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NFL head coach candidates to know before carousel gets going

One year ago, there were eight NFL head-coaching vacancies, and a whopping 34 coaches that we know of interviewed (or declined an interview) for those jobs. Each team has its own criteria, so the candidate list for one team may be totally different from that of another.

Keeping in mind the possibility that there could be fewer openings this year, here's the (relatively) short list of names most likely to come up as interview targets this time around, listed alphabetically within each category, based on dozens of recent conversations with NFL executives and other people familiar with the search process. (Note: It does not include any current head coaches who have not yet been fired.)


Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, age 47: Despite shepherding the Saints' defense from one of the NFL's worst to its current domination, Allen's name has hung below the radar since his stint as head coach of the talent-starved Raiders (he went 8-28 from 2012 to '14). But Allen impressed in his interview with the Dolphins last year, has a lot of fans in the league and could be back in the spotlight.

Jim Caldwell, Miami Dolphins consultant, 64: Always a respected figure in the NFL world, Caldwell's tenure in Detroit (going 36-28 with two playoff appearances from 2014 to '17) looks better in retrospect. He also produced two playoff seasons in Indianapolis (going 26-22 from 2009 to 2011) before Peyton Manning's neck surgeries ruined his last year with the Colts. Caldwell has told people his health has improved since he took a leave of absence from his full-time job with the Dolphins in July. Similar to Bruce Arians, who previously dealt with health issues before being hired by the Buccaneers last offseason, a team probably would want to give Caldwell a physical before hiring him. But the desire is there. He interviewed for four jobs (Jets, Browns, Cardinals, Packers) last year.

Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, 60: The former Vikings coach (he went 21-32-1 with one playoff trip from 2010 to '13) is once again in charge of a top-notch unit, helping the Bills reach the playoffs. Frazier has a talent for getting the best from people in the toughest situations. Interviewing with the Colts two years ago got him back in the game, and that interest could increase this year.

Marvin Lewis, Arizona State special advisor, 61: Rejuvenated after a year in the college game with his friend Herm Edwards, the former Bengals coach (he went 131-122-3 with seven playoff appearances from 2003 to 2018) is another whose work likely went underappreciated. He would never be a splash hire, but another place in need of a cultural overhaul, such as Washington (where Lewis was assistant head coach/defensive coordinator in 2002), could be a fit, if Lewis is motivated to get back in.

Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers coach, 56: A rare available Super Bowl-winning head coach, McCarthy worked on his craft with a small group of coaches and continued studying the game during his year away, and he already has a 360-degree team-building plan mapped out for 2020. His .618 career winning percentage (125-77-2), nine playoff appearances in 13 seasons (including eight in a row) and reputation for developing quarterbacks make him a strong candidate. He interviewed for only one job (Jets) a year ago, rebuffing interest from several other teams. The Panthers interviewed McCarthy on Sunday.

Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator, 43: A little more distance from the infamous false start in Indianapolis seems to have helped the cause for McDaniels, who interviewed for only one job (Packers) last year. McDaniels' expertise with the quarterback position is always in need. He has turned down numerous opportunities since his abbreviated run as head coach in Denver (going 11-17 from 2009 to '10). Now, with the Tom Brady era winding down in New England, is this the year he takes one?

Raheem Morris, Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach/secondary, 43: Out of sight and out of mind after his underappreciated stint in Tampa (17-31 from 2009 to '11), Morris is in the news this year because he helped turn around the Falcons' defense after Dan Quinn shuffled his staff midseason. Morris is older and more mature since those days with the Bucs, when he got the head job at age 32. There's buzz.

Ron Rivera, former Carolina Panthers head coach, 57: After an in-season ouster by the slumping Panthers, Rivera has emerged as one of the hottest names based on his track record and how he dealt with the variety of issues that arose. Carolina made four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl trip over his nine seasons (76-63-1). He's known as a leader and program builder. Rivera's background is on defense, so his choice of offensive coordinator figures to be important.


Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City chiefs offensive coordinator, 50: The former NFL running back has climbed the coaching ranks over 18 years, spending the last two as Andy Reid's right-hand man with the Chiefs' high-powered offense. Bieniemy had interviews for four jobs (Jets, Dolphins, Bengals, Bucs) and turned down a fifth (Cardinals) last year. He figures to be in the mix again.

Dan Campbell, New Orleans Saints assistant head coach/tight ends, 43: A 10-year NFL veteran as a player who learned a lot from Bill Parcells, his coach when he played for the Cowboys, Campbell is heavily involved in the Saints' running game and addresses the team weekly on opponent looks, keys to victory, etc. He'd need to hire strong coordinators and focus on setting the program. Campbell, who served as interim head coach in Miami in 2015, interviewed with the Colts two years ago and the Browns, Cardinals and Packers last year.

Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator, 44: Few can beat Daboll's resume, which includes five Super Bowl rings over two stints as a Patriots assistant plus a national title on Nick Saban's staff on Alabama. Now, Daboll is grooming young QB Josh Allen, who has been a breakout star for the playoff-bound Bills.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator, 49: This year's sleeper, Eberflus is a 27-year NFL/college assistant who has a ton of supporters in the league. He commands fast, disciplined football from his players. The Browns interviewed him last year.

Don "Wink" Martindale, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, 56: A longtime linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to DC before the 2018 season and has guided one of the NFL's top defenses two years in a row, despite significant roster turnover. He's highly regarded by players.

Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator, 47: One of the architects of the 49ers' unique scheme in which Colin Kaepernick thrived, Roman is doing it again in Baltimore with NFL MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson. No one questions Roman's offensive acumen. He's a unique personality who teams will want to get to know better.

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, 40: A charismatic personality that players love and believe in, Saleh has re-envisioned the Cover 3 scheme he learned under Pete Carroll in Seattle and later Gus Bradley in Jacksonville, implementing Wide 9 principles, split-safety defenses and creative third-down looks and blitzes. He'll need to hire the right offensive coordinator, but all the tools are there.

Brian Schottenheimer, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator, 46: The son of long-time NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer has found a home with the pound-it Seahawks in his third stop as OC. Russell Wilson rightfully gets a lot of credit, but Schottenheimer plays a big role in helping that unit go.

Nick Sirianni, Colts offensive coordinator, 38: The Colts' post-Andrew Luck struggles notwithstanding, Sirianni is well-regarded within the league, has a lot of energy, knows offense and holds players accountable. He turned down a chance to talk to the Browns about their opening in January, feeling he needed to focus solely on the Colts' Divisional Round game. But Sirianni is ready to interview this time.

Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, 37: In his ninth season with the Titans, Smith was an obscure name until Mike Vrabel promoted him from tight ends coach after last season. He has taken advantage, impressing with his even-keeled demeanor and work with a revitalized Ryan Tannehill.

Kevin Stefanski, Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator, 37: In his 14th season with the Vikings, for whom he's filled various roles, Stefanski is popular with players and impressed enough to get a second interview for the Browns job in January after just a three-game interim stint as Minnesota's play-caller. Now in the full-time OC role, Stefanski has presided over Kirk Cousins' best season.


Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator/running backs coach, 40: A one-time industrial engineer, Elliott now calls plays for one of the nation's dominant college programs. Could a college OC really make the leap to head coach? It wouldn't be a surprise for some team to at least explore it.

Urban Meyer, former Ohio State head coach, 55: Meyer's name began circulating when he publicly expressed interest in the Cowboys job (and a chance to reunite with former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott) during a radio interview. Clearly, Dallas would look into it. But Meyer (187-32, three national championships in 17 seasons at four schools) has also recently told political reporter Brit Hume that he didn't see himself back coaching so soon. This one is wait-and-see.

Dan Mullen, Florida head coach, 47: There is enough buzz that Mullen (89-51 in 11 seasons at two schools) has publicly commented about a possibility. And his work with current Cowboys QB Dak Prescott while at Mississippi State helped pave the way for his NFL success, which those in the league took notice of. It's likely a long shot, but a Cowboys interview wouldn't stun anyone.

Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach, 36: He's very high on the radar of the Jones family, in the event the Cowboys miss the playoffs and Jason Garrett is on the way out. Few college coaches have had as much success with the quarterback, and Riley (36-5 in three seasons) is popular among NFL people for that. The only question: Would he actually leave?

Matt Rhule, Baylor head coach, 44: Rhule nearly had the Jets' job last year until issues arose with former GM Mike Maccagnan, who tried to dictate his staff. He also interviewed with the Colts two years ago. A one-time Giants assistant, Rhule (47-42 in seven seasons at Temple and Baylor) remains high on the radar for his leadership and how he lifted Baylor from the abyss in just a few years.

David Shaw, Stanford head coach, 47: The white whale of the college coaching world, Shaw (86-34 in nine seasons) could have had several coveted and high-profile jobs by this point if he had wanted. He never even has entertained it. However, some believe this is the year he'd actually consider it, with Stanford having a down year and several key players in the transfer portal.


Todd Bowles,Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, 56; Gus Bradley,Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator, 53; Tom Cable,Oakland Raiders offensive line coach, 55; Bill Callahan,Washington Redskins interim coach, 63; Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach, 40; Pete Carmichael Jr.,Saints offensive coordinator, 48; David Culley,Ravens assistant head coach/receivers/passing game coordinator, 64; Jack Del Rio, former Raiders coach, 56; John DeFilippo,Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator, 41; George Edwards,Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator, 52; Perry Fewell,Carolina Panthers interim head coach, 57; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern coach, 45; James Franklin, Penn State coach, 47; Josh Gattis, Michigan offensive coordinator, 35; Mike Groh,Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator, 48; Jay Gruden, former Redskins coach, 52; Nate Hackett,Packers offensive coordinator, 40; Jim Harbaugh, Michigan coach, 56; Joe Judge,Patriots special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach, 37; Byron Leftwich,Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, 39; Jerod Mayo,Patriots linebackers coach, 33; Mike McDaniel,49ers run game coordinator, 36; Todd Monken,Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, 53; Mike Munchak,Denver Broncos offensive line coach, 59; Ken Norton Jr.,Seahawks defensive coordinator, 53; Kevin O'Connell,Redskins offensive coordinator, 34; Chuck Pagano,Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, 59; Mike Pettine,Packers defensive coordinator, 53; Kris Richard,Dallas Cowboys passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach, 40; Steve Spagnuolo,Chiefs defensive coordinator, 60; Dave Toub,Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator, 57; Mel Tucker, Colorado coach, 47; Shane Waldron,Los Angeles Rams pass game coordinator, 40.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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