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

NFL coaching candidates 2024
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

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

Mike Vrabel, former Tennessee Titans head coach

Syndication: The Tennessean
Credit: Denny Simmons / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

The moment the Tennessee Titans fired Mike Vrabel is when he instantly became the most sought-after head-coaching candidate in 2024. Tennessee moved on from Vrabel because it wants to reset the roster and rebuild this year, but any team with even a hint of interest in contending will want Vrabel.

  • Mike Vrabel coaching record: 54-45

Some will focus on the 13-21 record in the last two seasons, but almost no coach was winning more than that in Tennessee. The Titans’ roster was in a dire spot, with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry aging while playing behind the worst offensive line in football. Frankly, the fact that Vrabel won 13 combined games in the last two years feels like an accomplishment.

As a leader and culture builder, Vrabel is one of the best NFL head coaches. He’s well-liked by players and has a good eye for coaching talent, with Matt LaFleur as part of his coaching pipeline. It feels like Vrabel is destined to return to the New England Patriots, but plenty of other teams will make a run at him.

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

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
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.

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 RateEPA per Play
202217.04.730.32%47.92%-0.168 (32nd)
202322.25.637.93%54.72%=0.023 (15th)
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.

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It’s inevitable that the New England Patriots fire Bill Belichick. The best head coach in NFL history will meet the same fate as other all-time greats, shown the door before he could end things on his own terms. Whether the Patriots outright fire Belichick or trade his rights – one year left on his contract – he’ll be one of the top 2024 NFL coaching candidates.

As a defensive mind, Belichick is as sharp as ever. Despite losing multiple starters to season-ending injuries early in the 2023 season, the Patriots head coach has still overseen a top-10 defense. Doing that with the constant shuffling in the lineup and an offense that can’t sustain drives is an incredible feat.

It’s also not hard to imagine what Belichick will do at his next stop. Whether it’s a team like the Los Angeles Chargers, Carolina Panthers, or another club, Josh McDaniels will likely be Belichick’s offensive coordinator with Steve Belichick working as defensive coordinator. Give that group some cap space and a top-12 quarterback, whatever team Belichick is coaching in 2024 could be a playoff contender.

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

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers coach

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Recall what happened to Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite phenomenal success in Philadelphia, the Eagles parted ways with Reid on Dec. 31, 2012. Just a few days later, on Jan. 4, Reid was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Steelers fire Mike Tomlin, he’ll likely be unemployed for only a few days.

Tomlin’s coaching record in Pittsburgh says it all. From 2007-’22, the Steelers never had a losing season and they made the playoffs 10 times over that stretch. What’s even more remarkable, besides the top-10 defenses under Tomlin, was how often Pittsburgh posted winning records despite being dragged down by its quarterback situation.

Teams like the Chargers, Panthers, or Las Vegas Raiders would be wise to hire a head coach like Tomlin. He’ll provide stability and accountability and turn around their defense in his first season. Just give him a quality quarterback and the playoff trips will follow.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach

Syndication: Detroit Free Press

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.

Related: Michigan coaching candidates

  • Jim Harbaugh NFL coaching record: 44-19-1 (.695) in the regular season, 5-3 in the playoffs
  • Jim Harbaugh college coaching record: 117-46 overall, 88-25 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.

Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Raheem Morris is waiting for that second chance to become an NFL head coach. The 47-year-old defensive coordinator had a three-year run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009-’11), recording a 10-win season in 2010, sandwiched in between two years with seven combined victories.

One important thing to keep in mind with Morris and his poor results in Tampa Bay is his youth. When the Buccaneers hired him, Morris was just 33 years old with only one year of experience as a defensive coordinator, coming in 2006 at Kansas State. He learned from the mistakes he made in Tampa Bay and more than a decade later, has earned the opportunity for a second chance.

“He’s been the same great coach that I’ve always known. He’s a great leader. He elevates people and situations that he’s a part of and I think that’s the greatest sign of leadership. We always talk about trying to help guys reach and realize their highest potential. I think we’re seeing a lot of growth and development from a lot of people that he has an influence on.”

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay on defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.

As far as his qualifications go, there are plenty of things to highlight. From a leadership and coaching perspective, he was voted by the NFLPA as one of the five defensive coordinators who made the biggest positive impact on the players he coached. He’s also aided in the development of breakout Rams’ rookie Kobie Turner and Byron Young. For teams willing to hire a defensive-minded coach, Morris should be one of the top NFL coaching candidates.

Brian Callahan, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator

Syndication: The Enquirer
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Eric Bieniemy needed to prove to the NFL that he could be a successful offensive coordinator outside of Kansas City. Elsewhere, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has proven that his success isn’t all because of quarterback Joe Burrow.

  • Cincinnati Bengals offense (2022): 25.7 PPG, 353.8 total yards per game, 5.4 yards per play, 46.91 percent third-down conversion rate, 68.15 percent completion rate, 99.2 team QB rating
  • Bengals’ offense (with Jake Browning): 27.7 PPG, 369 total ypg, 6.2 yards per play, 75.97 percent completion rate, 109.3 QB rating

Callahan, an Illinois native, was an assistant coach on the rise in 2016-’17 as the Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach, helping Matthew Stafford take the next step in his career. Now in Cincinnati, Callahan has worked with Burrow since he was drafted and the season-ending injury to the Bengals’ franchise quarterback hasn’t slowed down this offense.

Considering he’s been an offensive coordinator since 2019 and a quarterbacks coach from 2016-’18, Callahan likely won’t face questions over his experience. Given the success he’s had with a backup quarterback, multiple teams should be reaching out to Callahan for interviews this spring.

Dave Canales, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator

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

NFL teams seeking a quarterback whisperer for their next head coach should look no further than Dave Canales. Before he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Canales was the quarterbacks coach for the Seattle Seahawks. While he’s given some credit for Russell Wilson’s success, it’s what he did with Geno Smith in 2022 that enticed Tampa Bay to hire him as offensive coordinator. With the Buccaneers, Canales has produced a career-best season out of Baker Mayfield.

QB RatingCompletion RateYPAPFF gradeTD-INT
Geno Smith (2022)100.969.8%7.579.830-11
Baker Mayfield (2023)95.964.4%7.376.328-10

For context, Mayfield posted an 81.3 QB rating, 6.9 yards per attempt average and completed just 60.3 percent of his passes across 26 games with three teams from 2021-’22. Similarly, Smith was viewed as a career backup before he was revitalized with Canales. We do expect Canales to receive head-coaching interviews in 2024, but teams might want more evidence of his success as an offensive coordinator. If that proves to be the case, Canales will be one of the top NFL coaching candidates in 2025.

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 14

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
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.

Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator

Drew Petzing wasn’t a huge name heading into the 2023 season. He had just spent one year as the Cleveland Browns quarterbacks coach before Jonathan Gannon hired him as the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive coordinator. Despite missing Kyler Murray for a majority of the season and dealing with an alarming lack of talent, Peting has done impressive work in Arizona.

Some of the numbers – 4.8 yards per play, 37.65 percent third-down conversion rate – won’t stand out immediately. However, you must remember the context of what Peting is working with in Arizona. At the very least, the 2023 season will likely land Petzing an interview and that will put him on NFL coaching candidates lists next year.

Lou Anarumo, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator

There’s an argument to be made that Lou Anarumo should’ve taken a head-coaching gig last year. After all, the Cincinnati Bengals now have one of the NFL’s worst defenses in 2023. However, clubs are also aware of the youth in the Bengals’ secondary and the shortcomings on the roster. Just as important, they know what Anarumo has done before.

This is the same defensive coordinator whose scheme held Lamar Jackson (79.5), Dak Prescott (86.0) and Patrick Mahomes (66.9) to sub-90 QB ratings in 2022. Anarumo has consistently dialed up complex schemes that frustrated the NFL’s top quarterbacks. He’s still one of the best defensive coordinators in football and it won’t be long before he becomes a head coach.

NFL general manager candidates by team

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

With Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator, the Buffalo Bills had one of the best offenses in the NFL. While the Bills’ ground game left something to be desired, Dorsey’s offense with Josh Allen was one of the most explosive forces in the NFL and firing Dorsey did little to change the Bills’ offensive efficiency. Dorsey is a future head-coaching candidate, but in 2024 he should be a sought-after offensive coordinator.

Brian Griese, San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach

While Brian Griese doesn’t have any play-calling experience, the former NFL quarterback has been a quick study under Kyle Shanahan. Griese scouted Brock Purdy and played a role in bringing him to San Francisco. Together, Purdy has developed into an MVP-caliber quarterback and Griese could soon be on the fast track to become an offensive coordinator.

Jerrod Johnson, Houston Texans quarterbacks coach

Bobby Slowik is rightfully receiving a ton of credit for C.J. Stroud’s success, but Houston Texans quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson is the one most involved in the rookie’s development. Johnson spent a year with Kyle Shanahan, three seasons with Frank Reich (2019-’21) and has now coached under Kevin O’Connell and Slowik. With endorsements from all of those offensive minds and an excellent track record in quarterback development, it would be a surprise if Johnson isn’t an offensive coordinator in 2024.

Klint Kubiak, San Francisco 49ers passing game specialist

The son of Gary Gubiak, Klint Kubiak began his NFL coaching career as an offensive quality control coach with the Minnesota Vikings (2013-’14). After some time at Kansas and with the Denver Broncos, Kubiak returned to Minnesota as the Vikings’ quarterbacks coach (2019-’20) and then offensive coordinator. Only 37 years old in February, Kubiak now has nearly a decade of working with offenses and the last year with the 49ers’ coaching staff has helped make him even more appealing to teams looking for a new OC.

Zac Robinson, Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach

Zac Robinson didn’t have a long NFL career as a quarterback, but Sean McVay brought him onto the Los Angeles Rams coaching staff in 2019. The former seventh-round pick has essentially become McVay’s understudy, working his way up from assistant quarterbacks coach to pass game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Robinson has a glowing reputation around the NFL, with some belief he’ll one day become a head coach. For now, he’s a high-upside offensive coordinator target.

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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