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The Sports Tank’s Top Ten NFL Coaching Candidates


After “Black Monday” in the National Football League, we saw six different coaches in the league be shown the door as their respective team looks to kick-off 2019 with a fresh start and a new face to lead the franchise. The total number of current openings is up to 8 after two in-season firings. That’s one-quarter of the league with vacant head coaching roles.

Openings: Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins & Cincinnati Bengals.

The standard has been about six per season, but year-after-year the same teams keep getting it wrong in appointing their next head coach or moving on far too soon. While we all like to play the role of expert and General Manager on social media and talk radio, we have the tendency to fall in love with the sexy pick rather than the sound football decision.

Here I’m going to go strictly with a top ten of “available” coaching candidates in the order I would hire or approach them if I were leading a search for one of these eight teams. Obviously it’s a case-by-case scenario with coaching candidates based on the team’s current personnel in place both on the roster, coaching staff, front office and ownership. Each candidate will have the rumored team’s interested and I will make my prediction as to where they will land, or whether or not they stay in their current role. Hope you all enjoy.

  1. Jim Harbaugh – The current head coach of the Michigan Wolverines just finished up his fourth season in Ann Arbor posting a 10-3 record and is 38-14 overall (.731 win percentage). Michigan has struggled to win the big game under Harbaugh and that’s biggest criticism at this point, but the former QB of the Wolverines has turned the program around and Michigan remains a favorite to win the Big Ten with Urban out at Ohio State and a returning Shea Patterson.

Rumored Teams: The Jets are reportedly set to offer Harbaugh a massive contract with a lot of control over the program and could very well tempt the great football coach. Rookie QB Sam Darnold impressed and the Jets franchise is in good hands with him as the signal-caller. They have a lot of cap space and a few young great defensive leaders to anchor the unit. Add in Habraugh’s ability to quickly turn around a franchise or organization (Stanford, San Francisco 49ers, Michigan) and the clock ticking on Tom Brady & Bill Belichick and this opening may lure Habraugh from Michigan.

Prediction: Harbaugh isn’t leaving Michigan, at least not yet. He wants to win at his alma mater, if not a national championship at least make the playoff and win his conference before going back to the NFL in pursuit of a Super Bowl. He’s paid well, has total control and is quirky enough to lure the top recruits in the country to go play in the Big House. Although Harbaugh has a strong personality that may wear on his staff, ownership and players after a few years, he’s a fantastic leader and has turned around every team along the way. The problem here is he’s already paid really well and has no desire to leave his dream job he aspired since playing there in college unless it’s the perfect situation. You still have to make the call and do all you can, but in the end it won’t be enough at least at this time.

2. Josh McDaniels – The Patriots offensive coordinator’s name has quickly emerged as a top head coaching candidate and for good measure, his track record and resume speaks for itself and everyone seems clear that when he gets his second opportunity to lead a team, he will make the most of it. The question surrounding McDaniels remains his desire to leave New England and Tom Brady, especially since spurning the Colts a season ago. He has it made in Foxboro making head coach money with a “handshake agreement” to be the next coach when Belichick decides he’s finished. A brilliant offensive mind that every team should line up for and interview, but at your own risk.

Rumored Teams: Packers & Bengals. The match with Green Bay makes sense here due to McDaniels having worked with a superstar QB in Tom Brady and meshed and become the best of friends, meanwhile Aaron Rodgers never got along with his old coach and couldn’t wait to run him out of town. The fit here is logical with new GM Brian Gutekunst having reportedly favored McDaniels on other job interviews before landing the Packers job. It’s a no-brainier for the Packers to try to get McDaniels, the issue will be surrounding him with a roster that can compete with the holes still on the defensive side of the ball and a QB eating up a large percentage of their salary cap. Expect the Bucs to go hard after McDaniels too with the obvious tie of former Pats personnel man Jason Licht and their high-powered offense.

Prediction: McDaniels stays in New England. If he didn’t take the Colts job last year after building his staff in a division he could control for the next ten years with Andrew Luck, then he’s not leaving the Patriots. Robert Kraft clearly wants Josh as his next head coach and has paid him handsomely as the OC to keep him in the building. You have to try, but he’s not leaving.

3. Matt Campbell – The 39-year-old Iowa State football coach has reportedly already turned down an interview for the Jets and recently signed an extension with the program through 2024, but that won’t stop teams from trying to lure the young coach to the NFL from a small Big 12 college program.

It won’t be easy to lure Campbell from Ames as he’s stated repeatedly he’s driven to build a championship program at Iowa State. He’s energized the program and led the team to back-to-back 8 win seasons. That kind of energy and youth is what every NFL and top college program is looking for. He won’t publicly acknowledge any interview as that’s bad for the recruiting business, but the right opening may tempt him.

Prediction: I don’t see Campbell landing any of these jobs. The Jets make the most sense, but it appears he has zero interest there. Maybe he’ll consider the jump if Cleveland comes hard, but as you’ll see below, I have a pretty good idea of who their next coach will be. Campbell will be in the NFL within three years though.

4. David Shaw – Much like Harbaugh, Shaw’s name comes up almost every year now due to his ability to lead a program. And much like Harbaugh, NFL teams will have a tough time convincing this college coach the grass is greener while they coach and lead at their alma mater.

There’s a few openings that could peak Shaw’s interest if the respective franchises were to approach him. Green Bay & Denver come to mind. Good front offices and leadership in place and cornerstone players to build around in Rodgers and Von Miller respectively. He would be on my short-list of coveted candidates.

Prediction: Shaw stays at Stanford. I do think he’s going to give the NFL a shot, I’m just not sure if any of these openings entice him enough to make the jump. A team like the Bucs would quickly turn around the franchise with Shaw at the helm.

5. Adam Gase – I’m a huge Gase guy. In three seasons with Miami, he went 23-25 that included a playoff appearance with Ryan Tannehill as his Quarterback. The fact he made the playoffs with Tannehill at all warrants him keeping his job, but he also wanted to stick by the former Texas A&M QB. Let’s not forget he was thrown Jay Cutler in his second season and the team went 6-10 in turn.

Rumored Teams: Cleveland, Arizona, New York & Denver. Gase is set to interview with Arizona on Wednesday which makes a lot of sense with a young rookie QB and has another set with the Jets which also makes sense. Gase worked with Peyton Manning during his time under John Fox in Denver, obvious tie there with John Elway and also with Cleveland and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Manning will likely have input on the decision of whom the Browns will name as their next head coach.

Prediction: I like the Adam Gase fit with the Browns. He’s a brilliant offensive mind with head coaching experience and with the right personnel, which John Dorsey will provide, can achieve great success in the league paired with Baker Mayfield.

6. Mike McCarthy – I am not going to leave a former Super Bowl winning coach off my list. The resume and experience speaks for itself. 18 career playoff games (10 wins) and a championship working with Rodgers. The question is always why he didn’t win more and many blame him for holding the franchise back, but for the 7 other jobs out there he would be a massive upgrade over what they have previously had.

Rumored Teams: Jets & Browns. McCarthy already has interviews scheduled with both teams who have the two most coveted jobs on the market with dynamic franchise altering QB’s at the helm. Both teams would score a huge win hiring a coach with a career record of 125-77-2 and a Super Bowl championship to go with his brilliant offensive mind. He’s not a sexy hire like a young guy in McVay, but he’s got the knowledge and experience to take both franchises out of the basement in the league and have them contending for the playoffs.

Prediction: Well since I have Adam Gase going to the Browns, I am going to put McCarthy in the Big Apple with Sam Darnold and the New York Jets. He has dealt with the media having two superstar QB’s under his reign in Green Bay and has the composure and demeanor to handle the New York media and market. Good fit for McCarthy with the Jets.

7. Matt Eberflus – The Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator has turned around the defense in just one season thanks in part to some excellent talent he’s had to work with courtesy of GM Chris Ballard. Josh McDaniels hand-selected him from Dallas who was their LB’s coach and did outstanding work for them before getting the coordinator gig for the Colts. Now he’s drawing serious HC consideration from teams and is a hot candidate on the market.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – DECEMBER 23: Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus on the sidelines during the NFL game between the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts on December 23, 2018, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rumored Teams: Browns. That is the only team that has formally requested an interview with the Colts DC, but due to the fact his team is playing in Houston on wildcard weekend, I’d expect his name is mentioned more in the coming weeks especially is Indy wins the game this Sunday. In a time where everyone is looking offense, Eberflus could be the right guy to lead a time like Mike Vrabel in Tennessee as long as he pairs himself with a good offensive coordinator.

Prediction: I personally think Eberflus stays in Indianapolis under Frank Reich through next season, but that’s only because I don’t think any team would offer him the full-time position with just one year under his belt as a coordinator. If he’s offered a job after a killer interview, I think he jumps at it, but I really like the idea of him coaching the Broncos and that defense up at Mile High with a veteran game-manager in Case Keenum.

8. Kliff Kingsbury – The former Texas Tech head coach has drawn the interest from the NFL world as everyone is seemingly in search of the next Sean McVay. The 39-year-old has accepted the job at USC to be the offensive coordinator, but would clearly leave that gig to go run the show in the NFL. He’s a brilliant offensive mind who killed it in college on offense with Patrick Mahomes and with the right defensive coordinator and team around him, could achieve similar success to McVay and the Rams.

Sep 26, 2015; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury on the field before the game against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226534 ORIG FILE ID: 20150926_gma_aj7_219.jpg

Rumored Teams: Both the Jets & Cardinals have reportedly scheduled interviews with the Trojans OC. After being fired at Texas Tech, he was quickly scooped up by USC under Clay Helton. It’s easy to see why these teams are knocking on his door and if he blows them away in the interview process, could find himself coaching on the sidelines next season.

Prediction: I think Kliff lands as the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. They blew out Steve Wilks and the entire staff after one season where they went a disappointing 3-13. They will be looking offense with their next hire and for the sexy pick especially in the same division as the Rams and McVay. Dome team with a young QB in Josh Rosen should put up points under Kingsbury’s system. The key will be pairing with the right defensive coordinator so the Cardinals can get back to winning football games, they certainly have the talent on defense with Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. Kingsbury would be a good hire in Arizona.

9. Matt LaFleur – The Titans offensive coordinator is another young and smart offensive mind. The 37-year-old former college QB for Western Michigan has worked closely with Kyle Shanahan coming through the coaching ranks as a QB’s coach in Washington & Atlanta before landing with Sean McVay as his OC then getting scooped up by Mike Vrabel in Tennessee to work with Marcus Mariota.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) talks with offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur before a preseason NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Rumored Teams: The Packers are the only team to formally request an interview for LaFleur, but I have a feeling that list will grow. Everywhere he’s went the QB’s have flourished (Cousins, Ryan, Goff, Mariota) and he’s a Quarterback whisperer. Outside of the obvious choices like New York, Cleveland and Green Bay, a team like Tampa Bay could really benefit from bringing in a bright young offensive mind like LaFleur.

Prediction: Matt LaFleur nails his interview and is hired as the Packers next head coach. After McDaniels passes on the offer, they will go to the next guy on the list and that will be the 37-year-old who has already worked with All-Pro QB’s in the past and meshed well. There may be questions about Rodgers responding and listening to a young and inexperienced coach, but I believe LaFleur will stress his ability to get through to him and put the Packers back in position to be a competitive football team. The defensive coordinator choice will be key here too.

10. Vic Fangio – The Bears defensive coordinator has had massive success this season once he was given a roster with talent on that side of the football and appears to be due for a shot to run his own team. The 60-year-old is a long-time NFL assistant and defensive coordinator with stints in Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston and more recently San Francisco under Jim Harbaugh when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl. He worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and followed him to the NFL, and when Harbaugh was let go, so was he, but immediately landed with the Bears where he has worked in resurrecting that defense into the best in the league.

Rumored Teams: Both the Dolphins and Broncos have requested interviews for the Bears defensive coordinator who has reportedly accepted them, but is currently preparing for the showdown on Sunday with the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Both make sense here as Denver wants a leader with experience who can control that side of the ball and make them into a force, like the Bears. Miami meanwhile is looking to go in the other direction after having Adam Gase and an offensive-minded coach.

Prediction: Fangio lands with the Dolphins. They have some good talent on defense with the likes of Cameron Wake, Kiko Alonso, Robert Quinn, Xavien Howard and so on. He can be part of solidifying that unit and getting the team over the top and back in the hunt each season. He will hand-pick someone to run his offense while the front office decides what they want to do at Quarterback in 2019 and moving forward.

Long-shot Candidates: These three men would likely usurp my top-5 here and slide in just ahead or behind Jim Harbaugh from Michigan. They are true long-shots, but if the right opportunity were to arise, could make the move to one of these openings for the right price.

Nick Saban: 5% chance or less. Refer to my previous article for all you need to know on this one. He’s on the verge of his 7th national title, maybe the Browns make a push after next Monday.

Brian Kelly: 10% chance or less. His name has already come up linked to the Bucs job. You don’t leave Notre Dame football for the Buccaneers, but many have wondered if he has desire in coaching at the next level, and no one doubts the success he can have leading a franchise. Door not shut, but just about at least this year.

John Harbaugh: The Ravens coach has turned the team around going to Lamar Jackson and they are AFC North Champions. Baltimore announced they are working on a contract extension, but the question remains if John wants to stay with the franchise. He has not yet signed an extension and has all the leverage here. He could work his way out with a trade if he so chooses. It’s a long-shot, but don’t rule it out this off-season once the Ravens are bounced from the playoffs.

There you have it. My Top Ten list of NFL coaching candidates. Agree, disagree, share, comment away, but please don’t try to sell me on names like Chuck Pagano, Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell those guys don’t deserve another chance to lead a team in the league. Let them go work on TV or join the AAF or XFL when they launch. They’ve had their chances and blown it, time for fresh faces in this league.

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