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NFL head coaching candidates to consider in 2021

With the 2020 NFL head coach carousel off to a flying start, we take a look at the potential head coach candidates to keep your eye on.

Don Martindale, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator

While offensive coaches have become the increasingly hot commodity in the hiring process of coaches, there are several quality defensive coaches out there that have had just as successful of a career. Martindale is one such candidate. Martindale was the defensive coordinator for the Josh McDaniels’ Denver Broncos before becoming the Baltimore Ravens’ linebackers coach in 2012 and finally defensive coordinator in 2018 after Dean Pees left.

Martindale has helped the Ravens become one of the NFL’s best teams, as the Ravens are currently ninth in defensive DVOA. Martindale was interviewed for the Giants’ head coaching job last season, and another banner year leading the Ravens’ defense could see him as a hot commodity in the 2021 head coach search.

Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator

Josh McDaniels has been brought up in every coaching carousel since his return to New England, and this season is no different. The way the Patriots offense has adapted from Tom Brady to Cam Newton and built a new identity has been one of the most impressive changes this season. With the number of connections between the Patriots and Texans, I wouldn’t be surprised if McDaniels isn’t heavily considered for their head coach job in the 2021 NFL offseason.

Todd Monken, Georgia Bulldogs Offensive Coordinator

Monken has years of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator, most notably in Tampa Bay and Cleveland. He’s well-regarded as a straight-shooter as a coach and has long excelled in putting his players in the best positions for success. Monken was the offensive coordinator of the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon offenses in Oklahoma State before turning Southern Miss around as their Head Coach. He took over an 0-12 Golden Eagles’ program and had them finishing 9-5 by his third season. His stint with the Bulldogs has produced excellent results despite numerous opt-outs and injuries. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Monken become a hot name for an NFL team looking for a rebuild with an emphasis on offense.

Jack Del Rio, Washington Football Team Defensive Coordinator

Jack Del Rio’s return to the NFL has been excellent with the Washington Football Team. The Washington defense has been one of the NFL’s best since he was hired, despite playing the Ravens, Browns, Eagles, and Cardinals to open the season, they currently rank fourth in defensive DVOA. His tenure as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders was a roller coaster towards the end, but his ability to build a culture and add some stability to a program should appeal to a franchise with issues at the top. Experience could give Del Rio the upper hand over all the other NFL head coaching candidates this season.

Greg Roman, Baltimore Ravens Offensive Coordinator

Greg Roman has been around John Harbaugh for a long time, and his successful record with quarterbacks goes back longer than his recent success with Lamar Jackson. Roman’s devastating pistol-oriented offensive attacks have helped transform each team he’s been a part of. Roman would be an excellent hire for a team trying to build around a young mobile quarterback. He’ll be one of the hottest head coach candidates in 2021.

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

Robert Saleh has been one of the architects of the 49ers’ turnaround from the bottom of the league to one of the best teams in the league. Saleh interviewed for the Browns’ head coaching job last year and lost several assistants to the Browns, but his defense has still been excellent.

He has been instrumental in unlocking DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Fred Warner in San Francisco. His track record of player development, dating back to the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans, is impressive. Kyle Shanahan has mentioned that Saleh will be an NFL head coach, potentially even as soon as the end of the 2020 season. With his resume, it seems inevitable.

Brian Schottenheimer, Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator

Prior to this 2020 season, seeing Brian Schottenheimer on this list might have surprised just about everybody. However, this season’s results cannot be disputed, as Schottenheimer has seemingly opened up the playbook and is letting Russell Wilson cook his way to an MVP season. His offense has put up huge numbers in the passing game, with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett slicing up defenses on the outside. There’s a risk to be had here with this hire, as this has been Schottenheimer’s most successful season bar none. Outlier or a sign of growth?

Nick Sirianni, Indianapolis Colts Offensive Coordinator

Sirianni isn’t a hot and trendy name, but there is a lot of support behind him from inside circles. His time with the Colts under Frank Reich has produced some excellent offensive gameplans, despite average quarterback play. The Colts did not have a single three-and-out this season until their fourth game of the season, which is ridiculously impressive. He’s helped shape the Colts’ identity on offense, and he’s been an excellent positional coach in the past, including helping develop Keenan Allen into one of the game’s best receivers with the Chargers. Sirianni is a “sleeper” 2021 NFL Head Coach candidate.

Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator

Arthur Smith has seemingly come out of nowhere in the past two seasons, going from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, but his success has been phenomenal. After turning to Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback, Smith’s offense has taken off and ranks among the NFL’s best in explosive plays and efficiency.

This season has seen a resurgence of Corey Davis’s production as well, further showing Smith’s ability to get the most out of his players. His name has begun creeping up in NFL circles, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he ends up as an NFL head coach in 2021.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

This name shouldn’t come as a surprise to many either as one of the many NFL head coaching candidates to watch for. Given the league recently went through a phase where they practiced contact tracing on Sean McVay to find their next head coach, a successful defensive coordinator who has worked with both McVay and Vic Fangio will be an appealing target for many teams.

His defensive scheme has helped the Rams turn around their poor performance from 2019, despite numerous departures throughout the lineup. Staley might be a little young, but he’s got a bright future as an NFL coach. He could be a guy to watch on the 2021 NFL head coach circuit.

Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs Special Teams Coach

Dave Toub has been in the league as a special teams coach since Andy Reid brought him into his Philadelphia Eagles team in 2001. Toub left Philly to take the Chicago Bears special teams coordinator, where he coached Robbie Gould, Devin Hester, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Johnny Knox, and Corey Graham. Toub stayed with Chicago for eight years before reuniting with Reid in Kansas City. His special teams’ units have always been at the top of the league, ranking second in DVOA last season as the Chiefs won the Super Bowl.

Special Teams coaches are rarely hired but have consistently performed well throughout the NFL’s history. Toub is regarded as one of the league’s best, and as a head coach would likely look to bring young, quality coordinators with him and start an overhaul of a team. He could be a darkhorse candidate in the 2021 NFL head coach search.

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