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6 Las Vegas Raiders coaching candidates to replace Josh McDaniels

Las Vegas Raiders coaching candidates
Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

A new Las Vegas Raiders coaching search is underway after Josh McDaniels became the first of many NFL coaches fired in 2023. Las Vegas made the right decision to cut ties with McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, but it’s time to evaluate Raiders coaching candidates for 2024.

Related: NFL coaching candidates 2024

Let’s examine a few Raiders coaching candidates who could replace Josh McDaniels.

Best Las Vegas Raiders coaching candidates

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
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NFL teams are always looking for the next Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan or Mike McDaniel. Of course, for every offensive mastermind and play-calling wizard who pans out as an NFL head coach, there are dozens more who prove to be unqualified for the position. Josh McDaniels is a fantastic example of that.

That’s the only drawback with Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. He was an offensive quality control coach as recently as 2019 and only started calling plays late in the 2021 season. In his last two years as the architect of the Lions’ offense, though, Johnson’s success is practically unmatched.

When Detroit acquired Jared Goff in the Matthew Stafford trade, the former No. 1 overall pick was viewed as more of an anchor for an offense than a floor-raising quarterback. With Johnson, Goff has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for the last two seasons.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
Detroit Lions offense under Ben Johnson

We can go beyond Goff’s numbers. In 2022 with D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, Detroit ranked 11th in rushing yards per game (128.2) and 15th in yards per carry (4.5). This season with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, the Lions are 11th in rushing (118.4 ypg) and 17th in yards per carry (4.1).

That kind of balance paired with Johnson’s rare creativity with his play designs and route concepts has led Detroit to be remarkably efficient in critical situations. The Lions had the fourth-highest touchdown rate in the red zone (66.2%) last season and ranked top-14 in third-down conversion rate. Johnson is exactly who the Raiders should want building an offense around a rookie quarterback, Josh Jacobs, Davante Adams, Michael Mayer and Jakobi Meyers.

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Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
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If you have an opportunity to draft a franchise-caliber quarterback like Drake Maye or Caleb Williams, it limits the need to have a brilliant play-caller as your head coach. That’s even more notable considering just how bad the Raiders’ defense has been in the last two seasons.

Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, age 36, is one of the youngest play-callers in the NFL. He joined the organization as a coaching intern in 2014, working his way up to defensive assistant (2015-’16), defensive backs coach (2017) and then linebackers coach (2018-’20). After a one-year stint as the Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator in 2021, he took that same position in Baltimore a year later.

Macdonald isn’t just responsible for the best defense in the NFL this season, his resume is even bigger than that. He wanted linebacker Roquan Smith at the 2022 NFL trade deadline and Baltimore’s defense has been lights out ever since.

From Weeks 9-18 last season, the Ravens defense held opponents to a league-low 165.6 passing yards per game with a 60.1% completion rate and a 70.4 QB rating. NFL quarterbacks threw just four interceptions in nine contests over that stretch, taking 21 sacks (2.3 per game) with seven interceptions. Plus, Baltimore allowed just a 40.19% conversion rate on third downs.

Through eight games this season, the Ravens allowed the second-lowest average QB rating (71.6), the seventh-lowest completion rate (61.4%) and they have the ninth-best run defense (9.9 rush ypg) in the NFL. Importantly, some of these performances have come against elite competition. Macdonald is an ascending name and with a favorable reputation among players and coaches, he deserves a shot to be an NFL head coach.

Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots linebackers coach

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots
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Highlighting a New England Patriots assistant among potential Raiders coaching candidates won’t be popular among supporters of the franchise. The arguments against it is fair, tapping into the Patriots’ coaching blew up in the Raiders’ face before the McDaniels’ firing. However, McDaniels and Jerod Mayo couldn’t be any more different.

We’ll start with the rare treatment Mayo is receiving from Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft. Right on the verge of taking NFL head-coaching interviews this past spring, Mayo pulled out and signed a new deal with New England. While that’s not unusual in the NFL, it is a rarity for New England to announce it extended an assistant coach and then reveal he’s being trained to become an NFL head coach with guidance that so many others don’t experience before stepping into the job for the first time.

That’s how high the Patriots are on Mayo. People around the NFL rave about him, too. Before the Philadelphia Eagles hired Nick Sirianni in 2021, they interviewed Mayo and he reportedly ‘blew them out of the water‘ with his leadership, mind and overall presence during the lengthy interview. NFL teams who have spoken with Mayo since have offered nothing but praise for his work ethic, ability to connect with anyone in a room and level of preparation.

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Player development is also a part of his background. Mayo was instrumental in the development of players like Kahlani Tavai, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower. A former Patriots player also said Mayo is the closest thing out there to the next Bill Belichick and Belichick knew Mayo was destined for greatness years ago.

Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
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Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel rightfully gets the credit nationally for the offense’s success. In less than two full seasons, McDaniel has arguably been the best play-caller in the game. While Las Vegas can’t get him, it could land his top assistant.

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Smith, who turns 43 in February, has been coaching in the NFL since 2010 with the New Orleans Saints. It all started as an offensive line coach, a path that has been very successful for many before him. By 2021, Smith was the Los Angeles Chargers run-game coordinator and offensive line coach. When McDaniel took over in Miami, one of the first moves he made was hiring Smith as offensive coordinator.

There are plenty of reasons to like what Smith could do for the Raiders’ offense, so we’ll focus on one specific thing. Entering the season, everyone agreed the Dolphins’ offensive line was average at best if not below average. After all, it ranked 18th in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency last year. In 2023, injuries have largely prevented the starters from even playing together.

While offensive line play is typically paramount to a team’s success offensively, great coaches can find ways to circumvent it with the right scheme and play-calling. Through seven games this year, Miami has allowed the second-fewest pressures (42) and the eighth-fewest sacks (six) despite having more pass attempts than just about any team near them.

That’s because Tua Tagovailoa gets the football out so quickly (2.31 second average time to throw, 1st in NFL), which is a byproduct of how McDaniel and Smith designed this system. It’s the ability to mask a mediocre offensive line and maximize speed on a roster that Smith is an attractive option to become the Raiders’ next head coach. Bringing Smith to Las Vegas could help the Raiders’ offense return to heights it never experienced even on McDaniels’ best days.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We know team owner Mark Davis likes to make a splash, which is why names like Jim Harbaugh and Ben Johnson are atop lists of Raiders coaching candidates. However, one of the best options in Las Vegas for the 2024 season and beyond might be Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
Houston Texans offensive comparison before and after the hiring of Bobby Slowik

Remember, few believed the Texans’ offense would even be league-average in 2023 with rookie C.J. Stroud. Not only is Stroud having an outstanding first season, on his way to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, but Slowik has also created an electrifying and versatile passing game. Just as impressive, he’s turned Devin Singletary into an effective lead running back.

As a play-caller, Slowik’s first season has been incredible. Houston has dealt with offensive line issues all year and Slowik has still created a seamless passing game, using quick throws and drawing up plays to make the quarterback’s life easier. There are challenges as a first-year offensive coordinator, but Slowik is making adjustments and he’s even created positive offensive performances with Case Keenum under center. Finding success without a great quarterback or offensive line, Las Vegas needs that.

Slowik was with Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay and Mike McDaniel on the legendary 2013 Washington coaching staff. When Shanahan went to San Francisco in 2017, he brought Slowik with him. Slowik went from defensive quality control coach (2017-’18) to offensive assistant (2019-’20), before becoming Shanahan’s passing-game designer in 2021. Slowik is young, but he’s one of our favorite Raiders coaching candidates.

Antonio Pierce, Las Vegas Raiders interim coach

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

We’re typically opposed to giving the full-time gig to the interim coach. There are rare instances of it working out in NFL history. Even when it does, the pact doesn’t wind up lasting more than a couple of seasons. In reality, promoting an interim head coach often means conducting a new coaching search the following offseason.

With that said, one of the most defining qualities of a good head coach is leadership. Ask every single player in that Raiders’ locker room and they will swear by Antonio Pierce. He didn’t just rally the team together before Josh McDaniels was fired, he took over the interim role after and made the Raiders a competitive football team in the final two months of the season. That’s not easy, especially when a quarter of those games have you starting a mid-round rookie quarterback and a backup running back.

Pierce’s desire to seek out coaching advice and listen to his peers matters for another reason. Las Vegas can give him input on his offensive coordinator hire this season and fixing that would be the critical first step towards improving the offense. While Pierce is further down on our list of Raiders coaching candidates, no one should fault Las Vegas if it keeps him aroumd.

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