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7 Coordinators Who Will Be 2024 NFL Head Coach Candidates

To paraphrase the late, great Bum Phillips, there are two kinds of coaches in the world: coaches that have been fired and coaches that are going to be fired. 

If job security is high on your list of priorities, boys and girls, aspire to be an orthodontist or landscaper, not an NFL coach.

Over the past six years, 42 head coaches have been shown the door, including 22 since the end of the 2020 season. Twenty-seven of the league’s 32 teams have replaced their head coach at least once since 2017.

That said, every assistant coach in the league, from the most obscure quality control guy to the most experienced coordinator, would give their left, uh, arm for a crack at one of those 32 head-coaching jobs.

Five teams hired new head coaches this offseason. Last year, it was 10. There haven’t been fewer than five head-coaching changes since 2010 when there were just three.

Even now, when everyone is undefeated, and Super Bowl hope springs eternal, NFL owners keep a short list of the current top head-coaching candidates in their desk drawer, just in case the 2023 season turns into a dumpster fire.

As a public service, The 33rd Team has compiled its own short list of coordinators who figure to be frontrunners for head-coaching jobs in 2024:

Dan Quinn, Cowboys DC

The 52-year-old Quinn interviewed for three of the five head-coaching jobs this offseason, talking to the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals. According to league sources, at least two, and possibly all three of those jobs, were his for the taking. But he decided to stay with the Dallas Cowboys, where head coach Mike McCarthy finds himself on the hot seat after two straight playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers. 

Quinn is one of the most respected defensive coaches in the NFL. He has turned the Cowboys’ defense into one of the best units in the league. In 2020, the year before Quinn arrived in Dallas, the Cowboys finished 28th in points allowed, 23rd in total defense, 20th in sacks and seventh in takeaways. Last season, they finished fifth in points allowed, 12th in total defense, third in sacks and second in takeaways.

Right now, the head-coaching trend in the NFL leans toward the offensive side of the ball. Nineteen of the league’s 32 head coaches have offensive backgrounds. In the past five years, 24 of the 35 head coaches that have been hired have offensive backgrounds.

That said, Quinn, who was the Atlanta Falcons’ coach for six seasons (2015-2020), will be in high demand again next January. 

“He’s definitely one of those guys that deserves a second [head-coaching] chance,’’ NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “They’re going to play Micah Parsons more this season as just an edge-rusher, which is going to make their pass rush even more potent. They’ve been first or second in takeaways two years in a row. That statistic alone sells a lot of people. When you can take the ball away and give extra at-bats for your offense, that’s big.’’

Quinn was the maestro of the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" for Pete Carroll before getting hired by Atlanta. The Seahawks led the NFL in defense in Quinn’s two years as defensive coordinator.

He led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in his second season in Atlanta. But that team is remembered more for the historic 25-point lead they blew in the second half to Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots rather than making it to the big game.

“Dan is the epitome of a growth mindset,’’ former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum said. “He’s done a great job with that defense in Dallas. When you look at their scheme, it’s really different from the one he ran in Seattle and took to Atlanta. To me, that speaks to somebody who’s really smart and driven and open-minded. Somebody who’s able to evolve in his thinking and change. Which are great attributes for a leader.’’

About Dan Quinn

  • Years as DC: 4
  • Record as DC: 49-17
  • Cowboys' average defensive ranking (yards) under Quinn: 15th
  • Cowboys’ 2022 defensive ranking: 12th

Ben Johnson, Lions OC

The Detroit Lions’ offensive success last season has put the 36-year-old Johnson on everybody’s head-coaching radar. In Johnson’s first year as an NFL offensive coordinator, the Lions finished fourth in total offense and fifth in scoring. Oft-maligned quarterback Jared Goff threw the second-most touchdown passes and had the lowest interception percentage of his career.

Tannenbaum worked with Johnson in Miami and believes it’s only a matter of time before he gets a head-coaching opportunity.

“He’s a very smart guy,’’ said Tannenbaum, an analyst for The 33rd Team. “He holds players accountable in a way that’s very effective. I think the world of him. He’s ready right now [to be a head coach] and is going to be one sooner rather than later." 

Lions head coach Dan Campbell certainly knows how good Johnson is. That’s why you saw very little of him last summer when Detroit was on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

“It’s almost like Dan kept Ben out of the limelight,’’ Baldinger said. “They put some of their other coaches out there, but not Ben. Dan didn’t want anybody really getting a good look at him.’’

The secret is out now. Johnson interviewed for the vacant head-coaching jobs in Houston and Indianapolis earlier this year, and also was scheduled to interview for the opening in Carolina that went to Frank Reich before deciding to stay in Detroit for another year.

The Lions’ 453 points last season were the second most in franchise history. They scored 30-plus points in eight games, a franchise record.

“They had a very good offense,’’ Baldinger said. “Very balanced. Very good use of motion and formations. The stuff you have to be able to do to keep ahead of the better defenses in the league.

“Goff had one of the best seasons of his career under Ben. Amon-Ra St. Brown had 100-plus catches and more than 1,100 receiving yards. They traded [tight end] T.J. Hockenson and didn’t miss a beat. Won eight of their last 10 games.

“Frankly, I thought Ben would get a lot of attention after the season. He got some. But if the Lions are anywhere as good as everybody thinks they’re going to be this year, teams are going to be lining up to pair him with one of the young quarterbacks in the league and let him do his magic.’’

Johnson joined the Lions in 2019 as an offensive quality control coach, and spent 2020 and 2021 coaching the team’s tight ends. A former walk-on quarterback at North Carolina, Johnson was bumped up to offensive coordinator last season by Campbell after Anthony Lynn was fired.

“I think a ton of Ben,’’ Campbell said. “I just think he’s extremely bright. He’s creative, he’s organized. He’s a great communicator.’’

About Ben Johnson

  • Years as OC: 1
  • Record as OC: 9-8
  • Lions’ 2022 offensive ranking (yards): 4th

Brian Johnson, Eagles OC

Johnson, 36, has shot up the charts as quickly as the quarterback he helped develop the last two years, Jalen Hurts. After two years as the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach, Johnson was promoted to offensive coordinator in February after Shane Steichen left to take the Colts’ head-coaching job. 

Under Johnson’s tutelage, Hurts’ passer rating jumped from 22nd in 2021 to fourth last season. His yards-per-attempt average jumped from 15th to third, his interception percentage from 12th to fifth and his touchdowns-to-interceptions differential from plus-seven to plus-16. He finished third in rushing first downs. He had 10 in the Eagles’ three-point Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. His 23 rushing touchdowns in 2021-22 are the most in a two-year span by an NFL quarterback.

Johnson was an All-Mountain West Conference quarterback at Utah. He spent a decade as a college assistant at Utah, Mississippi State, Houston and Florida. He was the offensive coordinator at Utah, Houston and Florida and was Dak Prescott’s quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. After two years running the quarterback room at Florida, he was named the Gators’ offensive coordinator in 2020.

He had two college head-coaching interviews after the 2020 season — South Carolina and Boise State — before accepting Nick Sirianni’s offer to be his quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia.

Johnson is taking over one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Eagles finished third in scoring, fifth in rushing and second in pass plays of 25 yards or more last season. They have what is regarded as the best offensive line in the league.

“The quarterback really trusts and likes him,’’ Baldinger said. “Barring injuries, they should be a top-5 offense again this year.

“It’s a quarterback-driven league, and everybody is trying to get their quarterback developed. Brian helped develop Jalen like nobody’s business. In two years, he went from a second-round pick that everybody was questioning to the MVP runner-up.

“Brian’s a smart, young guy who’s been around some really good programs, both college and pro. He’s ready to be a head coach.’’

About Brian Johnson

  • Years as OC: N/A*
  • Record as OC: N/A*
  • Eagles’ 2022 offensive ranking (yards): 3rd

*Johnson is entering his first season as an NFL offensive coordinator.

Eric Bieniemy, Commanders OC

Everyone knows the Bieniemy story. Ten years as an assistant with the Chiefs and Andy Reid. The last five as Reid’s offensive lieutenant. Three Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles in those five years.

Since Bieniemy was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2018, the Chiefs haven't finished lower than sixth in the league in scoring. Yet, a head-coaching opportunity has eluded him.

Bieniemy, 53, is the most interviewed coach in NFL history. He’s been interviewed 16 times by 15 teams for head-coaching jobs. And been hired for none of them. A lot of closes. Zero cigars. 

Has it been because he is overshadowed by Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes and doesn’t get enough credit for the Chiefs’ offensive success? Has it been because of some off-the-field incidents he had years ago as a college player in the ‘90s and a college assistant in the early 2000s? Or has it been because of the color of his skin? There currently are only three Black head coaches in the entire NFL. Bieniemy and Brian Johnson are just two of three Black offensive coordinators.

If it’s working for Reid that has been hurting his head-coaching chances, Bieniemy took a bold step in February, leaving the Super Bowl success of Kansas City to become the offensive coordinator of the Washington Commanders, a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2016 and has been to the playoffs just six times in the past 32 years.

The Commanders finished 24th in scoring last season. The top two quarterbacks on their depth chart are 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, who has one career start, and Jacoby Brissett. If Bieniemy can somehow manage to make Washington’s offense respectable, his head-coaching stock should rise significantly. He’ll get the credit. 

“He’s going to have a chance to put his own stamp on that offense,’’ Baldinger said. “If he can turn them into a top-10 offense with Sam Howell or Jacoby Brissett or somebody else, it’s going to be hard to ignore him.’’

“I love people that bet on themselves and take the more challenging path,’’ Tannenbaum said. “In Kansas City, he had to fight the stigma of how much of it was coach Reid and how much of it was him. I can’t say enough about how much his decision to leave Kansas City speaks to his confidence and belief in himself. If Washington makes any kind of improvement, I think he’ll be in demand.’’  

About Eric Bieniemy

  • Years as OC: 5
  • Record as OC: 64-18
  • Chiefs’ average offensive ranking under Bieniemy: 2nd
  • Chiefs’ 2022 offensive ranking: 1st

Brian Callahan, Bengals OC

This will be Callahan’s fifth year as the Cincinnati Bengals' offensive lieutenant. He interviewed for the Colts and Cardinals head-coaching jobs earlier this year.

Just as Johnson has benefitted from Hurts, Callahan, 38, has benefitted from his quarterback, Joe Burrow. The Bengals finished 30th and 29th in scoring in Callahan’s first two years as offensive coordinator. In the past two years, they’ve finished seventh. 

Burrow has thrown 69 touchdown passes in the past two seasons. In 2021, he finished first in completion percentage and yards per attempt.

About Brian Callahan

  • Years as OC: 4
  • Record as OC: 28-36-1
  • Bengals’ average offensive ranking under Callahan: 19th
  • Chiefs’ 2022 offensive ranking: 8th

Lou Anarumo, Bengals DC

Anarumo, 56, has done an impressive job of turning around the Bengals’ defense in the four years he’s been coach Zac Taylor’s defensive chief. It has improved from 25th to 22nd to 17th to fifth in points allowed and from 28th to 25th to 17th to 11th in takeaways. 

Anarumo’s defense has done as well as anybody against Mahomes and the Chiefs’ powerful offense. It held the Chiefs to 24 points or less in their past three meetings, including a 23-20 loss in the AFC Championship Game in January. 

“You talk about the Bengals’ offense and Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, and that’s fine,’’ Baldinger said. “But that defense is legitimate. They’re very creative defensively. They’ve given the Chiefs a lot of trouble.’’

Tannenbaum, who worked with Anarumo in Miami, said, “Lou has great football acumen. What we’ve seen from their success against Kansas City (the Bengals have won three of the past four meetings) is that Lou is a game-specific coach, which I like. He has a deep understanding of players’ strengths and how to play to those strengths.’’

Anarumo had just one head-coaching interview this offseason (Arizona) and one last year (New York Giants).

“Lou is constantly evolving [the scheme] to make sure we put our guys in position to do things that hit their strengths,’’ Taylor said. “He does a great job of adjusting over the course of the week, over the course of a game. It’s not fun being a defensive coordinator in the AFC. Every week is a challenge. But he never blinks. And I think the players feel that from him. I feel that from him. He’s always going to give our guys a chance to go play well.’’

About Lou Anarumo

  • Years as DC: 5
  • Record as DC: 34-46-1
  • Bengals' average defensive ranking (yards) under Anarumo: 22nd
  • Bengals’ 2022 defensive ranking: 16th

Ejiro Evero, Panthers DC

The 42-year-old Evero is in a good spot. With the Carolina Panthers, he’s working for a coach (Frank Reich) with an offensive background. So, any success the team has defensively will go to Evero.

He had interviews with all five of the teams that looked for a head coach this offseason. Part of that could've had to do with the Rooney Rule. But a bigger part is Evero is regarded highly around the league.

Last year as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, his unit held eight of the first nine opponents to 19 points or less. He was offered the interim head-coaching job when the Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett in late December but turned it down.

“He’s going to get a great chance with the defensive personnel in Carolina,’’ Baldinger said. “Everybody that knows him talks highly about him. He has great leadership qualities.’’

About Ejiro Evero

  • Years as DC: 1
  • Record as DC: 5-12
  • Broncos' 2022 defensive ranking (yards): 7th

Other Coaches on Radar

>> Thomas Brown, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator

>> Mike Kafka, New York Giants offensive coordinator

>> Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots ILB coach

>> Ken Dorsey, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator

Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.