The college coaching carousel is stopped and that means it’s time to focus on NFL coaching candidates who will be generating plenty of buzz this offseason. With plenty of coaching vacancies expected to open up, there will be no shortage of opportunities in 2022.
Naturally, our list of top coaching candidates includes some familiar names. Josh McDaniels, Eric Bieniemy and Matt Eberflus all generated interest in the last hiring cycle. Following another season being mentored by some of the brightest minds in the NFL today, there should be even more interest in these coordinators. We’ve already seen Eberflus get hired by the Chicago Bears and Josh McDaniels land with the Las Vegas Raiders
Of course, there are surprising NFL coaching candidates every year. So we’ll also take a look at potential names for NFL fans to keep an eye on as it’s a safe bet at least one of them will be named an NFL head coach this spring.
Let’s dive into our 2022 NFL coaching candidates.
NFL coaching candidates: Best head coach targets
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach
It’s possible Jim Harbaugh is using the NFL as leverage in contract talks with Michigan, especially after he took a pay cut then brought this team to the CFP Semifinals. But Harbaugh’s interest in an NFL return feels genuine. The San Francisco 49ers went 44-19-1 with three seasons of 11-plus wins and one Super Bowl appearance. While he clashed with the front office and there were reports he lost the locker room in 2014, he is an excellent coach who excels at building a strong relationship with his quarterback. As of right now, Harbaugh has only interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings opening. He could be headed to the Twin Cities.
Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator
After retiring in 2012, former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich started coaching in 2017 with the Arizona Cardinals. He earned the trust of Bruce Arians, who hired him as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator in 2019 and put him in charge of play-calling. While much of the success for the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl and the elite offense is given to Tom Brady, Leftwich proved in 2019 that he can design a very productive passing attack even when the quarterback, Jameis Winston, turns the ball over at a league-high rate. With strong endorsements from Arians and a Hall of Fame quarterback, Leftwich should be one of the top 2022 NFL coaching candidates.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense stats (2019): 302.8 pass yard/game (1st), 28.6 ppg (4th), 8.1 ypa (5th), 52.9% fourth-down conversion rate (11th), 26.1 Offensive Points per Game (6th), 64.81% red-zone conversion rate (3rd)
Brian Flores, former Miami Dolphins head coach
The Miami Dolphins’ decision to fire Brian Flores drew a lot of criticism and for good reason. He took over a complete rebuild in 2019, coaching a roster that the front office built to lose games. Miami won five games in his first season at the helm, landing Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins won 19 games over the next two seasons, but Tagovailoa didn’t live up to expectations and Flores’ relationship with him deteriorated.
As a result, Miami chose its general manager and quarterback over the head coach. But Flores likely won’t be out of work for very long. He achieved rare success with the Dolphins during the Stephen Ross era, overcoming inconsistent quarterback play.
- Brian Flores interviews: New York Giants, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears
Flores is already interviewing with teams and he’ll get to pick which club he wants to become the next head coach for, whether it’s this offseason or next.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones head coach
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is certainly on the radar for every NFL team contemplating a coaching change. He has turned down jobs in the past, really wanting to build something out of the Cyclones. But the 42-year-old has to realize Iowa State is at its ceiling and the next step for a three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year (2017, ’18, ’20) is the NFL. Generating rave reviews for his leadership and an ability to get players to buy in and play at their best, Campbell has the makings of a future NFL head coach.
Jim Caldwell, former Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions head coach
The Detroit Lions made the playoffs twice from 2012-’21, with both playoff appearances under the leadership of Jim Caldwell. Among Lions’ coaches who served 60-plus games, Caldwell’s .545 winning percentage is the fifth-best in franchise history. One last note on his Lions’ tenure, Detroit won 36 games across four seasons with Caldwell and has achieved 15 total victories in the four years since he was fired.
- Jim Caldwell coaching record: 62-50, 2-4 in playoffs
It’s also important to remember what led to Caldwell being fired in Indianapolis. With a healthy Peyton Manning, Caldwell’s team went 24-8 in the regular season and even reached the Super Bowl in 2009. But that fateful 2011 season, which saw Manning undergo season-ending neck surgery before Week 1, Indianapolis finished 2-14 and landed the No. 1 pick. But instead of getting to coach Andrew Luck, Caldwell was fired.
If a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars wants a respected coach who does great work with quarterbacks, will be appreciated by the locker room and can build a strong culture, Caldwell would be a strong hire.
Related: NFL games today – 2022 NFL schedule
Patrick Graham, New York Giants defensive coordinator/assistant head coach
Patrick Graham turned down an interview with the Jets last offseason, wanting to build on his success with the New York Giants defense. He received an extension and the Giants’ defense has still shown they’re capable of playing at a high level, allowing just 222.7 passing yards per game with a 75.4 passer rating (Week 6-13). He also comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree (2009-’15 w/ Patriots). For a general manager seeking a defensive-minded head coach who can lead a room and instill discipline, Graham can be that guy.
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
Everyone knows about Eric Bieniemy at this point, one of the most popular NFL coaching candidates in the past two years. Many of the suggested reasons he hasn’t been named a head coach have been debunked. As for the 2021 season, the Chiefs’ offense struggling isn’t all about the play-calling. There are plenty of moments when a wide receiver is open over the middle, but Patrick Mahomes is often determined to throw deep. Bieniemy also isn’t responsible for the dropped passes that turned into interceptions. Whatever people thought of Bieniemy before the season shouldn’t change.
Kellen Moore, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator
Any general manager wanting to hire Dallas Cowboys play-caller Kellen Moore might need to find Jerry Jones for him. Jones offered Moore a new contract, good enough to convince him not to become the head coach at his alma mater. THere’s also a belief that Moore is the eventual Mike McCarthy successor.
But McCarthy seems safe in Dallas and if NFL teams want a bright, young mind calling plays on the sideline and developing a great relationship with the franchise quarterback. Moore’s time in Dallas shows he has all the qualities to accomplish that. But the Cowboys’ performance in that Wild Card game loss might have some fans questioning Moore’s qualifications.
Marcus Brady, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator
The Frank Reich coaching tree is the newest pipeline for NFL teams to tap into and that’s great news for Marcus Brady. He joined the franchise in 2018, serving as assistant quarterbacks coach and earned a promotion within a year. Following Nick Sirianni’s departure, Brady took over as the Colts’ offensive coordinator and things are running even more smoothly. A three-time CFL champion, Brady will get interviews in 2022.
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator
Todd Bowles won 24 games in four seasons as the Jets’ head coach, with three losing seasons that ended in his termination. In the next three years, Adam Gase and Robert Saleh have combined for a 12-32 record with Saleh needing a miracle turnaround to have a shot at matching Bowles’ winning percentage (.375) in New York.
No one can win with the Jets’ organization, it’s a dumpster fire that seems to ruin everyone who steps foot inside the team facility. But Bowles is doing phenomenal work with the Buccaneers’ defense. Tampa Bay finished fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA in 2020 and is eighth this season despite missing multiple starters for a majority of the year.
“I can’t say enough about Todd and taking the pieces that he has and putting them all together and having a heck of a game plan to win ballgames. “Tampa Bay Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians in October on DC Todd Bowles
Between his ability to help young players develop to his rare understanding for making specific plans to counteract what each opponent does, Bowles deserves another shot to be an NFL head coach. In a more stable situation with a good offensive coordinator, he can find success.
Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots inside linebackers coach
Jerod Mayo last played in the NFL in 2015, stepping away from the field after years of injuries. By 2019, he was back on the Patriots’ sideline working alongside Belichick as the Patriots’ inside linebackers coach Belichick has offered glowing praise for Mayo’s work ethic and highlighted his abilities as a leader in 2014. It’s all translating to success early in his coaching career.
As NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero notes, the Philadelphia Eagles spoke to Mayo about their head-coaching before the 2021 season and came away extremely impressed by his leadership traits. After three seasons of learning from Belichick, Mayo’s role in helping the Patriots’ defense become one of the best in the NFL may turn interviews into a hire this offseason.
2022 NFL coaching candidates: Potential offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators
Mike Kafka, Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator
One of the rising NFL coaching candidates, Mike Kafka retired from the NFL after the 2015 season and is quickly rising in the coaching ranks. After just one season as a graduate assistant on Pat Fitzgerald’s staff at Northwestern, Kafka was hired by Andy Reid. From quality control coach (2017) to quarterbacks coach (2018-’19) and now passing game coordinator, there is plenty of buzz around the 34-year-old coach. He interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles coaching vacancy last January and at the very least will be hired as an offensive coordinator this offseason.
John DeFilippo, Chicago Bears passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach
It’s been a winding road for John DeFilippo. After serving as the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles (2016-’17), the Super Bowl champion landed with the Minnesota Vikings as offensive coordinator. But he was fired in Week 14 and only spent a year as the Jaguars’ OC before drawing the ax once more. Following two seasons working as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach, DeFilippo might get one final shot to call plays for an NFL team given his connections across the league.
Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers offensive line coach/run game coordinator
If Nathaniel Hackett becomes a head coach in 2022, Adam Stenavich becomes the favorite to take over as the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator. Formerly the San Francisco 49ers’ assistant offensive line coach, LaFleur brought him to Green Bay in 2019. A year later, David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley earned first-team All-Pro honors. With Linsley gone and Bakhtiari on injured reserve, Green Bay’s offensive line remains top-10 in ESPN’ pass block and run block win rate. Stenavich will likely be an NFL head coach candidate in 2023, but he has earned an OC tag next year. He could even follow Nathaniel Hackett to Denver as his offensive coordinator.
Thomas Brown, Los Angeles Rams running backs coach/assistant head coach
While Thomas Brown’s NFL career didn’t last very long (2008-’10), he is going to be on the sidelines for decades. The 35-year-old began his coaching career in 2011, serving as the strength and conditioning coach at his alma mater (Georgia). He focused on running backs after that, working for college powers like Wisconsin (2014), Georgia (2015), Miami (2016-’18) and later South Carolina (2019).
Brown joined Sean McVay’s staff in 2020, working with the running backs in his first year on the NFL sidelines. McVay raves about him and promoted him to assistant head coach in 2021. We’d keep an eye on teams like the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers, teams who might be in the market for an offensive coordinator with decisions being made by thread coaches who want their teams to run the football more.
Larry Foote, Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebackers coach
A theme of potential candidates to become coordinators, there are many former NFL players who retired in the 2010s. Larry Foote last played in 2014, but he is most remembered for winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bruce Arians hired Foote as a positional coach immediately in 2015 then brought him to the Buccaneers in 2019.
Foote has worked with Tampa Bay’s outside linebacker since 2019, helping Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul explode in 2020. If Bowles becomes a head coach next season, Foote could become the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator or find a similar offer elsewhere.
Dan Mullen, former Florida Gators head coach
Once viewed as a future NFL head coach, Dan Mullen might now just be hoping to become a play-caller in the NFL. Things went poorly at Florida, largely because Mullen simply couldn’t recruit. But the Gators’ offense averaged 470.2 total yards and 31.8 ppg this season, even after losing Kyle Pitts and Ka’Darius Toney. Frankly, an NFL offensive coordinator gig might be perfect for Mullen.
Greg Williams, Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks coach
Greg Williams, no relation to the infamous BountyGate coach, is flying under the radar right now. The 45-year-old joined the Arizona Cardinals in 2019m taking over as cornerbacks coach after coaching defensive backs in Indianapolis (2016-’17) and Dener (2018).
Expectations were very low for Arizona’s secondary this season. With Patrick Peterson gone, many viewed this as the Cardinals’ Achilles heel defensively. But Byron Murphy Jr. (62.4 passer rating allowed when targeted) and Robert Alford (PFF’s 18th-graded cornerback) are thriving this season. He’s a name to keep an eye out for when defensive coordinator searches begin.
Jerry Gray, Green Bay Packers defensive backs coach
Jerry Gray joined Green Bay as its defensive backs coach in 2020, immediately going to work with cornerback Jaire Alexander. The 2018 first-round pick made an immediate leap, playing at an All-Pro level. With Alexander on injured reserve this season, Gray has helped Rasul Douglas (claimed off Arizona Cardinals practice squad) and 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes lead a defense allowing just 210.6 passing yards per game from Week 6-17. Gray also served as interim defensive coordinator in the Packers’ 24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Pep Hamilton, Houston Texans quarterbacks coach
For an NFL team looking for a coach who is great with young quarterbacks, Pep Hamilton is the guy. He served as the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach for Justin Herbert‘s record-setting rookie season. He didn’t have that same kind of talent to work with this year, but third-round pick Davis Mills is greatly surpassing expectations with one of the worst NFL rosters around him. Hamilton deserves another shot to call plays and should be interviewed for multiple OC vacancies.
NFL general manager candidates
Omar Khan, Pittsburgh Steelers vice president of football and business administration
When the Houston Texans conducted their search for a general manager in 2021, Omar Khan was the favorite before owner Cal McNair privately made the decision to hire Nick Caserio. A year later, it would be a surprise if Khan doesn’t land a well-deserved promotion. The top assistant to Kevin Colbert, Khan has played an instrumental role in the evaluation and drafting of dozens of Steelers’ Pro Bowl selections since he joined the franchise in 20001. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Khan’s background in scouting and his time with Colbert will make him a top GM candidate. It might be in Pittsburgh with Colbert set to retire.
Jacqueline Davidson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers director of football research
Women are starting to become much more involved in the NFL, earning positions that it took years to reach. Davidson plays a key role in the Buccaneers’ success and her official title came after 11 seasons spent working in the New York Jets’ front office, including the role of lead negotiation. Receiving glowing reviews for her negotiating skills, communication and expertise in analytics, Davidson has everything teams are looking for in a general manager.
Louis Riddick, former NFL executive and current Monday Night Football analyst
After spending a decade playing pro football at various levels, Louis Riddick transitioned into a front-office role during the 2021 season. Beginning as a pro scout (2001-’04), he worked his way up the ladder to become Washington’s director of pro personnel (2005-’07) before joining the Philadelphia Eagles. He was eventually named to the same position in Philadelphia (2010-’13) before joining ESPN. Riddick has interviewed multiple times with NFL teams and will likely generate interest once again in 2022.
Joe Hortiz, Baltimore Ravens director of player personnel
Joe Hortiz has spent more than two decades with the Baltimore Ravens, steadily earning more responsibilities every few years. After scouting the Northeast and Southeast regions for eight years, Hortiz later became a national scout and is responsible for scouting many of the team’s top players in the past decade-plus. Currently, the top assistant to Eric DeCosta, Hortizz’s time as director of scouting and now player personnel make it very likely he becomes a GM this spring.
JoJo Wooden, Los Angeles Chargers director of player personnel
One of the top executives in the NFL, JoJo Wooden joined the Los Angeles Chargers in 2013 and made a strong impression with his scouting. He now oversees the team’s pro and college scouting departments, identifying future NFL talent and potential players for the Chargers to target in free agency or via trade. The Chicago Bears requested an interview with him.
“Really smart, great natural evaluator, great person. He uplifts people around him. He’s just a great guy and deserving of an opportunity.”Former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum on Chargers’ executive JoJo Wooden, via Sportsnaut exclusive interview
Jeff Ireland, New Orleans Saints assistant general manager
For fans, Jeff Ireland is recognized as the former Miami Dolphins general manager. The team struggled under his direction, but there were bigger problems in Miami. Ireland asked Dez Bryant during a pre-draft visit if the receiver’s mother was a prostitute. Ireland also suggested former Dolphins’ offensive lineman Jonathan Martin should punch teammate Richie Incognito after Incognito bullied and harassed Martin relentlessly.
But NFL teams are willing to look past that for an executive who can build a contender. Ireland is also years removed from those comments, having spent the last seven seasons as the Saints’ assistant GM & college scouting director. Widely viewed as one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL, Ireland will be a hot GM candidate in 2022.