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Grading NFL coaching hires 2024: Ranking best hires this offseason, including Jim Harbaugh

Grading NFL coaching hires 2024
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 NFL coaching carousel is drawing to a close with eight head-coaching vacancies quickly being filled around the league. This year’s deep pool of candidates included future Hall of Famers and top coordinators, leading to some high-profile and surprising choices. Now it’s time to start grading the NFL coaching hires.

Before looking ahead to the 2024 cycle, we’ll briefly reflect on our grades for NFL coaching hires in 2023. DeMeco Ryans, our No. 1 hire, led the Houston Texans to the playoffs, but we were wrong about Frank Reich with the Carolina Panthers. With history in mind, it’s now time to look ahead.

Related: NFL coaching candidates 2024

Let’s dive into our rankings and evaluations of the 2024 NFL coaching hires.

Grading NFL coaching hires: Best 2024 NFL head coach hirings

1. Jim Harbaugh, Los Angeles Chargers (A+)

Syndication: USA TODAY
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jim Harbaugh was the head coach every team in the NFL coaching carousel had interest in for the last three years. After things didn’t work out with the Minnesota Vikings (2021) and Denver Broncos (2022), Harbaugh’s patience paid off. After delivering a national championship for his alma mater, Harbaugh makes his NFL return to a team with a young, franchise quarterback.

  • Jim Harbaugh NFL record: 44-19-1 in four seasons

Related: Los Angeles Chargers mock draft 2024

Harbaugh immediately becomes one of the best NFL head coaches in 2024. He’ll put together an outstanding coaching staff, likely with Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, with plenty of NFL experience on the offensive side. Keep in mind, this is the same coach who turned a 6-10 San Francisco 49ers team a year before his arrival into a 13-3 club with an NFC title game appearance in his first year.

This isn’t to suggest that Harbaugh will do the same immediately in Los Angeles. The Chargers’ defense needs to be overhauled and they have alarming salary-cap issues. Harbaugh’s offense with an above-average offensive line – if they use the 5th pick on offensive tackle Joe Alt – quarterback Justin Herbert and wide receivers Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer could exceed expectations in 2024. In 2025 and beyond, then we can look at the Chargers as an AFC contender. Track record and fit make this a home-run hire.

2. Mike Macdonald, Seattle Seahawks (A-)

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks coaching search led them to a candidate who is the opposite of Pete Carroll. Mike Macdonald is half Pete Carroll’s age, is well-known for being quieter than the former Seahawks’ coach and most importantly he’s willing to adapt. In his final years with the Seahawks, Carroll’s defenses never adjusted to what the likes of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan were doing. It’s one of the biggest reasons why Seattle consistently had one of the worst defenses in football.

Macdonald is very different. He’ll bring a complex scheme, one that is going to take young Seahawks’ defenders some time to learn. While the defense might not deliver a complete 180 next season, Macdonald is exactly the kind of coach who can maximize the young talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens defensive statistics under Mike Macdonald

Yards per PlayScoring RatePPGRZ TD rateQB ratingSacks per Game
20234.6 (T-1st)28.7% (3rd)16.5 (1st)40.82% (2nd)74.5 (1st)3.3 (1st)
EPA per PlaySuccess RateDropback EPA3rd Down rateEXPAvg. TOP
2023-0.127 (2nd)40.8% (6th)-0.14236,26% (6th)117.86 (1st)2:34 (4th)
Defensive statistics are opponents’ averages allowed by the Baltimore Ravens defense

Not only is Macdonald arguably the best defensive mind in the NFL, he also carries a well-regarded reputation as a leader. He had overwhelming support in the Baltimore Ravens locker room, with players crediting him for helping maximize their careers and teach them in a way that made his system easy to digest over time.

The offensive coordinator hire will obviously be critical for Seattle. However, the reports connecting former Washington Huskies offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb to Seattle are promising. With Macdonald having strong connections to the coaching ranks at both the NFL and collegiate levels, this becomes an A-minus.

3. Raheem Morris, Atlanta Falcons (B+)

NFL: Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Raheem Morris is returning to the Atlanta Falcons. At the start of the Falcons coaching search, future Hall of Famer Bill Belichick seemed like the presumptive favorite to replace Arthur Smith. However, Morris offered qualities as a head coach that stood out even more for Atlanta.

Related: NFL insider reveals why Bill Belichick wasn’t hired

Look at examples like Dan Campbell and John Harbaugh. Morris isn’t a brilliant offensive mind nor is he a defensive wizard on the level of Belichick or Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. Instead, the 47-year-old provides the qualities that everyone within the best organizations loves about their head coach.

Morris was rated by players as one of the most impactful coaches in the NFL today. Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald and countless other NFL stars and future Hall of Famers have called Morris one of the best coaches they’ve ever had. Morris’ former employer, the Los Angeles Rams, raved about his intangibles, and leadership. He has also coached both sides of the ball, serving as defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams (2021-’23) and Falcons (2020), previously working as wide receivers coach and pass-game coordinator in Atlanta.

Atlanta is also the place where Morris wanted to be, talking about what the Falcons’ organization meant to him when he was part of that franchise from 2015-2020. Morris is going to put together a great staff, just as first-year coach DeMeco Ryans did with the Houston Texans. Players and coaches want to work with Morris and that’s why he’s one of the best 2024 NFL coaching hires.

4. Brian Callahan, Tennessee Titans (B+)

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Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Brian Callahan started generating buzz in the 2023 NFL coaching carousel, with teams identifying him as one of the fast-rising offensive coordinators who could eventually become a head coach. For as much as teams respected his brilliant offensive mind and coaching style, though, they also wondered if he was a bit of a product of quarterback Joe Burrow.

  • Cincinnati Bengals offense (2022):  25.7 PPG, 257.9 pass ypg, 7.3 ypa, 46.9% 3rd down

While Callahan wasn’t the Cincinnati Bengals’ play-caller during his tenure as offensive coordinator (2019-’23), he played an instrumental role in putting together their divers game plan each week. The Bengals’ offense had multiple types of schemes they would run depending on what coverage and looks their opponent showed early in the game, Callahan was a critical part of that. He also helped the Bengals’ offense barely lose a step when Burrow went down and Jake Browning took over.

Related: Tennessee Titans draft picks 2024

  • Cincinnati Bengals offense (Jake Browning): 23.4 PPG, 245.3 pass ypg, 8.0 ypa, 40.5% 3rd down

Callahan, like Mike Vrabel, is also well-liked by players. He comes with glowing recommendations from both Burrow and Matthew Stafford, whom he helped develop early in their careers. Tennessee needed a quarterback guru to maximize this offense and determine if Will Levis could be the face of the franchise. Callahan is the perfect coach to help figure that out and while there are plenty of uncertainties – Callahan’s coaching staff, how he handles head-coach responsibilities – just landing him and his father (legendary offensive line coach Bill Callahan) will be huge for the Titans’ offense.

5. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (B+)

NFL: New England Patriots-Head Coach Jerod Mayo Press Conference
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The writing was on the wall a year ago. Amid a swarm of interest from NFL teams in linebackers coach Jero Mayo, the New England Patriots publicly announced his contract extension. Not only that, owner Robert Kraft seemed to be preparing Mayo behind the scenes as the coach-in-waiting. Once Belichick was gone, Mayo was immediately named the new Patriots coach.

With Belichick being more hands-on with New England’s offense, Mayo got to take on more responsibility with the Patriots’ defense. Despite season-ending injuries to starters along the defensive line and secondary, New England had a top-10 defense for the majority of the 2023 season.

We expect Mayo to help the Patriots’ defense maintain its form long-term. However, there’s another reason so many around the NFL love him. He blew teams away in head-coaching interviews in previous years with his football IQ, leadership, work ethic and message.

He’s also beloved by players and will bring a modern style of leadership that better fits the new Patriots’ culture. Plus, he’ll be a lot more forthcoming with the media and fans than Belichick was. Of course, Mayo can only be successful if the Patriots find a quality quarterback and offensive coordinator.

6. Dave Canales, Carolina Panthers (B)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers were desperate to find a young, engaging coach who could unlock quarterback Bryce Young. The moment Panthers’ assistant general manager Dan Morgan was promoted to replace Scott Fitterer, it became evident that Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales would land in Carolina.

Related: NFL defense rankings 2024

Canales and Morgan worked together with the Seattle Seahawks for years, forming a bond that is critical for a healthy working relationship between a general manager and a head coach. More importantly for the Panthers, Canales did outstanding work turning around the careers of Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield.

QB RatingCompletion RateYPAPFF gradeTD-INT
Geno Smith (2022)100.969.8%7.579.830-11
Baker Mayfield (2023)94.664.3%7.174.628-10

It’s not like Canales was working with All-Pro quarterbacks in Seattle or Tampa Bay. U[ until their breakout seasons, Smith and Mayfield were viewed as NFL Draft busts. Then, Canales worked one-on-one with them and helped them transform into Pro Bowl quarterbacks, earning them lucrative contract extensions.

This is what the Panthers are hoping for. Carolina needs to spend its offseason overhauling the offensive line and receiving corps, but Canales has demonstrated that his system can highlight his quarterback’s strengths and hide weaknesses. Just as critical, he’ll be the one voice in Bryce Young’s ear and that is paramount to the second-year quarterback rebounding in 2024.

7. Dan Quinn, Washington Commanders (C+)

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the offseason, we thought the Washington Commanders had one of the best head-coaching vacancies available in 2024. Led by owner Josh Harris and general manager Adam Peters, the Commanders coaching search seemed to be directed entirely at Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

By the time Johnson was finally eligible to be hired, some of the top up-and-coming coaching candidates were off the board. Then, as Washington flew to visit with Johnson, the Lions’ offensive coordination informed the Commanders he wouldn’t be leaving Detroit. After Johnson said no, Washington reportedly called Mike Macdonald again on his way to Seattle and they were rejected by their second option.

Dan Quinn isn’t a bad hire. He transformed the Dallas Cowboys defense, turning it from one of the league’s worst before his arrival into a top-10 defense in all three seasons at the helm. He’s a strong leader and one of the most well-liked coaches in football, which should mean a strong locker room in Washington and improved defense for the Commanders.

However, this was obviously Washington’s third choice and Quinn’s success will ultimately be determined by his offensive coordinator hire and the development of the Commanders’ next quarterback. What would’ve been a B- hire if Quinn was the primary target from the beginning, drops a grade because it’s clear he wasn’t Washington’s first or second choice.

8. Antonio Pierce, Las Vegas Raiders (C) – Worst NFL coaching hire in 2024

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Credit to Las Vegas Raiders players for using whatever influence they could to ensure Antonio Pierce remained head coach. The locker room, environment and play-calling were miserable under Josh McDaniels and as the interim coach, Pierce made the Raiders competitive all while players finally felt engaged. Having a head coach that the locker room wants to go to war for is important.

Pierce earned the right to be the Raiders coach in 2024 and we can’t necessarily fault owner Mark Davis for removing Pierce’s interim tag. If he hadn’t, there would’ve been a player revolt and that would’ve created unnecessary offseason drama for Las Vegas.

However, there are reasons we believe the Raiders made the worst hire of the 2024 NFL coaching carousel. Among them, keeping Pierce meant Davis felt obligated to hire an experienced general manager. So, he handed control over his roster to a GM with a reputation for only hitting on draft picks on the first two days of the NFL Draft. Super Bowl contenders win because they find late-round gems and Tom Telesco has historically failed in that regard. He was also fired by the Los Angeles Chargers for overpaying veterans and leaving the team with massive salary-cap problems.

Hiring Telesco as general manager and making Kliff Kingsbury the Raiders’ offensive coordinator is part of the problem. The other is the simple fact that an interim coach hasn’t experienced long-term success in more than a decade and the good outcomes are Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier. This feels like another recipe for a Raiders’ disaster and we wouldn’t be surprised if Telesco and Pierce are gone by 2026.

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