NFL News & Analysis

The NFL's top head-coaching candidates: Kellen Moore, Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles and more

Glendale, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hugs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during the second half of the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Black Monday came and went as quickly and ferociously as ever this year, with the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins opting to relive their former head coaches of their duties.

The four franchises now join the Jacksonville Jaguars — and potentially the Las Vegas Raiders and Houston Texans — in search of the NFL's next best head coach. Below, we'll dive into the top candidates for teams in need of a new direction.

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CURRENT NFL ASSISTANTS

KELLEN MOORE — OC, DALLAS COWBOYS

Moore has been on the head coaching radar ever since he took over as the Cowboys offensive coordinator in 2019. Dallas ranked third in expected points added (EPA) per pass in 2019 and finished seventh in the same metric in 2021 if you exclude the games Dak Prescott missed due to injury.

Moore’s offense in Dallas isn’t particularly quarterback-friendly; there’s a heavy dosage of pure passing concepts that require the quarterback to process coverage and take advantage of what that coverage provides. Still, that’s not to say he can’t adjust to the strengths of whichever quarterback he would inherit.

It may take some time for Moore’s next team to get to the Cowboys’ level in terms of passing output, but it’s a hire that looks incredibly promising for a team for a solidified young quarterback to groom —  Jacksonville or Chicago, for example.


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DAN QUINN — DC, DALLAS COWBOYS

The Cowboys have been the grateful recipient of some turnover luck this season, but there’s no denying that this defense has vastly improved under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The former Falcons head coach inherited a group that ranked 27th in coverage grade and 20th in EPA allowed per pass play in 2020 and helped improve them to eight and second in those metrics, respectively, in 2021.

The way he has used rookie linebacker Micah Parsons’ versatility has been nothing short of exceptional. Quinn’s scheme is influenced by the Gus Bradley Seahawks Cover 3 defense but is more aggressive with a greater rate of man-to-man coverage, blitzes and twists. Quinn will always face criticism for his Atlanta Falcons tenure when he fell victim to some truly epic collapses and his defense steadily declined, but he deserves another go at some point.

ERIC BIENIEMY — OC, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

More voiced their disappointment that Bieniemy wasn’t hired to take over an NFL team last offseason, including Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who offered glaring reviews about him on and off the field.

Yes, the Chiefs offense had its ups and downs in 2021, but the group is still the most efficient offense heading into the postseason. They’ve been inside the top five each year Bieniemy has served as offensive coordinator. Andy Reid calls the plays for Kansas City, and Bieniemy would bring the longtime coach's influence with him to wherever he potentially lands.

BYRON LEFTWICH — OC, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Leftwich, a first-round pick of the Jaguars in 2003, is very much in the conversation to fill the Jags' head coaching vacancy this offseason.

Like Kellen Moore, Leftwich would bring a difficult offense for Lawrence to master, as it requires a lot of trust and communication between the quarterback and receivers. It was an issue early in Tom Brady’s tenure in Tampa Bay, but it wasn’t an issue down the stretch. This year, Leftwich and head coach Bruce Arians evolved and integrated more underneath concepts. Brady’s average depth of target dropped 1.4 yards, but his yards per attempt average only dropped two-tenths of a yard.

TODD BOWLES — DC, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

It’s no secret that Bowles loves to bring the heat on defense. His unit in Tampa carries the second-highest blitz rate in the NFL into the playoffs — an astounding 43%.

Injuries and COVID-19 decimated his defense in 2021, yet Bowles has helped his group to the No. 5 ranking in EPA allowed per play. Bowles’ time as a head coach for the New York Jets from 2015 through 2018 left a lot to be desired, mostly because of a lackluster offensive unit. However, his Jets still ranked fifth in success rate allowed on defense over that span.

JOSH MCDANIELS — OC, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

This season, no offensive coordinator has enjoyed more success with a rookie quarterback than Josh McDaniels. The longtime playcaller and first-round rookie Mac Jones have partnered up to lead the offense to +0.11 expected points added (EPA) per pass play and a 51% successful pass rate, good for the 11th- and sixth-best marks in the NFL.

Much of this has been because of Jones’ unprecedented processing, timing, accuracy, and poise for a rookie, but McDaniels has done his fair share. The Patriots OC has had it tough over the last three years and had to cycle through three different quarterbacks — Brady, Cam Newton and Jones — but he has consistently played to his starter’s strengths and led the franchise to positive EPA over the last three seasons.

JEROD MAYO — LB COACH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Mayo could be the next Bill Belichick disciple to get a shot at a head coaching job. Mayo, who was a top-10 pick in 2008 and spent eight years playing linebacker for the Patriots, helped guide a New England defense that ranks inside the top three in EPA allowed per play this season. His linebacker room has been a top-five-graded unit this season.

BRIAN DABOLL — OC, BUFFALO BILLS

Daboll’s progression in Buffalo has been nothing short of exceptional. Buffalo is playing an all-out spread approach on pure dropbacks to open the field, and he has sprinkled in more RPOs. Changes like those — along with Josh Allen’s unprecedented changes with his mechanics — have helped the Bills manufacture the most successful passing offense in the league. Their 54.3% successful pass rate since 2020 is the highest in the NFL.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (left) talks with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (right) in a snowstorm prior to the game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
LESLIE FRAZIER — DC, BUFFALO BILLS

Frazier was a player on the unforgettable 1985 Chicago Bears team and is now a candidate to take over his former franchise’s head coaching position after spending five years as the Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. The worst Frazier’s defense has ranked in EPA allowed per pass play was his first year with the team in 2017 when they finished in 12th. This year, the group claimed the No. 1 spot despite their star corner Tre’Davious White going down with a season-ending injury midway through the season.

NATHANIEL HACKETT — OC, GREEN BAY PACKERS

Hackett is beloved by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The 2021 MVP candidate has gone as far as saying that Hackett “isn’t like the rest of them” and “ has infectious energy.” While unlikely, there is a draw toward Hackett because of his (small) chance at convincing Rodgers to force his way out of Green Bay after the season and join whichever team hires him. Hackett has played a big part in the Packers' and Rodgers’ growth over the last few years alongside head coach Matt LaFleur. A lot of the success is credited to Rodgers himself, of course, but playing in rhythm and utilizing well-designed schemed plays have been essential to the team’s passing success. In fact, Green Bay is third in total dropbacks that were “schemed” throws this year and is third in passing efficiency on said plays.

RAHEEM MORRIS — DC, LOS ANGELES RAMS

Morris took over Brandon Staley’s job with the Rams after Staley was hired head coach for the Los Angeles Chargers. Before Morris took that job, he was one of the final candidates the Jacksonville Jaguars passed on for Urban Meyer. Morris has done a fantastic job in L.A. in 2021 and could certainly be on Jacksonville’s radar for this new opening. Rams head coach Sean McVay wanted to keep Staley’s system in place, and Morris did so despite it not being in his background. The Rams are showing a lot of two-high coverages like Cover 4 and Cover 6, but they will rotate their safeties into Cover 3 to trick the offense. No one has disguised their coverage more this season than the Rams. L.A. has regressed from their No. 1 ranking against the pass last year after losing multiple key contributors, but they have still been pretty good, ranking above the league average in team coverage grade, EPA per pass allowed and explosive pass rate allowed. Not to mention, McVay has had nothing but positive things to say about his current DC:

“Guys are enjoying doing football together and I think that’s a huge credit to Raheem [Morris] and his leadership. I think the players are going to love working with him and what he brings.”  — Sean McVay in March on Raheem Morris

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FORMER HEAD COACHES

BRIAN FLORES — FORMER MIAMI DOLPHINS HEAD COACH

Flores helped the Dolphins defense improve rapidly across his three years with the franchise. He went from ranking 31st in EPA allowed per play in 2019 to finishing top-10 in that metric in 2020 and 2021. The offense, however, never saw that kind of growth due to cycling through offensive coordinators, poor pass-protection and average quarterback play. Flores was beloved by the players, many of which express their disapproval of the firing on Twitter. He may still have more to prove, but Flores should get another shot at a head coaching gig relatively soon.

DOUG PEDERSON — FORMER PHILADELPHIA EAGLES HEAD COACH

After sitting out a year, Pederson could make his return to the NFL ranks to take over the Jags. Pederson spent three years as the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator before taking over as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach from 2016 through 2020, winning the Super Bowl in 2017. Pederson’s offense has plenty of Andy Reid influences, including RPOs and the use of trips with a tight end isolated.

JIM CALDWELL — FORMER DETROIT LIONS HEAD COACH (2014-17)

The Detroit Lions have posted a winning record in just four seasons since 2001. Of those four, three were under Jim Caldwell’s guidance (2014, 2016 and 2017). The Lions have finished dead last in the NFC North in each of the four seasons since Caldwell’s firing. Former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said at the time of the firing that he wanted Caldwell to stay.

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COLLEGE COACHES

JIM HARBAUGH — HC, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Many thought the contract extension Harbaugh received at Michigan after last year’s 2-4 shortened season was ludicrous. The public consensus was that it was time for the Harbaugh era to come to a close after years of falling short of Ohio State in the Big Ten.

The market thought that trend would continue in 2021, as their season win total was set at 7.5 wins during the offseason. However, Harbaugh instead got the right leaders in place of the defensive unit and developed the talent he recruited on both sides of the ball into a juggernaut. The Wolverines surpassed that preseason projection with flying colors, going 11-1 in regular-season play, including a victory over the Buckeyes en route to a blowout Big Ten championship win and the program’s first College Football Playoff appearance. The Blue came out with 12 wins in 2021, the third time in program history they have reached that mark.

They became the first team in the CFP era to go from unranked to making the final four. No team improved their PFF Power Rating from Week 0 to now than the Michigan Wolverines. Harbaugh has led Michigan to a 61-24 record over his seven years in Ann Arbor. For reference, the Wolverines went 46-42 in the seven years prior to Harbaugh’s arrival. He could make the leap back into the NFL ranks where he last spent time as the San Francisco 49ers head coach from 2011 through 2014, which featured a Super Bowl appearance. It’s worth noting that his two coordinators there were current Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Vic Fangio, who was just let go by the Broncos.

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BILL O’BRIEN — OC, ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

O’Brien could reclaim an NFL head coaching (or offensive coordinator) job after spending a year as the Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator and play-caller. All things considered, O’Brien didn’t necessarily impress with the Crimson Tide this season. Alabama generated +0.16 EPA per play this year, which is good but not up to the Crimson Tide’s standards, as they were on a run of generating over +0.27 EPA per play for three straight seasons. The offense consistently allowed free rushers, and the play-calling wasn’t the best — like against Texas A&M in the red zone and in the CFP semifinal against Cincinnati when he ignored the clear rushing advantage to pass. He may have the experience, but this could be a risky bet.

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