The NFL’s coaching hiring cycle was relatively quiet this year as only five new head coaches took over during the past six weeks. This was far below last year, when 10 new head coaches were hired.
As we look to the 2023 offseason, it appears the number of head coaches on the chopping block during and after the upcoming season will be on the rise, and closer to the 2022 number than 2023’s.
Here’s an early look at nine prime candidates already on the hot seat to varying degrees who need to have their teams show significant improvement or make a long playoff run (listed alphabetically):
Coaches on Hot Seat in 2023
Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints
It’s been tough for Allen, who followed the highly successful Sean Payton in 2022 and proceeded to oversee the New Orleans Saints‘ first losing season since 2016 at 7-10. He was short-handed at quarterback because Jameis Winston had an injury-filled, production-less season, and Andy Dalton did not get the job done in a winnable NFC South.
Allen’s career record as a head coach in Oakland and New Orleans is 15-38, which doesn’t generate enthusiasm from the Saints’ passionate fan base or the team’s ownership. His chances of seeing an influx of free-agent talent are limited due to the Saints needing to trim $55 million by March 15 to comply with the salary cap.
Will quarterback Derek Carr, who the Las Vegas Raiders recently released, come aboard to try and help save Allen’s job along with the coach’s top-five defense (in yards allowed) stepping up to produce more than its 14 takeaways — second-fewest in the league last season? Turning around the league’s second-worst turnover margin (minus-11) will be a key to Allen’s future in the Big Easy (that hasn’t been easy thus far in his head-coaching tenure).
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bowles enters the second year of a five-year deal, so one would think he’s got some leeway in case of a further downfall with a new quarterback to break in post-Tom Brady. The good news for Bowles is he lives in the suspect NFC South the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won last season with a losing record of 8-9. He also has a new offensive coordinator in former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales, who is among six new coaches on the staff.
The Buccaneers have the NFL’s worst salary-cap situation — $56 million over the projected cap — so it will be a huge challenge to sign a quality free-agent QB. Perhaps they will draft Brady’s successor at No. 19 overall and use Blaine Gabbert or Kyle Trask as a bridge starter. Bowles also needs improvement from a shaky offensive line that produced the league’s worst running attack in 2022. He’ll likely need his ninth-ranked defense to carry the team in order to earn a third year in Tampa Bay.
>>READ: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears
There’s nowhere to go but up for Eberflus and the Chicago Bears. They enter 2023 with the most salary cap room in the league ($98 million) and the top pick in the draft after a 3-14 record. This all bodes well for Eberflus to take a solid step forward after ending last season with 10 consecutive losses.
He held the Bears together early on, but his defense was gutted by the trade of their best player in linebacker Roquan Smith after the earlier departures of three other top defensive players: Edge Khalil Mack, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and edge Robert Quinn. Meanwhile, the offense suffered from a weak receiver group to support an improving QB in Justin Fields, whose prolific running ability carried a limited offense until he got banged up late in the season.
I think Eberflus’ seat is warm after such a poor first year, but he should have a chance to show improvement with an influx of talent in Year 2. That had better be the case, or the patience of Bears ownership may quickly wear thin.
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
So McCarthy says Jerry Jones told him he’s going to be the coach of the Dallas Cowboys for as long as Tom Landry. Hmm — I wouldn’t count on that, Mike. Only Jimmy Johnson and Jason Garrett have lasted longer than four seasons during Jones’ ownership reign. McCarthy will enter his fourth season in the fall.
McCarthy has won 12 games each of the past two seasons, but the Cowboys have not reached the conference championship game after being knocked out by the 49ers both postseasons. They own only one playoff win in McCarthy’s three seasons, which has to be a sore point for Jones because the team has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.
McCarthy will be the play-caller this season after offensive coordinator Kellen Moore moved on to the Chargers. McCarthy will need to get his $40 million-per-year QB Dak Prescott back on track after a season with a league-high 15 interceptions in the regular season plus two more in the divisional playoff loss. Prescott played well in the wild-card win over the Buccaneers, however.
McCarthy needs to lead a team that not only challenges the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East crown but also makes a run to the final four, or he could lose his job. There is a strong in-house candidate if that happens — defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 when they went to the Super Bowl, and one of the top candidates this hiring cycle.
Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders
The big question: Is McDaniels a great offensive coordinator from his New England Patriots years who just can’t cut it as a head coach? He has a 17-28 career mark in Denver and Las Vegas. Last year’s 6-11 finish was a big disappointment for the Las Vegas Raiders after a playoff season in 2021 under interim head coach Rich Bisaccia, and major offseason additions via trade (Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams) and free agency (edge Chandler Jones).
McDaniels enters the second year of his four-year deal, and he needs to make a big leap forward. It must start at the quarterback position with a major acquisition — Aaron Rodgers perhaps, or a top QB with the No. 7 overall pick? The No. 28-ranked defense also must show significant improvement.
The Raiders have plenty of cap room ($46 million) to sign a quarterback after Derek Carr’s departure. Carr’s down year was not a good reflection on McDaniels as a supposed offensive guru.
It’s been reported McDaniels may be safe for another couple of years because Raiders’ owner Mark Davis won’t want to pay off the balance of his contract after having to reach a settlement with former coach Jon Gruden. Another bad season may force Davis to make a change, so McDaniels’ seat is definitely hot.
Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders
With Dan Snyder’s ownership perhaps coming to an end, Rivera might ride out another year or two while this transition with the Washington Commanders takes place. Two straight non-playoff seasons in Washington included an 0-3-1 finish dooming last year’s team — with a Week 17 home loss to the Cleveland Browns the tipping point. That means Rivera needs to lead an improved team in the fourth year of his five-year deal to solidify his job status in an unstable organization.
Rivera has a quarterback problem. Neither Carson Wentz nor Taylor Heinicke has helped his cause, so a new QB via the draft (Washington has the No. 16 pick), in free agency, or trade is a priority to aid the league’s No. 21 passing attack. The defense is solid enough but needs to force more turnovers.
Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers
This seat may be the most red-hot of all entering 2023, and for good reason. It starts with Staley and the Los Angeles Chargers blowing a 27-0 lead in the wild-card game at the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s had two consecutive winning seasons, but his decision-making in the 2021 season finale against the Raiders cost the Chargers a playoff berth.
Then there was his awful decision to play his starters in a meaningless Week 18 game the Chargers lost against the Denver Broncos last season. Star receiver Mike Williams injured his back in that game and missed the team’s playoff game. He may have made the difference in a one-point loss in which the Chargers’ offense went three-and-out on a critical series late while holding a two-point lead.
Staley’s questionable fourth-down decision-making has produced mixed results. In the playoff loss to the Jaguars, he opted for a field-goal attempt that failed from 40 yards on fourth-and-3 with a 10-point lead and 8:51 remaining, when a fourth-down conversion followed by another touchdown would have produced a three-score lead.
Staley also should have won more games with a top five-to-10 QB in Justin Herbert. He’s a coach with a defensive background, yet his two Charger teams have ranked No. 20 in 2022 and No. 23 in 2021 in total defense. Injuries to top players have been a problem, such as star pass rusher Joey Bosa missing 12 games last season, but I think Staley needs a big third season with at least one playoff win to keep his job.
Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Smith has not been blessed with great player talent, especially at quarterback, where he had a fading Matt Ryan in 2021 and the unimpressive combo of Marcus Mariota and third-round rookie Desmond Ridder last season. Smith was hired off his success as Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, and the Atlanta Falcons’ No. 31-ranked passing game is a bad look on his resume.
The Falcons have the second-most cap room ($56.5 million), so the opportunity is there to beef up the roster for whoever is the QB in 2023 (perhaps Ridder or a QB they draft with the No. 8 overall pick).
Owner Arthur Blank will expect Smith to lead a much-improved team in the coming season, or it’s unlikely Smith is the head coach in 2024.
Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns
It’s always helpful to a coach’s job security for him to show year-to-year improvement in the team’s record. Stefanski had a terrific first season in 2020 when he was selected Associated Press Coach of the Year after leading the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002 with an 11-5 record.
The Browns then produced an exciting road playoff win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland then played the Kansas City Chiefs tough before losing, 22-17, in the Divisional Round.
Since then, it’s been going in the wrong direction for Stefanski with 8-9 and 7-10 records the past two seasons. He directed the league’s sixth-best rushing attack in 2022 but was put in a difficult spot with Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension. He had to juggle the QB spot between Jacoby Brissett and Watson, while the defense fell off a bit from its past performance.
The Browns are $14 million over the cap and have no first-round pick because of the Watson trade. Much of the team’s improvement will be tied to Watson having a full year of preparation and starting the entire season if healthy. Owner Jimmy Haslam will expect Stefanski to bring out the Pro Bowl-caliber play that Watson displayed in Houston.
Stefanski is entering the fourth year of his five-year contract, and Haslam made lots of coaching changes before Stefanski’s arrival. With sufficient talent on the team, I think a return to the playoffs is a must for Stefanski or a coaching change is likely.
It’s life in the NFL, where “what have you done for me lately?” is the catchphrase for coaches’ job security.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl