Let me start by saying that this is the absolute worst assignment of the year, and I take no pleasure in it. Coaching staffs are not just made up of head coaches, the people we wag our fists at and blame for every problem and the people who accept a healthy, seven-figure salary in exchange for taking such criticisms. Coaching staffs are made up of people who work exceptionally, mind-bogglingly long hours. They are people who don’t get to see their families for most of the year. People who put the rest of their lives on hold to try to climb the ladder in what is, undoubtedly, one of the most cutthroat, chaotic and political businesses in our American ecosystem. People who sometimes have to accept the best coaches end up toeing the line of high school fields, and the worst ones end up coordinating professional defenses for 10 times the money, because they are friends with the right person.
And their jobs are not made any easier by reading stuff like this, which can often add paranoia and cynicism to a fold that already includes sleep deprivation and whatever nervous questions they’ll get from family members wondering whether they’ll have to pack up and move again at season’s end.
To those folks, we apologize.
The fact of the matter is that the NFL coaching machine is a big business. As we saw with the Dolphins’ tampering scandal, some owners will do whatever it takes to secure the coach they want, and they care little about the effect it has on their employees. Many of the people whose job it is to help place head coaches into vacancies are already looking at a layout similar to the one we’ll present here.
I’ll be breaking the non-first-year coaches into three categories:
- IN QUESTIONwhich means it’s reasonably fair to wonder if the team will make a change.
- IF THE SEASON GOES HAYWIREwhich means if the team performs in a kind of egregious, out-loud bad kind of way, we’re going to start talking about a coaching change, although it might not happen.
- NOTHING TO SEE HERE, which should be self-explanatory. You’ll see Bill Belichick there.
In each of these categories, there’s going to be some wiggle room as evidenced by the blurbs. There is certainly a fringe tier in each category, the coaches who could quickly find themselves relegated elsewhere.
On the bright side, one conversation I had regarding the carousel in 2023 is that it should be less active. There are 10 “new” head coaches in ’22. There are a handful of coaches from last year who performed well. And teams that know they’re out of the Sean Payton sweepstakes may be sitting on their hands.
All that said, life changes. Who knew in early January (outside of a few folks) this might finally be the year the Payton-to-the-booth rumors were true? Who knew that Raiders owner Mark Davis would have no choice but to cut ties with his beloved Jon Gruden?
Anyway, let’s peer under the hood and see what we’re looking at.
Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys: Let’s be honest: If Jerry Jones has a crack at Payton, he’s taking it. He also has one of the most sought-after young offensive minds in football, Kellen Moore, on staff, and Dan Quinn as his defensive coordinator. If the Cowboys marginally underperform, there’s no way this doesn’t get complicated.
Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers: Rhule returning in 2022 was a bit of a surprise, personally. While the Panthers could easily make a low-seeded playoff run in the NFC, this seems like one of the safer projected openings at this time. While Rhule missed out on a mind-boggling college carousel, his name was certainly bandied about for some of the top openings. He may prefer the NCAA atmosphere.
Arthur Smith, Atlanta Falcons: Smith said it himself: “If you don’t win games, there are going to be consequences.” To his credit, he’s not just a Kyle Shanahan copycat and he may very well have something unique planned for Marcus Mariota. Realistically, though, he’s low on firepower in a tough division.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks: Carroll turns 71 next week. While he is more spry and youthful than many half his age, one has to wonder what kind of appetite exists for a short-term rebuild.
IF THE SEASON GOES HAYWIRE
Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals: As I’ve written before, the Kingsbury extension was a bit of a shocker. Even though he just signed a new deal, another late-season collapse could have the Cardinals wondering whether they’re in the right hands with a quarterback who is difficult to cut until at least 2026.
Robert Saleh, New York Jets: I personally don’t think there’s much smoke here. As I’ve written before, I’m of the belief that the Jets finally understand what a catastrophic mess their personnel department was left in after the Mike Maccagnan era. That means Saleh and GM Joe Douglas need time. All that said, New York is a unique market, and sometimes owners in said market find themselves kowtowing to public pressure.
Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers: This is one of the most desirable jobs in football, and Staley has been refreshingly fearless in his approach. While it’s hard to imagine anything changing, it’s also not hard to imagine some serious campaigning behind the scenes for a gig like this.
Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns: Stefanski was the top choice of Browns strategy director Paul DePodesta, who seems to finally be in a bit of a captain’s chair in Cleveland calling shots. It’s unlikely the Browns would shift gears; however, the signing of Deshaun Watson greatly complicates matters. What if, somewhere along the way, Watson decides he needs a different coach? At the moment, Watson has more power than anyone in the building not named Haslam.
Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions: A job we’d all hope Campbell holds on to, as he plays the part phenomenally well and actually seems to care about his players. However, Detroit went all-in this offseason and faces a logical breaking point for many franchise tentpoles after this season.
NOTHING TO SEE HERE
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots: The greatest coach in modern NFL history gets to keep coaching where he wants and for however long he wants.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs: Despite some odd staff turnover, Reid seems to be plugged in for the golden years of Patrick Mahomes. While retirement is never out of the question for a 64-year-old, Reid doesn’t show signs of slowing down.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens: Assuming the Ravens rebound with a healthy roster, Harbaugh seems positioned to run the show for the foreseeable future. He would also be an ideal head coach to shepherd the Ravens through what is going to undoubtedly be an awkward Lamar Jackson contractual saga.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers: Tomlin will get bored of coaching in Pittsburgh before the Steelers organization gets bored of him. He’ll work some serious magic in 2022 while easing in Kenny Pickett.
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans: Vrabel said as much definitively after the team’s loss to the Bengals in the playoffs: He’s going to be here for a long time.
Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers: With 13 wins in each of his first three seasons, LaFleur is on the doorstep of a career-defining Super Bowl trip. While nothing is ever comfortable in Green Bay, LaFleur has the Packers in a good place.
Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals: Taylor signed a post-Super Bowl extension through 2026. The Bengals weren’t ready to part ways with him after six wins in two seasons. There’s no shot they’ll get rid of him anytime soon.
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers: While the environment in San Francisco can get heated at times, Shanahan is the most copied head coach in football right now. It would seem, even if he did whiff on Trey Lance, that he’s earned some staying power.
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams: The Rams will keep McVay as long as they can, be it until the end of the Matthew Stafford era or some benchmark further down the road.
Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills: McDermott has the Bills in the pole position for a Super Bowl ring. While one could argue that coaches have paid the price for not realizing those expectations, McDermott is an institution in Buffalo right now.
Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders: The franchise is not in a position to change coaches right now, and may have a difficult time seeing who wants to coach there versus who they would like to coach there. Rivera is stable and can handle the heat.
Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts: While I debated bumping Reich up, right now, the Matt Ryan move seems like a multiyear experiment. It would be hard to imagine Ryan signing off on something like this if he thought Reich would be gone after a year. Still, another late-season tumble without Carson Wentz would raise eyebrows.
Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia Eagles: Sirianni turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises in the NFL last year. With a dynamic young staff, the Eagles could potentially upend a milquetoast NFC East.
Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota Vikings: O’Connell will be another solid test of the “Sign Sean McVay’s OC strategy.” While we make fun of it from afar, it has largely worked for the teams that have gone with the most unoriginal game plan in coaching.
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: After being burned in New York, Bowles was always going to think twice about diving into a bad coaching situation for his second shot. While the energy around the team is a bit strange right now, there’s no chance the Buccaneers view Bowles as a potential one-and-done.
Mike McDaniel, Miami Dolphins: Assuming ownership doesn’t stumble into another tampering scandal, McDaniel will get his shot. Here’s hoping his mindful, personable approach catches on around the league.
Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears: The Bears are struggling from a personnel standpoint, but Eberflus has maximized bad units before. He is playing with a bit of house money in 2022.
Lovie Smith, Houston Texans: The Texans cannot fire another coach after one season and maintain their status as a respectable organization in the NFL (if we can call it that now).
Nathaniel Hackett, Denver Broncos: Hackett made a clean sweep of the building in Denver, pouring energy and positivity into some pretty dark places. A Broncos franchise that was used to operating one way for decades just got a face-lift.
Josh McDaniels, Las Vegas Raiders: McDaniels’ staff is loaded, he has a top-10 quarterback and the best receiver in football. The AFC West is brutal, but he should put a strong foot forward in 2022.
Doug Pederson, Jacksonville Jaguars: As we often say on The MMQB Podcast, as long as Pederson doesn’t do anything illegal and runs a nondescript franchise, he’ll be fine. And he’ll probably fare much better, with some early optimism out of Jacksonville surrounding a more familiar offense tailored to Trevor Lawrence.
Brian Daboll, New York Giants: Daboll has a pair of potential future head coaches as coordinators and a franchise ready to finally press the pause button and breathe after the Eli Manning era. It’s going to take some time, but could melding the best of the Ravens, Chiefs and Bills philosophies together pay dividends?
Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints: Allen gets his second chance after the surprise retirement of Payton. While his first head-coaching job in Oakland went south, the Raiders were an impossible situation to handle for a young coach at the time. The Saints will cling to whatever familiarity they have left now, and Allen has been one of the top coordinators in football for nearly a decade.
More NFL Coverage: