The first day of the new year concluded with six head-coaching vacancies and only two more teams that could conceivably still make a change. Just when we thought Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was out, the team pulled him back in. The Titans could still let go of coach Mike Mularkey if the team loses in the Wild Card Round, but the initial wave of firings lacked the typical season-ending stunner.
The six teams with vacancies have already started to set up interviews in what figures to be a frenzied process. The New England Patriots' coordinators, for instance, need to interview this week during the team's bye before returning to focus on the playoffs. With that in mind, let's take a look at which candidates could make the ideal fit for each open job:
New York Giants: Josh McDaniels. Everything about this job is top-shelf, except for the New York media pressure that comes with it. The offensive roster is quietly loaded, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram rivaling any other trio of young receivers in football. The defensive line is similarly stacked, and the secondary boasts two young Pro Bowlers.
The Giants have talent at many positions where it is hard to find talent, and they have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, with which they could find Eli Manning's successor at quarterback. This is no rebuilding project, and an offensive coach who can mentor the team's quarterback of the future makes the most sense. Something just feels right about McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator, getting the job from the family that helped nurture a young Bill Belichick into a Super Bowl winner.
Indianapolis Colts: Matt Nagy. Don't just take owner Jim Irsay's word for it: Andrew Luck makes this job extremely attractive, even if it's risky. The team's request for McDaniels is intriguing and shows that general manager Chris Ballard won't be afraid to hire someone he hasn't worked with before.
With that said, having a GM and a head coach not on the same page is a massive disadvantage. (Remember Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson's issues in Indianapolis?) Ballard and Nagy, the Chiefs' offensive coordinator, have worked together in Kansas City, creating a familiarity that should have multiple benefits. Ballard already knows how to scout well for the scheme, and installing a quicker passing attack could help Luck avoid some of the unnecessary hits he took in 2016. Chiefs coach Andy Reid called Nagy the best head-coaching prospect he's ever seen, which is as strong a job reference as any coach can get.
Arizona Cardinals: Todd Haley. Bruce Arians will be sorely missed for his trash talking, his headwear style and his aggressive downfield playcalling in an era of Andy Reid-wannabes. Arians leaves the Cardinals in much better shape than when he arrived in 2013, although GM Steve Keim deserves credit for that growth, too.
This Cardinals defense was already playing at a championship-contending level this season, and it brings back upper-tier talent like Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. The team also boasts one of the most underrated and creative defensive minds in coordinator James Bettcher. That's why hiring an offensive-minded coach who is excited to retain Bettcher would be the quickest path back to the playoffs for Arizona.
Arians got the job in 2013 over Haley, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, who is well-liked in Arizona for his work helping the 2008 team reach Super Bowl XLIII. Like McDaniels, Haley fits the profile of a proven offensive mind who learned some lessons the hard way in his first go-around as a head coach (Haley in Kansas City, McDaniels in Denver).
Chicago Bears: Steve Wilks (head coach) and John DeFilippo (offensive coordinator). Beyond last year's No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, this Bears franchise is practically starting from scratch. GM Ryan Pace's contract was extended until 2021 on Monday, despite a poor record of talent acquisition over his three seasons on the job to date. The Bears need an offensive coach who can develop Trubisky and a leader of men who can inspire a young roster.
That's why I'm awarding the Bearstwo of the hot head-coaching candidates as ideal fits. Four teams put in requests to interview Wilks, the Panthers' defensive coordinator, including the Bears. Wilks' hyper-aggressive blitzing would play well in Chicago, but he would make a strong head-coaching choice because of his reputation managing personalities and garnering respect from his players.
Wilks' lack of an offensive background will work against him, but what if the Bears could convince DeFilippo, the Eagles' quarterbacks coach, to come coordinate Chicago's offense? DeFilippo is a coaching free agent after the season, a year after the Eagles reportedly blocked his opportunity to interview for jobs elsewhere. He could step up a rung on the coaching ladder to coordinator and help Trubisky grow in his second year in the league, just like DeFilippo did with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia. If he pulls that off, DeFilippo will be back on the head-coaching interview circuit again a year from now.
"What do you say about that?" Gruden asked.
"I appreciate that," Carr replied. "Let's go win some championships now."
Four years later, it looks like Carr and Gruden will get their chance. Jack Del Rio's firing is less surprising if the Raiders truly have Gruden lined up and ready to take the job. And despite Del Rio's solid record, NFL Network's Steve Wyche said "there were not a whole lot of tears shed" about this firing.
Owner Mark Davis needs to sell tickets and sell the Raiders' brand through an unprecedented couple of years left in Oakland before the team's move to Las Vegas. Love him or hate him, Gruden is box-office gold. He's the right choice for this Raiders moment, where a big swing is required. With Carr in place, Gruden already has the quarterback that he never found in Tampa.
Detroit Lions: Mike Vrabel. It's possible to believe both that Jim Caldwell deserved better and that the Lions firing him made sense. This is what happens when ownership hires a general manager without changing head coaches, which occurred when GM Bob Quinn took over two years ago and inherited Caldwell. Quinn, who came from New England, wants to bring a coach more aligned with his philosophy, and he appears to be mostly focusing on defensive minds.
That makes a lot of sense, considering the success Matthew Stafford has experienced with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Stafford is finally a reliable top-10 quarterback, and the Lions would be even better than 9-7 in each of the last two seasons if any other part of the team had stood out. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been mentioned as a possible successor to Caldwell, but Vrabel, the Texans' defensive coordinator, strikes me as a better option because of his communication skills. Vrabel is the only player in Patriots history that was smart and funny enough to get away with consistently cracking wise to Bill Belichick. Anyone with those sorts of guts can survive the NFL sideline on a Sunday.