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NFL Head Coaching Candidates for the 2021 Season

Eric Bieniemy

Even though there is one week left in the regular season, the NFL head coaching Carousel will begin very soon. This is because according to a report by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, teams may request virtual interviews with candidates. This means that team will not have to way for the conclusion of a candidates season to bring him in for an interview, they can interview him via zoom much like the 2020 NFL Draft prospect interviews. Teams will still be able to block their coordinators from taking interviews with other teams.

Since these rules are in place teams could look to fire their current coach at the end of Week 16 if they want to get a head start on the interview process. There is a chance that one or two teams already let go of their current head coach by the time this article is published.

Here are some names that will receive consideration and could land an NFL head coaching job for the 2021 season.

Favorites to Land Jobs

These candidates have been rumored to land a head coach all season long. Some even interviewed for openings last season. It would be surprising to see an of these candidates not land a head coaching job.

Eric Bieniemy: Offensive Coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs

Many believe that Eric Bieniemy was robbed of an NFL head coaching job last season. The former NFL running back became the Chiefs offensive coordinator in Patrick Mahomes first season as a starter. In that season Mahomes tied the record for second most touchdown passes in a season and won league MVP. The following season The combo of Mahomes and Bieniemy helped lead Kansas City to a Super Bowl last season. Currently the Chiefs offense is one of the best in the league once again and Bieniemy’s creative play calling is a huge reason why.

Best Fits: Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets

Robert Saleh
It would be hard to imagine a scenario where Robert Saleh doesn’t land a head coaching job. (Courtesy of Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Robert Saleh: Defensive Coordinator, San Fransisco 49ers

After being one of the final candidates to land the Cleveland Browns job last year, the team decided to hire Kevin Stefanski instead. It was great for the 49ers that they were able to retain Saleh, despite the lost season. Even multiple star players on the defensive side of the ball missing extended time due to injury. Saleh’s 49ers defense remains competitive and one of the better units in the league. Saleh brings the type of energy on the sidelines that could change a culture of an entire franchise. There are not many players that have played for Saleh that would not vouch for him to get this opportunity. Former All-Pro Cornerback Richard Sherman is one of Saleh’s supporters (check out video at 2:00 mark).

Best Fits: Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars

Brian Daboll: Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills

This season no other head coaching candidate has gained more steam than Brian Daboll. The Bills offensive coordinator is getting credit for turning Josh Allen from a small school quarterback with a cannon and accuracy problems to one of the leagues most dangerous dual threat quarterbacks. Before Mondays game against the New England Patriots Allen is throwing a career high 68.7%. Allen has also set career highs in passing yards and touchdowns this season. Daboll is from the Bill Belichick and Nick Saban coaching trees which executives around the league have viewed as a major plus in other candidates.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Houston Texans

Great Coordinators that will be considered

These candidates lead some of the best units in football. Not only have their sides of the ball dominated this season, but they have had success for a couple of seasons. Though these coordinators do not get as much attention as the favorites to land head coaching jobs, they could land one of the available jobs this offseason.

Wink Martindale: Defensive Coordinator, Baltimore Ravens

Don “Wink” Martindale has been a part of the John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens coaching staff since 2012. Since taking over as the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2018, Martindale defense has ranked in the top 10 in all categories. He has done a great job coaching up young talented players like Matthew Judon, Marlon Humphrey, Patrick Queen, and Chuck Clark. Martindale is well beloved by his players. He was interviewed for the Giants opening a season ago.

Best Fits: Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Detroit Lions

Arthur Smith Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans Arthur Smith is the offensive coordinator for the highest scoring offense in the league. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Arthur Smith: Offensive Coordinator, Tennessee Titans

Last season in Tennessee a deemed journeyman or backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill turned his career around and became a franchise quarterback. Since taking becoming the Titans starting quarterback Week 7 of the 2019 season Tannehill’s stats are on pace with MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes. While that was happening Titans running back Derrick Henry has emerged as one of the most dominant weapons in the league. Henry is on his way to back to back rushing titles. Both of these happened while Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator of the Titans. Smith would be a great candidate for a team looking to develop young or underachieving talent.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars

Matt Eberflus: Defensive Coordinator, Indianapolis Colts

One coordinator who deserves more attention and respect from NFL media as a head coaching candidate is Matt Eberflus. When Frank Reich hired Eberflus to become the Colts defensive coordinator he was tasked to make one of leagues worst defenses competitive. By his first season the Colts defense was middle of the pack. Now in year three Eberflus has coached this defense to be top-10 in the league. It could be argued that the Colts defense has been what has carried the Colts back into the playoff picture this season. His defense is gritty but his star players rise to the top.

Best Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons

College Coaches with NFL Interest

These college coaches have shown the ability to lead a college program to success. In the past College coaches who have the ability to lead programs to success translate well to the NFL. These candidates could get hired by a team who wants wants to emulate what the Carolina Panthers did with Matt Rhule this past year.

Pat Fitzgerald, Head Coach, Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald has coached Northwestern to be one of the best football teams in the country. They were close to taking down Ohio State and becoming Big Ten Champions. This is because of the great job by Fitzgerald. The biggest thing for Fitzgerald may be the best fit because he’s been the coach at Northwestern since 2006. He doesn’t appear to be in any rush to move on, but could be persuaded if the right opportunity came up.

Best Fits: Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars

Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State

It seems wherever Matt Campbell goes his football teams play extremely well. He turned Toledo and Iowa State into legitimate college football programs during his time as head coach at both schools. He could be the the type of head coach that could change a culture of a locker room in his first season. Iowa State finished with the best record in the Big 12, despite eventually falling to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship. Campbell may push to reach his highest potential this offseason and become an NFL head coach while he is still one of the best coaches in college football.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans

Brian Kelly, Head Coach, Notre Dame

Brian Kelly is not a great head coach at a small football program. He is a great head coach at one of the largest football programs in the country. Kelly has been the head coach at Notre Dame since 2010. For the second time in three seasons Notre Dame is in the College Football playoffs and it appears that Kelly does not have anything else to prove at the college level. If Kelly was to coach this team to a National Championship there really is nothing else for Kelly to do at this level. Win or Lose Kelly could consider accepting the challenge of becoming an NFL head coach and turning a franchise around is he is given an offer he cannot refuse.

Best Fits: Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions

Jim Harbaugh
Could Jim Harbaugh return to the NFL? (Courtesy of ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, Michigan

It is fair to say that Jim Harbaugh has been a disappointment since becoming the head coach of his alma mater Michigan. He is 49-22 since taking over in 2015. Harbaugh has lost four straight bowl games, not lead his team to college football playoffs, and cannot beat Ohio State despite Urban Meyer leaving the team in 2018. Michigans record is 2-4 this season and is in contract talks with Harbaugh. This may be the primetime for the two to part ways despite their passion for Harbaugh’s time as a quarterback at Michigan.

Despite how bad Harbaugh has done at Michigan in recent years, he would be an attractive candidate to return to the NFL. During his time with the San Fransisco 49ers his teams were among the dominant in the NFL. His record with the 49ers was 44-19-1 and made he playoffs every year except for one 8-8 season. Harbaugh won coach of the year in 2011 and appeared in the NFC Championship in three of his four seasons. He also was a Michael Crabtree catch on fourth down from becoming a Super Bowl winning head coach. Harbaugh’s coaching may be better suited for the NFL and could recreate that magic in the right situation.

Best FIts: Los Angeles Chargers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions

Former NFL Head Coaches looking for another shot

Even though it is extremely difficult to land an NFL Head Coaching job for the second time it is not impossible. Pete Carroll, Bruce Arians, and Bill Belichick are some examples of NFL head coaches who have had great success in their second tenure as an NFL head coach. These coaches have done well in their current roles and could become the head coach that they were hired to be originally that could thrive in a new situation.

Jim Caldwell, Former Asst. Head Coach & Quarterback Coach, Miami Dolphins

Jim Caldwell hasn’t been given great head coach opportunities in the NFL. Despite coaching two former first overall picks in Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford. Despite his history of being a successful coach, he was fired twice. His first time was after the 2-14 Peyton Manning-less season after winning the division his first two years with the team. In Detroit he was fired after his second straight 9-7 season after making the playoffs two out his four years there. The Lions thought and upgrade at head coach would propel them to the next level instead hiring Matt Patricia has held them back and shown the league Caldwell’s value.

Caldwell was hired my the Dolphins to be a quarterback coach, but left the team due to health reasons and was eventually let go. Now he is ready to potentially get his third NFL head coaching job. Caldwell has gotten quarterbacks to perform at their highest levels while playing for him which would appeal to some teams in need of a quarterback guru.

Best Fits: Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets

Raheem Morris, Interm Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons

After Dan Quinn was let go in Atlanta, management had two former head coaches on staff to chose between to become the interm head coach. They chose Raheem Morris over Dirk Koetter, despite Morris’ unit playing worse and him having not been a head coach since 2011 to Koetter who was a head coach in 2018. Since Morris has taken over, the Falcons have a 4-6 record. But the Falcons have played competitive football since Morris has gotten fired. They have only lost one game by over eight points. The defense that Morris inherited played well against the New Orleans Saints, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, and most recently the Kanas City Chiefs. Morris will definitely get a legitimate shot a retaining the job in the offseason. But if he doesn’t it wouldn’t be shocking to see a situation like Anthony Lynn’s emerge where he was the interm coach in Buffalo but got hired as the Los Angeles Chargers head coach.

Best Fits: Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans

Arizona State
Marvin Lewis could be back in the NFL quicker than anticipated. (Courtesy of Dwayne Ong SunDevilSource, 247Sports)

Marvin Lewis, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Arizona State

During his final season as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis received a lot of criticism for having the job as long as he did despite his lack of playoff success and recent success. He held the job for 16 seasons and did not have a single playoff win. It appeared the Bengals were overdue for a fresh start and they brought in Los Angeles Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor to be their head coach. Since they fired Lewis the team is 6-24-1. The teams lack of success may have had more to do with cheap management than coaching. Lewis won the AFC North four times and had seven playoff appearances in Cincinnati. Paired with the right owner and/or general manager Lewis could set himself up to have a better term with a new team this season.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars

Dennis Allen, Defensive Coordinator, New Orleans Saints

Dennis Allen had an extremely underwhelming tenure with the Oakland Raiders. He had an 8-28 record before getting fired midseason in 2014. But since 2015 Allen has coached the Saints into one of the best defensive units in the league during that span. Before Allen took over the Saints offense had been held back by their defensive play. It seems like every year another star play emerges in New Orleans on the defensive side of the ball. There is an absurd amount of talent on the defensive side of the ball in New Orleans and not all of them were high draft pick players. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Trey Hendrickson, Demario Davis, and David Onyemata are all players who exceeded expectations as members of Allens defense. He may have not been ready to be a head coach earlier but after what he has done in recent years he may be ready now.

Best Fits: Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans

Leslie Frazier, Asst. Head Coach & Defensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills

There are more attractive head coaching candidates than Leslie Frazier. However, Frazier has become one of the most respected defensive coordinators around the league. He did not have much success as the head coach in Minnesota. But it is hard to put all that blame on him considering Christian Ponder was the teams starting quarterback during his term with the team. Then in his final season he bounced between Ponder, Josh Freeman, and Matt Cassel. Frazier should be given credit for coaching a Christian Ponder lead team to the playoffs in 2012. But credit is due to Adrian Petersons outstanding MVP season that years as well. He has done a great job coaching the defense in Buffalo which has stars at every level and is one of the best units in the league. If Frazier is given a franchise quarterback he could redeem himself and show the league he is capable of being an NFL head coach.

Best Fits: Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons

Todd Bowles, Defensive Coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After becoming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator in 2019, Todd Bowles has retained his status as one of the most respected defensive coaches in all of football. Bowles was the head coach of the New York Jets for four seasons. In his first season with the team he was a win away from bringing a team led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, Chris Ivory, and Eric Decker to the playoffs. However Mike Maccagnan did a terrible job of giving Bowles young talent to replace these veterans. Some of the high draft picks selected by Maccagnan was Leonard Williams, Devin Smith, Darron Lee, and Christian Hackenberg. By the time Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye and Sam Darnold were starting to develop as pros Bowles was fired. If paired with the right general manager Bowles has shown in Tampa Bay what he did in Arizona that he has the ability to lead a team and become a head coach once more.

Best Fits: Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons

Assistant Coaches who are likely a year away from being legitimate candidates

These candidates are some of the younger, less experienced, and unproven coordinators around the league. However they have done extremely well in their current role. It seems unlikely for these coaches to land a head coaching job this season. However if a team really believes in these candidates ability to coach and potential to become a great coach they may look to hire them this season rather than wait until they become one of the hottest names on the market.

Joe Brady, Offensive Coordinator, Carolina Panthers

One of the hottest names that will be floating around NFL media will be Joe Brady. There is no doubt twitter will want Brady to land a head coaching job this offseason and he very well could. Brady organized one of the most dominant offenses in college football history down at LSU last season headlined by first round picks Joe Burrow, Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. None of the three were considered first round talents until Brady took over as passing coordinator and wide receivers coach.

Then this season as a part of Matt Rhules staff, Brady has made Teddy Bridgewater look like a franchise quarterback rather than a bridge. He has also kept the Panthers offense explosive despite losing All-Pro Christian McCaffrey for most of the season. Bridgewater, Robby Anderson and Mike Davis have had career years in Brady’s offense. Fantasy Football players have noticed that all three Panthers wide receivers Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel have had great consistent production all season which is very hard to get out of three receivers on a weakly basis. He has done to Carolina what he did in LSU despite their record.

The only knock on Brady is his lack of coaching experience. He is only 31 and after next week will have completed his first and only season as an offensive coordinator. The way Brady gets hired is if a team see’s their version of a Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan in Brady and pounces on him before he becomes the #1 head coaching candidate next season.

Best Fits: New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans

Brandon Staley, Defensive Coordinator, Los Angeles Rams

Another young coach who will likely be one of the premier head coaching candidates next season is Brandon Staley. This season he was tasked with taking over for well respected defensive coordinator Wade Philips in Los Angeles and Staley has done an amazing job. Staley is a disciple of Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and it shows on his defense.

Blessed with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey it doesn’t seem like it would be difficult to coach an elite unit with those stars, but the Rams have also had multiple break out players on that side of the ball to join their stars. Those players include sixth round pick Jordan Fuller, Troy Hill, (former UDFA) Darious Williams, and former first round pick Leonard Floyd. After having his fifth year option declined Floyd joined the Rams and is having a career highs in tackles (53) and sacks (9.5). All the pieces together coached by Staley is a top three defense in the league.

Staley has only been coaching at the NFL level since 2017 and has is one week away from completing his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator. But it would not shock to see team at least give Staley a call especially if they see his upside.

Best Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers

Brian Schottenheimer
Brian Schottenheimer has already been linked to the Houston Texans job. Could he receive multiple head coach interviews this offseason? (Courtesy of Paul Sancya/Associated Press(=)

Brian Schottenheimer, Offensive Coordinator, Seattle Seahawks

When the Seattle Seahawks offense is discussed a lot of the credit goes to Russell Wilson which he deserves. However someone who does not receive as much credit as he does is Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. He has accomplished something that was not done before he got the job, he unlocked Russell Wilson. Schottenheimer’s offense has allowed “Russ to cook” meaning he has unleashed the true potential of what Wilson can do in a given game. Wilson has solidified himself as one of the leagues elite quarterbacks and offensive weapons.

On top of that he has developed multiple offensive stars out of seemingly nowhere. Tyler Lockett was drafted as a kick returner that became one of the leagues premiere deep threats, Chris Carson was a seventh round pick that is now a workhorse franchise running back, D.K. Metcalf fell to 64th overall in the draft because of multiple concerns about his body type and usage and in his second season is a top-5 receiver in the league with the highest ceiling of any skill player in the league right now.

He was originally an offensive coordinator for Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan Jets between 2006-11 and Jeff Fishers Rams in 2012. So Schottenheimer does not have a fantastic coaching tree aside from Pete Carroll. But should legitimately be considered as an option as a head coach in the near future based off what he is doing in Seattle.

Best Fits: Houston Texans, Los Angeles Chargers

Mike Kafka, Passing Game Coordinator & Quarterback Coach, Kansas City Chiefs

At some point of the offseason Mike Kafka is almost guaranteed some type of promotion. Whether he replaces Eric Bieniemy as the offensive coordinator or gets hired as an NFL head coach. Kafka has been a part of Andy Reids staff since 2017 and has contributed to the success of Patrick Mahomes and the offense. It is a common trend in NFL history for teams to hire multiple coaches from the leagues most explosive offenses, even if the coach is not a coordinator or play caller. That could be the case for Kafka.

Since he is associated with Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and the Kansas City Chiefs he could very well get hired for having been a part of that offense. This is much like Zac Taylor getting hired for the Bengals job for being a part of Sean McVay’s 2019 staff or when John DeFlippo was interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs after he won the Super Bowl as a part of the Eagles in 2017. Kafka will at least be an offensive coordinator next season whether or not he is promoted to the position in Kansas City. However teams may look at him to be a head coach as like a consolation Eric Bienienmy.

Best Fits: Detroit Lions, New York Jets

Nathaniel Hackett, Offensive Coordinator, Green Bay Packers

There are a lot of common football fans who may not know who Nathaniel Hackett is. The last time Hackett had made headlines was when he was the surprising choice to be offensive coordinator in Green Bay to the surprising hire of Mike LaFleur in Green Bay. Both Hackett and LaFleur ran bottom five offenses the season prior to their first in Green Bay. However both have done outstanding work the past two years with this team and offense. Since they joined the team the are 25-6.

For the first time since Eddie Lacy’s second season in the league the Packers have a legitimate running game. Former fifth round pick Aaron Jones has become one of the leagues best running backs in this offense. Davante Adams has emerged into the conversation as the leagues best wide receiver. Following a rocky start Aaron Rodgers seems bought into this offense and regime and could end up bringing home the MVP this season.

There are a lot of more potential head coaching candidates who have had success in multiple places. However if the Packers go on a deep run this season that results in a Super Bowl, Hackett’s names could skyrocket up teams head coaching lists. But if he does not get hired he could begin the season on the list of favorites to land a job for the following season.

Best Fit: Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Houston Texans

Patrick Graham, Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants

Seemingly out of nowhere the New York Giants have one of the best defenses in the league. Their play on that side of the ball is what has kept them in the hunt for a playoff spot up to this point. Their success on that side of the ball should be credited to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. He was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins a season ago who played gritty down he stretch much like the Giants have this season.

Graham has also gotten multiple players to have career years on his unit including former first round picks who were considered busts Jabrill Peppers and Leonard Williams and former Packers afterthought Kyler Fackrell. Also James Bradberry has been one of the leagues few lockdown cornerbacks playing for Grahams defense this season. Dexter Lawerence, Dalvin Tomlinson have also played extremely well this season too.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see Graham get an interview or two this offseason. But Graham is likely at least one more good season away from getting a head coaching job.

Best Fits: Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans

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