The 2021 NFL regular season ends Sunday. That means the 2022 head coach hiring cycle begins in earnest Monday. As many as eight NFL teams could change coaches this offseason. Who will stay? Who will go? We go through all the NFL hiring and firing news and rumors in this week’s NFL Hot Seat.
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NFL Hot Seat news and rumors
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, and Denver Broncos have already fired their coaches (Urban Meyer, Jon Gruden, and Vic Fangio respectively). Several other teams are expected to join them once their seasons end this weekend, including the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.
Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos
Broncos beat writers seem to think Vic Fangio will be gone after three underwhelming seasons. However, our sense is that it’s a tough decision for GM George Paton, who is said to be fond of Fangio personally.
January 9 Update: The Broncos and Fangio are parting ways. Here are three candidates to replace Vic Fangio in Denver.
At the very least, expect the Broncos to make a change at offensive and special teams coordinators. And if Fangio goes too, watch for Denver to make a push for Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Asked this week why he should keep his job, Fangio responded:
“I do believe this team has made progress. We got to 6-5, [and] we lost three tough games against teams that are going to make the playoffs. A play here and there, a better call here and there and maybe we get over the hump there, and [we’d] still be in the hunt now.
“Then, last week, we’ve got to be able to go play with what we’ve got. But we did have a depleted roster last week. I’m not one to campaign publicly, but I was asked that question, so I gave that answer.”
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
January 10 update: Nagy was fired by the Chicago Bears Monday morning. Check out our three potential candidates who could replace him in Chicago.
The Bears were gracious enough not to fire Matt Nagy during the season. Nevertheless, they’ve been plotting their next move for some time. He’s gone. The bigger question is what Chicago ownership does with general manager Ryan Pace.
PFN’s Chief Draft Analyst and Insider Tony Pauline hears the McClaskeys like Pace, but public pressure to clean house might force their hand after zero playoff wins in his seven seasons in charge.
A name to watch if that happens is New Orleans Saints executive Jeff Ireland, who served as the Miami Dolphins’ general manager from 2008-2013. If the Bears do indeed bring in Ireland, Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen becomes an obvious candidate to replace Nagy.
David Culley, Houston Texans
After a dreadful start to the season, the Texans have actually won three of seven down the stretch — a sign that a terrible Houston roster hasn’t given up on its coach. Given the hand David Culley has been dealt, it’s a small miracle that the Texans have gone 4-12.
There isn’t a lot of chatter that Culley will be fired after just one season. However, GM Nick Caserio and Texans ownership hasn’t come out and said he’s back, either. If Houston does make a move, any number of branches of the Bill Belichick coaching tree will become options for the opening. Recently, Pauline reported that he is hearing Josh McDaniels could be in line for the Texans head coach role in 2022.
For his part, Culley is not only acting as if he’ll return in 2022, but he’s also acting as if he won’t be forced to fire play-caller Tim Kelly, who has overseen the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense. Culley said this week that he “100%” expects Kelly back.
UPDATE: The Texans have not made a decision either way on Culley’s future, NFL Network reported Sunday.
Joe Judge, New York Giants
Joe Judge’s impassioned defense (or, depending on your perspective, unhinged rant) after the Giants’ Week 17 blowout loss to the Bears may have triggered some big-time unintended consequences. The New York media smells blood in the water, and Judge would almost certainly be gone after a 10-22 start to his head coaching career if not for the Giants’ history.
But owner John Mara knows the message it would send about his franchise if he fires another head coach after just two seasons. Yet, he also must know keeping Judge would certainly limit his search for a general manager. Dave Gettleman is gone, and the top candidates to replace him will not want to be saddled by a lame-duck (and uninspiring) head coach.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
January 10 update: Zimmer was fired by the Minnesota Vikings Monday morning. Check out our three potential candidates who could replace him in Minnesota.
Mike Zimmer is another likely (certain?) firing, and his recent news conferences seem to suggest he knows his goose is cooked. The Vikings might not make wholesale changes to their leadership, however. Pauline hears that general manager Rick Spielman is likely to stay and could even get a promotion to team president.
Zimmer shouldn’t have to look for work long, however. He’s a respected defensive coach and would be an obvious choice to replace Quinn if he leaves Dallas for a top job.
Whoever the Vikings hire as HC — and options include familiar names Brian Daboll, Kellen Moore, and Eric Bieniemy — will likely be saddled with Kirk Cousins, who is owed $35 million guaranteed next year.
UPDATE: NFL Network reported Sunday that “all signs” point to owners Zygi and Mark Wilf firing Zimmer, but as of the time of publication, had not yet communicated that to Zimmer.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson seems to be the key to the Seahawks’ decision at head coach. He said this week that: “My goal is to win more Super Bowls. And my plan is to win one here. It’s that simple.”
That should take some starch out of the persistent rumors that he will push for a trade out of Seattle this offseason. And bringing Wilson back would bolster the case to bring back Pete Carroll, who despite a terrible 2021 still has won more than 60% of his games as the Seahawks coach.
Without Wilson, the Seahawks would have to consider a roster teardown and a full organizational reboot. It would be foolish to have a 70-year-old Carroll as the face of a rebuild.
But if Wilson stays — and he wants Carroll to stay (which is a big if, considering their at-times fraught relationship) — then perhaps Seahawks owner Jody Allen will give Carroll another year to right the ship. But that’s far from certain. Pauline hears it’s 50-50 that Carroll is fired, and UCLA could make a push for his services.
UPDATE: NFL Network reported Sunday morning that the Seahawks have no plans to trade Wilson that offseason, but that of course could change (the position could also simply be a negotiating tactic). As for Carroll, his fate is indeed murky and might not have much clarity until he meets with Allen this week. The report noted that those close to Carroll say he has given no indication that he plans to retire.
Rich Bisaccia, Las Vegas Raiders
Rich Bisaccia very well could be coaching for his job this weekend. The Raiders have a win-and-get-in game against the Chargers Sunday night. Team owner Mark Davis would be hard-pressed to can the guy who got the Raiders to the playoffs in what’s arguably been the most embarrassing season in team history.
Jim Harbaugh, of course, is the wild card. The coordinated leaks that the current Michigan head coach is interested in a return to the NFL surely came from Harbaugh’s camp. But were they a reflection of a true desire to return to the NFL? Or simply a leverage play to get back the money Michigan took from him last winter? The Raiders would make a ton of sense if Harbaugh is serious about making a move.
UPDATE from PFN’s Tony Pauline: “Jim Harbaugh to the Las Vegas Raiders is more than just some wild rumor. Sources tell me the Raiders are Harbaugh’s choice of franchises and a few believe it could happen next week if the Raiders don’t make the playoffs. Multiple sources tell Pauline the Chicago Bears will also make a push for Harbaugh but the Michigan coach has his heart set on the Silver and Black.
“Amid all the rumors and speculation on Harbaugh the past few days people this seems to be the truest of all — he very badly wants to be back in the NFL.”