Over the last five offseasons, an average of seven NFL head coaching jobs have opened up each year. The 2022 offseason was an outlier, with nine top gigs becoming available, but we know there will always be several vacancies following Black Monday. With that in mind, let’s examine 25 current assistants who could become viable NFL head coaching candidates next spring.
2023 NFL Head Coaching Candidates
The Panthers and Colts have already parted ways with Matt Rhule and Frank Reich, respectively, and there might be more in-season firings before the year concludes. The Broncos, Cardinals, Texans, Raiders, and Saints could all theoretically be searching for new head coaches in 2023.
While Sean Payton or certain college coaches could be in line to take an NFL head coaching job next season, we’ll focus on coordinators and assistants currently in the league.
Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys
No coordinator has reinvented himself as successfully as Dan Quinn over the past two seasons. Since taking over as the Cowboys’ DC in 2021, Quinn’s unit ranks first in defensive efficiency. Sure, he benefits from working with All-Pro Micah Parsons, but Quinn has also gotten the most out of less-heralded players like Dorance Armstrong, Jayron Kearse, and Donovan Wilson.
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Quinn was the most popular name on the 2022 head coaching circuit, as six of the nine clubs with vacancies asked him to interview. He likely could have landed a job had he wanted to, but Quinn ultimately opted to remain in Dallas for another year.
Shane Steichen, OC, Philadelphia Eagles
No NFL offense has been as malleable as the Eagles’ over the past two seasons. Philadelphia transitioned into the league’s heaviest rushing team midway through the 2021 season and earned a surprising playoff berth.
They’re still running frequently, but Shane Steichen and Co. have also built an excellent passing attack around Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, and DeVonta Smith.
Steichen, the Chargers’ OC during Justin Herbert’s Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, isn’t married to any specific system. He adapts his scheme to the players on his roster and finds the best way to win. That’s exactly what clubs should be looking for in a head coach.
DeMeco Ryans, DC, San Francisco 49ers
After witnessing how former 49ers DC Robert Saleh has successfully brought his approach to New York, teams should again be interested in DeMeco Ryans this offseason. Last year, Ryans declined a second interview with the Vikings to remain in San Francisco. The Raiders were also interested in meeting with the former Texans linebacker.
The 49ers’ defense remains among the league’s best, and no team stops the run more effectively. Ryans has demonstrated the ability to adjust within games — the 49ers didn’t allow a single second-half point in all of November.
Leslie Frazier, DC, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s defense ranks third in DVOA and has finished in the top 12 in each of the four previous seasons. No team has allowed fewer points than the Bills (488) since the start of the 2021 campaign. Leslie Frazier is a major part of that effort, even if head coach Sean McDermott also plays a prominent role in the Bills’ defensive strategy.
Frazier, who posted a 21-32-1 record as the Vikings’ head coach from 2010-13, interviewed with the Bears, Dolphins, and Giants last offseason. If Buffalo makes a deep playoff run, he should have suitors again, especially after integrating new faces like Damar Hamlin and Christian Benford into an injury-ridden secondary.
Kellen Moore, OC, Dallas Cowboys
Many thought the Cowboys’ season was over after Dak Prescott suffered a thumb injury in Week 1, but Kellen Moore guided backup Cooper Rush to a 4-1 record, with the only loss coming to the then-undefeated Eagles.
Since Dak has returned, Dallas is fourth in offensive EPA behind only the Chiefs, Bengals, and Dolphins. Moore has used Prescott more often as a runner, handed significant touches to Tony Pollard, and re-installed Michael Gallup into the offense. If the Cowboys sign Odell Beckham Jr., Moore’s unit could become dominant in the postseason.
Raheem Morris, DC, Los Angeles Rams
Raheem Morris has done it all. He became one of the NFL’s youngest coaches of all time when he took over the Buccaneers at 32 years old. He coached on the offensive side of the ball as the Falcons’ passing game coordinator from 2015-19 and spent five seasons at the collegiate level.
The Rams are experiencing one of the worst Super Bowl hangovers in NFL history, but Morris’ defense has remained respectable despite numerous injuries. Teams shouldn’t judge Morris too harshly for LA’s 2022 downturn — his breadth of experience means he’s clearly ready for a second chance as a head coach.
Eric Bieniemy, OC, Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Bieniemy may have garnered more head coaching interviews than any other coordinator over the past few seasons. In 2021, every team with a vacancy either met with or expressed interest in the Chiefs OC, and Bieniemy interviewed with the Saints and Broncos last offseason.
Given the progression of Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense as a whole, it’s almost comical that Bieniemy has failed to land an HC job thus far. He reportedly considered leaving the Chiefs following a “physically and mentally draining” 2021 season, but he returned as Andy Reid’s top lieutenant. Bieniemy deserves a lot of credit for helping the Chiefs navigate a post-Tyreek Hill world.
Jonathan Gannon, DC, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles ranked in the middle of the pack in most defensive metrics a season ago, but Jonathan Gannon still landed three head coaching interviews (Broncos, Texans, Vikings). As NFL teams become more interested in building their defenses from back to front, a former defensive backs coach like Gannon should receive even more opportunities.
Philadelphia went on a defensive acquisition spree over the offseason, adding James Bradberry, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Haason Reddick, and Jordan Davis to an already-talented depth chart. Gannon has thus experimented with more varied schemes, fronts, and coverages, and the Eagles are currently fifth in defensive EPA per play.
Brian Callahan, OC, Cincinnati Bengals
Brian Callahan was an offensive assistant in Denver during Peyton Manning’s time with the Broncos, served as Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr’s quarterback coaches with the Lions and Raiders, respectively, and led a Bengals offense that went to the Super Bowl in 2022 — not a bad résumé for a 38-year-old.
The son of legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan, Brian doesn’t call the offensive plays in Cincinnati, but he’s been integral to Joe Burrow’s evolution at the NFL level. Both Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor have emphasized how critical Callahan is to the Bengals’ weekly planning, and he reportedly impressed the Broncos while interviewing for their HC opening last spring.
Ejiro Evero, DC, Denver Broncos
It’s hard to overstate just how spectacular Ejiro Evero has been in his first season as a defensive coordinator. Denver’s defense held its opponent to under 20 points in eight of its first 11 games, and they’ve allowed an offense to top 23 points just once. This has been a debut for the ages.
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And yet, Evero could conceivably be fired at the end of the year. If that happens, it won’t be through any fault of his own. The Broncos’ offense has failed to keep pace with Evero’s defense, meaning head coach Nathaniel Hackett and the rest of the staff could get let go. Next season, Evero will either be a head coach or the most highly-coveted DC candidate in recent memory.
Mike Kafka, OC, New York Giants
Spending five seasons as an Andy Reid protégé is an outstanding way to begin your NFL coaching career, and Mike Kafka received the opportunity to call plays for the Giants this season. New York isn’t blowing anyone out of the water on offense, but Kafka and Brian Daboll have found ways to win games despite being extremely talent deficient.
Daniel Jones has already set a career high in rushing yards and ranks 12th in both EPA per play and QBR. Saquon Barkley looks reborn, and the Giants are in playoff contention despite serious issues at wide receiver and along the offensive line.
The 35-year-old Kafka will attract interest from teams who think he can manage the same type of one-year turnaround he and Daboll have accomplished in New York.
Jerod Mayo, Inside Linebackers Coach, New England Patriots
Known as “Jerod Belichick” in the Patriots’ facility, Jerod Mayo spent eight seasons as a New England LB before turning to coaching in 2019. The former No. 10 overall pick’s work ethic and communication ability were consistently praised throughout his playing career, and that’s carried over as a coach.
Mayo is only a position coach and doesn’t call plays for the Patriots, but his reputation is such that he’s earned three head coach interviews over the past two cycles. With New England’s offense struggling, their defense has single-handedly kept them in the playoff picture. Mayo’s responsibilities won’t go unnoticed.
Ken Dorsey, OC, Buffalo Bills
Perhaps no coach on this list was under more pressure this season than Ken Dorsey, who was tasked with continuing the offensive success the Bills enjoyed under former coordinator Daboll. Buffalo’s offense has still been exceptional this year, but they haven’t quite hit the highs they did in previous seasons.
Dorsey still has plenty of time to impress, especially if Buffalo makes a Super Bowl run. He’d never called plays at any level before this season, so he may need one more year as a coordinator before taking a top job.
Ben Johnson, OC, Detroit Lions
There may not have been a coordinator we knew less about heading into the 2022 campaign than Ben Johnson. The 36-year-old stuck through head coaching changes in both Miami and Detroit before being named the Lions’ play-caller for this year.
Through 12 weeks, Johnson’s offense has been incredibly impressive. Detroit has dealt with injuries at running back, wide receiver, and offensive line, and they traded standout tight end T.J. Hockenson at the deadline. Yet, they’ve kept on rolling — Detroit currently ranks eighth in yards per play and points per game.
Frank Smith, OC, Miami Dolphins
If we’re looking for a more anonymous-sounding name than “Ben Johnson,” the only other option is “Frank Smith.” Smith has been all over the NFL, spending time with the Saints, Bears, Raiders, and Chargers before becoming the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator in February.
Smith doesn’t call plays in Miami, but Mike McDaniel didn’t call plays in San Francisco before transforming the Dolphins’ offense into a lethal unit. Working alongside McDaniel, Smith has helped orchestrate a complete revitalization of Tua Tagovailoa’s career. Every team with a head coaching vacancy will at least want to pick Smith’s brain.
Lou Anarumo, DC, Cincinnati Bengals
Lou Anarumo received the first head coaching interview of his career this past offseason, meeting with the Giants following the Bengals’ Super Bowl run. The 56-year-old has consistently surpassed expectations during his NFL tenure. A longtime DBs coach, Anarumo was at least Cincinnati’s third choice to become their DC in 2019.
Through three-plus years in the Queen City, Anarumo has developed a defense that was largely built through free agency, bringing together veterans from multiple organizations and building a sense of cohesion. Cincinnati’s defense runs everything under the sun, and they run it well, which is a result of good coaching.
Byron Leftwich, OC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Byron Leftwich was viewed as the favorite to land the Jaguars’ head coaching gig during the offseason, and he reportedly held contract talks with Jacksonville before negotiations fell apart. Instead of returning to the team that drafted him, Leftwich stayed in Tampa Bay.
Following Bruce Arians’ retirement, Leftwich took on even more offensive responsibilities. Arians had frequently said Leftwich was the only person he trusted to call plays.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay’s offense has fallen off a cliff this season, while Leftwich has expressed misguided views about concepts like the effectiveness of play-action. Leftwich’s star looks much dimmer than it did at this point a year ago.
Don Martindale, DC, New York Giants
Ageism is a real thing in the NFL, and the 59-year-old Don Martindale is one of the older candidates on our list. “Wink” interviewed for the Giants’ head coaching position in 2020, but he didn’t receive any HC interest in either of the last two cycles.
After parting ways with the Ravens after 10 seasons as a defensive coach, Martindale signed on to become Daboll’s new DC in New York. Known primarily for his blitz-heavy scheme, Martindale is also well-respected by his players for his transparency and mindset.
Vance Joseph, DC, Arizona Cardinals
In 2021, Vance Joseph somehow led a Cardinals defense lacking talent to a No. 6 finish in DVOA. The bottom has dropped out this year — Arizona ranks 25th — but it’s hard to say it’s entirely Joseph’s fault. Arizona doesn’t have premier players at EDGE or corner, and it’s difficult to design a defense without a solid depth chart at critical positions.
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Veterans like J.J. Watt have praised Joseph’s leadership ability and interpersonal skills, noting his capacity to resolve conflict. Joseph went 11-21 in a two-year stint as the Broncos’ head coach from 2017-18.
Shane Waldron, OC, Seattle Seahawks
Tasked with rebranding a Seahawks offense not featuring Russell Wilson for the first time in a decade, Shane Waldron has helped journeyman Geno Smith turn into a legitimate NFL quarterback. Smith hadn’t been a regular starter since 2014, but he’s fifth in QBR, while Seattle’s offense is top 10 in both scoring and efficiency.
The Seahawks have two excellent receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but Waldron has integrated a rookie RB and two rookie OTs into a sustainable offensive structure. Plus, he’s worked under both Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, a lineage that should be appealing to ownership groups.
Shane Bowen, DC, Tennessee Titans
Mike Vrabel gets most of the credit in Tennessee, but the 35-year-old Shane Bowen should emerge on head coaching radars following this season. Given their offensive struggles, the Titans wouldn’t be in a position for another AFC South title without the work of Bowen and his defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in a game since September.
Bowen has stars like Jeffery Simmons and Kevin Byard at his disposal, but he’s also wrung every last bit out of the back end of his roster. Second-round rookie corner Roger McCreary has played more defensive snaps than any other Titan, while non-household names like Mario Edwards, Andrew Adams, and Teair Tart have also claimed crucial roles under Bowen’s tutelage.
Scott Turner, OC, Washington Commanders
Scott Turner, the son of longtime NFL head coach Norv Turner, may have once been viewed as a product of nepotism, but he’s proven his worth, especially during his stint as Washington’s offensive coordinator.
In two consecutive seasons, Turner has been forced to turn to backup QB Taylor Heinicke after his top options — Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2021, Carson Wentz in 2022 — went down with injuries. Washington’s offense isn’t blowing anyone’s doors off, but Turner has built an imaginative unit that has the Commanders in position to grab a Wild Card berth.
Luke Getsy, OC, Chicago Bears
Chicago’s offense was brutal to start the year, but Luke Getsy eventually found his footing with a plan for second-year quarterback Justin Fields. By leaning into Fields’ strengths, Getsy’s turned the Ohio State product into one of the more effective rushers in the NFL.
Getsy was also Aaron Rodgers’ QB coach during his last two MVP seasons. While he might still be a year away from landing a head coaching gig, it shouldn’t be surprising if Getsy receives a few interview requests this offseason.
Press Taylor, OC, Jacksonville Jaguars
Press Taylor doesn’t call plays in Jacksonville, but he still deserves some credit for Trevor Lawrence’s second-year development. From Weeks 10-12, Lawrence ranked sixth in EPA + CPOE composite, completed 77% of his passes, and threw six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Taylor will only be 35 years old next spring, but that’s the same age his brother Zac was when he became the Bengals’ head coach in 2019. Press would need to build a solid veteran staff, but the blueprint is there.
Jeff Ulbrich, DC, New York Jets
Given the dominance of the Jets’ defense this year, the NFL world will be looking for the next Robert Saleh in 2023. Ryans is the most obvious coach to fill that void, but Jeff Ulbrich — a 49ers linebacker for a decade — should also garner consideration.
New York rarely blitzes, but they still generate pressure at the fifth-highest rate in the league. Ulbrich has also helped onboard three new starters — Ahmad Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Jordan Whitehead — in Gang Green’s secondary. The Jets admittedly have an abundance of defensive talent, but Ulbrich hasn’t allowed any of it to go to waste.