What NFL teams have hired new head coaches? The Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers became the first NFL teams to make NFL coaching hires in 2023. Now, we’re evaluating every head-coaching addition made this offseason after the Arizona Cardinals brought in Jonathan Gannon.
There were only five coaching vacancies in the NFL this year, a slight drip from a year ago. While the list of NFL coaching candidates boasted some outstanding options, the available jobs in 2023 each had some warts. However, there are only 32 NFL head coaches and the opportunity to lead a franchise is often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Of course, grading NFL coaching hires involves a lot of guesswork. While a team might hire one of the best coordinators in the NFL, calling plays and running a franchise are very different things. It’s what makes grading NFL coaching hires more difficult, because no one truly knows how someone will perform until the season is underway. With that acknowledgment, analysts make the best of what they can with NFL hiring grades.
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Let’s dive into our grades and evaluations of the 2023 NFL coaching hires.
1. Houston Texans hire DeMeco Ryans
Find someone that loves you and looks past your faults like DeMeco Ryans did for the Houston Texans. This was one of the worst head-coaching vacancies in the NFL, even with the No. 2 and No. 12 overall picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Houston’s biggest problem is ownership. Competence, stability and professionalism are not the words anyone in the NFL would use to describe the Texans’ organization, they might even be closer to antonyms for the best descriptions. This is a franchise that is still in the early stages of a rebuild with a reputation among star players that is less than favorable. Teams in this position rarely land one of the top NFL coaching candidates.
The fact that Ryans chose this job when at least three other NFL teams wanted him as their head coach speaks volumes about the city of Houston. He accepted a position with a franchise that fired Black head coaches after one-and-done seasons in consecutive years. Ryans did all of this because he saw during his playing career how things can be and how much fan support there is when the product on the field is even marginally impressive.
Related: NFL stars rave about DeMeco Ryans
If the Texans exercise patience with Ryans, they will be rewarded. He is more than a defensive mastermind, who served as the architect behind one of the best NFL defenses from 2021-’22. Ryans is an outstanding leader who connects with players and demonstrates a level of preparation and dedication that influences those around him. It’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild this franchise, but landing Ryans is one of the best NFL coaching hires in 2023.
- Grade: A
2. Frank Reich gets a second chance with Carolina Panthers
Many in the NFL believed Frank Reich was a scapegoat for the Indianapolis Colts, fired by a franchise that could never figure out its quarterback situation after Andrew Luck retired. Just months after being dismissed, Reich quickly landed on his feet with the Carolina Panthers.
It’s a sensible hire by Carolina. Panthers’ owner David Tepper made it clear after firing Matt Rhule that he wanted to get out of quarterback purgatory in 2023. While this team still doesn’t have a franchise quarterback, Reich is exactly the caliber of coach you want to partner with a passer.
As the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator, Reich oversaw a unit that ranked fourth in Football Outsiders’ Pass DVOA in 2017. With Luck leading the Colts’ offense in 2018, Reich’s offense ranked 11th in DVOA and ninth in scoring. Even in 2020 when Philip Rivers became the starter, Indianapolis finished 10th in Weighted DVOA. The following year, Reich rode Jonathan Taylor to the finish No. 9 in scoring (26.5).
The Panthers finally have a good offensive line and there are enough offensive weapons to create an above-average offense with the help of Reich’s scheme. If they can land a potential top-15 quarterback, Carolina can win the NFC South. While Steve Wilks keeping the gig would’ve been one of our favorite NFL coaching hires, this is still a smart move by Carolina.
- Grade: B+
3. Denver Broncos hire Sean Payton after blockbuster trade
After seemingly striking out On Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh, causing fans to panic, the Denver Broncos come out of the NFL coaching carousel with their target after all. Following one season with FOX Sports, Sean Payton is returning from his hiatus to coach the Broncos.
Widely recognized as one of the best offensive minds of his era, Payton will be tasked with trying to fix Russell Wilson. It will be a tall order, given the regression shown by the 34-year-old quarterback in the last two seasons. However, the former Saints’ coach found a way to build an offense that worked for Drew Brees at the end of his career.
There are weapons to work with to make Payton’s offense run smoothly. Standout running back Javonte Williams will return from a torn ACL and should be near 100% for Week 1. The Broncos’ receiving corps boasts a trio of Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. On the other side of the ball, Denver boasts one of the top units in our 2023 NFL defense rankings.
What drops the grade is the price. Payton’s overall resume is similar to Mike McCarthy and it’s not an unfair criticism to say a majority of his success all came with a Hall of Fame quarterback playing in a dome. The Broncos also paid a lot to make this happen, trading the 29th overall pick and a 2024 second-round pick. In addition, Payton is now making at least $20 million per year. The Texans and Panthers gave up nothing to hire their coaches, Denver paid a fortune and that slightly diminishes it in our NFL hiring grades.
- Grade: B
4. Indianapolis Colts hire head coach Shane Steichen
It seemed for months like Jeff Saturday would have the interim tag removed and become the Indianapolis Colts head coach. Instead, one of the longest coaching searches in NFL history draws to a close with Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen headed to Indiana.
The Colts are going back to the Philadelphia coaching well just a few years after hiring Frank Reich from the Eagles’ staff. Once again, Indianapolis went after the offensive coordinator and play-caller for one of the most explosive offenses in football, While Nick Sirianni helped shape the Eagles’ offense, a lot of the credit for the success goes to Steichen as well.
Nick Sirianni described this summer how involved Steichen is with everything Philadelphia does offensively. He started calling plays late in the 2021 season, playing a pivotal role in the Eagles’ offense taking off. It’s a change that carried over into 2022 with Philly boasting one of the top offenses all season.
We’ve now seen two instances of Steichen’s work with quarterbacks yielding massive returns. As the Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator in 2020, he helped rookie Justin Herbert throw for 31 touchdowns with a 98.3 QB rating, the best season ever by a rookie quarterback. In Philadelphia, Steichen helped shape one of the most well-balanced offenses in the NFL and he knew how to get the most out of Hurts.
Needless to say, Indianapolis should be excited about this hire. The Colts are likely going to spend their top pick on a quarterback, either C.J. Stroud or Will Levis. Steichen is exactly the kind of coach you want to partner with a young quarterback and he’ll help shape his scheme around the passer’s strengths.
- Grade: B
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5. Arizona Cardinals seemingly reach for Jonathan Gannon
Gannon’s former Philadelphia Eagles team is coming off a loss to Kansas City in Super Bowl LVII. It’s a game that saw the Chiefs score on all of their second-half possessions en route to overcoming a double-digit deficit. That wasn’t a great final test run for the defensive-minded head coach in the City of Brotherly Love.
The larger question here is Gannon’s resume as he takes over for a Cardinals team that’s coming off an ugly four-win season and has not come out on top in a playoff game since 2015.
Gannon, 39, had not even called plays until he took over as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator back in 2021. Prior to that, he served as the Indianapolis Colts cornerbacks coach (2018-20), Minnesota Vikings assistant defensive backs coach (2014-17) and a defensive quality control coach for the Tennessee Titans (2012-13).
One might think that there were more qualified candidates out there to take over for a Cardinals team that just fired Kliff Kingsbury and has some major internal issues with embattled quarterback Kyler Murray. This could very well be a short-term marriage between the two sides.
- Grade: B-