Jerry Glanville famously once warned an official that the NFL stood for Not For Long.
It certainly stands for that as far as NFL head coaches are concerned these days. Josh McDaniels was fired by the Las Vegas Raiders in early November, eight games into his second season as the team’s head coach.
Frank Reich only made it through 11 games in his first season with the Carolina Panthers before he was unceremoniously canned by quick-triggered owner David Tepper last week.
And very soon, another four-to-eight head coaches are expected to be joining McDaniels and Reich on the unemployment line, after which the search for replacements will begin.
What should these teams be looking for in their next head coach?
“Just focus on the three or four qualities that you think differentiate the guys that are really successful from the guys that are struggling and try to find a guy that fits that,’’ said Joe Banner, a longtime NFL executive who is an analyst for The 33rd Team.
Banner said some of those qualities are obvious. You want someone who is a strong leader. You want someone who is good at hiring coaches and managing his staff.
“I favor people in any leadership position that are very focused on attention to detail and are very organized,’’ Banner said.
“You need to have a very clear vision, and it doesn’t need to be the same as my vision. But to me, it’s very hard to lead if you can’t articulate where you’re trying to get to and how and why you think you’re going to get there.
“And you want somebody with the strength to stick to what they believe in and not be affected by the ups and downs of the season or media criticism or fear of their own personal longevity. You have to do the right things and trust in the end that it will take care of itself. You want somebody who has that strength of conviction.’’
Given his current circumstances at Michigan, it’s very possible that Jim Harbaugh will be returning to the NFL in 2024. All he has to do is snap his fingers, and someone will hire him. And if Georgia wins a third straight national championship in January, maybe Kirby Smart will also be tempted to jump.
But most of the vacancies will be filled by current NFL coordinators. Some coordinators who were regarded highly before the start of the season, could see their chances of getting a head-coaching job negatively impacted by the performance of their teams this season. Case in point: Cincinnati Bengals offensive and defensive coordinators Brian Callahan and Lou Anarumo.
Both are considered top head-coaching candidates. The Bengals made it to the Super Bowl in 2021 and lost last year to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. But they are 5-6 this year and might not even make the playoffs. That could impact the level of interest in them.
“It shouldn’t matter,’’ Banner said. “But the way things work, and the way people think in this league as far as the traditional approach to hiring, it will (matter).
“It creates a little bit of doubt. It doesn’t drive you and it shouldn’t. But you’d love to have your fans really excited about the move.’’
Two other head-coaching candidates — Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero — also could be hurt by their team’s poor seasons.
Bieniemy was interviewed for head-coaching jobs numerous times during his five years as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City but never was hired by anyone. He thought getting away from Reid might help his situation. But the Commanders are 4-8 and their offense is 20th in the scoring. He might get a little credit for the development of second-year quarterback Sam Howell.
“It’s hard to get honest references in the NFL,’’ Banner said. “That’s why so many new owners struggle for 3-4-5 years until they develop their own set of relationships.
“You can’t just call people up you don’t know very well and expect them to give you their best information. Especially if you’re calling them about somebody on their own team that they prefer to keep. You have to develop those relationships over time and have trust in the information you get from those people.’’
Here are six “hot’’ coordinators to keep an eye on during the head-coaching hiring season:
Coordinators Next Up to be Head Coaches
Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions OC
At 8-3, the Detroit Lions have a three-game lead in the NFC North. Johnson is in his second year as their offensive coordinator. They finished fourth in the league in total offense last season and are second this year. Quarterback Jared Goff has a plus-32 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential in Johnson’s two years as OC.
Johnson isn’t a secret. He interviewed for the head coaching jobs in Houston and Indianapolis in January. He was scheduled to interview for the Carolina job that went to Reich before deciding to stay in Detroit for another year.
“He has really good (offensive) creativity,’’ NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “He knows how to get guys open and also has one of the league’s strongest running attacks in Detroit.
“He’s a terrific offensive coach. But it’s one thing to fix the quarterback or fix the offense. The question you have to find out about him or anybody else you’re considering is can they lead 53 guys. It’s not that I don’t think Ben can. I just don’t know. And if I were a GM or owner, I’d want to make sure I found that out.’’
DAN QUINN, Dallas COWBOYS DC
Quinn interviewed for three of the five vacant head coaching jobs after the 2022 season (Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals). He reportedly could have had any of them but decided to stay with the Dallas Cowboys.
The 53-year-old Quinn is one of the most highly-regarded defensive coaches in the league. The Cowboys' defense is ranked in the top five in just about every significant category, including points allowed (fourth), yards allowed (third), sacks (third) and interceptions (third).
Quinn was the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach for six years (2015-2020) and took them to the Super Bowl in his second year in Atlanta. But the Falcons missed the playoffs his last three years there, and he was fired.
“Dan could have had a head-coaching job last year. But it’s got to be the right place,’’ Baldinger said. “In Atlanta, I don’t think he had the greatest GM/personnel support staff getting him players. He had an aging quarterback (Matt Ryan).
“He knows if he goes somewhere, he has to have a good, young quarterback like the Eagles have, like the 49ers have, like several other teams have. He’s going to be looking for a team with a personnel department that can fix the roster when it’s not right the way good teams do.
“He’s been around long enough to know it’s not just about how good a coach you are. You need help to be competitive. If you don’t get that help, you’re just basically setting yourself up to fail against the teams that do all the right things.’’
TODD MONKEN, Baltimore Ravens OC
The 57-year-old Monken has spent the majority of his coaching career at the college level, including three years as the offensive coordinator at Georgia (2020-22) where he won two national titles before taking the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator job.
He was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive coordinator from 2016-18. The offense improved every year he was there, finishing third in total offense in 2018. He was hired by Freddie Kitchens in 2019 to be his offensive coordinator in Cleveland. But Kitchens and his staff were fired after just one year, which is when he went to Georgia.
John Harbaugh hired him in January to replace Greg Roman as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. Baltimore is sixth in scoring and first in rushing this season. Through 12 games, quarterback Lamar Jackson has career bests in completion percentage, interception percentage and yards per attempt.
“Todd’s doing a great job in Baltimore,’’ Baldinger said. “He’s done a terrific job with Lamar. He’s a real assertive guy. He obviously knows the college game. The innovation and creativity of the college game, mixed with sound NFL fundamentals and beliefs, I think that can only be a positive for him. He’s very qualified to be a head coach.’’
BRIAN JOHNSON, Philadelphia EAGLES OC
Johnson, 36, is in his first year as the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator after spending the past two years as the team’s quarterbacks coach. He has played a significant role in Jalen Hurts’ development as one of the league’s top quarterbacks.
A former All-Mountain West Conference quarterback at Utah, Johnson spent 10 years as a college assistant at Utah, Mississippi State, Houston and Florida. He was the offensive coordinator at three of those four schools and was Dak Prescott’s quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. He made the jump to the NFL in 2021 when Nick Sirianni hired him to be his quarterbacks coach.
Under Johnson’s guidance, Hurts has developed into one of the league’s top quarterbacks. He finished second in the league MVP voting last year. In the Eagles’ 10-1 start this season, Hurts has career-highs in completion and touchdown percentages. There isn’t a part of his game that hasn’t improved dramatically in the three years he’s been with Johnson.
The Eagles are third in the league in scoring, averaging 28.2 points per game.
“If you watched their overtime win over Buffalo last week, the two passing touchdowns to DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown were great designs,’’ Baldinger said. “They’re showing good creativity in the red zone. A lot of that’s Brian.
“They still have one of the league’s best deep passing games. And Jalen is on a trajectory where he’s throwing the ball better from the pocket. Brian might be a year away (from getting a head-coaching job). But teams definitely are going to want to talk to him.’’
MIKE MaCDONALD, Baltimore RAVENS DC
The 36-year-old Macdonald, who coached high school football while still an undergrad at Georgia, cut his NFL coaching teeth with John Harbaugh and the Ravens, rising through the ranks from coaching intern (2014) to defensive assistant (2015-16) to defensive backs coach (2017) to linebackers coach (2018-20).
He left in 2021 to work as the defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan under John’s brother Jim, before returning last year to run the Ravens’ defense.
Under Macdonald, the Ravens’ defense is one of the best units in the NFL. It's second in points and yards allowed and first in sacks and touchdown passes allowed. The Ravens also are tied for seventh in takeaways. They’ve given up more than 24 points just once in 12 games.
There clearly is a bias toward offensive coaches when it comes to NFL head coaching opportunities. But Macdonald is expected to get multiple interviews for open jobs.
“The fact that his name wasn’t previously widely recognized (as a top head-coaching candidate) might cause a little hesitation from some teams,’’ an AFC general manager said. “Many owners don’t really trust themselves. When a guy has had shorter term success, they’re worried. But the smart teams will interview (Macdonald).’’
BOBBY SLOWIK, Houston TEXANS OC
Baldinger recalled a conversation that a good friend of his, who is a personnel director in the league, had a while back with respected Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “He told him that if he becomes a GM and has to hire a coach, hire someone from the Shanahan tree,’’ Baldinger said. “Because they’re the most difficult offenses to prepare for.’’
Enter the 36-year-old Slowik, who spent six years on Kyle Shanahan’s staff in San Francisco. Hired as a quality control coach in 2017, he became the 49ers’ offensive pass game specialist in 2021 and passing game coordinator in 2022.
Slowik, whose father Bob was a defensive coordinator with four different NFL teams, has done an impressive job in his first season in Houston. The Texans have improved from 31st to 10th in scoring. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud is having a prolific season. He's second in the league in passing yards, third in yards per attempt and has a plus-14 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential.
“I like what he’s doing,’’ Baldinger said. “They were running the ball really, really well, but lost their left guard (Tytus Howard) this week, which is going to be a big loss.
“He’s been doing a great job with C.J. He’s taken a group of receivers that hadn’t had a lot of previous success, like Nico Collins, and has them playing well. And they’ve been beating good teams (wins over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati). So he’s going to get some interest from teams.’’
Said the AFC GM: “It might be a year or two too soon for him. But I would definitely want to interview him. The market has gotten less afraid of hiring someone really young. If you’re looking for the next (Sean) McVay, this might be the guy.’’