Around this time of the football season is when NFL teams and general managers start to put out “feelers” in regards to potential head-coaching candidates. There are already two jobs available (Green Bay and Cleveland) and many more expected to be open once the season ends. It wouldn’t be a surprise if there were as many as eight head coaching changes this season.
After the success of young, offensive minds such as Sean McVay and Matt Nagy, teams across the NFL are going to be searching for the next innovative head coach. Teams that are struggling on offense or are looking to develop a young quarterback will be hunting for the game's next great play caller. With the league becoming more pass-heavy and offensively dominant, it is hard to imagine many teams opting for defensive head coaches over some potentially brilliant offensive minds.
With that in mind, here is a list of five potential candidates who should garner some attention and interview for head-coaching jobs over the next few months.
John DeFilippo, Minnesota
One of the hottest names this offseason will be John DeFilippo of the Minnesota Vikings. He became a star in the coaching world as he helped develop quarterback Carson Wentz as a rookie. Then, in 2017, helped coach up Nick Foles to win a Super Bowl. That landed him a job as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, where he has dramatically changed Minnesota’s offense. Outside of developing and coaching up quarterbacks, DeFilippo has had a lot of success as a play-caller.
What I love about DeFilippo is that he knows how to use the players on his roster to their fullest extent. The Vikings have had problems running the ball successfully this season, especially when Dalvin Cook has been out of the lineup.
Instead of running into a brick wall on every snap, DeFilippo has opened up the offense to feature his two outstanding receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings are now throwing the ball 67.3 percent of the time, the most in the NFL. On top of that, Minnesota has one of the best two-minute offenses in the league combined with a lethal attack in the red zone. When they protect Kirk Cousins, this offense can hang with any team in the NFL.
While there have certainly been bumps in the road, specifically on the offensive line, DeFilippo has helped the Vikings to overcome some of these obstacles as the team is still in contention for a playoff spot. If a team has a young quarterback they are trying to develop, DeFilippo may be the No.1 candidate on the market.
Todd Monken, Tampa Bay
Monken is the oldest coach on this list (52), but he should be on the head coaching radar after his work in Tampa Bay this year. While the Bucs season hasn’t necessarily gone as planned, the offense has been able to put up points with subpar quarterback play. That, in part, is the reason Monken should earn interviews, at least.
According to 360SportRadar, the Buccaneers lead the league in Air Yards (total distance the ball is thrown beyond the line of scrimmage) by quite a bit. Through 12 games, Tampa Bay has 2,835 Air Yards, and the second-closest is Atlanta at 2,151. The Buccaneers are one of the most explosive offenses in the league, and that is somewhat of a surprise given their offensive personnel.
Under Monken, the Buccaneers have had one of the most aggressive passing attacks in the league and are averaging 9.0 yards per passing attempt, third-best in the NFL. Tampa Bay has also been one of the most aggressive teams in the league on fourth down. Front offices that are looking to improve their passing game and up the aggressiveness in the building should consider hiring Monken.
Matt LaFleur, Tennessee
If you are looking for the next Sean McVay, look no further than a coach who has worked under him in Los Angeles. Matt LaFleur is the current offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, but he worked with the Rams last season in the same role. Before that, he was the quarterback coach in Atlanta and helped Matt Ryan win the first MVP award of his career.
This season, LaFleur and the Titans have have been up and down, but he has appeared to resurrect Marcus Mariota’s career as he is completing nearly 69 percent of his passes. The Titans are throwing the ball down the field more as they rank 10th in Air Yards (finished 27th in 2017) and have improved significantly on third down. While the product hasn’t been perfect, the Titans’ offense has dramatically improved since his arrival.
How the Titans finish the season could determine just how many interviews LaFleur receives this offseason. If a team misses out on DeFilippo, LaFleur isn’t a bad consolation prize. At just 39 years old, LaFleur has the perfect combination of youth and pedigree to be the next great young head coach.
Byron Leftwich, Arizona
Sometimes, getting the right head coach can be done by taking a chance on a young, somewhat unproven commodity. For me, one of the first coaches I would interview for a head coaching job would be Byron Leftwich of the Arizona Cardinals. Leftwich is very green, starting coaching in 2016 under Bruce Arians. However, he has experience as a play caller, and the Cardinals' offense has improved dramatically since he has become the offensive coordinator midway through the 2018 season.
Leftwich has been handicapped some by the old scheme left behind by Mike McCoy and the poor play of the offensive line. However, the offense has seen a 3.5 points per game increase since Leftwich’s mid-season promotion. But there have been even more signs that Leftwich understands how to run an offense. Since he has been promoted to offensive coordinator and play caller, running back David Johnson has seen his success rate jump from 33.6 to 50.6 percent. Earlier in the season, Johnson was averaging just 3.23 yards in McCoy's archaic offense. That has since risen to 4.42 as Leftwich has figured out how to get Johnson involved in the offense effectively. With a rookie quarterback, Leftwich has done a great job at getting Josh Rosen to feel comfortable in the pocket and has devised a way to improve the run game, as well.
If you could pair Leftwich with an experienced defensive coordinator, such as the Rams did with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips, the results could be terrific. He’s going to need some help transitioning from an offensive consultant to a head coach, but I’m buying all of the Byron Leftwich stock I can.
Pete Carmichael, New Orleans
Pete Carmichael has been the the offensive coordinator of the high-powered New Orleans Saints’ offense since 2006. During that period, only the Patriots have scored more points, and nobody has racked up more total yards. It is somewhat shocking that more teams haven’t come after Carmichael after all of his success in New Orleans.
Under Sean Payton and Carmichael, the Saints have changed their offensive game plan multiple times, depending on their offensive personnel. But whatever the Saints have done on offense over the years has worked. By pedigree alone, there aren't many candidates that can come close to the accomplishments of Carmichael.
Carmichael has taken interviews for head coaching jobs before but has turned down offers to stay with the Saints. If an opportunity arises in which he could coach another elite quarterback, such as in Green Bay, would he take it? Though Payton and Drew Brees get most of the credit in New Orleans, Carmichael’s name needs to be mentioned more often. Don’t be surprised if Carmichael becomes a hot candidate over the next several weeks.