Head coach candidates: Josh McDaniels tops the list

Typically in the coaching business, team executives and contract advisors for aspiring head-coaching candidates peg certain benchmarks during the season to evaluate different scenarios around the league. As we head into the quarter mark of the 2016 regular season, NFL.com will do the same.

Back at the beginning of September, we released our coaching NEXT list based on conversations with multiple power players in the industry. Now that we're heading into the second round of bye weeks -- a crucial evaluation period for ownership -- and have a solid data set behind us, we're updating our rankings to reflect this season's early developments, just like the sources we've consulted.

Here's what is happening:

» For general managers and owners, the question is whether or not the team is performing up to expectations -- both on and off the field -- and whether or not they should start keeping track of a potential candidate list. This varies from club to club. According to one team executive whose franchise made a head-coaching change in the last year, a list of aspiring names was cross-checked seriously starting at the midseason point. Some in more dire circumstances start sooner.

» For prospective head coaches, that means possibly allowing yourself some time to plan ahead. Who might you consider for staff positions? Are there teams you would not consider interviewing with? According to an AFC team executive, the industry has become rife with consulting firms and hiring panels that can often act as gatekeepers for desirable positions. Might it be time to find out who is connected where -- and why? Might it also be time to work on your relationship with the media during required weekly coordinator press conferences?

Here's our updated NEXT list, once again fueled by conversations with various team decision makers and people with knowledge of the hiring process. For the complete original version, click here.

GROUP I: The coaches likely to be running teams in 2017

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots: The team's 3-1 stretch without Tom Brady answered any lingering questions potentially had by hiring clubs. McDaniels has been a top-five candidate each of the last three years, but, according to multiple people who have spoken with him, he's intent on waiting out the right opportunity. McDaniels isn't shy about stating his love for New England and his comfort level in remaining there. Make no mistake, though: Teams are asking around and are well aware that the 40-year-old is a changed man from the 33-year-old firecracker who started hot with the Denver Broncos before burning the candle at both ends.

Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers: Our best guess is that McDermott would have been the head coach of an NFL team this year -- if not for the Panthers' prolific run last season. Carolina's 15-1 regular-season record put so much focus into the inevitable Super Bowl appearance that the defensive coordinator kept his head in the playbook for the most part. We've seen this trend emerging over the last few years: Teams wanting the "hot" assistant usually have to wait until he cools down for a really good look. Yes, the Panthers are 1-3 and just gave up 300 yards to Julio Jones in one game, but the scheme is still highly sought after, as is McDermott's demeanor.

Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator, Arizona Cardinals: Like McDermott, Goodwin has knowledge of a scheme that took the NFL by storm a year ago. Unlike McDermott, Goodwin flies a little bit below the radar. He does not have a coaching agent, which means some of the buzz surrounding the 43-year-old OC will be suppressed. Arians is expanding Goodwin's role and, assuming the Cardinals right the ship, he will be a favorite to interview in the offseason.

GROUP II: Risers who could quickly find themselves in the conversation

Paul Guenther, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals: Understanding the way owners think, we would not be surprised to see head coach-needy teams drawing a line from the Mike Zimmer tree to see what sticks. While that might also lead to some inquiries on current Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, Guenther has the play-calling experience and is in his third season as the DC of a rock-solid Bengals franchise.

Anthony Lynn, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills: Previously in our lower-tier "Names that could get trendy in a hurry" section, Lynn has continued his rapid ascent into the conversation since taking over as offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Billsa few weeks ago. In the two games since, Buffalo has gone from coaching clearing house to second place in the AFC East. LeSean McCoy has emerged as the centerpiece of the Bills' offense, racking up 224 total yards and three touchdowns in wins over the Cardinalsand Patriots.

Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator, New England Patriots: The only potential concern about Patricia is how he might transition into more of a CEO role. However, those who know Patricia insist he is a wonderfully personable coach who won't have to waste time scrapping current personnel just to fit a scheme. The Patriots can change defenses five times a season -- never mind taking three years to gain all the required pieces to make something work.

Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles: With previous head-coaching experience, Schwartz likely has the best chance among Philly coaches to capitalize on the Eagles' 3-0 start, even if owners of quarterback-needy teams are enamored with the progress of rookie Carson Wentz under offensive coordinator Frank Reich (and obviously, head coach Doug Pederson, as well). Philadelphia has road games against the Lionsand Redskins on tap, before returning home for a huge test vs. the Vikings. The Eagles could enter that bout against Minnesota at 5-0, especially if they maintain one of the league's most efficient defenses.

Group III: Coaches we're still trying to figure out

Vance Joseph, defensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins: A favorite among coaches, Joseph needs his defense to come together in Miami (the 1-3 Dolphins currently rank 28th in total D) before we see his star rise any further. That being said, there is a reason the most sought-after head coach on last year's market -- Adam Gase -- almost immediately tapped Joseph to run his defense. He might not be there long.

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons: For the second season in a row, the Falcons are off to a white-hot start. Shanahan is standing out above many of his counterparts thanks to his ability to continuously feed the ball to his best playmakers. Julio Jones is coming off a 300-yard performance against the defending NFC champions, while Matt Ryan arguably has been the best quarterback in football through four weeks. Should this continue, and not stall like it did a year ago, Shanahan will be back in the conversation.

Edgar Bennett, offensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers: Described as the perfect CEO type, Bennett should -- and could -- get some looks in the coming weeks, even though Mike McCarthy is calling the plays in Green Bay. Giants head man Ben McAdoo is proof that coaches from the current Green Bay regime tend to arrive a little more comfortable in the role, having been cross-trained all across the offense.

Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions: Current circumstances might make Austin's climb back into the head-coaching interview ring a little difficult. The Lions are currently 1-3, with Football Outsiders pegging Austin's unit as the 32nd-most-efficient pass defense and 27th-most-efficient run defense. His ability as a motivator and talent developer could negate some of the injuries and personnel changes, but Detroit needs to turn it around.

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks: This could be the type of season that rapidly improves Bevell's stock in the same way Josh McDaniels just got a boost from his work with Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo. Bevell is having some great games with a hampered Russell Wilson, but is it enough?

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