With the Washington leaders' decision Thursday to hire Dan “I swear he was our first choice” Quinn, the NFL's most bizarre game of musical chairs for head coaching has finally come to an end. Somehow, many prominent and qualified candidates end up without a seat. Despite their impressive resumes, Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel were passed over and seemingly not considered. Ben Johnson, meanwhile, has taken himself out of contention for Washington's job, choosing instead to remain as Jared Goff's play-caller in Detroit.
The eight jobs went to three coaches with offensive backgrounds and five coaches specializing in defense. Three of the appointees have at least one full season of prior NFL coaching experience; Two of the five who aren't are former NFL linebackers. The age of the trainers recruited for this course ranges from 36 to 60 years; Three coaches are black and one is Hispanic. One of the coaches is Harbaugh's brother. None are a direct offshoot of the offensive coaching tree of Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay.
Looking at the 2024 coaching class as a whole — and especially the coaches who were left out — provides an interesting window into what matters to NFL team owners right now. It also tells us a lot about what to expect in the coming months. Here are the three biggest takeaways now that this year's coaching carousel has stopped turning.
The power dynamic between owners and coaches has changed
On February 11, Shanahan and Andy Reid will face off in Super Bowl LVIII. However, with just over a week to go, the era of the powerhouse coach who produced them may be over — at least, that's what it seems when evaluating new hires in the NFL.
Let's start with the lack of league-wide interest in Belichick. Although he was never expected to be the top candidate on every team owner's wish list this cycle (he doesn't seem like an option to inherit a complete rebuild), it's truly shocking that he's only been officially interviewed for one job, with Atlanta. (It is also said He had a conversation With the leaders.) But that may not tell us as much about Belichick's age, tactics, or abilities as it does about how he likes to run the team, since hiring him meant ceding control of almost everything, from recruiting decisions to roster construction to media coverage. strategy. In his final press conference as Patriots coach on Jan. 8, Belichick vaguely indicated that he would consider giving up control of personnel decisions in order to remain in New England, but only if it was agreed upon “collectively.” It was just talk. His divorce from the Pats was finalized within days, and there was no indication he simply wanted to continue coaching in Atlanta.
The circumstances with Vrabel are different but similar. He didn't lose his job at Tennessee because of on-field performance (even if the 2023 season was disappointing for the Giants); He was forced to resign because he lost a power struggle with ownership and the front office, something that certainly showed in his interviews with the Falcons, Panthers, and Chargers. It has a lot in common with what happened to Pete Carroll in Seattle: After having the final say on the Seahawks' 53-man roster for more than a decade, he was fired last month and assumed an obscure front office role. Carroll did not interview for any coaching jobs in the weeks that followed.
Belichick, Vrabel and Carroll could all bring a history of winning to a new organization, but each might have wanted to do it their own way. Apparently this didn't fly. This cycle is perhaps best viewed as a referendum on where the league stands regarding which head coaches need to take control and those who can tolerate input from the owner and front office. In almost every case, the owners holding the vacancies voted against Trainers who prefer absolute power.
The owners overwhelmingly chose to divide power between the head coach and general manager, with most new hires either hired with a current GM (such as new Tennessee coach Brian Callahan with Ran Carthon) or hired after a new GM, which was then part of the interview process ( (As was the case with Quinn in Washington, who was appointed weeks after Adam Peters). Even the exception, Jim Harbaugh with the Chargers, is not as exceptional as it seems: While Harbaugh was hired before new general manager Joe Hortiz, Hortiz has spent the last 16 years working in Baltimore with Harbaugh's brother, John.
The idea behind this type of leadership structure is that it builds checks and balances between coaches and staff, theoretically encouraging those departments to work side by side. For an owner like the Falcons' Arthur Blank, who hired beloved and highly respected former Atlanta assistant Raheem Morris instead of Belichick, it's not necessarily a sign that Blank wants to keep power for himself. However, this indicates that he does not want the coach to dictate the entire franchise.
Setting a goal of building a collaborative atmosphere between coaching and staff is admirable, and it can work: just look at how much Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes have excelled in Detroit. But given the astonishing achievements of some of the coaches available in this cycle, it's worth asking whether hiring the man who may be the most popular in the building might come at the expense of winning. We'll find out soon enough.
Being an offensive coaching genius isn't a direct path to a top job anymore
If the NFL coaching recruiting cycle was still working as it has over the past five years, Bobby Slowick would almost certainly have gotten a job this year. Slowik, Houston's 36-year-old offensive coordinator, checked all the boxes owners wanted in a post-McVay NFL.
Was he coaching under Shanahan or McVay? Checks. Did he help develop a young midfielder to undoubted success? Checks. Is he connected to the play and will his offensive scheme remain consistent even if his top lieutenants get poached by other franchises one day? Checks. Even though Slowik only called the plays for one season, you could argue he was at least as qualified for a head coaching job as Kliff Kingsbury was when he went to Arizona, or Zac Taylor when he landed in Cincinnati. Slowik interviewed for multiple jobs this cycle, including jobs at Tennessee and Atlanta, but returned to Houston with a new, reportedly more lucrative contract to remain on DeMeco Ryans' staff and continue working with CJ Stroud.
What about Johnson? He dropped out of Carolina's head coaching search in 2023 after just one season as a play-caller, then did the same earlier this week after being linked to Washington. It seemed that the leaders tried to spin this disagreement as a sign that the team was not as interested in Johnson as it initially seemed, and there were media leaks that Johnson may have wanted too much money or was not particularly impressive in his interview. But even if one or both of those things are true, it wouldn't stop a team like Washington from doing everything it can to recruit the best young players in the league in recent cycles.
The three newly hired coaches with offensive backgrounds in 2024 are Harbaugh, Callahan and Carolina's Dave Canales. Nothing really fits Next is Shanahan or McVay a plan. Callahan, 39, is the son of longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan and is technically a branch of the McVay tree, having worked under Taylor in Cincinnati. But he got his start in Denver, where he learned under several play-callers, from Josh McDaniels to Adam Gase to Gary Kubiak. Canales, 42, worked in Seattle under Shane Waldron, one of McVay's protégés, but was with the Seahawks before Waldron got there. And Harbaugh is, well, Harbaugh.
If there's a move from this cycle that closely aligns with the thinking that has fueled recent hiring cycles, it's Seattle's hiring of 36-year-old Mike McDonald, who spent the last two seasons as Baltimore's defensive coordinator. But even here, the logic is reversed. McDonald was at his best when planning the game against Shanahan and McVeigh crimes.
So what explains this apparent shift? First, defense was in vogue. Three of the new hires were defensive coordinators in 2023 (McDonald, Quinn and Morris), while two others, Jerrod Mayo of the Patriots and Antonio Pierce of the Raiders, coached the linebackers. (Pierce also served as interim head coach for nine games.) But it's more than just that teams prioritized experience on the other side of the ball. It seems like NFL owners this cycle weren't looking for the next Shanahan or McVay; They were looking for the next Dan Campbell or DeMeco Ryans.
Campbell never coached under Bill Parcells, but he should be counted as part of that tree, as he played for Parcells in Dallas before coaching under Tony Sparano and Sean Payton. The best way to describe Campbell is as a culture coach. He has a lively atmosphere, doesn't take breaks, and is aggressive in games (sometimes to a fault!) Ryans was a long-time NFL quarterback who gained respect as a defensive coach for his play-calling prowess and leadership in San Francisco while working under Shanahan . The Texans implemented the NFL's biggest turnaround in 2023 not because of Ryans' defense (which finished the regular season 16th in DVOA), but because of its impact on the entire organizational culture.
It's too early to tell if moving away from the Shanahan-McVay scheme will pay off, but it has created a more diverse class of coaches than the NFL has seen in some time.
The 2025 training cycle is already underway
The number of qualified candidates was much greater than the number of positions this year. It wasn't just two weeks of chaos; It is also expected to loom large heading into next season.
Remember how much speculation there was about Sean Payton's coaching future when he sat out the 2022 season and took a job at Fox? Now imagine that Belichick, Vrabel and Carroll could all potentially be looking to return to the sidelines in 2025. Let the lottery begin!
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that half the owners in the league could consider upgrading to one of these candidates if their teams perform poorly next season. Jerry Jones and Howie Roseman won't compare Mike McCarthy and Nick Sirianni to some hypothetical coaches who might be available next January. They will compare them directly to known franchises that have won multiple games and Super Bowls.
There are clearly issues with Belichick and Vrabel that caused them to be left out of the recently completed recruiting cycle. Although these warts will not completely disappear in 11 months, a lot can change. Belichick might be less inclined to hire Matt Patricia, for example. Perhaps working in television can remind everyone how much he knows and what he can offer.
Johnson and Slowik are sure to be popular candidates next year as well, as will Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Plus, rumors are starting to surface again on some big names: Kingsbury has returned to the NFL as Pierce's new offensive coordinator in Las Vegas, a job he took over former Eagles and 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, who is reportedly eager to return mechanism. NFL.
The 2024 NFL practice round was the most surprising — and, in some ways, revealing — in recent memory. And the way everything is developing could lead to an even bigger earthquake in 2025.
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