Hey! I thought I'd take a look at HC candidates for 2021 vacancies, because the Falcons and Texans have already fired their head coaches, because it appears inevitable that the Jets will soon fire their head coach, and because the Lions, Cowboys, Jaguars, Chargers, Broncos, and Vikings all have to be mulling making a switch at the end of the season.
I decided not to consider certain highly-touted candidates that turn down interviews frequently, such as Josh McDaniels, Lincoln Riley, and Dabo Swinney, and I wasn't able to mention every worthy candidate! Honorable mentions include Todd Bowles, Joe Brady, Mike McDaniel, Greg Roman, and Jim Schwartz. With that said, here are ten head coaching candidates for 2021:
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs Offensive Coordinator (Age: 51)
Career History: Colorado Runningbacks Coach 2001-2002, UCLA Runningbacks Coach 2003-2005, Vikings Runningbacks Coach 2006-2010, Colorado Offensive Coordinator 2011-2012, Chiefs Runningbacks Coach 2013-2017, Chiefs Offensive Coordinator 2018-2020
Eric Bieniemy will surely draw head coaching interest once again in 2021, as teams try to capture a slice of the prolific Chiefs offense. Bieniemy had a nine-year playing career for the Chargers, Bengals, and the Andy Reid Eagles before starting his coaching career at Colorado in 2001. Bieniemy spent five seasons in the college ranks before joining Brad Childress' staff as the Vikings runningbacks coach in 2006. Bieniemy's big opportunity came in 2007, when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson, and he took advantage, coaching Peterson to four-straight Pro Bowls. Bieniemy then spent two years back at Colorado before reuniting with Andy Reid in Kansas City as the runningbacks coach for 2013. Bieniemy oversaw Pro Bowl seasons from Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2018. That year, Bieniemy's unit was the top-ranked offense in the NFL, which he managed to somehow out-do in 2019 by winning the Super Bowl. Bieniemy would be a prime candidate for teams looking to infuse some of Andy Reid's magic into their offense in 2021.
Tom Cable, Raiders Offensive Line Coach (Age: 56)
Career History: Cal State Fullerton Defensive Line Coach 1990, UNLV Offensive Line Coach 1991, Cal Offensive Line Coach 1992-1997, Colorado Offensive Line Coach 1998, Colorado Offensive Coordinator 1999, Idaho Head Coach 2000-2003, UCLA Offensive Coordinator 2004-2005, Falcons Offensive Line Coach 2006, Raiders Offensive Line Coach 2007-2008, Raiders Head Coach 2009-2010, Seahawks Offensive Run Game Coordinator 2011-2017, Raiders Offensive Line Coach 2018-2020
With the Raiders' offense firing on all cylinders so far in 2020, teams could look to give Tom Cable another shot as a head coach. Cable got his start in coaching at Cal State Fullerton in 1990 and spent a year there and a year at UNLV before becoming the Cal offensive line coach in 1992. At Cal, Cable famously moved defensive linemen Jeremy Newberry and Tarik Glenn to the offensive line, where they'd each get drafted and make multiple Pro Bowls. After leaving Cal, Cable coached on the college level for eight more seasons before joining the Falcons' staff as an offensive line coach in 2006. That season, Cable worked with offensive line coaching legend Alex Gibbs, and the Falcons led the league in rushing. Cable then spent four seasons with the Raiders, starting out as an offensive line coach before taking over at head coach and finishing with a 17-27 record. Cable then joined the Seahawks as the offensive line coach and assistant head coach in 2011. In Seattle, Cable's offensive line paved the way for four top-5 rushing offenses, featuring Pro Bowlers Russell Okung, Max Unger, and Duane Brown, along with defensive convert JR Sweezy. Cable's work in Seattle prompted Jon Gruden to bring him back to the Raiders as the offensive line coach in 2018. With the Raiders thus far, Cable has overseen outstanding seasons from Rodney Hudson, Richie Incognito, and Trent Brown, along with developing raw rookie Kolton Miller into a good starter. Tom Cable is a proven talent developer on the offensive line, and his experience as a head coach and background with the zone-blocking system could intrigue a team enough to give him another shot as a head coach.
Brian Daboll, Bills Offensive Coordinator (Age: 45)
Career History: Patriots Defensive Assistant 2000-2001, Patriots Wide Receivers Coach 2002-2006, Jets Quarterbacks Coach 2007-2008, Browns Offensive Coordinator 2009-2010, Dolphins Offensive Coordinator 2011, Chiefs Offensive Coordinator 2012, Patriots Assistant Coach 2013, Patriots Tight Ends Coach 2014-2016, Alabama Offensive Coordinator 2017, Bills Offensive Coordinator 2018-2020
Brian Daboll is sure to garner some head coach interest for 2020, as Josh Allen has played at a borderline-MVP level and the Buffalo offense has performed at a high level. Highlights of Daboll's early career include coaching Brett Favre to the Pro Bowl for the Jets in 2008, coordinating a 2010 Browns offense that saw Peyton Hillis amongst the league leaders in rushing, and coaching Rob Gronkowski to consecutive All Pro recognitions in 2014 and 2015. These achievements netted Daboll the Alabama offensive coordinator post, where he promptly coordinated an offense headed by Jalen Hurts and freshman Tua Tagovailoa to a National Championship. Daboll then took the Buffalo job where he currently works. Daboll's reputation for developing quarterbacks and his ability to maximize his personnel such as Stefon Diggs and John Brown could make him an appealing choice for teams with young quarterbacks.
Matt Eberflus, Colts Defensive Coordinator (Age: 50)
Career History: Toledo Outside Linebackers Coach 1994-1998, Toledo Defensive Backs Coach 1999-2000, Missouri Defensive Coordinator 2001-2008, Browns Linebackers Coach 2009-2010, Cowboys Linebackers Coach 2011-2017, Colts Defensive Coordinator 2018-2020
As Indy's 'D' continues to outperform the sum of its parts, Matt Eberflus' name will continue to pop up for head-coaching vacancies. Eberflus got his start in Toledo in 1994 before spending fifteen years as an assistant in the college ranks and breaking into the NFL as a linebackers coach in 2009. In his early NFL career, Eberflus coached under Rob Ryan and oversaw All Pro seasons from DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee, along with a career revitalization for Rolando McClain in 2014 and 2015. Eberflus then landed the Indy DC job, where he improved the 30th-ranked total defense into the 11th-ranked total defense, with rookie linebacker Darius Leonard earning All Pro honors. Eberflus got productive seasons out of Leonard, Justin Houston, and rookie Bobby Okereke in 2019, and his defense currently ranks amongst the league leaders in 2020. Eberflus has interviewed for a head coaching position in the past, and he should be a candidate again in 2021 for teams looking to bring a strong cover-2 identity to their defense and develop their young talent in the front seven.
Leslie Frazier, Bills Defensive Coordinator (Age: 61)
Career History: Illinois Defensive Backs Coach 1997-1998, Eagles Defensive Backs Coach 1999-2002, Bengals Defensive Coordinator 2003-2004, Colts Defensive Assistant 2005, Colts Defensive Backs Coach 2006, Vikings Defensive Coordinator 2007-2010, Vikings Head Coach 2011-2013, Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator 2014-2015, Ravens Secondary Coach 2016, Bills Defensive Coordinator 2017-2020
Leslie Frazier could be the innovative defensive coach who breaks through for a head coaching hire in 2021. Frazier played for five seasons as a cornerback, including winning a championship starting for the legendary 1985 Bears defense. Frazier then jumped into the coaching realm, coaching in college for two seasons before joining the Eagles as a defensive backs coach in 1999. In his early career, Frazier oversaw Pro Bowl seasons from Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, and Bob Sanders, and he coached under Tony Dungy and Marvin Lewis. Frazier then took a job with the Vikings in 2007, where he coached three top-10 defenses before his promotion to head coach. Frazier went 21-32-1 as the Vikings' head coach, and after spending some time with the Buccaneers and the Ravens, he resurfaced as Sean McDermott's defensive coordinator in 2017. With Buffalo, Frazier helped to develop rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White into one of the best defensive players in all of football, along with coordinating top-3 defenses in 2018 and 2019. The Bills have remained hot in 2020, and Leslie Frazier could garner head coach interest from teams to bring his version of the 4-3, zone-heavy Buffalo defense that has dominated the league over the past few years.
Don Martindale, Ravens Defensive Coordinator (Age: 57)
Career History: Notre Dame Assistant 1994-1995, Cincinnati Linebackers Coach 1996-1998, Western Illinois Defensive Coordinator 1999, Western Kentucky Defensive Coordinator 2000-2003, Raiders Linebackers Coach 2004-2008, Broncos Linebackers Coach 2009, Broncos Defensive Coordinator 2010, Ravens Linebackers Coach 2012-2017, Ravens Defensive Coordinator 2018-2020
As the Ravens continue to excel defensively, Don Martindale's chances of landing a head-coaching job go up. Martindale got his coaching start on the college level in 1986, and he spent 18 years in college before taking an NFL linebackers coach job in 2004. In the years leading up to Martindale's eventual Baltimore job, Martindale coached standout pass rusher Elvis Dumervil to All-Pro recognition, while also getting productive seasons out of Kirk Morrison and DJ Williams. In Baltimore, though, starting in 2012, Martindale seemingly set up a linebackers factory, developing CJ Mosley, Zach Orr, Za'Darius Smith, and Matt Judon into excellent players before his promotion to defensive coordinator in 2018. Martindale coordinated top-5 total defenses in both 2018 and 2019, running a man-heavy, blitz-heavy unit. Once again, the Ravens are off to a hot start in 2020, and Martindale could finally break through after interviewing with the Giants in 2019.
Bill O’Brien, Former Texans Head Coach (Age: 51)
Career History: Brown Tight Ends Coach 1993, Brown Inside Linebackers Coach 1994, Georgia Tech Runningbacks Coach 1998-2000, Georgia Tech Offensive Coordinator 2001-2002, Maryland Runningbacks Coach 2003-2004, Duke Offensive Coordinator 2005-2006, Patriots Offensive Coordinator 2007, Patriots Wide Receivers Coach 2008, Patriots Quarterbacks Coach 2009-2010, Patriots Offensive Coordinator 2011, Penn State Head Coach 2012-2013, Texans Head Coach 2014-2020
Bill O'Brien may not be the flashiest candidate, but given his offensive acumen and winning record, teams are likely to be drawn to his experience. O'Brien got his start in coaching in 1993 as an assistant on the college level before landing the Duke offensive coordinator job in 2005 and 2006, when he developed freshman quarterback Thad Lewis. O'Brien then landed an offensive assistant job in New England under Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels from 2007 to 2010, when he worked closely with receiver duo Randy Moss and Wes Welker, along with coaching Tom Brady to consecutive Pro Bowls, which prompted O'Brien's promotion to offensive coordinator in 2011. The Patriots ranked 2nd in total offense that season, prompting Penn State to hire O'Brien as their head coach in 2012. With the Nittany Lions, O'Brien worked closely with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and star receiver Allen Robinson, resulting in the Texans hiring him to be their head coach in 2014. With O'Brien at the helm, the Texans went 52-48 with five winning seasons out of six and four division championships, propelled in part by the early success of Deshaun Watson. O'Brien could be a candidate for teams looking to bring in an experienced quarterback developer with substantial head coaching experience.
Kevin O’Connell, Rams Offensive Coordinator (Age: 35)
Career History: Browns Quarterbacks Coach 2015, 49ers Offensive Assistant 2016, Football Team Quarterbacks Coach 2017, Football Team Passing Game Coordinator 2018, Football Team Offensive Coordinator 2019, Rams Offensive Coordinator 2020
Kevin O’Connell could be the young offensive-minded head coaching candidate of choice for teams looking to land “the next Sean McVay” in 2021. O’Connell had a five-year playing career as a backup quarterback before he joined the coaching ranks in 2015. O’Connell coached two seasons as a low-level assistant before joining Jay Gruden’s staff with the Football Team in 2017. O’Connell worked closely with Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, and his former teammate Mark Sanchez before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2019. That year, O’Connell’s affect on rookie Dwayne Haskins was substantial, as Haskins’ performance improved mightily in every respect when O’Connell took over playcalling following Gruden’s firing. In 2020, Sean McVay made the rare move of hiring an offensive coordinator just so that he could bring O’Connell to the Rams, and the decision seems to have paid off, as the 2020 Los Angeles offense is much more dynamic than 2019’s version, with added motion and a much more efficient passing game. O’Connell is a candidate for any team looking to strike gold on a potential young, dynamic offensive mind to pair with a quarterback for a generation.
Robert Saleh, 49ers Defensive Coordinator (Age: 41)
Career History: Michigan State Defensive Assistant 2002-2003, Central Michigan Defensive Assistant 2004, Texans Defensive Intern 2005, Texans Defensive Quality Coach 2006-2008, Texans Assistant Linebackers Coach 2009-2010, Seahawks Defensive Quality Control Coach 2011-2013, Jaguars Linebackers Coach 2014-2016, 49ers Defensive Coordinator 2017-2019
Robert Saleh was a highly-touted head coach candidate following the 49ers' Super Bowl run in 2019 and should be in the mix again following the 2020 season. Saleh got his NFL start working with linebackers in Houston from 2005 to 2010, where he worked closely with young Pro Bowl linebacker duo Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans, prompting Pete Carroll to hire him as an assistant for the Seahawks from 2011 to 2013. In those three seasons, the Seahawks had two top-5 seasons in total defense, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright each had productive starts to their careers. Saleh then went to the Jaguars from 2014 to 2016 as the full-time linebackers coach, where he coached Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith, which prompted the 49ers to hire him as a defensive coordinator. In San Francisco, Saleh ran a version of Pete Carroll's cover-3 defensive scheme with big-name assistants Joe Woods and Kris Kocurek, and he developed linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw and finished with the 2nd-ranked total defense in the NFL in 2019. Saleh is a fiery coach who should draw interest as the next high-profile Seattle-3 head coach candidate.
Arthur Smith, Titans Offensive Coordinator (Age: 38)
Career History: Football Team Defensive Quality Assistant 2007-2008, Ole Miss Defensive Intern 2010, Titans Defensive Quality Control Coach 2011, Titans Offensive Quality Control Coach 2012, Titans Assistant Tight Ends Coach 2013-2015, Titans Tight Ends Coach 2016-2018, Titans Offensive Coordinator 2019-2020
Arthur Smith was largely an unknown quantity in 2019 when he took over as the Titans' offensive coordinator, but since then he has established himself as perhaps one of the best coordinators in all of football. Smith bounced around in low-level assistant coaching jobs before landing the Titans' assistant tight ends coach post in 2013. Between 2013 to 2017, Smith coached Delanie Walker to the Pro Bowl three times, coached the beginning of Jonnu Smith's career, and earned a promotion to tight ends coach in the meantime. Smith then coached under offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in 2018 before taking over as offensive coordinator himself in 2019. That season, Smith oversaw a veteran breakout for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who went 7-3 as a starter and led the league in passer rating despite starting the year as a backup. In 2020, Smith and Tannehill have picked up right where they left off, and so Smith has emerged as a hot head coach candidate as the next young West Coast offense option to follow in Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, and Matt LaFleur's footsteps.