Assessing Potential NFL Head-Coaching Candidates for 2024: Speculation Mounts on Bill Belichick’s Future with the Patriots

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The 2023 regular season is about to wrap up this weekend, which means some teams are about to pack it in for the year. While some clubs still have their Super Bowl dreams alive with a postseason berth on the horizon, the vast majority of teams will be on the outside looking in on that mad dash to Las Vegas. Within that group are teams that could be looking for new leadership at the head-coaching positions. Already, three teams have made in-season firings at the head-coaching spot, and there are expected to be a handful more clubs that could join in the hunt for a new coach. 

Below, we’ve rounded up to the top candidates this cycle who will certainly have their names floated out for potentially multiple openings across the league. 

1. Bill Belichick

Current position: Head coach, New England Patriots

The Patriots’ horrid season now has Bill Belichick’s future in Foxborough uncertain. There has been plenty of smoke surrounding the head coach and the possibility that he will part ways with the Patriots organization this offseason. While New England has floundered a bit in this post-Tom Brady era under Belichick, he is still a strong head coach and will absolutely garner attention from the rest of the league if he becomes available, as reported by CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson. How the 71-year-old Belichick — who is New England’s GM — handles player personnel at his potential next stop will be an interesting angle to monitor as well, but from a head-coaching standpoint, he’s still second to none and would bring whatever organization he lands with instant credibility. 

2. Ben Johnson

Current position: Offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions

You can make the case that Ben Johnson is the top candidate this cycle and likely could’ve opted for a head-coaching gig last offseason as well. However, he decided to stick with the Lions and his stock has only risen with Detroit winning the division and reaching the playoffs in 2023. Johnson can hang his hat on the development of Jared Goff within his offense after coming over in a trade with the Rams. He also fits the mold of what has become the prototypical head-coaching candidate: He’s young (37) and coaches on the offensive side of the ball. If a team with a young core is looking for a head coach, it could look to a guy like Johnson over Belichick.

3. Jim Harbaugh

Current position: Head coach, University of Michigan

Harbaugh has flirted with the NFL over the last few years and has reportedly hired agent Don Yee, which only adds more fuel to the idea that he could leave Michigan after the College Football Playoff. Harbaugh has a Rose Bowl victory under his belt and will soon have the Wolverines playing for a national championship, adding to his résumé that is already filled to the brim. He’s coached in the NFL before, brought the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and could be an ideal candidate for a team that has the talent to contend immediately but needs the right leader to put them over the top (cough … Chargers .. cough). 

4. Brian Johnson

Current position: Offensive coordinator, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have stumbled down the stretch of this season, but Johnson should be looked at as a top candidate. As the quarterbacks coach for the previous two seasons before ascending to the offensive coordinator role in 2023, Johnson deserves plenty of credit for developing Jalen Hurts into a legit MVP candidate and the explosion on offense in 2022. The former Utah quarterback fits the mold of a modern-day NFL coach, and at 36 years old could be an ideal candidate for a team that is bringing aboard a young quarterback. 

5. Dan Quinn

Current position: Defensive coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

Dan Quinn decided to remain in Dallas last offseason, but interviewed with the Cardinals, Colts and Broncos. He continues to have the Cowboys defense playing as one of the top units in the entire NFL, so it seems reasonable that his stock will remain high this hiring cycle. Quinn now has two stops as a defensive coordinator where he’s built up dominant units on that side of the ball and has prior head coaching experience. He helped Atlanta reach Super Bowl LI and while he is a more defensive-minded coach, he has shown that he can oversee a top-flight offense with Matt Ryan winning MVP honors back in 2016. 

6. Lou Anarumo

Current position: Defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals

Anarumo has been a popular name over the last few hiring cycles and was reportedly the runner-up for the Cardinals job last offseason only to lose out to Jonathan Gannon. In the past, he’s probably a top-five candidate, but Cincinnati’s struggles defensively in 2023 push him just outside that threshold. That said, you can likely chalk up 2023 as a lost season for the Bengals as a whole and pay more attention to what Anarumo was able to put together in the previous two seasons. In 2021 and 2022, Anarumo led a Bengals defense that was top 10 in points and rushing yards. In 2022, the unit ranked as the seventh-best unit in total yards. He’s still a top-tier defensive mind and a very worthy head-coaching candidate. 

7. Bobby Slowik 

Current position: Offensive coordinator, Houston Texans

Don’t sleep on Bobby Slowik. I’d bet that he’s the young offensive-minded coach that teams opine for this offseason. The 36-year-old comes from the ever-popular Kyle Shanahan coaching tree and is putting the finishing touches on his first year as offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans. Slowik has worked wonders with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who is the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, and briefly even had the No. 2 overall pick in the MVP conversation. That alone will garner Slowik’s attention across the league.

8. Jerod Mayo

Current position: Inside linebackers coach, New England Patriots

Mayo’s situation will be fascinating to follow for a couple of reasons. If Belichick moves on from the Patriots, he instantly becomes the top in-house candidate. If New England decides to retain Belichick, it’ll be curious to see what Mayo does. He decided against interviewing for head-coaching jobs last offseason after Robert Kraft gave him an extension coupled with an unprecedented statement saying they were retaining him. If a path toward being the head coach with the Patriots doesn’t seem immediately viable, does he decide to take those interviews this time around? If so, he’ll be a candidate with multiple suitors after being the de facto defensive coordinator for one of the top units over the past few seasons. 

9. Brian Flores

Current position: Defensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings

Brian Flores completely flipped the Vikings defense in 2023 to one of the more feared units in the league for opposing quarterbacks due to his frequent blitzing. His coaching — particularly on defense — continues to be top notch and will likely get a second go at being a head coach in the near future, and is expected to garner interest this offseason. During the interview process, Flores will likely need to answer how he’s changed since coaching the Dolphins from 2019 to 2021 and what he plans to do on the offensive side of the ball. 

10. Eric Bieniemy

Current position: Assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, Washington Commanders

Bieniemy left the Chiefs last offseason to get out from under Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes’ shadow and give himself a better chance at becoming a head coach. He joined the Commanders as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach and did have Sam Howell playing at a serviceable level for most of the year. That said, it remains to be seen if what he was able to put together throughout this season will be enough to have a team actually spring to hire him as their next head coach. 

11. Mike Macdonald

Current position: Defensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense is having a historic season under Macdonald, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see him land inside a list of top head-coaching candidates. Baltimore’s defense is allowing a league-best 16.4 points per game this season, 57 sacks and 29 takeaways while allowing 4.6 yards per play (second best in the NFL). Macdonald is still green at just 36 years old, but has led a group that is arguably the top unit in the league on that side of the ball. His background coaching under both Harbaugh brothers will also help his candidacy. 

12. Mike Vrabel

Current position: Head coach, Tennessee Titans

You can make a case that Vrabel should be a bit higher on this list, but his uncertain standing with Tennessee makes his availability less of a sure thing than some of the other candidates. If he becomes available, Vrabel is one of the better in-game coaches that the league has to offer and is a former Coach of the Year winner. He also helped bring the Titans to the AFC Championship in 2019. Vrabel is 55-48 as a head coach entering Week 18 of the 2023 season and could simply need a change of scenery to get his trajectory moving back in a positive direction. 

13. Ejiro Evero

Current position: Defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have been the worst team in the league in 2023 and saw the firing of head coach Frank Reich less than a year into his tenure. However, Evero has been able to coach up the Panthers defense into a solid unit. This season, Evero’s defense ranks third in the league in passing yards allowed, six in passing touchdowns and third in total yards allowed. That carries over from when he was the defensive coordinator in Denver in 2022 where his unit ranked seventh in the league in total yards allowed. He’s hitched his wagon to a couple of dud head coaches (Nathaniel Hackett in 2022 and Reich in 2023), but he should be a candidate worth interviewing.   

14. Frank Smith

Current position: Offensive coordinator, Miami Dolphins

One thing that might go against Smith in this coaching search is that he doesn’t call the plays on offense for the Dolphins. However, I don’t think that’s as big of a deal as that may seem. Mike McDaniel didn’t call plays for the 49ers under Shanahan and Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell didn’t call plays with the Rams under Sean McVay. Both have turned out to be strong head coaches in the league, so Smith should still be looked at in high regard, especially as he’s overseen the Dolphins offense turn into one of the more lethal groups in the league. 

15. Shane Waldron

Current position: Offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks

Waldron would’ve been much higher if we did this list a year ago, but Seattle’s offense has taken a bit of a step back from its breakout 2022 campaign under Geno Smith. Had the offense been able to carry the momentum a bit better in 2023, Waldron could’ve easily been a top-five candidate rivaling Ben Johnson in Detroit. Even with this small bump, Waldron will get looks as a possible head coach. He’s an offensive-minded coach who comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree. That almost guarantees you an interview somewhere.

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