SI’s MMQB Staff Debates the NFL’s Best Coaching Moves

A former national champion was the overwhelming choice by our experts, but a few former offensive and defensive coordinators also deserved mentioning.
Harbaugh takes over the Chargers after leading the Michigan Wolverines to the national championship.
Harbaugh takes over the Chargers after leading the Michigan Wolverines to the national championship. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the NFL offseason, where receivers get paid lots of money (just ask Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jaylen Waddle and Nico Collins), the NFL continues to push for an 18-game season, the league and NFLPA discuss ways to ruin the offseason calendar and teams continue to go through their OTAs and mandatory minicamps. 

So we asked our MMQB staff of NFL experts to answer a series of eight questions. Today, they’re going to weigh in on the offseason’s best coaching move. 

Let’s get to their answers as we get closer to the NFL taking a break before July training camps.

The offseason's best coaching move was (head coach or otherwise) …

Matt Verderame: Los Angeles Chargers hiring Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh isn’t the type to come into a situation, sit back and assess. Instead, he’s going to quickly turn the culture around, something desperately needed in Los Angeles after the Brandon Staley era.

While the Chargers are somewhat low on talent after moving several veteran players including receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, Harbaugh’s influence will be obvious. Los Angeles might not be a contender in 2024, but it won’t give away games as it has in the past, instead forcing opponents to win the game and not simply avoid losing it.

The big question for the Chargers is how long it will take to get a quality roster around Harbaugh and quarterback Justin Herbert. Once that happens, they should compete in the AFC West with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Gilberto Manzano: Carolina Panthers hiring Dave Canales, retaining Ejiro Evero 

Carolina Panthers coach Dave Canales
Canales stays in the NFC South as coach of the Panthers after having the offensive coordinator job with the Buccaneers. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Harbaugh is probably the right answer, but I can make a compelling case for the two-for-one coaching special the Carolina Panthers pulled off in the offseason. 

Panthers owner David Tepper finally got something right after he hired Dave Canales as head coach and retained Ejiro Evero as defensive coordinator. Evero could have easily left after the dysfunctional season in Carolina, but Canales and Tepper convinced him to stay after the defensive guru didn’t land a head-coaching opportunity. (He probably will in the near future.) Continuity should help a Panthers’ defense needing plenty of help outside of stud defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

The arrival of Canales should put Bryce Young on the right track after a rocky rookie season, too. He helped Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield reignite their careers during coaching stops with the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

If the Panthers’ offensive line holds up, Young and new weapons Xavier Legette and Diontae Johnson could do wonders in Canales’s offensive scheme. 

Conor Orr: Harbaugh

I agree with Matt. I think Harbaugh was the move of the offseason because it offers the highest degree of potential success with the largest sample size of prior success and it also signified that the Spanos family was finally willing to spend additional funding on the kind of moves that could separate the Chargers from the rest of the pack. 

We can also like different hires for different reasons, right? I think the Dan Quinn hire was smart because the Washington Commanders needed a calming presence after finally fumigating the building of all things Dan Snyder. I thought the organization’s anonymous bashing of Ben Johnson when Johnson decided he did not want to pursue the opportunity was reprehensible. 

I thought the Mike Macdonald hire was smart, too, because he gives Seattle the best chance out of any of the available coaches to match wits with Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Does that mean he will? No. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot. 

I thought the Canales hire was also good because it was the best option at the moment for Bryce Young. 

Albert Breer: Harbaugh

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris
Morris is getting a second chance at being an NFL head coach. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I’m with Matt and Conor, too. This can’t not be Harbaugh. And my reasoning goes beyond the wins and losses, though the fact that he’s got the fifth-best winning percentage of all-time (behind Guy Chamberlin, John Madden, George Allen and Vince Lombardi) doesn’t hurt.

To me, it’s that he’s got this rare thing where his brand of football, the identity of his teams, has traveled everywhere with him. From Stanford to San Francisco to Michigan, his teams featured powerful offensive lines, dominant run games, efficient quarterbacks, tough skill guys, and smart, versatile defenses that are, similar to the offenses, particularly great up front. I’m betting on it happening again, and all of it has a chance to supercharge Justin Herbert as a quarterback.

But, twist my arm, and make me go somewhere else with this one, and I’d take Raheem Morris with the Atlanta Falcons or Brian Callahan with the Tennessee Titans—Morris because coaches I respect most believe his second shot (after 12 seasons to learn from his mistakes) will be spectacular, and Callahan because he’s so perfectly suited for today’s NFL. Also, those two happen to be among the smartest coaches I’ve dealt with over 19 seasons covering the league.


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Albert Breer

ALBERT BREER

Conor Orr

CONOR ORR

Conor Orr is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers the NFL. He is also the co-host of the MMQB Podcast. Conor has been covering the NFL for more than a decade. His award-winning work has also appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger, NFL.com and NFL Network. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children and a loving terrier named Ernie. 

Gilberto Manzano

GILBERTO MANZANO

Matt Verderame

MATT VERDERAME

Matt Verderame is an NFL staff writer for Sports Illustrated. He hosts The Matt Verderame Show on Patreon; previously wrote for FanSided and Awful Announcing; and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. A proud father of two girls and lover of all Italian food, Matt is an eternal defender of Rudy, the greatest football movie of all time.