We previously went over coaches potentially on the hot seat this year and why. Since that time, one of the coaches on the list, Frank Reich, was fired by the Panthers mid-season. No doubt several more heads will roll by the end of the season or shortly after. What we’re looking at now are ten of the most likely candidates to fill those vacancies come next year. This is not an exhaustive list, nor a list of the candidates I personally would endorse.
Harbaugh has to be tops on the list of potential coaches for 2024. Yes, he’s still currently with Michigan, but we all know that can change in an instant, especially with the team currently embattled in a sign-stealing scandal. He’s enjoyed massive success at the college level and also in the NFL during his stint with the 49ers, taking the team to the Superbowl in 2012 where he lost to his brother John. That previous success as an NFL coach is a huge selling point to NFL owners because of multiple high-profile failures of college coaches coming to the NFL like Urban Meyer and Bobby Petrino just to name a few. Harbaugh would be more akin to Pete Carroll coming from USC after he already had taken the Patriots to the playoffs while in the NFL.
The current offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions is going to be at the top of every list of potential hires. In two seasons on the job he’s taken the Lions from 25th in scoring to 5th in 2022 and currently 7th in 2023, all with a collection of players some people do not consider elite, most specifically QB Jared Goff. Young, successful offensive coaches have been the rage of the league since the rise of Sean McVay and Ben Johnson is the hottest name in town in that category for 2024.
Young, offensive coaches may be the trend in the league, but there are always going to be a handful of older, defensive-minded coaches in the top position too. It’s probably because that profile seems steady or safe that some teams gravitate towards this type. Whatever the reason, one name stands above all others at the moment and that is Dan Quinn, current Cowboys defensive coordinator. The Cowboys went from 28th in the league in points allowed in 2020 to 7th last year under Quinn and 5th this year.
Quinn has been around the league for a while and knows how things run. He was part of some very successful Seahawks teams under Pete Carroll and then got his shot as the head coach of the Falcons where the team reached the Superbowl in his 2nd year. The 2016 team rode Kyle Shanahan’s top ranked offense to the Superbowl (carrying Quinn’s 27th ranked defense) and then the team cratered when Shanahan left the following season to take over the 49ers.
The Cowboys defense seemingly improved overnight with the arrival of Quinn, but I think it’s fair to wonder if the improvement of the Cowboys defense had much more to do with the arrival of Micah Parsons than it did Dan Quinn. Same goes for his time with Seattle. Was it Dan Quinn that made those defenses good or was it Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner, and Earl Thomas?
Personally I think whoever hires Quinn to be their next head coach (and someone will) is making a massive mistake, but be that as it may, Quinn has, by incredible foresight or pure dumb luck, been part of some very successful teams and defenses during his time as a coach and is likely to get another head coaching job because of that success, deserved or not.
A hot name after years of leading the Cowboys to a top offense, Moore suddenly left for a lateral move to run the Chargers offense in 2023. There was some thought at the time that he might take over the Cowboys as head coach and replace Mike McCarthy the way Jason Garrett took over for Wade Phillips, but that didn’t materialize and it’s possible he left because he found out that wasn’t going to happen. Clearly there was some sort of falling out.
This year Moore is again leading a top 10 offense (the Chargers are currently 8th in scoring), and it’s just a matter of time until Moore is given a shot as a head coach.
When Flores was fired as head coach of the Dolphins following the 2021 season it surprised many around the league. Here was a coach that had back-to-back winning seasons for a team that had been allergic to winning for a very long time, and they were firing him? It didn’t seem to make much sense on the face of it. Later on we found out that the Dolphins had an elaborate scheme in place to bring in Tom Brady and Sean Payton for the 2022 season, but that plan fell through and the Dolphins were ultimately punished for tampering.
The Vikings hired Flores to run their defense in 2023 after a stint as an assistant with the Steelers in 2022, and Minnesota has made a shocking turnaround under his tutelage. They are currently 8th in points allowed on defense after being near the bottom of the league the past few years, all with some of the worst personnel in the league by many accounts. Flores is for sure in line for another shot sooner rather than later.
The offensive coordinator for arguably the league’s most explosive offense is always going to draw interest, and this year that happens to be Frank Smith. Smith is a long-time offensive line and tight end coach that linked up with Mike McDaniel in Miami and is now benefiting from that decision. Smith is primarily known for his personal relationships with players and is well-liked around the league. Whether he’ll be successful as a head coach is a whole other matter.
Anarumo was very much in the conversation for a head coaching job last year, but returned to the Bengals for the 2023 season. The defense hasn’t performed as well this year although some of that might be blamed on the loss of both starting safeties from 2022, Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell. It could also be pointed out that the 2022 season was Cincinnati’s only season as a top 10 scoring defense under Anarumo. Regardless, Anarumo is well-respected around the league and will likely see his name tossed around again this off-season.
Wilks completely bombed as a head coach the first time he was given a chance, getting fired by the Cardinals before the end of his first season. Some rightfully view that firing as deserved, but others around the league respect Wilks and think he should have been given more time. He took over for Matt Rhule in Carolina during the 2022 season and went a respectable 6-6 during that time, and this year he is overseeing a 49ers defense that leads the league in fewest points allowed. After Dan Quinn and Brian Flores, he is probably the most likely of the defensive coaches to get another shot as a head coach.
Many casual fans might not be familiar with Canales, but he’s a name that’s going to crop up often next spring. Canales is currently the offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, and while that might not sound impressive on the face of it because the Bucs offense isn’t all that good, Canales is getting a lot of credit because Baker Mayfield has been better than expected (by some but not this writer). This comes following Geno Smith’s fantastic 2022 season with Canales as his QB coach. If you then follow the logic that Geno hasn’t been as good in 2023 without Canales then you see where this is going.
The 36-year old defensive coordinator of the Ravens is likely to be high up on the list of potential candidates after improving the Ravens from the 19th best scoring defense in 2021 under “Wink” Martindale to 3rd last year and 2nd in 2023. Of course, much like some of the other candidates on this list, I question whether that’s because of Macdonald or whether the acquisition of Roquan Smith is the largest factor.