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NFL Defensive Coordinator Candidates for the 2021 NFL Season

Aaron Glenn

Since the teams with head coaching vacancies have interviewed multiple candidates each over the past couple of days it seems like it is only a matter of time until those vacancies get filled. When those positions get filled it up to the new head coach to hire an offensive and defensive coordinator to be in charge of that side of the ball. It is important for a coach to get those coordinator positions right, especially for the side of the ball they themselves do not specialize in.

NFL head coaches will hire a coordinator for one of three reasons. Either the coordinator is a personal friend of the coach, a former colleague from their time on another team, or the best man for the job.  Both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys were great examples last season of new coaching staffs that showed were assembled the right and wrong way.

Giants head coach Joe Judge hired former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and former Dolphins defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to be his coordinators. After one season Garrett is being considered a legitimate candidate for head coaching jobs across the league and Graham was also a candidate for head coaching opportunities before the Giants game him an extension.

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy brought in former Saints linebacker coach Mike Nolan to be his defensive coordinator last seasons despite Nolan’s lack of success as a defensive coordinator in the past. Nolan had hired McCarthy to be his offensive coordinator in 2005 and is a very good friend of McCarthy. Dallas’ defense regressed to the point where proven veterans like DeMarcus Lawerence and Jaylon Smith‘s talent was questioned and considered cut candidates. The Cowboys let Nolan less than a week after the regular season ended.

Along with the seven head coaching vacancies there are five coordinator positions that have opened up around the league as well. It is also worth noting that the Los Angeles Chargers would like to retain their current offensive and defensive coordinators, but could let them go if their next head coach wants to bring in his guys and general manager Tom Telesco approves. Here are the coaches who can fill the defensive coordinator vacancies around the league.

Up and Coming Position Coaches

Aaron Glenn: Defensive Backs Coach, New Orleans Saints

The premiere defensive coach that is receiving a lot of attention this offseason from coach searches has been former cornerback Aaron Glenn. Since taking over the Saints defensive backs coach job in 2016 New Orleans has been a factory for talented defensive backs. The great defensive backs the Saints have drafted and coached up include Vonn Bell, Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The Saints have also signed Patrick Robinson, Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Malcom Jenkins who all played better once they joined Glenn’s group of defensive backs.

Already this offseason his former team the New York Jets have interviewed Glenn for their head coaching vacancy. It would be shocking if a team didn’t poach Glenn form the Saints coaching staff to try to replicate his work in New Orleans on their team.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles , Los Angeles Rams (If Brandon Staley leaves)

Teryl Austin: Senior Defensive Assistant & Secondary Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Teryl Austin
Teryl Austin has been a part of a couple great defenses over the years including the Pittsburgh Steelers who have dominated the past two years. (Courtesy of Chaz Palla Tribune-Review)

A coach who as interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs over the years then has disappeared as of late is Teryl Austin. Since 2019 Austin has been as assistant and secondary coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the last two seasons the Steelers have also led the league in sacks and had been carried by their strong defense. Before his time in Pittsburgh, Austin has coached for the Super Bowl XLVII Baltimore Ravens and a dominant Detroit Lions defense from 2014-17.

Since 2014 Austin has interviewed for 10 different head coaching vacancies and has been considered for 11 jobs. It seems wherever Austin goes defensive success soon follows. A team who wants immediate results on that side of the ball should bring Austin onto their staff as their defensive coordinator.

Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens (if Wink Martindale leaves)

Gerald Alexander: Defensive Backs Coach, Miami Dolphins

One of the best position groups in the entire league has been the Miami Dolphin secondary. The Dolphins were not short of talent when it came to their defensive backs, but the group played up to their high expectations. Their position coach was former NFL defensive back Gerald Alexander.

Despite this past season being Alexanders first season as an NFL position coach, the Dolphins defense performance this past season could be enough to earn him a look for a defensive coordinator position. If a team wants to bring in the same energy the Miami Dolphins had in their elite secondary this past season, Alexander could be the man for the job.

Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons

Former NFL Head Coaches

Matt Patricia: Former Head Coach, Detroit Lions

Matt Patricia’s problem in Detroit was the fact that he had the same expectations of his players in Detroit that he had of his Super Bowl Champion New England teams. He also demanded that level of respect from his players and did not replicate it back. The truth of the matter was that despite his success as a defensive coordinator he did not earn the respect as head coach to treat his players the way he did.

Hopefully for Patricia’s sake this experience in Detroit humbled him and made him realize he cannot act like Bill Belichick acts with his teams. It is hard to fault the guy considering coach Belichick’s way of coaching is seemingly all Patricia knows. Patricia was a part of the Patriots organization from 2004-2017, which is almost all of his coaching career. What would earn Patricia a spot on a coaching staff next season is the fact that he is a three time Super Bowl winning defensive coordinator. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Patricia rejoin the Patriots coaching staff or join a former New England assistant on their team.

Best Fits: New England Coaching Patriots Staff, Houston Texans, Any Coaching Staff with New England Patriots ties

Romeo Crennel, Interim Head Coach, Houston Texans

It is hard to blame anything that happened to the Houston Texans from Week 5 to the end of the season on interm head coach Romeo Crennel. He was handed a team that was already defeated by that point of the season and could not build much momentum. It is uncertain what Crennel wants to do at this point of his career, but taking a job as a defensive coordinator may not be out of the cards.

Crennel has 20 years of defensive coordinator/head coach experience and has been apart of 5 Super Bowl winning teams. At age 73 Crennel could contemplate retirement or take a defensive assistant role. But if Crennel wants to coordinate a defense once more there would be teams who would be willing to give him an interview.

Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans

Raheem Morris, Interm Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons

Raheem Morris
If Raheem Morris doesn’t get the Atlanta Falcons job he will likely become a teams defensive coordinator. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Raheem Morris should be considered a legitimate head coaching candidate after what he did with the Atlanta Falcons after they fired Dan Quinn. The team might have went 4-7, but they were competitive in most of their games. The Falcons lost by 8 points or less in five of their losses under Morris. What Morris did that was so special is that he got the Falcons defense to play well towards the end of the season. Their defense was not playing as poor as it has over the past few season under Dan Quinn. One of their biggest moral victories came Week 16 when they only lost to the Chiefs 17-14. That was the Chiefs  lowest point total since Week 5 last season.

Morris will receive consideration for the Atlanta Falcons job, but should has also interviewed for the Jacksonville Jaguars head coaching job. But with so many head coaching candidates available, Morris could end up taking a defensive coordinator job with a team. If he goes that route and his defense performs well, then he will be a hot head coaching candidate next season.

Best Fits: San Fransisco 49ers (If Robert Saleh leaves), Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars

Dan Quinn, Former Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons

It was puzzling why a defensive head coach like Dan Quinn had such a terrible defense for years in Atlanta. He originally got the job after coaching the Super Bowl Champion Legion of Boom Seattle Seahawks defense in 2013-14. In his second season as a head coach Quinn’s Atlanta Falcons won the NFC Championship and played in the Super Bow. But after losing that game in the way they did, it appeared that Quinn and the Falcons couldn’t move past it.

A fresh start as a defensive coordinator is a great spot for Quinn at this point of his career. The best case scenario would be to join a defense with veteran players that could rally behind him. Quinns biggest strength in Atlanta was his ability to have his players rally behind him when their backs are against the wall. When Quinn’s back was against the wall and was on the verge of getting fired in the middle of the 2019-20 season the Falcons finished the season 6-2.

Best FIts: Dallas Cowboys, San Fransisco 49ers (If Robert Saleh leaves), Indianapolis Colts (If Matt Eberflus leaves), New York Jets

Coordinators who were on a staff with a fired head coach

Gus Bradley: Defensive Coordinator, Los Angeles Chargers

Gus Bradley
Gus Bradley could leave the Los Angeles Chargers to become a defensive coordinator elsewhere. (Courtesy of Chargers.com)

As of right now Gus Bradley is still slated to be the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. This means that teams would have to ask the Chargers permission to interview Bradley for a defensive coordinator position, It is unlikely that the Chargers will let Bradley go unless their next head coach is a defensive specialist or brings in a better defensive coordinator. Bradley was the original defensive coordinator of the Legion of Boom Seattle Seahawks defense before becoming the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach. After he was let go from the Jaguars job, Bradley became the defensive coordinator for the Chargers.

The biggest problem with the Chargers defense in recent years is that they have not been able to stay healthy. A healthy Chargers defense could be the best unit in the league. Bradley could be one of the most sought after defensive coordinators if he becomes a realistic option.

Best Fits: Los Angeles Chargers, San Fransisco 49ers (If Robert Saleh leaves), Las Vegas Raiders

Gregg Williams: Former Defensive Coordinator, New York Jets

Now technically Gregg Williams was fired by Adam Gase before Gase got fired a week ago. But he still qualifies for this category. It seems that Gregg Williams may not get a defensive coordinator job this season after basically intentionally costing the Jets a victory against the Raiders earlier this season. But crazier things have happened in the NFL.

Williams has been a defensive coordinator for eight different teams over the past 23 seasons. He is known for his very aggressive style of defense that features a lot of blitz plays. At age 62 Williams can choose to retire or pursue another defensive coordinator job with another team.

Best Fits: Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles

Coaches who could return to the NFL after a 1+ years away

Wade Phillips: Former Defensive Coordinator, Los Angeles Rams

It was shocking to see Wade Phillips not get a job after the Los Angeles Rams did not renew his contract after last season. Phillips has been one of the league’s most respected defensive coaches for a number of years and has coached some of the leagues best defenses in recent years. After being let go by the Dallas Cowboys, Phillips coached a very good Houston Texans defense. Then he coached two defenses that reached the Super Bowl when he was with the Broncos from 2015-16 and then with the Rams from 2017-19. Phillips defense won the Super Bowl for Denver as his star player Von Miller won the games MVP.

The perfect scenario for Phillips would be to pair with a young offensive coach like he with the Sean McVay with the Rams. But any team would be lucky to bring in Phillips as their defensive coordinator next season.

Best Fits: Joe Brady’s Coaching Staff, Las Vegas Raiders, San Fransisco 49ers (If Robert Saleh leaves)

Kris Richard: Former Defensive Back Coach, Defensive Play Caller, & Passing Game Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

One of the hottest names around NFL coaching circles from two seasons ago was former Dallas Cowboys defensive coach Kris Richard. The hype around Richard began because he was the defensive backs coach of the Legion of Boom in Seattle during their Super Bowl victory in 2013-14 and was the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks NFC Championship winning team the following season. When he was with Dallas he received a lot of hype around how he built that defense and what he did for the development for defensive backs like Byron Jones who was not nearly as talented as he is now after his time with Richard.

Along with Jones other defensive backs who played great under Richard include Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, and Deshawn Shead. Richard has interviewed for four head coaching vacancies over the past two seasons, but ended up staying in Dallas and then sat out this past season. He has already interviewed for the Raiders defensive coordinator position and could interview for the job for other teams this offseason.

Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, San Fransisco 49ers (If Robert Saleh leaves), Las Vegas Raiders

Lovie Smith, Former Head Coach, Illinois

Lovie Smith
Is it time for Lovie Smith to return to the NFL? Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

A former NFL head coach who has been rumored to possibly return to the NFL is Lovie Smith. After getting fired from the University of Illinois, Smith can find his way back in the NFL as a defensive coordinator. Before he was at Illinois Smith was the head coach of the Chicago Bears from 2004-12 and of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2014-15. Smith won the NFL’s coach of the year award in 2005 and led the Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006-07 season.

Despite having limited overall success as a head coach Smith has always had defenses who have played well for him. At this point of his career, Smith should pursue defensive coordinator opportunities and with his experience it shouldn’t be difficult for him to find one at the NFL level.

Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders, Baltimore Ravens (If Wink Martindale leaves)

Marvin Lewis, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Arizona State

During his final season as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach it was obvious that Marvin Lewis and the team needed to part ways. He received a lot of criticism for having the job as long as he did despite his lack of playoff success and recent success. His replacement Zac Taylor is 6-25-1 since taking over the team. After two seasons away from the NFL in might be time for Lewis to attempt to comeback and the first step to once again becoming an NFL head coach could be by becoming an NFL defensive coordinator.

Having an experienced coach like Lewis on a coaching staff could be outstanding for a team who needs a push in the right direction, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Lewis could be on a revenge tour and out to prove that he is still an extremely capable NFL coach.

Best Fits: Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens (If Wink Martindale leaves), Las Vegas Raiders, Indianapolis Colts (If Matt Eberflus leaves)

Other NFL Coaching Candidates

NFL Head Coach Candidates
NFL Offensive Coordinator Candidates

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