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: 25-31-1 with Washington Commanders
However, there’s 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 the Commanders seemingly doubtful to make the postseason in 2023, Rivera’s future seems grim.
Keeping that in mind, we’ll evaluate some of the top Washington Commanders coaching candidates to replace Ron Rivera in 2024.
Lincoln Riley, USC Trojans head coach
Many believe it’s only a matter of time until Lincoln Riley leaves the USC Trojans. He’s already on the NFL’s radar and owners have a habit of pursuing high-profile coaching candidates. While the new Commanders’ brass is far more stable than their predecessor, that doesn’t guarantee they won’t go big-game hunting.
Riley’s track record speaks for itself. From 2017-’21 with the Oklahoma Sooners, he posted a combined 55-10 record. NFL teams like the dominant record, but what stands out even more is Riley’s work with quarterbacks.
Under his tutelage, Baker Mayfield (2017) and Kyler Murray (2018) each won the Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts finished as a Heisman runner-up and Riley is widely credited with helping all three quarterbacks develop into NFL starters.
Even if the Commanders won’t be in a position to pair Riley with Caleb Williams, hiring the Trojans’ head coach would still be very beneficial. He’s better at adapting offenses around his quarterback and skill players than Eric Bieniemy, plus he could mentor whatever quarterback Washington takes with its top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
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.
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
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 not coming 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.
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Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator
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.
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.