The NFL 2020 Coaching Shortlist

Dan Essien goes through a shortlist of coaching candidates available next season for teams with sense.

The New York Jets decided to declare that head coach Adam Gase will return in next season. They did so in the middle of a dreadful season with basically no benefit. But that guarantee won’t stop this work. Let’s go through a shortlist of some of the best candidates out there for head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. Perhaps some of these candidates can change plans set it in stone.

[C] = college

* =  pending  staff change (lateral move)

Defensive Coordinator

Gregg Williams has done an outstanding job with the Jets defense this season. He’s been better than his other half at adapting through injuries and hiding weaknesses. If the Jets make a change, it could mean also moving on from Gregg Williams. However, they could instead decide to promote him to head coach or reach an agreement with another head coach to retain him. With that in mind, let’s look at some potential defensive coordinators to either replace him or work with him potentially.

Chris Hewitt – Baltimore Ravens (Secondary)

Chris Hewitt has been with the Baltimore Ravens since 2012 as a defensive backs coach. He’s overseen a variety of special Ravens defenses in those years. Hewitt has coached the secondary to 4 straight finishes in the top-10 of the best passing defenses in the NFL.  In 2017, the Ravens defense led the NFL with 22 interceptions, and had the 2nd best defensive passer rating in the NFL. He’s also done a great job overseeing the development of cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Hewitt’s name will rapidly grow in popularity in the coming months, especially with the Ravens firmly in the spotlight.

Dave Aranda – LSU (Defensive Coordinator) [C]

If you follow me on social media, you know about my love for LSU’s coaching staff. It should be no surprise that Dave Aranda is on this list. He has maybe the most impressive college resume of any defensive coordinator in the country. Aranda started at Utah State where he impressed, constructing a top 10 scoring defense in 2012.

Aranda moved on to Wisconsin the following season where he set a new standard for defense. In 2013, they had a top 10 defense. In 2014, they made Big Ten Championship. Then, in 2015, the Badgers finished the best scoring defense in the country and Aranda was a nominee for the Broyles award (the top assistant in college football). While at Wisconsin, he coached Joe Schobert who is now an NFL standout for the Cleveland Browns. He also mentored the next coach on this list.

Aranda moved on to LSU in 2016 and since his arrival LSU has sent hordes of talent to the NFL. Tre White, Jamal Adams, Donte Jackson, Arden Key, Kendall Beckwith, Greedy Williams, and Devin White to name a few. Aranda is the epitome of the upper echelon of college coaching. He’s absolutely NFL quality.

Jim Leonhard – Wisconsin (Defensive Coordinator) [C]

This name should excite Jets fans. Jim Leonhard has done an incredible job as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. Leonhard retired from the NFL in 2014 and spent 2015 studying under the aforementioned Dave Aranda. In 2016, Leonhard became Wisconsin’s defensive backs coach and the very next season he was promoted to defensive coordinator. In 2018, Wisconsin finished with the 2nd best total defense, and 5th best passing defense in the country. It might be premature for Leonhard to make the jump to the NFL given his limited experience but his rate of growth is certainly promising.

Todd Wash – Jacksonville Jaguars (Defensive Coordinator) *

Todd Wash has been a hidden treasure for the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Doug Marrone is fired at the end of the season and the Jaguars don’t retain Wash, he’s certainly a name to consider. His resume is fairly impressive. He was the defensive line coach on the best defense in the NFL in 2012 with the Seattle Seahawks. From there, Wash moved on to the Jaguars in 2013 to be both the defensive line coach and the defensive running game coordinator.

In 2016, Wash was promoted to defensive coordinator and began to transform a Jaguars defense that finished 31st in scoring defense in 2015. In 2016, Wash schemed immediate impact seasons for then rookies Yannick Ngakoue (8 sacks) and Jalen Ramsey.  In 2017, Wash’s Jaguars defense finished 2nd in scoring defense, 1st in passing defense, 2nd in sacks. In 2018, they finished 5th in scoring defense, 2nd in pass defense. This season, despite heavy struggles and the loss of Jalen Ramsey, they are 9th in pass defense and 7th in sacks. Another great mark for him has been the performance of defensive linemen under his tutelage. Yannick Ngakoue was a pro bowler in 2017 and has 35.5 career sacks in 3.75 seasons. Calais Campbell had his only first team All-Pro selection with Wash. The latest is rookie pass rusher, Josh Allen, who has 9 sacks in 12 games under Wash.

Morgan Scalley – Utah (Defensive Coordinator) [C]

Scalley has started to churn out consistent NFL talent from Utah the last few years and this year they finished the regular season as the 3rd best total defense in the country and 6th best scoring defense. Scalley has overseen the development of multiple players now on NFL rosters. Most notable of which are: CB Eric Rowe (Dolphins), Marcus Williams (Saints), and Marquise Blair (Seahawks).

Scalley has two more star players likely to make the jump this coming draft in CB Jaylon Johnson and S Julian Blackmon. Scalley has been consistently successful with player development. He’s also shown his skills as a play caller. It might be time for him to take his talents to the next level.

Kris Richard – Dallas Cowboys (Defensive Pass Game Coordinator) *

Dallas Cowboys defense is having a down year but we all know what Kris Richard is capable of from his past success last year and in Seattle. If the Cowboys dismantle their staff, he will be the best defensive coordinator on the market.

Dan Quinn – Atlanta Falcons (Head Coach) *

If Dan Quinn wants to take a year off it would make sense. However, if he still wants to be in the game, perhaps taking a lesser role could serve as a refresher for him. I believe Quinn can still be a very effective defensive coordinator.


Offensive Coordinator

The Jets’ current offensive coordinator by title, Dowell Loggins, is not at the level that a successful NFL offense would require. If the Jets change their minds on Gase, the offensive coaching staff will be completely wiped. Here are some of the best candidates for offensive coordinator next offseason:

Mike Kafka – Kansas City Chiefs (QB coach)

It’s simple. Andy Reid mentorship plus Patrick Mahomes development plus the best offense in the NFL in 2018, makes Chiefs’ QB coach Mike Kafka a coveted name. There’s no doubt multiple teams will be interested in his services. He’s an obvious choice for an offensive coordinator. The question becomes: will Kafka be next year’s Zac Taylor and go from quarterbacks coach to a head coaching gig? There could be one team desperate enough to take that kind of chance.

Joe Brady – LSU (Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers) [C]

If you’ve watched the sudden rise of the LSU offense this season, you know Joe Brady has done a remarkable job. He’s had his mark on the nation’s second best total offense and the meteoric rise of likely Heisman winner, Joe Burrow. Brady’s resume goes beyond that however. He spent two seasons with the New Orleans Saints from 2017-2018 as an offensive assistant learning under Sean Payton. This season at LSU he’s not only linked to Burrow’s success but also that of star wide receivers Jamarr Chase, and Justin Jefferson. Brady is going to be a popular name but it may be difficult to pry him away from LSU.

Josh Gattis – Michigan (Offensive Coordinator) [C]

Michigan has had some disappointing seasons the last few years but Josh Gattis is a shining star amidst their turmoil. In his last three stops Gattis has impressed. At Penn State, he oversaw the development of Chris Godwin and Daesean Hamilton as their wide receivers coach from 2014-2017. Then, at Alabama, he coached Jerry Jeudy to 68 catches for 1315 yards and the 2018 Belitnikoff award. He was also co-offensive coordinator of that Alabama offense which finished 3rd best in the country.

Gattis then moved on to Michigan where he’s had the chance to coach the likes of Nico Collins, and Tarik Black this season. While Michigan’s offense has largely disappointed this season, Gattis’ past reputation speaks louder than how he’s faired in his first season with an offense largely influenced by Jim Harbaugh. It might be a year too early for Gattis to make the jump but his past success reveals a promising trajectory.

James Urban – Baltimore Ravens (QB coach)

Urban was the wide receiver coach for A.J Green from his rookie year in 2011 to 2017. Green made it to 7 Pro Bowls and made 2nd team All-Pro 3 times under Urban. He also coached Mohamed Sanu from 2012-2015. Sanu is now known as an expert level route runner and likely picked up much of that early in his career with Urban’s coaching. Urban moved on to Baltimore in 2018 to be their QB coach and has been directly involved in the meteoric rise of MVP favorite, Lamar Jackson, from year 1 to year 2. Urban has a promising track record that should make him a strong candidate for offensive coordinator.

Kellen Moore – Dallas Cowboys (Offensive Coordinator) *

Moore was promoted to offensive coordinator this season and the Cowboy’s offense has gone from 22nd to 2nd in offensive DVOA. He was also directly involved in the development of Dak Prescott as his quarterbacks coach. Moore hasn’t been around long but he’s been able to shine through despite the presence of Jason Garrett. If they fire the whole staff with Garrett after the season, Moore is a promising option for a lateral move.

Todd Monken – Cleveland Browns (Offensive Coordinator) *

Someone please save this man from Freddie Kitchens.


Head Coach

The Jets may not have the worst head coach in the NFL. But, really, the only coach who has been definitively worse has been Freddie Kitchens. “Not the very worst” is not a strong case for retention. Let’s look at the many head coaching candidates that would be an improvement.

Robert Saleh – San Francisco 49ers (Defensive Coordinator)

Saleh is the mastermind of one of the most popular units in the NFL this season. The 49ers defense has been mind-bogglingly dangerous this season. They have the 2nd best scoring defense, the best pass defense, and have recorded the 2nd most sacks in the NFL. His past resume includes 3 seasons as the linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2014-2016) where he played an integral role in the development of Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Before that he won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive quality control coach in 2013-14.

Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma (Head Coach) [C]

Probably the best candidate for today’s NFL. One of the best offensive minds in football. Probably won’t leave for anywhere other than Dallas.

Matt Rhule – Baylor (Head Coach) [C]

The Jets had their chance last season to get to Rhule before any one else. Then they completely blew it. The only way for the Jets to land Rhule is for ownership to bury their pride and accept blame for– LOL yeah sorry I can’t even finish typing that. You all know the Jets ownership well enough to know that’s probably not happening. If it does it would be one of the more miraculous turnarounds in the history of sports.

Nick Sirianni – Indianapolis Colts (Offensive Coordinator)

Sirianni is quietly another quite impressive candidate. The obvious part is that he’s coaching under Frank Reich, one of the most respected offensive minds in the NFL. But he’s also had great past experience, particularly with the Chargers. From 2014-2015 he was the Chargers’ quarterbacks coach overseeing Philip Rivers. The following season, he became the wide receivers coach, where he oversaw the comeback of Keenan Allen in 2017 (102 catches, 1393 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns).

In 2018, Frank Reich brought him in to become the offensive coordinator with the Colts. That season, the Colts finished with the 5th best scoring offense and 6th best passing offense in the NFL. This season despite the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck, and a few weeks without backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett,  Sirianni has shown he can adapt. The Colts are still 10th in offensive DVOA, and 4th in rushing offense.

Greg Roman – Baltimore Ravens (Offensive Coordinator)

Plain and simple, no one else is doing what Greg Roman is doing on offense. He’s an innovator and is currently changing the NFL as we know it. He has succeeded against some of the best defenses in the NFL this season. So far, the Ravens are 1st in offensive DVOA, 1st in rushing offense, 1st in scoring and 1st in QBR.

Mike McDaniel – San Francisco 49ers (Running Game Coordinator)

The 49ers offense is grounded in the run game. What Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel scheme up week to week is simply outstanding. 49ers are 2nd in rushing yards per game and 8th in yards per attempt. They utilize mostly a running back “by committee” approach between Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert. Each of them have gone over 500 yards this season. Their effectiveness in the running game opens up opportunities in the passing game that have helped Jimmy Garoppolo to the 5th best completion percentage in the NFL this season.

Pete Carmichael – New Orleans Saints (Offensive Coordinator)

Carmichael has spent almost 14 years under Sean Payton. His resume is solid.  Carmichael spent 3 years as quarterbacks coach in New Orleans (2006-2008) coaching Drew Brees directly. He then was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2009 where has been since then. In that time the Saints offense has gone through a great deal of change and still remains one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.

Since 2009, the Saints offense has only finished outside of the top 10 in scoring offense once. That was in 2011 when they finished 11th. In that same time they’ve finished in the top 5 scoring offenses 6 times and they’re about to make it 7 after this season. That means with Pete Carmichael as offensive coordinator, they’ve been a top 5 offense in 7 out of 11 seasons. They’ve been a top 10 offense 10 out of 11 seasons. That is unbelievable.

Eric Bieniemy – Kansas City Chiefs (Offensive Coordinator)

Bieniemy has spent almost 7 years under Andy Reid. I covered some of his best traits last offseason when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Jets job. The Chiefs offense didn’t just not skip a beat with Bieniemy’s promotion in 2018. It ascended to a new level. Even with a banged up offensive line, injuries at wide receiver, Pat Mahomes missing time, and a lacking running back depth chart, the Chiefs offense is still 4th in scoring, 3rd in passing yards per attempt, 3rd in yards per play, and 3rd in offensive DVOA.

Chris Peterson – Washington (Head Coach) [C]

Recently resigned from Washington. Did great work to build up the program at Boise State and then at Washington. Always hired great coaching staffs at both stops. Similar to Matt Rhule in that he’s the “CEO of the franchise” type of head coach. He’d be a stabilizing force for a tumultuous franchise.


Extra Credit: Positional Assistants

Corey Raymond – LSU (Defensive Backs) [C]

Development of Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Jalen Mills, Tre White, Jamal Adams, Greedy Williams, Donte Jackson, Kristian Fulton, Derek Stingley Jr. One of the best in terms of college positional coaches.

Jericho Cotchery – Carolina Panthers (Wide Receivers)*

Development of receivers D.J Moore and Curtis Samuel.

Jake Peetz – Carolina Panthers (Running Backs)*

Development of Derek Carr (2016-17) and Christian McCaffery this season.

Marc Colombo – Dallas Cowboys (Offensive Line)*

Development of guard Zack Martin, guard Connor Williams and right tackle Lael Collins.

Ben Bloom – Dallas Cowboys (Linebackers)*

Development of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Also, key part in the development of Demarcus Lawrence when he was the defensive ends coach from 2015 to 2016. Should be a defensive coordinator candidate with a few more years of experience.

Al Holcomb – Cleveland Browns (Linebackers)*

Development of Luke Kuechly in Carolina (2012-2017) and Joe Schobert this season. Super Bowl Champion as a defensive assistant with the Giants in 2011. Originally from New York.

Dennis Simmons – Oklahoma (Wide Receivers) [C]

Development of Marquise Brown, and CeeDee Lamb.

Mickey Joseph – LSU (Wide Receivers) [C]

Development of D.J Chark, Justin Jefferson, and Jamarr Chase.