Skip to main content

Ranking Every Open NFL Coaching Job and Predicting Who Gets Hired Where

Why the Falcons and Seahawks present the most desirable jobs and the Panthers are at the bottom of the pack. Plus, lists of top candidates for all seven teams.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Following Thursday’s news that Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft are parting ways, there were eight head coach openings across the NFL: the Atlanta FalconsCarolina PanthersLas Vegas RaidersLos Angeles ChargersNew England PatriotsSeattle SeahawksTennessee Titans and Washington Commanders

Now there are only seven after the Patriots hired Jerod Mayo on Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Mayo, 37, will be introduced at a news conference next week.

To say the past 48 hours have been a stunning moment in not only the history of the NFL, but the history of coaching, is an understatement. Three legends either were gently shoved out the door or decided to retire:

• Pete Carroll, the architect of one of the greatest college football dynasties in history with the USC Trojans and a rare crossover success as a Super Bowl winner with the Seahawks.

• Nick Saban, the architect of the greatest college football dynasty in history and the winner of seven national championships (six with the Alabama Crimson Tide and one with the LSU Tigers).

• Bill Belichick, one of the greatest coaches in NFL history and certainly the greatest in modern NFL history, winner of six Super Bowl trophies and, during one stretch, winner of the AFC East in 17 out of 19 seasons.

Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick speak before Super Bowl XLIX

Carroll (left) and Belichick before squaring off in Super Bowl XLIX.

Each of them left a mark on the game that will be forever grooved into coaching philosophy and lore. The Patriots were the unattainable model of consistency in the NFL. The same for Saban in college football. Carroll ushered in an era of coaching that was as much about psychology as it was scheme. His disciples around the NFL are still sought after to this day.

With that said, let’s get down to the business at hand. If you are a prospective head coach trying to fill these mammoth shoes, which job would you like? There are candidates this cycle who will certainly have their pick, such as Ben Johnson, the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. There are also jobs that will be a very specific fit for a very specific temperament. So in light of that, we’re going to try to rank the openings based on a handful of factors.

1. Ownership quality

2. Perceived job pressures (with 10 being a great, low-pressure job and 1 being a complete sauna of a situation from the beginning)

3. Quarterback skills

4. Nonquarterback roster ability

5. Divisional difficulty (with 10 being an open competitive landscape and 1 being a division with an incumbent juggernaut or multiple teams that are strong every year)

I would add that, should the Dallas Cowboys’ job come available, I would likely rank it near the top of the list. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the only other job that I could see coming open (barring a massive surprise), would probably land somewhere in the middle.

With those details set, let’s get to the rankings, from best jobs to worst.

Separate photos of Mike Vrabel, Jim Harbaugh and Antonio Pierce

Three situations worth watching: Vrabel is on the market, Harbaugh may leave Michigan for the NFL and Pierce would like to keep the job in Las Vegas.

1. Atlanta Falcons

  • Ownership quality: 9
  • Perceived job pressures: 2
  • Quarterback skills: 3
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 8
  • Divisional difficulty: 10

Total score: 32

I ranked the Falcons’ ownership score quite high because, generally, I feel like Arthur Blank is a reasonable person, and he’s rarely seen as a meddler in affairs. While I feel Art Smith was hung out to dry a little bit after having to spend one season absorbing the end of the Matt Ryan era and another taking on Ryan’s dead-cap hit, Blank seems to be intuitive in terms of providing a nice way of life for players and being patient with his head coaches. Indeed, the Falcons ranked highly on some critical components of ownership ability in the NFLPA report card: The training staff was great, the travel accommodations were good and so, too, was the way families were treated.

The drawbacks here are obvious: Blank abandoned a long-term build with Smith because he wants to win now. He is 82. This is the reason he has been linked to Belichick so intimately early in the process. That means there is a pressure to win instantly in a division that, while not great, is a slog. It will also get better. New Orleans will find a more Derek Carr–centric offensive coordinator. The Panthers cannot get any worse and, I suspect, will have Bryce Young playing better.

If the Desmond Ridder–Taylor Heinicke platoon were replaced, say, by someone such as Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins or even Baker Mayfield, I don’t think we would even be questioning which job is the most desirable. The Falcons boast stalwart offensive line talent, a good cornerback and excellent young skill-position players when fully healthy.

Best fits: Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Raheem Morris, Ben Johnson, Mike Vrabel, Steve Wilks, Lou Anarumo

My way-too-early prediction: Bill Belichick

2. Seattle Seahawks

  • Ownership quality: 9
  • Perceived job pressures: 6
  • Quarterback skills: 6
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 8
  • Divisional difficulty: 1

Total score: 30

I think the way in which you saw the Seahawks move on from Pete Carroll says a lot. Carroll felt free to protest a bit and admit publicly that he still wanted to coach. He was also invited back into the organization. To me, that’s the sign of a good ownership group. Seattle has never been questioned in terms of its commitment to trading for or signing good players, and general manager John Schneider is one of the few GMs in the league whom I would suggest has a net draft advantage.

The drawback is that the new coach will replace a legend who will still be around. I remember how difficult this was for Ben McAdoo upon Tom Coughlin’s ouster in New York. Carroll is unique, too, in his ways to motivate players and generate a bond. It will be a tricky balancing act for a new coach to establish their own temperament while also paying homage to the culture that Carroll created.

Seattle has a great secondary (although I think it’s important to note that it is great as it pertains to Carroll’s scheme), a developing offensive line, some budding talent at pass rusher, a win-with quarterback and a phenomenal group of receivers. Should Bobby Wagner agree to stay, he would be a tremendous resource.

Of course, trying to survive in the NFC West is always a challenge. As we wrote Wednesday, Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, both in their primes, offer a difficult schedule year in and year out.

Best fits: Dan Quinn, Dave Canales, Ben Johnson, Bobby Slowik, Frank Smith, Ejiro Evero, Brian Callahan

My way-too-early prediction: Dan Quinn

3. Washington Commanders

  • Ownership quality: 9
  • Perceived job pressures: 5
  • Quarterback skills: 3
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 5
  • Divisional difficulty: 4

Total score: 26

I know what you’re going to say: a nine for ownership score?! Let me explain. Yes, the Josh Harris ownership group is new. Yes, they’re already employing some unorthodox tactics. But if you’re a new head coach, their first hire, they are more likely to be patient with you. This is more likely to be a process.

That leads to perceived pressures. Of course Washington is going to need to win at some point, but I think we can all understand that the team was torn down during the season, surrendering a pair of good recent first-round picks (Montez Sweat and Chase Young) for draft capital. There is going to be a runway to build this roster back up. How much of that runway is tied to the ideas of the new ownership group remains to be seen and could impact the ownership score moving forward.

The Commanders are going to draft a quarterback with the No. 2 pick, and they are going to need to build an offense around a good line and pretty good wide receiving talent, along with a complementary run game. The defensive interior can be stout, but there are legitimate questions about the long-term viability of the secondary. As for the NFC East, I see it continuing to vacillate like it always seems to: Philadelphia is on its way back to earth and will be losing a great deal of veteran talent. Dallas will be strong, but what happens if it loses Dan Quinn? Can Mike McCarthy make a great hire to salvage the DC spot after so much turmoil there? And the Giants are on the mend but will, at some point, be competitive.

Best fits: Mike Macdonald, Frank Smith, Ben Johnson, Dave Canales, Dan Quinn, Brian Callahan, Raheem Morris

My way-too-early prediction: Ben Johnson

4. Tennessee Titans

  • Ownership quality: 5
  • Perceived job pressures: 5
  • Quarterback skills: 4
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 4
  • Divisional difficulty: 7

Total score: 25

I think the Titans’ job is a good one if you’re prepared to play small ball. Teams can win this way in the NFL, and, even though Tennessee’s division has gotten much better this past year, it isn’t the kind of murderers’ row that would shut a team out of contention for a decade.

All that said, the Titans have had a strange history of firing folks such as Jon Robinson, who built the core of a No. 1 seed in the conference, and Mike Vrabel, who was one of the best head coaches in the NFL. Their push for “collaboration” is going to be a kind of heads-up to prospective candidates that they’d better be prepared to work with incumbent GM Ran Carthon. I don’t think Carthon is a bad GM, but I do think that some coaches would prefer to come in on a clean slate with no political leanings already established.

As for the roster: This team is heavily in transition. There is a chance the Titans are going to try to make it work with a developing quarterback project, they are changing complexion offensively as a whole and defensively, the team has some excellent players. Though, like New England, I am curious to see how they’ll perform and what they’ll look like without their former head coach.

Best fits: Raheem Morris, Dave Canales, Frank Smith, Ejiro Evero, Bobby Slowik, Steve Wilks, Mike Macdonald, Antonio Pierce

My way-too-early prediction: Raheem Morris

5. Los Angeles Chargers

  • Ownership quality: 6
  • Perceived job pressures: 2
  • Quarterback skills: 9
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 5
  • Divisional difficulty: 2

Total score: 24

I think of the Chargers’ job a lot like some people think of expensive running shoes: Wow, merely having these is going to make me fast! While inheriting Justin Herbert is going to be great, let’s remember that Herbert looked his absolute best under the tutelage of Shane Steichen, who also performed the same momentary magic on Jalen Hurts before taking the Colts’ job. Meaning, you have to already be a great offensive coach to make Herbert great. You have to actually train to run fast in those Adidas supershoes.

As we wrote a few weeks ago (and then again more recently), this job is going to be harder than it looks. The Chargers fired their general manager alongside Brandon Staley because the roster underneath Herbert is aging quickly and is also expensive. Outside of some anchor pieces on the offensive line, under center and on the edge, this job is going to require some artful patchwork and some excellent communication between the coaching staff and the new general manager to facilitate some rookie starters. That is, if the team wants to win right away.

I think the Chargers do, which is why the name has been synonymous with a splashy hire since the team removed Staley from his post. The Chargers would have to consider something like this because they are in a division of coaching all-stars. Andy Reid and Sean Payton are both getting older but possess the kind of intellectual old-man strength that is tough to contend with.

I also think that, while you don’t normally associate the Spanos brand with the NFL’s elite ownership groups, this is a hire that could start to change that perception. Let’s see them go out and get a candidate, then make some of the ancillary changes necessary and build a Herbert-led team into one that can foster a sustainable, lively fan base in a new locale.

Best fits: Jim Harbaugh, Ben Johnson, Frank Smith, Dan Quinn, Mike Vrabel, Raheem Morris

My way-too-early prediction: Jim Harbaugh

6. Las Vegas Raiders

  • Ownership quality: 7
  • Perceived job pressures: 5
  • Quarterback skills: 3
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 6
  • Divisional difficulty: 2

Total score: 23

I don’t hate the job of Raiders head coach. For all that has been said about Mark Davis, he is not known to insert himself into coaching operations, and he genuinely seems like someone who wants to install something worthwhile and then leave the operation on autopilot.

There is pressure that comes with the Vegas job. As we mentioned when discussing the Chargers, the division is tough, and there is an uphill climb without an elite quarterback on the books. But that is also baked into the understanding that a coach will have some time. Josh McDaniels cost himself by overcooking the roster significantly from the moment he arrived, trading for Davante Adams, dismissing Derek Carr and bringing in Jimmy Garoppolo. A new coach would have time to clean up that mess.

As for the rest of the roster, the Raiders have (for now) one of the best receivers in the NFL in Adams, one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in Maxx Crosby (and possibly another in Malcolm Koonce) and a good offensive line. I don’t think the Raiders are any further away from competing than, say, the Broncos.

This job will be as much about attitude as it will be about scheme. A coach is going to have to withstand the barrage of the AFC West, they are going to have to sell tickets in a still relatively new stadium and they are going to have to pacify a small group of stars on the roster who can dictate the team’s ultimate direction.

I think Davis will take a huge swing at his next potential head coach, and, if he misses, he will probably be more than happy to “settle” for the coach he already has (interim Antonio Pierce, who led the team to a 5–4 record during the second half of the season).

Best fits: Antonio Pierce, Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel, Frank Smith, Mike Macdonald, Aaron Glenn

My way-too-early prediction: Mike Vrabel

7. Carolina Panthers

  • Ownership quality: 2
  • Perceived job pressures: 1
  • Quarterback skills: 6
  • Nonquarterback roster ability: 3
  • Divisional difficulty: 10

Total score: 22

The Panthers have had a handful of head coaches already in the Dave Tepper era—and some tumultuous situations—and are now anchored to a quarterback who may or may not be a stylistic fit depending on the coach. We know that Tepper liked the idea of hiring Ben Johnson from Detroit last year and that Johnson wanted more time. I believe Johnson is still Tepper’s top target, but there is going to be some heavy competition for Johnson around the league.

So, that said, let’s discuss the job. I think we are in a period of tumult when it comes to Tepper that, like everything else, will blow over. Tepper is intense but, I would imagine, is not careless enough to think he does not need an image boost. Perhaps the head coaching job will fix some of that mess. Owners ebb and flow in the public eye, and short-circuiting the eventual climb back to relevance will be the ultimate salve. That said, it’s impossible not to believe that this is a high-pressure job. Tepper fired Frank Reich, one of the most respected coaches in the NFL, in the middle of Reich’s first season. He fired Matt Rhule also in season. A coach will have to go into this position with two eyes wide open.

The NFC South is … terrible. The best teams are old and have clear expiration dates. Carolina is the worst team and is without a first-round pick (the No. 1 pick) to help its process. That said, I do feel like a roster churn in Carolina could take less time if the Panthers are somehow able to get Brian Burns under contract to stabilize the talent drain.

Best fits: Ben Johnson, Mike Macdonald, Dave Canales, Raheem Morris, Brian Callahan, Dan Quinn, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Todd Monken, Bobby Slowik

My way-too-early prediction: Frank Smith or Dave Canales

Editors’ note, Jan. 12, 12:00 p.m. ET: This story has been updated because the Patriots promoted Jerod Mayo very soon after it was originally published. Mike Vrabel, who was previously a candidate in New England, is now the prediction for the Raiders’ job.