With the regular season now over and head coaching vacancies opening, there has been loads of discussion around a handful of coordinators who may be in line for head coaching interviews and positions. Lost in that conversation are some underrated names, who may not be in that situation just yet, but have done well this season and could find themselves in line for promotions in the future. These four names aren’t household names just yet, but we think they may be very soon.
Todd Downing: Offensive Coordinator, Tennessee Titans
Downing’s Titans haven’t been an elite offense, but their ability to remain solid enough to end up as the top seed in the AFC despite the injury problems they’ve faced throughout the unit has been remarkable. Derrick Henry missed nine games, AJ Brown missed five, Julio Jones missed eight, and their OL had injury issues as well.
Downing has gotten great contributions out of D’Onta Foreman, Dontrell Hilliard, and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine among others, and has gone 6-3 since losing Henry to injury — something very few thought possible. Downing is a first year OC, taking over after Arthur Smith left to become the HC for the Atlanta Falcons. He was previously Tennessee’s TEs Coach for two years, another job he took over from Arthur Smith when Smith was promoted to OC after Matt LaFleur left to become the HC in Green Bay.
Downing has had other stops in Minnesota, Buffalo, Detroit, and St. Louis thus far in his young career (he’s just 41), but his most notable was as QBs coach and OC in Oakland during Derek Carr’s second, third, and fourth seasons in the league. The 2015 season was the highlight, when Carr was superb until his unfortunate injury that derailed a 12-win Raiders season. Downing will likely have to wait at least one more year to make the jump, but we feel confident he will follow in both Smith and LaFleur’s footsteps and soon be leading a franchise of his own.
Phil Snow: Defensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers had an unusual defense this season, giving up the second fewest yards allowed while ranking just 21st in points allowed. It was Snow’s second as DC for Carolina since coming from Baylor with Matt Rhule. Carolina 18th in both categories last season, so it was a slight drop in scoring defense with a huge rise in yardage.
In his last season at Baylor, Snow led the 20th ranked scoring defense in the nation and 39th in yardage in an offensive-heavy Big 12 conference. Snow’s defense flashed their potential early in the season, dominating on their way to a 3-0 start, but struggled a bit more as the season went on, though their anemic offense did them no favors. Snow will likely return to Carolina next year and will need to improve the scoring defense, but his stock will likely rise if he can fix the red zone woes that really plagued Carolina (25th in preventing TDs in the red zone).
Shane Bowen: Defensive Coordinator, Tennessee Titans
Bowen is another young, first-year coordinator for the Titans who has done an excellent job and been vital to their great season. Despite not having the coordinator title last season, Bowen was calling defensive plays as the outside linebackers coach, a role he held for the last three seasons before this one.
This season, he has led Tennessee to the 6th-best scoring output on defense and the 13th-best yards allowed mark, while being especially excellent against the run. The defense was just 24th and 28th, respectively, in those areas last season.
All the more impressive is their improvement from 30th in average drive time allowed and most plays per drive allowed to 2nd and 8th, respectively. Having recently turned just 35 years old, Bowen is an up-and-coming young defensive mind who is poised for head coaching interviews in the near future. Remember this name because Bowen has a long coaching career ahead of him.
Joe Cullen: Defensive Coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars
Cullen, is in his first year with Jacksonville after spending 15 years as a defensive line coach, including the last 5 with the Baltimore Ravens. During his time with the Ravens, they allowed the 2nd-least rushing yards per game and second lowest 3rd down percentage allowed, all while tallying the 3rd most turnovers (126).
Since moving to Jacksonville, he has been an underrated commodity to the improvement of a defense that is starved for talent. It was tough sledding to start the season, but since the bye week this defense has made major improvements. From Week 8 on, the Jaguars have had the 12th highest pass rush win rate in the NFL (51.3%), right above the Chiefs and behind the Patriots. They also rank 14th in total pressures (183), right in front of the Eagles, Bengals and Titans (all playoff teams). Cullen’s defensive line has accrued the 8th most TFL + no gain plays since Week 8 (51). They rank 15th in EPA/Play differential from 2020 to 2021.
On the back end, they have allowed the 5th-least yards per reception (9.9), and 10th-least amount of yards allowed per coverage snaps. All this while being the 5th most disciplined team in coverage being called for only 8 penalties. While it has not all been positive since the bye, they have held two playoff teams to 6 points (Buffalo), and 11 points (Colts) – both in wins.