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NFL coaching candidates 2024: Best head-coaching candidates, defensive and offensive coordinator candidates

NFL coaching candidates 2024
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

There have already been NFL coaches fired this season and Black Monday after Week 18 always brings more terminations. With the arrival of the 2024 NFL coaching carousel, it’s time to dive into our annual batch of NFL coaching candidates.

In 2022, many of our favorite NFL coaching candidates were hired as head coaches. Sean Payton was an obvious hire, but three of our top head-coaching candidates (Shane Steichen, DeMeco Ryans and Jonathan Gannon) are performing well in their first gigs. Once again, we have a new batch of candidates we’re high on for NFL teams in 2024.

NFL coaching candidates by team

Now, let’s dive into our top NFL coaching candidates in 2024. All NFL statistics used as of Dec. 4.

NFL head-coaching candidates 2024

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ben Johnson is the best NFL coaching candidate in 2024. The Detroit Lions offensive coordinator was highly coveted in 2023, but he turned down opportunities to remain with Detroit. That won’t be the case in 2024 and nothing he’s done this season has hurt his glowing reputation around the league as one of the best offensive minds in the NFL.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
202226.65.940.76%66.18%
202327.35.943.03%55.81%
Detroit Lions offense under Ben Johnson

Related: NFL coaching hot seat

Johnson can do it all as the architect of an offense. He’s engineered one of the best run games in the NFL, first with Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift then with David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. He’s also helped Jared Goff put up numbers that are on par with Josh Allen and Dak Prescott. He’s everything you want orchestrating your offense and he’ll have his pick of jobs in 2024.

Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots defensive assistant

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t any real stats to use to highlight why Jerod Mayo is one of our favorite NFL coaching candidates in 2024. After all, the New England Patriots have kept his title as inside linebackers coach since 2019. However, the Patriots’ organization made the unusual move of announcing his contract extension in 2023. Immediately after, Robert Kraft started preparing Mayo to succeed Bill Belichick.

While we don’t know anything about Mayo as a play-caller, he offers far more important qualities to be a successful NFL head coach. The 37-year-old is one of the smartest players to ever play for Belichick and he’s received rave reviews for his work ethic. Nicknamed Belichick 2.0 by his former teammates, meant in a positive sense, Mayo also blew the Philadelphia Eagles out of the water with his football IQ, leadership and communication in a head-coaching interview. The only reason Philadelphia didn’t hire him is because they wanted an offensive coach. Mayo’s leadership is what can make him a great coach with Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh providing blueprints for his potential path.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

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

It’s extremely rare for NFL teams to take a chance on a head coach with only one year of experience as an offensive coordinator and play-caller. Bobby Slowik might be the exception. DeMeco Ryans immediately hired the San Francisco 49ers offensive passing game coordinator as his OC after being named the Houston Texans coach. While C.J. Stroud deserves a ton of credit for Houston’s success, Slowik is one of the biggest reasons behind the Texans’ turnaround.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
202217.04.730.32%47.92%
202323.45.842.17%52.38%
Houston Texans offensive comparison before and after the hiring of Bobby Slowik

In terms of Slowik’s roots, he 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. He’s demonstrated this season that he can maximize offense with poor offensive lines and his play designs are some of the best in football. Sometimes, it’s worth taking a risk on a coach in his 30s.

Brian Flores, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

A bad relationship with Tua Tagovailoa and an active civil suit against the NFL are the only two blemishes on the resume of Brian Flores. He’s consistently been one of the NFL’s top defensive masterminds, with excellent track records of success with the Patriots, Miami Dolphins and now the Minnesota Vikings.

YearPPG AllowedYards per PlayRed Zone TD rateScoring RateEXP
202225.4 (30th)5.9 (30th)58.49% (22nd)41.1% (28th)-104.00 (26th)
202320.2 (8th)5.0 (9th)50% (9th)36.9% (16th)7.00 (10th)
Minnesota Vikings defense before (2022) and after (2023) hiring Brian Flores

Flores does things wherever he goes. It’s also worth revisiting his tenure in Miami as head coach. He was hired to oversee a team tearing down its roster, arguably tanking for the No. 1 pick. Flores still won five games with the worst roster in the NFL and then went 19-14 in his final two seasons as head coach. Flores deserves another opportunity and should be one of the top defensive-minded NFL head-coaching candidates in 2024.

Related: NFL defense rankings

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Will this finally be the year Jim Harbaugh returns to the NFL? Teams believe so. In his last stint, Harbaugh ruffled a lot of feathers with higher-ups in the San Francisco 49ers organization. He also hasn’t always had fans in management with the Michigan Wolverines, his personality can wear on people. Plus, any NFL team that hires Harbaugh would likely have to give him some control over the roster and hire a general manager he’s on board with.

  • Jim Harbaugh NFL coaching record: 44-19-1 (.695) in the regular season, 5-3 in the playoffs
  • Jim Harbaugh college coaching record: 116-46 overall, 87-25 with Michigan Wolverines

He’s worth it. Harbaugh wins everywhere he goes and his quarterbacks are excellent. Stanford went 12-1 with Harbaugh at the helm in 2010 and hasn’t been the same football program since his departure. He then won with the 49ers and he’s been one of the winningest coaches in Michigan’s history. Wins and quarterback development make Harbaugh one of the most attractive NFL head coach candidates in 2024.

Brian Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator

For whatever reason, Philadelphia Eagles fans don’t seem to like first-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. While he hasn’t been quite as successful as his predecessor, Shane Steichen’s early run with the Indianapolis Colts suggests that’s like being disappointed if the next Eagles’ center isn’t as good as Jason Kelce. Compare Brian Johnson’s play-calling production

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
2023 NFL avg. offense21.75.239.1%54.7%
2023 Eagles’ offense27.45.447.85%61.7%
Comparison of Philadelphia Eagles offense in 2023 to NFL season averages

That’s not the only reason Johnson is one of our favorite NFL head coach candidates. He’s a quarterback guru, unlocking Dak Prescott at Mississippi State, turning Kyle Trask into an All-SEC quarterback with the Florida Gators and Johnson was instrumental in the development of Jalen Hurts. Johnson should receive multiple head-coaching interviews this offseason and he’ll be a head coach before long.

Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator

Mike Macdonald, age 36, started his NFL coaching career as an intern with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014. He climbed the ladder quickly, becoming a defensive assistant (2015-’16), defensive backs coach (2017) then linebackers coach (2018-’20) before he spent a year as the Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator. Since his return to Baltimore as the defensive play-caller in 2022, this unit has been outstanding.

  • Baltimore Ravens defense 2023: 90.74 EXP (1st in NFL), 4.2 yards per play allowed (1st), 28.5 percent opponents’ scoring rate (3rd), 72.5 average QB rating allowed (72.5), 37.5 percent opponents’ red-zone touchdown rate (3rd)

Macdonald’s background as a positional coach speaks to his ability to develop players and work with them one-on-one. His experience in college and the NFL highlights his ability to communicate and lead players of different age groups also highlights his ability to lead a locker room with a broad spectrum of ages and personalities. Put his defensive play-calling on top of that and you have a future NFL head coach.

Related: 2024 NFL mock draft

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

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

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has turned down head-coaching interview requests in the last two years and has even been a finalist for a vacancy. However, he chose to stick around in Dallas until the right opportunity became available. After three seasons of completely turning the Cowboys’ defense around, 2024 will likely be the year Quinn bolts.

Dallas Cowboys defensePPG Allowed3rd Down %EXPYards per Play Allowed
202029.6 (28th)46.89% (27th)-141.7 (22nd)5.9 (23rd)
202121.1 (7th)34.75% (2nd)21.8 (3rd)5.5 (21st)
202220.1 (5th)39.54% (18th)31.77 (3rd)5.1 (7th)
202318.3 (4th)36.94% (11th)43.22 (3rd)4.8 (4th)
Statistics via Pro Football Reference entering Week 15

Everyone knows what happened in Atlanta and Quinn would freely admit he made mistakes, including the fact he tried to control too many things at times. He is a player-friendly coach, but he’s also one of the most beloved people in the NFL at every level from player to executive. Quinn would need a quality offensive coordinator paired with him, but he’s earned his second chance at being a head coach.

Related: NFL Coach of the Year race

Eric Bieniemy, Washington Commanders offensive coordinator

NFL: Washington Commanders at Seattle Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As we do every year, we’ll start out by addressing some of the reported reasons NFL teams haven’t hired Eric Bieniemy as a head coach. Teams have claimed concerns about Bieniemy’s background, specifically, off-field issues over a decade ago. Transgressions as a young adult didn’t stop Mike Vrabel from being hired and allowing wild behavior by student-athletes as a college coach wasn’t an issue for the Jacksonville Jaguars when they hired Urban Meyer.

Bieniemy reportedly doesn’t interview well. However, look at the awkward and uncomfortable press conferences Dan Campbell and Nick Sirianni had when they started. Finally, there was the knock that Bieniemy was a byproduct of being on a team with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Asked and answered.

YearPPGYards per Play3rd Down RateRed Zone TD Rate
202218.94.935,22%51.06%
202320.15.138.6%60.53%
Washington Commanders offensive comparison before and after hiring of Eric Bieniemy

While Bieniemy might not be one of our personal favorite NFL coaching candidates, he’s made fifth-round pick Sam Howell look like a potential multi-year starter. Perhaps just as important, the Chiefs’ offense has taken a massive step back since his departure. Bieniemy has earned the right to be a head coach for the first time in his impressive coaching career.

Ejiro Evero, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator

Ejiro Everon made our list last season and he’s back on it again this year. Typically, we point to a range of statistics to highlight why a specific coordinator should be targeted. In 2022 with the Denver Broncos, Evero oversaw a top-10 defense, turning it around from a unit that finished 20th in DVOA to 10th (3% to -5.2%). Unfortunately, Evero hasn’t been able to deliver that kind of turnaround because of injuries to the Carolina Panthers defense.

Related: Best tight ends of all time

For more than a quarter of the season, the Panthers have been without starters Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn, Jeremy Chinn, Xavier Woods and Yetur Gross-Matos. When you’re missing five starters and others (Frankie Luvu, Brian Burns) are playing through injury, achieving defensive success becomes challenging. It’s nearly impossible when your offense is among the league leaders in 3-and-outs.

Yet Evero, who was a phenomenal defensive. backs coach with the Los Angeles Rams, has made things work in Carolina. Now that the Panthers’ defense is healthy, we suspect the numbers in December will reflect Evero’s defensive coaching prowess.

Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator

Just seeing Frank Smith react to being asked about his status as one of the top NFL head coaching candidates in 2024 should tell you a lot about his personality. There’s a reason players like Tua Tagovailoa love him. Smith’s track record includes multiple stints as an offensive line coach and that’s becoming an increasingly popular path.

“He has a thorough understanding of the game and is a great teacher, which is really what coaching is all about. He also has a unique ability to anticipate problems before they arise, be that on the field or in administrative-type things related to schedules, questions that will come up with players or coaches, etc. He operates on a daily basis with a passion, positivity and humility that is rare and sets him apart.”

Mike McDaniel on Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith

Profiled in-depth before the season by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Smith played a role in Austin Ekeler’s success when he was the Los Angeles Chargers run-game coordinator in 2021 and Ekeler endorsed him strongly. Now in Miami, Sith is McDaniel’s right-hand man and it won’t be long before he’s a head coach.

Related: NFL offense rankings

Steve Wilks, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers could’ve maintained continuity after DeMeco Ryans left, promoting someone to defensive coordinator. Instead, Kyle Shanahan made sure Steve Wilks chose the 49ers over multiple suitors. Since the acquisition of Chase Young, adding a much-needed piece to this pass rush, we’ve seen the best versions of Wilks’ defense.

  • San Francisco 49ers defense (Weeks 10-13): 72.0 QB rating allowed, 4.7 net yards per attempt allowed, 18 sacks, 2-4 TD-INT surrendered, 200.5 passing yards per game in four games

We also have to highlight what Wilks did as the Panthers’ interim coach, especially in comparison to his predecessor and successor. Of the last three Carolina Panthers head coaches, Wilks was easily the best. The only reason he didn’t have the interim tag removed, despite overwhelming support from the locker room, was because David Tepper wanted an offensive coach (Frank Reich). The results speak volumes.

WinsLossesWinning PercentageSimple Rating System
Matt Rhule11 – 27.289-7.4
Steve Wilks6-6.500-2.2
Frank Reich1-10.091-9.0
Simple rating System via Pro Football Reference

We’ll also briefly touch on the 2018 season when he was the Arizona Cardinals coach. Wilks simply couldn’t win games with Josh Rosen and 31-year-old Sam Bradford, no one could. Wilks deserved another chance, but it didn’t come. After his stints as the Panthers’ interim coach and now San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, that second chance has been earned.

Below, we’ll take a quick look at some NFL defensive and offensive coordinator candidates for the 2024 offseason.

NFL Coordinator Candidates 2024: Offensive, defensive coordinator candidates

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle
Jamie Germano/Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Our breakdown of the top offensive and defensive coordinator candidates in 2024 will come out on December 11. For now, here are a few of the names we’re very high on.

Ken Dorsey, former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator

Brian Griese, San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach

Jerrod Johnson, Houston Texans quarterbacks coach

Klint Kubiak, San Francisco 49ers passing game specialist

Zac Robinson, Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach

Marquand Manuel, New York Jets safeties coach

Joe Whitt Jr, Dallas Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator

Aden Durde, Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach

Anthony Weaver, Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach

Kris Kocurek, San Francisco 49ers defensive line coach

DeMarcus Covington, New England Patriots defensive line coach

Jesse Minter, Michigan Wolverines defensive coordinator

Leslie Frazier, former Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator

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