NFL head-coaching carousel: Tracking firings, openings and candidates

Seven NFL head-coaching jobs opened up last year, and the 2018 cycle started early, as the Browns dumped Hue Jackson after their Week 8 loss to the Steelers and the Packers fired Mike McCarthy after Week 13. The Buccaneers, Jets, Broncos, Dolphins, Bengals and Cardinals fired their coaches after their final regular-season game, bringing the total to eight.

What’s next in the NFL coaching carousel? Here’s everything you need to know about all the movement through hiring-and-firing season, along with candidates for each job.

Quick links: Hottest candidates | Barnwell: Ranking potential openings

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Steve Wilks was fired by Arizona after going 3-13 in his first year in the job. The Cardinals will have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

The Steve Wilks era in Arizona is over after just one season. The Cardinals fired Wilks on Monday, a day after he finished 3-13 in his first year as a head coach. Wilks had three years left on his contract with Arizona, which was among the worst offensive and defensive teams in the NFL despite a plethora of individual talent on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals’ next coach will inherit the likes of quarterback Josh Rosen, running back David Johnson, cornerback Patrick Peterson and pass rusher Chandler Jones — as well as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft.

Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer7h ago

Potential candidates for the Cardinals job from Weinfuss:

Mike McCarthy: McCarthy has a history of developing and mentoring quarterbacks and would inherit another talented young quarterback in Josh Rosen. Under McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers won a Super Bowl and two MVPs and has developed into one of the best quarterbacks of his era.

Freddie Kitchens: The former longtime Cardinals assistant has made an immediate impact with the quarterbacks he has coached. In Arizona, Kitchens coached Carson Palmer to career-best seasons and in Cleveland he has elevated Baker Mayfield‘s play. Mayfield has dramatically improved during his time with Kitchens: His completion percentage is up to 71.0 compared with 58.3 before, and he’s thrown for 16 touchdowns to five picks with Kitchens to eight touchdowns and six picks before Kitchens.

Todd Bowles: Yes, Bowles would be another defensive coach, but the former Cardinals defensive coordinator and recently-fired Jets coach would bring stability back to Arizona’s defense, which was uprooted from Bowles’ 3-4 to Steve Wilks’ 4-3. Bowles would reestablish his scheme and likely bring Bruce Arians back in the fold as a consultant.

Bruce Arians: It might be a long shot but bringing back Arians to Arizona, where he won 50 games in five seasons, out of retirement could be the boost the franchise needs. Arians, long known as a quarterback whisperer, would be able to get his hands on Josh Rosen, which could be the fix the Cardinals need. Arians could bring back Bowles as defensive coordinator, which means Arizona’s vaunted 3-4 scheme would return, as well.

Jedd Fisch: Another long shot, but Fisch, currently the Rams senior offensive assistant, knows Josh Rosen about as well as anyone from their time together at UCLA in 2017. Fisch has NFL experience as an offensive coordinator. That, coupled with his familiarity with Rosen, could be the fit needed for the Cardinals.

Matt LaFleur: As teams look for the next Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan, LaFleur, currently the Titans’ offensive coordinator, could be it. While Marcus Mariota‘s numbers are down across the board, he is the most efficient he has been under LaFleur.

It seemed almost inevitable that Marvin Lewis would leave at the end of the 2017 season, but he wound up reaching a two-year contract extension. And after the Bengals lost seven of eight to end the 2018 season, he was fired.

Potential candidates for the Bengals job from ESPN’s Katherine Terrell:

Hue Jackson: If things had turned out differently, Jackson might have been the Bengals’ next coach after he and Marvin Lewis came up with a succession plan following the 2015 season. Jackson, however, ended up taking the job in Cleveland; he was fired after compiling a 3-36-1 record. It’s clear the Brown family still thinks highly of him after he quickly returned to Cincinnati, and Mike Brown might not want to start from the ground up at age 83. It makes sense that he would go with someone already in the building with whom he’s familiar.


Damien Woody explains that bad moves by NFL team front offices are the reason for the large number of coaching changes.

Vance Joseph: Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Broncos head coach who was fired Monday could be on the radar as either a defensive coordinator or head-coaching candidate in Cincinnati. Joseph had a successful two-year stint in Cincinnati as defensive backs coach from 2014 to 2015.

Jay Gruden: If there’s a running theme among the potential candidates, it’s that the Bengals like to go with the familiar, and they’re certainly going to take a look at some of the coaches they already know. It’s hard to imagine Gruden being fired with all of the injuries the Redskins have had this season, but if he is, he’d certainly go on the Bengals’ short list of candidates. Gruden was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2013 and was reportedly a coach the Bengals were eyeing if he had gotten fired last year.

Adam Gase went 10-6 and made the playoffs in his first season as Dolphins coach in 2016. Since then, though, he went 13-19 in two seasons, and he was fired by the team on Monday. The Dolphins also announced that general manager Chris Grier is being promoted to oversee football operations, and that Mike Tannenbaum is being let go from that role and reassigned to another position in the organization.

Potential candidates for the Dolphins job from ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe:

John Harbaugh: The Ravens put out a statement saying Harbaugh will return for 2019 and they will work on an extension, but Sports Illustrated reported the coach could decide to play out the year and not sign an extension. If that’s true, the Dolphins might have interest in a trade given owner Stephen Ross is high on the Harbaughs.

Jim Harbaugh: Ross has already told the Sun Sentinel and other reporters that he wouldn’t have interest in prying Harbaugh out of Michigan — Ross’ alma mater that names a business school after him. But if Harbaugh decides he’s leaving Michigan for the NFL, it’s hard not to see Ross getting involved in the bidding to bring him to Miami.


Chris Mortensen explains that fired Dolphins coach Adam Gase is a candidate for other head-coaching jobs.

Mike McCarthy: Aaron Rodgers and McCarthy didn’t work in the end, but a Super Bowl-winning coach with a solid offensive mind would be a great fit for a Miami team trying to find its way out of mediocrity. McCarthy would check off an experience box that Ross will likely desire in his new coach.

Eric Bieniemy: Anthony Lynn’s success should teach teams that offensive coaches don’t need a QB coach background to shine. Andy Reid’s coaching tree has been fruitful recently with Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy, and Bieniemy has shown in Year 1 as Chiefs offensive coordinator why he could be next. Players vouch for his attention to detail, passion and leadership.

Brian Kelly: NFL teams have called the Notre Dame coach, and Kelly even interviewed in Philadelphia a few years ago. His ability to build a program and offense will make him intriguing for Miami. If Kelly feels like he’s maxed out at Notre Dame and has the NFL itch, Ross could make it worth his while financially for a NFL leap.

Vance Joseph’s first season in charge of the Broncos included an eight-game losing streak but ended with a show of faith from general manager John Elway after a 5-11 finish. A 6-10 season in Year 2 wasn’t enough to save his job, however.

Potential candidates for the Broncos job from ESPN’s Jeff Legwold:

Mike McCarthy: Yes, McCarthy is available because he was fired by the Packers, but he is also in the league’s top 30 in wins all time. That includes a Super Bowl win.

Mike Munchak: The Steelers’ offensive line coach was a Hall of Famer as a player who might not have been given a legitimate chance to succeed as the Titans coach, when he was fired in 2013. He’s a respected teacher.

Gus Bradley: The Chargers’ defensive coordinator has head-coaching experience in what is considered a shallow pool of candidates. He will have to explain what happened in his tenure in Jacksonville, but Bradley excels at the face-to-face sit-downs that often tip owners and team presidents.

Chuck Pagano: A Boulder, Colorado, native whose father was one of the notable high school coaches in the region. Pagano is another defensive coach who would have to explain what, exactly, he would do with the Broncos’ offense.

Leslie Frazier: The Bills defensive coordinator has interviewed with the team’s decision-makers before in John Elway’s tenure as the president of football operations/general manager.

Brian Flores: The Patriots defensive coordinator is at the top of the list of most team executives. He’s 37 and might have to wait for a head-coaching job. He, too, would have to explain what to do with the offense.

Dave Toub: The Broncos interviewed the Chiefs’ no-nonsense special-teams coach when they hired Vance Joseph in 2017. He’s respected and one of the best at what he does, as his former assistant and players consistently praise him.

Eric Bieniemy: The Chiefs offensive coordinator has Colorado ties, is well known to the Broncos’ executive branch, and the success of Andy Reid’s former assistants in recent years — Doug Pederson, Matt Nagy and Frank Reich — only helps his cause.

Todd Bowles entered the year 10-22 in his first two seasons as Jets coach, though he received a two-year contract extension at the end of the 2017 season. He was fired after the Jets finished 2018 at 4-12.

Potential candidates for the Jets job, from ESPN’s Rich Cimini:

Mike McCarthy: He’s high on the Jets’ list, and with good reason. He was a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Packers and his offensive background would help Sam Darnold‘s development. The big question is whether he’s wired for the New York market.

Eric Bieniemy: The Chiefs’ offensive coordinator is from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which most recently produced Bears coach Matt Nagy. Bieniemy presided over one of the best offenses in the league, although he’s not the playcaller. The major knock is his lack of experience.


Mike Golic and Mike Golic Jr. discuss why hiring an offensive mind might make sense for the Jets to replace Todd Bowles.

Matt LaFleur: The Titans’ offensive coordinator worked under two of the top offensive minds in the game, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. League insiders believe LaFleur has long-term potential, but his offense didn’t light up scoreboards this season.

Dan Campbell: The Saints’ tight ends coach is a Bill Parcells protege who went 5-7 as the Dolphins’ interim coach in 2015. Campbell has strong leadership qualities, which should appeal to the Jets. It can’t hurt that he worked with Sean Payton, the best playcaller in the business.

Zac Taylor: Is he Sean McVay 2.0? The Rams’ quarterbacks coach is young, 35, and bright, but that doesn’t mean he’s the next McVay. He doesn’t call plays for the Rams, but did for the Dolphins in 2015 under Campbell.

Jim Caldwell: Caldwell made the playoffs four times while compiling a 62-50 record with the Colts and Lions. His background with offense/quarterbacks makes him intriguing, but he won’t excite the fan base.

The Bucs promoted Dirk Koetter to head coach after the 2015 season, and he went 14-18 in his first two seasons. And after a 5-11 showing in 2018, he has been let go.

Potential candidates for the Bucs job, from ESPN’s Jenna Laine:

Bruce Arians: Should the Bucs retain general manager Jason Licht, the former Cardinals coach would be a solid choice considering the two worked together in Arizona and Arians already has a relationship with Jameis Winston. Arians retired after last season, but he has suggested that he could return to the NFL for the right opportunity.

Mike McCarthy: He has a Super Bowl ring, tutored Aaron Rodgers, went 125-77-2 as the Packers’ coach and has experience with the type of passing weapons the Bucs have.

Todd Monken: Monken would allow the Bucs to maintain continuity with Winston and the offense while putting his own spin on things. In his first year calling plays as offensive coordinator, the Bucs went from 49.1 percent to to 58.9 percent in the red zone.

Jim Harbaugh: He went 44-19-1 in his four seasons in San Francisco before leaving for his alma mater, Michigan. Would a 41-15 thrashing against Florida in the Peach Bowl give him the nudge he needs to go back to the NFL?

A year ago, Mike McCarthy’s seat was cool. He got a one-year contract extension through 2019 shortly before former general manager Ted Thompson was forced aside. But the 2018 season spiraled in a way no one foresaw, culminating in a home loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 2. McCarthy was fired a few hours after the game.

Potential candidates for the Packers job, from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky (read the full list):

Jim Harbaugh: A source familiar with general manager Brian Gutekunst said he’s long been a fan of the current Michigan and former 49ers coach. He has a sparkling NFL record (44-19-1) but tends to wear out his welcome quickly.

Josh McDaniels: Backing out of the Colts’ job last season when he already had begun to put together a coaching staff was a bad look, and he lasted only two seasons as the head coach in Denver, although he was only 32 years old when he got the job.

Joe Philbin: Spent nine years with the Packers before he was hired as the Dolphins’ head coach in 2012. Went 24-28 but was fired part of the way into his fourth season. Returned to Green Bay in January as offensive coordinator.

Zac Taylor: The Rams’ quarterbacks coach has learned under Sean McVay in Los Angeles the past two seasons. Before that, he worked on Philbin’s staff with the Dolphins. His wife, Sarah, is ex-Packers coach Mike Sherman’s daughter.

Eric Bieniemy: The Chiefs’ first-year offensive coordinator has been credited with helping Andy Reid’s offense evolve with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The former NFL running back replaced Matt Nagy, who left to coach the Bears.

Pat Fitzgerald: Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy, the former Northwestern athletic director, promoted Fitzgerald to head coach there after Randy Walker died in July 2006. Fitzgerald comes from the defensive side and has never worked in the NFL but is highly thought of for his success at a difficult place to win. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Green Bay plans to interview Fitzgerald.

The Browns fired Hue Jackson (and offensive coordinator Todd Haley) in late October after a 2-5-1 start. Jackson finished his tenure in Cleveland with a 3-36-1 record. The Browns appear to be much improved under interim coach Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens (who replaced Haley), but it remains to be seen whether they keep those roles permanently.

Potential candidates for the Browns job, from ESPN’s Pat McManamon:

Gregg Williams: One of only two names general manager John Dorsey has acknowledged he will interview (Freddie Kitches is the other). As interim coach, Williams brought focus and order to a team that had been losing. The team played much smarter and more aggressive football in Williams’ time in charge.

Freddie Kitchens: When the Browns named him offensive coordinator after the firing of Todd Haley, Kitchens was largely an unknown. He has ignited the offense, shown imagination in formations and playcalling, and developed a strong rapport with Baker Mayfield. The Browns have to decide if he’s ready to be a head coach, something Kitchens responded to by saying: “Who the hell’s ready to be a head coach?”

Mike McCarthy: He has a relationship with Dorsey, Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf, and he guided the Packers to a Super Bowl and nine playoff appearances in 12-plus seasons in Green Bay. McCarthy is experienced and would bring immediate juice to the position.

The Browns will interview two members of their staff, one from New England and one from the Colts to be the team’s coach. GM John Dorsey said he will interview interim coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Browns asked permission to interview Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.

Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer6h ago

Dave Toub: Kansas City’s special-teams coach would be appealing because he would bring a strong mind and leadership skills, and could keep Kitchens as offensive coordinator.

Kris Richard: The Cowboys’ secondary coach also coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle, where he was the defensive coordinator. Richard’s stock has quietly risen. Hiring him also could mean retaining Kitchens.

Josh McDaniels: The Patriots assistant always appears on potential hiring lists, but he didn’t help his case last offseason by taking then turning down the Colts job.

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