The 10 best head coaching candidates on the market

The 10 best head coaching candidates on the market

Illustration for article titled The 10 best head coaching candidates on the market
Photo: Getty Images

We’re rounding the corner to that time of year.

And no, I’m not referring to Christmas. We’re inching closer to the infamous Tuesday after Week 17.

“Clean house” day.

The New York Jets are showing us Adam Gase is probably going nowhere.

Sorry, New York fans, my thoughts are with you.

We’ve seen the Houston Texans, Detroit Lions, and Atlanta Falcons pull the rug from underneath their guys, but who will replace them?

There is speculation year after year. And every year, there are disappointments in who gets a head coaching opportunity.

Last year, Joe Judge, Kevin Stefanski, and even Matt Rhule got a head coaching opportunity ahead of the accomplished Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

Do these teams want to win or not?

I’m making this list nice and early. Before teams begin to dive into their decisions. Five weeks out, to be exact.

There is no confusion on who franchises should be taking a look at. These are the guys that deserve a head coaching shot in 2021.

Honorable mentions: George Edwards, Leslie Frazier

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Eric Bieniemy

Eric Bieniemy

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Photo: Getty Images

Putting it plainly, Bieniemy was robbed last year from a head coaching opportunity. Last year he interviewed for the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and Cleveland Browns. All of them passed him over.

And oddly enough, the Browns are the only team with a winning record this year.

“Like I said, I had an opportunity to interview, OK,” Bieniemy told reporters in January when asked how those interviews went. “That should say it all, you know. It was a great conversation; now it’s on to the game.”

Bieniemy has been the play-caller for Kansas City for three seasons. And was an intricate part in why Patrick Mahomes was able to claim MVP in 2018.

Oh, and we can’t forget Bieniemy’s importance in the Chiefs Super Bowl win last season. But for some reason, that Super Bowl run wasn’t enough of a milestone for Carolina, New York, and Cleveland.

It’s past time to give Bieniemy a head coaching shot.

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Joe Woods

Joe Woods

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Photo: AP

Woods is in his first season as the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns. He was previously Denver’s defensive coordinator in 2017.

Woods’ mentor is Mike Tomlin, and it’s been reported that he is an avid film watcher and is extremely detail oriented.

“Joe would keep you in the meeting room forever,” Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes said in 2016. “But it’s a good thing. One memory I have of him: Everybody would be out of meetings, getting dressed for the practice, and the DBs would still be in meetings watching film. He was a dude that loves what he does. He always wanted to critique you and watch film.”

The highlight of his time in Cleveland is the Browns’ 10-7 win on Nov. 15 against the Texans. He held Deshaun Watson’s Texans to only 7 points for the entire game.

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Nathaniel Hackett

Nathaniel Hackett

Illustration for article titled The 10 best head coaching candidates on the market
Photo: AP

Hackett has spent the past two years as the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator.

“There’s nobody in the building that brings me more joy or is more fun to be around than Nathaniel Hackett,” Aaron Rodgers said last month. “He’s become such a close confidant and friend besides a fantastic coach. I just really, really can’t express enough how important he is to our team in so many ways.”

Coaching with Rodgers in mind takes a little of the load off, but make no mistake, Hackett has put in his time.

Hackett mostly coaches games from the booth. So you might not see him on the broadcast. But according to Packers head coach Matt Lefleur, he has been a critical part of establishing the team’s “culture” the past two years.

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Duce Staley

Duce Staley

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Staley has spent practically his entire career in Pennsylvania as a player and coach.

He has served as the Philadelphia Eagles assistant head coach/running back coach for three years. In August, Staley served as the Eagles interim head coach while Doug Pederson dealt with COVID.

“First of all, it was awesome just being able to be in that role,” Staley said in August. “For the organization to look at me and trust me to be in that role to lead the team. When Doug was out of the building, he trusted me to step right in and take over and continue to deliver our message as a team and continue to deliver his message.”

Since the Eagles don’t have an offensive coordinator, Staley has taken on some of those responsibilities, like developing offensive schemes and leading game-planning throughout the week.

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Raheem Morris

Raheem Morris

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Morris is basically in tryout mode. He is the Atlanta Falcons interim head coach since they fired Dan Quinn two months ago.

Morris is no stranger to being a head coach. He led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-2011 before he was let go. There was reporting at the time around his ability to hold players accountable. His knowledge of Xs and Os was never in question.

In his second season in Tampa, the Buccaneers were 10-6, but the following year they dropped to 4-12. Many of their issues were a lack of talent and discipline.

To be fair, Morris was very early in his coaching career. He was 32 when he became the head coach of Tampa. A lot of that potentially could have been inexperience.

“You learn things, and you develop every day,” Morris said after he was named head coach. “You learn from different people in your profession. ... You take those things every single day, and you throw it at the dartboard.”

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Robert Saleh

Robert Saleh

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Richard Sherman said how he feels about his coordinator, Robert Saleh, this week.

“You’ve got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit. An unusual amount of credit. I don’t think he is getting enough credit, not only here but in the league in general.”

Sherman spoke about the injuries San Francisco has dealt with throughout this season — really on both sides of the ball. The 49ers defense is a top three passing defense, allowing opponents (31.4 attempts a game). They’re also a top-three red zone defense.

They’re playing this well, and their defensive linemen have been dropping like bricks.

Remarkably, they have won five games.

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Jon Embree

Jon Embree

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You might remember Embree is the former head coach University of Colorado. He was fired after one season. He has spent the past four years with the San Francisco 49ers as an Assistant head coach/Tight Ends coach.

The way Colorado treated him, it was clear he was not the long-term pick to lead their program, which happens to a lot of Black coaches. Organizations and programs have a short leash with them, and they have very little space to make mistakes.

Embree was a victim of that. It’s 10 years later. I believe he should get another shot—a fair shot with a few years to prove what he can do.

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Don Martindale

Don Martindale

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Don Martindale (r.)
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Martindale has been the Ravens defensive coordinator for the past three seasons. His defenses consistently rank among the top five in the league.

The New York Giants reportedly interviewed Martindale last year for their head coaching opening.

Martindale is the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the league.

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Nick Sirianni

Nick Sirianni

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Photo: AP

Sirianni has put in his time over the past decade. He has been the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts the previous three years. And despite average quarterback play, he has worked to put together some solid offensive game plans with Frank Reich.

His most notable work came a few years ago while developing Los Angeles Chargers Keenan Allen into the prolific receiver we see today.

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Vance Joseph

Vance Joseph

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We all remember what the Denver Broncos did to Vance Joseph a few years ago. Joseph got two years and was thrown out in Denver.

He had four different quarterbacks in 32 games. None of them were any good. Are they on an NFL team’s 53 man roster? Trevor Sieiman. Paxton Lynch.

No.

That alone should get Joseph another shot, but he has done solid work in Arizona as defensive coordinator the last two years. They rank 10th in total defense. They’ve allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per game and are eighth in red-zone defense.

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