NFL Head Coaching Candidates: 25 Assistants Who Could Set Themselves Up for Top Jobs in 2023

Who will be the top NFL head coaching candidates in 2023? Here are 25 coordinators and assistants to keep an eye on this season.

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 a lot of 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

While Sean Payton, Jim Caldwell, or certain college coaches could be in line to take an NFL head coaching job next season, we’ll keep our focus on coordinators and assistants currently in the league.

Looking for a Second Chance

The word “retread” has a negative connotation — these coaches are simply searching for their next opportunity.

Brian Flores, Senior Defensive Assistant/LBs, Pittsburgh Steelers

Let’s start with a complicated situation. Flores led the Dolphins to a 24-25 record over three seasons marred by controversy and Tua Tagovailoa’s stalled development.

Flores is currently suing the Dolphins, Giants, Broncos, and the NFL, alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices. Whether an NFL owner would hire Flores while involved in active litigation against the league is an open question, but he deserves another head coaching job.

Leslie Frazier, DC, Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s defense ranked No. 1 in DVOA in 2021, finishing in the top 12 in each of the last four seasons. Frazier was a major part of that effort, even if head coach Sean McDermott also plays a prominent role in the Bills’ defensive strategy.

If Buffalo can integrate new additions like Von Miller and rookie CB Kaiir Elam into their defense, and the club makes a deep playoff run, Frazier should have suitors. The 63-year-old, who posted a 21-32-1 record as the Vikings’ head coach from 2010-13, interviewed for the Bears, Dolphins, and Giants jobs in the offseason.

Vance Joseph, DC, Arizona Cardinals

Speaking of defensive DVOA, Joseph somehow led a Cardinals unit with far less talent than Buffalo’s defense to a No. 6 finish. Can he repeat that performance in 2022 without Chandler Jones and an even less stable cornerback depth chart?

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.

Raheem Morris, DC, Los Angeles Rams

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. He spent five seasons at the collegiate level.

And in 2022, Morris crafted his own version of Brandon Staley’s Rams defense, merging fresh concepts into a scheme that was already working. Morris, 45, received only one head coaching interview (Vikings) in the last cycle — expect that number to triple or quadruple next offseason.

Dan Quinn, DC, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys finished third in defensive EPA per play in 2022, and given that almost no one predicted Dallas would be that effective on defense, Quinn deserves a lot of credit. He was willing to adapt in his first season as the Cowboys’ DC. Instead of solely relying on the Cover 3-heavy scheme that he deployed for most of his career, Quinn had Dallas spend more time in man coverage (they played slightly more Cover 1 than Cover 3 in 2021).

Quinn, who led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance, was a hot candidate last offseason but withdrew his name for searches once it became clear he wouldn’t land the Giants job he truly coveted.

Received at Least One HC Interview

Each of these candidates has interviewed for at least one head coaching position over the past several years, and they should be on the radar again in 2023.

Eric Bieniemy, OC, Kansas City Chiefs

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’ll be back as Andy Reid’s top lieutenant next year.

Thomas Brown, Assistant Head Coach/TEs, Los Angeles Rams

While he may have the lowest profile of any coach on this list, Brown did interview for the Dolphins’ head coach job earlier this year. After leading LA’s running backs for the past two seasons, Brown is shifting to tight ends while retaining his assistant head coach title.

He’ll presumably take on a more significant role in game-planning the Rams’ passing attack under first-year OC Liam Coen. Rams general manager Les Snead has compared Brown’s demeanor to that of Steelers HC Mike Tomlin, one of the most successful coaches of his generation.

Brian Callahan, OC, Cincinnati Bengals

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.

Jonathan Gannon, DC, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles ranked in the middle of the pack in most defensive metrics a season ago, but 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.

Plus, the Eagles now have the pieces in place to run more exotic defenses instead of the vanilla looks they were essentially forced to play last season.

Aaron Glenn, DC, Detroit Lions

We’ve seen Glenn’s leadership ability as the Lions defensive coordinator on Hard Knocks, and the longtime NFL cornerback excels at relating to his players. He also has some unique experiences under his belt.

Glenn served as general manager of the LSFL’s Houston Stallions in 2012 and spent two years as a personnel scout for the Jets before shifting to coaching. If Detroit exceeds expectations this season, Glenn — who interviewed with the Broncos and Saints in the spring — will get calls.

Patrick Graham, DC, Las Vegas Raiders

Graham has largely spent his entire career inside the Patriots/Bill Belichick tree, and he’s now followed Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas. After serving as the Giants’ DC for two years, Graham was in contention to take over for Joe Judge.

When New York went with Brian Daboll instead, they tried and failed to retain Graham as the defensive play-caller. Graham, 43, also interviewed for the Vikings job last cycle.

Byron Leftwich, OC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Leftwich was viewed as the favorite to land the Jaguars’ head coaching gig this offseason, and he reportedly held contract talks with Jacksonville before negotiations fell apart. Instead of returning to the team that drafted him, Leftwich will stick in Tampa Bay for at least one more year.

He’ll take on even more offensive responsibilities following the retirement of head coach Bruce Arians, who frequently said Leftwich was the only person he trusted to call plays. If the Bucs finish as a top-five offense again in 2022, Leftwich should have no trouble landing a job next spring.

Don Martindale, DC, New York Giants

Ageism is a real thing in the NFL, and the 59-year-old 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. If he can get the most out of young edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, Martindale could put himself back in the hiring pool in 2023.

Jerod Mayo, Inside Linebackers Coach, New England Patriots

Known as “Jerod Belichick” in the Patriots’ facility, Mayo spent eight seasons as a New England linebacker 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 garnered three head coach interviews over the past two cycles.

Kellen Moore, OC, Dallas Cowboys

Over Moore’s three years as the Cowboys’ play-caller, Dallas’ offense has ranked seventh in cumulative EPA — and that ranking is dragged down by a 2020 campaign when an Andy Dalton-led offense finished 25th.

Moore has been accused of running a stagnant offense, but he was still able to land four HC interviews in the spring. The Cowboys lost a lot of offensive talent this offseason. If Moore can overcome those defections and coordinate a top-10 offense again, he should remain a hot name.

DeMeco Ryans, DC, San Francisco 49ers

“DeMeco is going to be a head coach. He’s too good not to be.” That’s what Kyle Shanahan said after Ryans declined a second head coaching interview with the Vikings to return as the 49ers defensive coordinator.

The former All-Pro linebacker has quickly risen up the coaching ranks since retiring in 2015, and he’ll aim to follow ex-49ers DC Robert Saleh as a head coach in the near future.

Something To Prove in 2022

Some of these coaches need to show a bit more in their current role before landing a head coaching job. Others are in their first seasons in new jobs but could quickly become hot commodities around the NFL.

Marcus Brady, OC, Indianapolis Colts

After spending 16 years as a player and coach in the Canadian Football League, Brady joined Frank Reich on the Colts staff in 2018. One former Indy OC, Nick Sirianni, has already proven to be adaptable as a head coach, and his success in Philadelphia could pave the way for Brady to get HC interest in 2023. Brady, 42, served as head coach of the West team at the 2022 Shrine Bowl.

Ken Dorsey, OC, Buffalo Bills

Perhaps no coach on this list is under more pressure in 2022 than Dorsey, who will be tasked with continuing the offensive success the Bills enjoyed under former coordinator Daboll.

Dorsey has never called plays at any level, but several teams — including Daboll’s Giants — were pursuing him as OC this offseason. It’s Super Bowl or bust in Buffalo, and if the Bills’ offense keeps up its electric pace, Dorsey should feature prominently in next year’s hiring cycle.

Ejiro Evero, DC, Denver Broncos

If we’re searching for the next Brandon Staley, Evero might just be that guy. The 41-year-old Evero coached under Staley as LA’s safeties coach before being promoted to passing game coordinator in 2021. Now, he’ll join first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator.

Evero deploys the same scheme as former Denver head coach Vic Fangio, so there shouldn’t be a steep learning curve for the Broncos’ players. Staley spent just one season as a DC before landing a head coaching position, and Evero could follow in his footsteps.

Pep Hamilton, OC, Houston Texans

Expectations are low for the Texans in 2022, but that could create an opportunity for Hamilton. He has somehow never received a head coaching interview despite ample experience at both the pro and college levels.

Hamilton was Justin Herbert’s quarterback coach during Herbert’s Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, for goodness sake. If Hamilton can coax a solid second season from Davis Mills, he will be on the radar next year.

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 Kafka may get the opportunity to call plays for the Giants this season. Daboll hasn’t decided if he’ll take the play-calling reins himself or turn things over to Kafka, but the first-year OC has been calling the shots in the preseason. If he can get something out of lame-duck quarterback Daniel Jones, Kafka could make a rapid ascension.

Mike Macdonald, DC, Baltimore Ravens

Macdonald is the youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL, but the former Michigan DC is already earning rave reviews for his skill as a teacher. As he replaces Martindale (his former boss), Macdonald is unlikely to send as many blitzes or play as much man coverage.

Instead, he’ll rely on varied coverage concepts and ask his secondary — which now includes safeties Marcus Williams and Kyle Hamilton — to execute. He’ll be more flexible than Martindale, and that pliability should make an attractive head coaching candidate sooner rather than later.

Shane Steichen, OC, Philadelphia Eagles

Speaking of adaptability, no NFL offense was more malleable than the Eagles’ in 2021. It’s not often a team changes its entire approach midway through a season, but that’s exactly what Philadelphia did last year.

After rushing the ball 40% of the time through Week 7, the Eagles leaned into Jalen Hurts’ strengths and ran on a league-high 57% of their plays from Week 8 on. Steichen took over play-calling through that transition and will handle that responsibility again in 2022. He was also the Chargers OC in Herbert’s OROY season.

Scott Turner, OC, Washington Commanders

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.

Despite losing starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first game of the season, and being without wide receiver Curtis Samuel, tight end Logan Thomas, and center Chase Roullier for large portions of the year, the Commanders still ranked 21st in offensive DVOA. If Carson Wentz plays well in 2022, Turner could pique some interest as a potential head coach.

Joe Woods, DC, Cleveland Browns

Let’s wrap up with Woods, who should get some consideration if the Browns’ defense takes a leap during the upcoming season. Cleveland has slowly built up a deep core of young athletes on defense, and Woods could be the beneficiary if the unit plays well in 2022. Denver’s defense didn’t take much of a step back when Woods succeeded Wade Phillips in 2017, and that’s about as high a compliment as a DC can receive.

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