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5 Washington Commanders coaching candidates after Ron Rivera fired, including Jim Harbaugh

Washington Commanders coaching candidates

The Washington Commanders hired head coach Ron Rivera in 2020 to bring stability to an organization in disarray. With a new ownership group now at the helm and a coaching change possible, it’s time to start evaluating Commanders coaching candidates.

Rivera initially found success in Washington. The Commanders went 7-9 in 2020, making the playoffs and playing the eventual Super Bowl champions close in a 31-23 loss in the Wild Card round. It seemed like a fantastic sign for the franchise’s future.

  • Ron Rivera coaching record: 26-40-1 with Washington Commanders

However, there has never really been any improvement ever since. Washington went 7-10 in 2021 then 8-8-1 last season, missing the playoffs each time. With Rivera fired on Black Monday 2024, it’s time to start evaluating Commanders coaching candidates.

Washington Commanders coaching candidates 2024

Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Washington wisely targeted Rivera a few years ago because of his leadership qualities and his positive reputation among players, coaches and executives around the league. Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn offers many of the same qualities, except he can also fix the Commanders’ defense.

Before taking over in Dallas, the Cowboys ranked 28th in scoring defense (29.6 PPG allowed), 23rd in yards per play allowed (5.9) and were bottom 10 in Defensive DVOA. Since Quinn took charge of this unit, Dallas has had one of the NFL’s best defenses for three consecutive seasons.

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)
202318.5 (5th)37.4% (14th)32.08 (6th)5.0 (8th)
Statistics via Pro Football Reference

Quinn could work wonders in Washington, effectively using one of the NFL’s best defensive lines to create a lethal pass rush. Furthermore, Quinn’s coverage schemes would help address a lot of the problems Washington’s secondary has experienced in the last two years.

Some second chances are earned by NFL coaches. Quinn learned from his mistakes with the Atlanta Falcons, mainly taking on too many responsibilities. With a new opportunity, he can find a quality offensive coordinator and let Washington’s general manager handle building the roster. Quinn is one of our favorite Commanders coaching candidates in 2024.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines head coach

Syndication: USA TODAY

NFL teams will have no issue with the allegations against Jim Harbaugh’s problem. Sign-stealing in college football happens entirely because coaches aren’t allowed to communicate with their leaders on the field through helmet communication systems. Harbaugh would get that back in the NFL.

It’s not a secret that Harbaugh wants to return to pro football, he’s made it quite clear in each of the past two seasons. However, a combination of the right opportunity becoming available and some alternatives passing Harbaugh in coaching searches makes him an option in 2024.

Harbaugh is certainly a safer bet than Riley. Before Kyle Shanahan turned the San Francisco 49ers into one of the NFL’s best teams, Harbaugh led them to five playoff wins in four years with three seasons of 11-plus wins. The track record of winning erases potential concerns that Harbaugh’s coaching style and system might not translate to the next level.

Furthermore, Harbaugh’s background in quarterback development and his ability to connect with his top passer would prove beneficial. The Commanders could even be in a position to draft J.J. McCarthy, partnering Harbaugh with the very same quarterback he’s helped develop. While a Harbaugh-McCarthy pairing might not be the dream scenario, it’s more realistic than Riley-Williams and the Commanders could still be a contender if it works out.

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Houston Texans
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is the coaching candidate just about every team will want in 2024. There will likely be better opportunities available to him than a potential Commanders’ vacancy, so we turn our focus to who could be the next Johnson.

Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik is inexperienced. This is his first season as a play-caller, having previously worked as an offensive assistant and then passing game coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. Not only did he learn from Shanahan in San Francisco (2017-’22), but he was also on Washington’s staff with Shanahan from 2011-’13.

Slowik’s work with Texans’ rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud is phenomenal. He’s designed an extremely quarterback-friendly offense, helping Stroud outperform his peers by a wide margin. Not only that, Houston’s offense is thriving despite having an offensive line that has been ravaged by injuries.

Related: Washington Commanders draft picks 2024

Slowik is showing some of the same qualities that have helped Shanahan and Mike McDaniel be so successful. He is a risky hire due to the unknowns with an inexperienced coach, but the upside he offers is why Shanahan, McDaniel and Sean McVay were hired.

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. Josh McDaniels will likely be Belichick’s offensive coordinator with Steve Belichick working as defensive coordinator. Give that group some cap space and find a franchise-caliber quarterback, Washington can rebound quickly.

Dave Canalas, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator

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

If the most important thing to Commanders’ ownership is quarterback development, a few names stand out for Washington. Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is a strong option, but we’re highlighting Tampa Bay Buccaneers play-caller Dave Canales as one of the most underrated Commanders coaching candidates to replace Rivera.

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. If he can do that with Smith and Mayfield, imagine his work with someone like Caleb Williams or Drake Maye.

Canales also did some really impressive work with Russell Wilson when he was the Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach (2018-’19) and then passing game coordinator (2020-’21). He’s one of the fastest-rising coaches in the NFL and could be an ideal hire to pair with Williams or Maye.

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