.
Here’s who would be on my list, excluding for the moment any college coaches who may end up factoring into the talent pool.
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Saleh is energetic and young, and he comes from a great coaching tree. The 49ers are 3-0, second in total defense and are top 10 in both sacks and interceptions at a time when the interception is declining generally. Does he have tremendous talent up front? Yes, but the simplistic beauty of his defense allows good players to move fast and keep up with well-schemed offenses.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots
It’s just nonsensical to leave him off a coaches-to-watch list. McDaniels, despite choosing the nuclear option and walking away from Indianapolis, is a curiosity in league circles and has, for years, piloted one of the best and most diverse offenses in football. A team with a veteran quarterback will always at least have passing interest in him.
Bret Bielema, defensive line coach, New England Patriots
The former big-time college coach is moving up the ranks in New England at a time when the Patriots are touting an unstoppable defense. I like Bielema because he’s been the head coach in high-pressure jobs before, has access to and knowledge of college offenses and has spent a few years in various roles under Bill Belichick. He is different from the slew of other Patriot assistants in that Bielema had success and his own persona before coming to New England.
Shane Waldron, passing game coordinator, Los Angeles Rams
The run of hiring 30-something assistants under Sean McVay could very well continue, especially if the Rams’ offense shifts into high gear at some point this season. While the reviews on Zac Taylor are still out and may inevitably (and unfairly) impact another coach coming out, Waldron is part of a budding tree and is being groomed for bigger things under McVay.
Kris Richard, defensive passing game coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
Richard has been given the defensive spotlight in Dallas, even if he’s not the full-time coordinator. I think Richard is long overdue for a shot, having played an instrumental role in the development of a generationally great passing defense in Seattle. In Dallas, he’s been part of a crucial injection of young coaching talent that has helped push the Cowboys to Super Bowl contention.
Kellen Moore, offensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
Many thought it was too early for Moore to be a playcaller, and I’ll probably receive some flak for throwing him on here after just three games. However, there will always be a market for QB-friendly offensive minds, especially in the coming years as the latest herd of veteran quarterbacks bow out. At the least, I think Moore’s rise forces Jerry Jones to make some interesting decisions in the coming years.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens
It’s been a long and winding road for Roman, from the cusp of a head coaching gig on a rising 49ers team, to Buffalo, to Baltimore where he worked his way into the offensive coordinator role in Lamar Jackson’s second year. While I think it will be difficult for people to untangle their original thoughts on Jackson and his current status (they thought he wasn’t good, and now believe it is an effect of the system), Roman did revamp this sleepy offense and create something truly dangerous and different in today’s NFL.
Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
I had Daboll on my list last year as well, and I think people are starting to see why. With internships under both Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, with feet in both the college and professional worlds, Daboll undertook a true project in Josh Allen and is starting to get hard results. His handling of Allen in the preseason was smart, and owners would do well to pick up on the way he’s increasingly empowered his young passer through the last few months.
Kevin Stefanski, offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings
Stefanski came up with the Brad Childress regime, but he’s risen under Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. He interviewed for the Browns job this past offseason and, while the Vikings are not lighting up the scoreboard, Stefanski’s ability to create a complementary offense in Zimmer’s vision and maximize a talent like Dalvin Cook should not be overlooked.
Eric Bienemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
The next great offensive mind up in the Andy Reid pipeline, Bienemy had a largely quiet hiring cycle last year despite the monstrous offensive performance in Kansas City. This year, he may be harder to ignore as we learn more about Bienemy’s work with star Patrick Mahomes.
Nick Sirianni, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
I think we may soon be talking about a Frank Reich tree. The Colts are going to be praised roundly for their creativity and ingenuity amid chaotic circumstances, and owners may want a piece of the action with a team in transition.
Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
Toub has been instrumental in Kansas City’s success under Andy Reid, and he deserves a shot. Former pupils I’ve spoken to tout a true teacher, and someone with an understanding of both sides of the football. Plus, he has access to Reid’s offensive coaches, who he could poach for a new opportunity elsewhere.
Mike Groh, offensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles; Press Taylor, quarterbacks coach, Philadelphia Eagles
As the searches for coaches with connections to innovative schemes intensify, Groh, Taylor and some other members of the Eagles staff will find themselves under the microscope. While Frank Reich and Doug Pederson had a heavy hand in Super Bowl LII, Groh also deserved a ton of credit for his analytical eye.
Mike Pettine, defensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers
Back in 2018, when offenses were ripping the NFL apart, Pettine was one of the names I heard from coaches in the know as someone who was getting the counter-strike right. With the benefit of time away after his end in Cleveland, Pettine is now a major force behind the 3-1 Packers. Yes, his team gave up 34 points against the Eagles on Thursday Night Football, but he could be an attractive second-chance candidate, especially for those who understood what a toxic situation he endured in Cleveland.
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