Top NFL Defensive Coordinators Available for Head Coaching Positions in 2023

When hiring their next coach, NFL teams should consider the defense. Who are the top candidates amongst NFL defensive coordinators to be head coaches next year?

After Black Monday, NFL owners will race to find their next head coach, and though the trend has been to hire offensive coaches, that doesn’t necessarily exclude defensive head coaches from consideration. Owners can and should look at the top NFL defensive coordinators available for head coaching positions when making their hires.

After all, no one would argue that Mike Vrabel, Pete Carroll, or Bill Belichick were bad coaches. It would be a mistake to miss out on Robert Saleh in a rush to hire Matt Nagy.

NFL owners seem more committed than ever to hiring offensive coaches. In the last five hiring cycles, 36 head coaches had been hired by NFL teams. Twenty-four of them had an offensive background, while only 11 came from the defensive side.

The lone coach that fit into neither category was former Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge, who was hired by the New York Giants in 2020 before being replaced by Brian Daboll, the former offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. Judge is currently an offensive assistant with the Patriots.

New coaches don’t tend to work out, but the offensive ones have earned more wins and have lasted longer; they have a combined record of .479, compared to the record of .435 for defensive coaches.

That’s ultimately a small difference. While there are reasons to prefer offensive coaches when push comes to shove, owners should be primarily concerned with hiring the best leader and hoping the rest works out. If they happen to get some coaches poached from them later, that’s a good problem to have.

Top NFL Defensive Coordinators Available for Head Coaching Positions

DeMeco Ryans | San Francisco 49ers

DeMeco Ryans is one of the hottest names in the NFL right now, and this year is even more exciting than last when it comes to Ryans’ prospects. The San Francisco defense has taken yet another step forward, and as a result, Ryans has multiple years of success to point to.

Ryans took a few interviews last year and was invited to the Vikings’ second-round interviews, but declined. He told Minnesota he needed to develop more as a coach before taking on a higher-level role with an organization. Perhaps Ryans was wise to cool off — his rise has been meteoric — and with that additional year of experience might be able to turn an organization around.

Jonathan Gannon | Philadelphia Eagles

Already rumored to be an interest to multiple teams last season — even interviewing with the Houston Texans — Jonathan Gannon should see many more opportunities this year. He was well-regarded in coaching circles before the season started and is now proving why.

The Eagles’ defense has taken off and is a big part of their success. With one of the most successful passing defenses in the NFL, it shouldn’t be long before Gannon receives a new round of calls to interview with NFL teams.

Leslie Frazier | Buffalo Bills

After an unsuccessful stint with the Vikings as the interim, then full-time head coach, Leslie Frazier is ready for another chance. After additional experience with coaching, including with a great staff in Buffalo, Frazier might be ready to apply the lessons he’s learned as a second-chance coach.

MORE | NFL Offensive Coordinators: Head Coach Candidates

The Bills’ defense has been efficient and dynamic despite a rash of injuries this year, and Frazier deserves credit for adapting them to the personnel they have. Once characterized as a pure Cover 2 coach, Frazier has shown a versatility and flexibility that differentiates him from his last stint.

Ejiro Evero | Denver Broncos

Despite what has been a disastrous season for the Denver Broncos, the defense has been able to produce — even after trading away their star edge rusher to the Miami Dolphins. That speaks to what defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has been able to do.

Evero has experience coaching on offense, defense, and special teams, so he has a broad well of knowledge to draw upon and has coached on a number of teams, including the Super Bowl-winning Rams team from last year.

It would be a surprise to see a first-year coordinator get the nod, but we’ve seen coaches without any coordinator experience get head jobs — and those without any NFL experience at all ascend to the position.

Evero’s experience in the league is longer than some of the other candidates who have technically been coordinators for longer, so it’s not as if he’s an unknown quantity.

Dan Quinn | Dallas Cowboys

Along with Frazier, Dan Quinn is receiving some play as a potential second-chance head coaching candidate. Coaches like Belichick and Carroll have done much better in their second NFL stints, and it would be a big mistake to pass over a coach simply because the first stop didn’t go well.

Like Frazier, Quinn has shown a schematic versatility that he hadn’t demonstrated before and has made the most of the many pieces along Dallas’ defense. Tailoring what his defense can do to what his players are capable of doing is one reason that the Cowboys have the top defense in the NFL, and that should be a translatable coaching trait at the next level.

Don Martindale | New York Giants

Don “Wink” Martindale has years of experience coordinating high-level defenses and has done so again in New York. Martindale has been around the NFL for some time without a head coaching call. It was a surprise to see the Ravens part ways with him last year, but Martindale rebounded immediately with the Giants, where the defense has been more than the sum of its parts and has driven the team to its excellent record.

Martindale has an ability to connect with the players he coaches, and his commitment to innovative football might be what takes a team over the top. Martindale would be a good fit with any team willing to be creative and aggressive about solving their problems.

Honorable Mention: Patrick Graham | Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders’ defense hasn’t been stellar this year, and the previous defense Patrick Graham coordinated in New York wasn’t the league’s best, either. Yet, Graham was a hot coaching candidate that received a second-round interview from the Vikings and is regularly regarded as one of the smartest minds in the league.

He likely won’t be the hottest name on the market after this year, but he’s impressed enough people that he could be on several NFL radars.

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