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NFL Offensive Coordinator Candidates for the 2021 NFL Season

Mike Kafka

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 offensive coordinator vacancies around the league.

Up and Coming Position Coaches

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

It almost seems guaranteed at some point of the offseason Mike Kafka is going to receive a promotion. Whether he replaces Eric Bieniemy as the offensive coordinator or gets hired as an NFL head coach because he us a part of Andy Reid‘s staff. Kafka has been a part of Kansas City’s coaching 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 position coaches from the leagues most explosive offenses to mimic what the explosive offense does.

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. However he may just stay in Kansas City to follow in the footsteps of Matt Nagy, Doug Pederson, and soon to be Eric Bieniemy as NFL head coaches.

Best Fits: Kansas City Chiefs (if Eric Bieniemy leaves), Eric Bieniemy’s Coaching Staff, Los Angeles Chargers (if available), Houston Texans, New York Jets

Mike McDaniel: Run Game Coordinator, San Fransisco 49ers

Mike McDaniel
Mike McDaniel is one of the San Fransisco 49ers assistant coaches who could get pouched by another team this offseason. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Even though Kyle Shanahan has been deemed the mastermind behind the San Fransisco 49ers offense, his assistant coaches should receive some credit as well. The 49ers have two coaches who lead the offense behind Shanahan. Those coaches are Passing Game Coordinator Mike LaFleur and Run Game Coordinator Mike McDaniel.

After multiple seasons of exceeding expectations on the offensive side of the ball it seems unlikely that Shanahan and the 49ers could retain both assistant coaches LaFleur and McDaniel. If Shanahan had to choose which coach he is more comfortable letting receive an offensive coordinator position it would likely be McDaniels. The first name that come to mind of a coach who could look to bring in McDaniel is top head coaching candidate and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

What Shanahan and McDaniel have been able to do with Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jeff Wilson Jr., Jerick McKinnon and Ja’Mychal Hasty in recent year/;s has been amazing and should earn McDaniel a promotion in the near future.

Best Fits: Robert Saleh’s Coaching Staff, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers (If Joe Brady leaves)

Jon Embree: Assistant Head Coach & Tight Ends Coach, San Francisco 49ers

Another San Fransisco 49ers position coach who could potentially see a lot of attention this offseason is assistant head coach and Tight End coach Jon Embree. He has gotten great play out of his tight ends at multiple of his destinations including Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City), Cameron Jordan (Cleveland), Cameron Brate (Tampa Bay), and most recently George Kittle (San Fransisco).

Embree is the right hand man to Kyle Shanahan and could be get brought into a situation where he has to recreate the magic he has had with the 49ers to another team. A team who Embree would join as an offensive coordinator should look to feature their tight end as a major part of their offense.

Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions

Pep Hamilton: Quarterbacks Coach, Los Angeles Chargers

After what he has done this season Pep Hamilton is once again considered a quarterback guru. Hamilton’s claim to fame was being Andrew Luck‘s quarterback coach at Stanford helping him develop into the prospect and player he became. This season he coached up Justin Herbert who many thought was not ready to take an NFL snap to a player that broke the NFL rookie records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in a single season.

Any team who has a struggling young quarterback or plans on adding a young quarterback in this years draft should consider Hamilton for their offensive coordinator opening. He has helped two polarizing young NFL quarterbacks reach their potential early in their NFL careers.

Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars

Bill Callahan: Offensive Line Coach, Cleveland Browns

Everywhere Bill Callahan lands he gets that teams offensive line to become a top-10 unit in the league. Callahan helped develop the Dallas Cowboys great offensive line headlined by Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. All three were elite during their prime and were first or second year players when Callahan arrived.

Then in Callahan’s next destination Washington, he tried to recreate that offensive line magic with Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff, and Morgan Moses. All were young in their careers when Callahan joined Washingtons coaching staff. Williams and Scherff are Pro Bowl caliber players while Moses is a solid starter.

This past year he coached the Cleveland Browns up to be the best offensive line in football this past season according to PFF. Jedrick Wills has been outstanding during his rookie season, Jack Conklin was named First Team All-Pro, and both starting guards Wyatt Teller and Joe Bitonio were voted Second Team All-Pro this season.

Callahan is great at developing young offensive lines into strengths for teams trying to be competitive sooner rather than later. It is shocking that with his track record he has not received more consideration for an offensive coordinator position.

Best Fits: Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers

Former NFL Head Coaches

Bill O’Brien: Former Head Coach, Houston Texans

Bill O'Brien
Bill O’Brien was a good coach his job as a general manager got him fired. Pairing him with the right offensive pieces could be the steal of the offseason. (Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

The first NFL Head coach that was fired last season is actually arguably the best offensive free agent coach on the market. O’Brien wasn’t fired because he was a bad coach. He was fired because he was a horrible general manager and his coaching couldn’t cover up the damage he was doing to the team.

While O’Brien was in Houston he only had one losing season (not including this past year) and always found ways to achieve success on the offensive side of the ball when he didn’t have stability at quarterback. He also helped coach Deshaun Watson into one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

O’Brien will likely get another opportunity to become an NFL head coach again in the future. The first step to reach that point is to show on another team that O’Brien can coach an offense to play like one of the best in the league.

Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills (If Brian Daboll leaves)

Adam Gase: Former Head Coach, New York Jets

As insane as it sounds, Adam Gase deserves to be a part of an NFL coaching staff in 2020. There is extensive proof of players performing better once they leave Adam Gase led teams. But before he was a mess of a head coach, Gase was a respected offensive coordinator.

It is easy to forget Gase was the offensive coordinator in Denver when Peyton Manning broke the record for touchdown passes in a single season. He also coached Jay Cutler to play the best football of his career. It seems unlikely that Gase will become an offensive coordinator. Instead an offensive assistant or quarterbacks coach seems more realistic for him. But if a team was to bring in Gase it would likely be better in a situation where the quarterback is considered a veteran and does not need to be molded much. He is an unexciting hire, but realistic one.

Best Fits: Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles

Darrell Bevell: Offensive Coordinator, Detroit Lions

Though he seems unlikely to land the job, Darrell Bevell it a candidate to land the Detroit Lions head coaching job. Bevell groomed Russell Wilson into the quarterback he is today and has done a solid job with Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions offense in recent years. Despite the teams failures this season it is hard to blame it on the offense, especially since Matthew Stafford and Kenny Golladay were banged up for a majority of the season.

Bevell may not be an exciting hire, but he is solid. The team that brings him onto their staff will know what they are getting with Bevell which is a good playcaller that has a soft spot for a running game. It wouldn’t be shocking if the next Lions head coach kept Bevell on his staff next season.

Best Fits: Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks

Anthony Lynn: Former Head Coach, Los Angeles Chargers

It has been tough watching the collapse of Anthony Lynn is Los Angeles. It’s hard to see what really went wrong. Lynn is a well respected and good coach that had a talented roster. The problem was Lynn’s judgement. He lost too many close games which began to cloud his judgement and cause him to implode in his final season. This is despite winning his last four games with the Chargers.

Lynn needs to regain the confidence he had making judgement calls earlier in his coaching career and remind people why he was such a well respected head coach in the NFL. If he does that he will be a great offensive coordinator and possibly earn himself another opportunity to be an NFL head coach.

Best Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Houston Texans, New York Giants (If Jason Garrett leaves)

Doug Marrone, Former Head Coach, Jacksonville Jaguars

It is fair to say that Doug Marrone has had some rough exits from both his NFL head coaching terms. In 2014 he opted out of the his contract with the Buffalo Bills to pursue other opportunities. Then in Jacksonville Marrone brought Jacksonville to the AFC Championship in his first full season with the team. But then the following seasons the team decided to tear down their roster in an attempt to rebuild. Despite their team attempting to tank, the players did play hard for Marrone down the stretch. It’s hard to blame him completely for the teams 1-15 season.

Marrone won’t likely jump into another head coaching job right away. It seems more likely that he could become a teams assistant coach, offensive line coach, or offensive coordinator. Despite not being the flashiest playcaller, having an experience head coach like Marrone as an assistant or coordinator could be extremely valuable for a team.

Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans (if Arthur Smith leaves), New York Giants (if Jason Garrett leaves), Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers

Coordinators who were on a staff with a fired head coach

Dirk Koetter: Offensive Coordinator, Atlanta Falcons

Dirk Koetter
Dirk Koetter is a sneaky offensive coordinator candidate that will be available if the Falcons let him go. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

It surprised some when Raheem Morris not Dirk Koetter was named the interm head coach of the Atlanta Falcons when Dan Quinn got fired. Koetter was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2016-18. Both of the quarterbacks that Koetter has coached in recent years Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston are huge fans of Koetter and his offense. Winstons relationship with Koetter got him the Buccaneers head coaching job in 2016.

The Falcons offense has been explosive since Koetter became the teams offensive coordinator again in 2019. Even this past season with the lack of a consistent running game and with Julio Jones in and out of the lineup the Falcons offense was consistent and at times showed that they are one of the most talented units in the league. If the Falcons don’t retain Koetter another team could try to bring him on to their coaching staff.

Best Fits: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers (If Joe Brady leaves), Jacksonville Jaguars

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

Norv Turner: Former Special Assistant to the Head Coach, Carolina Panthers

It is amazing to think about the possibility of both Norv Turner and his son Scott being NFL offensive coordinators at the same time. Turner has been an offensive coordinator or head coach for 10 different teams since 1991. After a season off he may not be interested in retirement and could look to return to the NFL.

Turner has enough connections still in the league to get an interview for an offensive coordinator position. He could either pair with a young defensive head coach or join a veteran team who needs a change at the offensive coordinator position. Either way Turner’s experience could still be valuable to multiple NFL teams.

Best Fits: Buffalo Bills (if Brian Daboll leaves), Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions

Hue Jackson, Former Special Assistant to the Head Coach, Cincinnati Bengals

Hue Jackson was one of the best quarterback coaches in the league before his time with the Cleveland Browns. Jacksons 3-36-1 record during his time with the team along with the public terrible relationship Jackson had with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield is the reason why teams have not been hot on Jackson since he left the team. The same season he was fired by the Browns Jackson was hired as an assistant to Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati.

After a year away from the league Jackson’s name could be considered for offensive assistant or quarterback coach positions. But if there was a coach close to Jackson that received a head coaching job, Jackson could become that teams offensive coordinator.

Best Fits: Marvin Lewis’ Coaching Staff, Minnesota Vikings

Todd Monken, Offensive Coordinator & Quarterback Coach, Georgia

It was surprising to see Todd Monken return to college football this past season after spending the past four seasons as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Monken got a bad rep for his time in Cleveland which is why he did not get an NFL job this past season. In Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens refused to get up playcalling to Monken. When Monken is calling the plays his offense features a lot of down field throwing and chunk plays.

Before the 2019 season Monken interviewed for three NFL head coaching jobs. After one year at Georgia, Monken may look to return to the NFL in the right situation. His experience running the 9th ranked team in the nation could bode well for Monken when NFL teams look for offfensive coordinators.

Best Fits: Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills (If Brian Daboll leaves), Carolina Panthers (If Joe Brady leaves), Houston Texans

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

Jim Caldwell
Jim Caldwell will attempt to return to the NFL as a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, or head coach this offseason. (Mike Mulholland | MLive.com)

Jim Caldwells stock as a coach increased the more Matt Patricia struggled with his former 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 an upgrade at head coach would propel them to the next level but instead hiring Patricia has held them back for multiple seasons. Along with Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Caldwell has had great success with Peyton Manning when he was the head coach in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco when he was the offensive coordinator in Baltimore.

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 or his fourth assistant offensive coach opportunity. One team who could look at Caldwell could be his last destination the Miami Dolphins who are in need of an offensive coordinator and have the same coaches in place that were there a season ago when he was.

Best Fits: Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers (If Joe Brady leaves), New York Jets, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers

Other NFL Coaching Candidates

NFL Head Coach Candidates
NFL Defensive Coordinator Candidates

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