It’s Black Monday in the NFL, the annual day when many head coaches get handed a pink slip. While it’s surely a challenging time for the coaching staffs and their families, many fans are ready for their teams to start fresh. A new head coach offers promise, but more often than not NFL front offices get the wrong guy for their team. With interviews and resumes flying around the rumor mill, finding the right fit for both parties is always easier said than done. Before the dust has even settled on who’s staying and who’s going, here’s an early projection of what candidate should fill the expected vacancies.
Indianapolis Colts: Mike Shula (Currently OC for Carolina Panthers)
Chuck Pagano hasn’t officially been fired yet, but speculation leans towards a change for the Colts. The seemingly temperamental Jim Irsay would probably be best suited changing GMs instead of coaches, but if he’s looking for a new leader of his team the Panthers’ play caller should be at the top of his list. The improvement Cam Newton has shown under Shula each year speaks well of both men as Newton has ironed out many inconsistencies en route to an MVP caliber season in 2015. Most of the questions marks Carolina had coming into the season were on the offensive side of the ball, but Shula has helped draw career years out of guys like Ted Ginn and Michael Oher. His brief stint as Alabama’s head coach was less than impressive, but head coaching experience in any capacity is valuable. Shula’s schematic creativity and quarterback success would mesh well with Andrew Luck who is a comparable talent to Newton at this stage in his career.
Runner Up: Hue Jackson
Cleveland Browns: Adam Gase (Currently OC for Chicago Bears)
You can’t blame Jimmy Haslam for trying. Certainly he’s made some questionable decisions over the years but he takes unfair criticism for cutting bait too quickly. Patience is often the answer, but look back at the GM’s and head coaches he’s fired. None of them have made him regret the decision. Given Haslam’s green light on drafting quarterbacks in the first round, expect to see Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch leading the Browns offense in 2016. If that’s the case, who better to hire than the league’s hottest offensive assistant the past three seasons? Adam Gase helped coach Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense to a record setting 2013 en route to an AFC Championship. Following John Fox to Chicago this offseason, Gase significantly downgraded QBs, inheriting the ambiguously disappointing Jay Cutler. The result was a career year for Cutler. It remains to be seen if Gase can be a leader of men, but that’s often the case with coordinators. Taking a chance on an offensive guru to lead your new signal caller is a risk the Browns can afford to take.
Runner Up: Josh McDaniels
New York Giants: Matt Patricia (Currently DC for New England Patriots)
Patricia might be the most underrated candidate being tossed around by league pundits. Poaching Bill Belichick assistants has proved largely unfruitful in the past, but that shouldn’t be a reason to not hire someone. Patricia has quietly managed New England’s championship defense the last four years. He’s the portly gentleman normally seen sporting a red hoodie, backwards hat, and duck dynasty looking beard on the Patriots sideline every week. Patricia’s players seem to love playing for him and Belichick said the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute alum is so smart that he “could probably build a plane and fly it.” The former offensive lineman has made his mark coaching defense, but there’s no reason to think he lacks the skills needed to oversee an NFL offense. Tom Coughlin will sail into a well-deserved Hall of Fame sunset, but there’s no doubt a change was needed for the Giants. Eli Manning still has several good years ahead of him and one the league’s best receivers flanking him. New York brass showed patience and loyalty to Coughlin and it paid off. Patricia may not bring the day one flash of a big name like Chip Kelly, but he’ll prove himself to be the right hire long term, no matter what team hires him.
Runner Up: Teryl Austin
Miami Dolphins: Hue Jackson (Currently OC for Cincinnati Bengals)
It’s a mystery why Hue Jackson still hasn’t gotten a second shot as a Head Coach after his considerably promising stint in the dysfunctional black hole that is Oakland. Similar to Gase and Shula, he’s had success improving quarterbacks for years, but what he’s done with Andy Dalton, or for that matter A.J. McCarron, and the Bengals offense is nothing short of spectacular. By all accounts players love him and his time in Oakland showed he knows how to lead men and manage an NFL locker room. The Dolphins thought Bill Lazor was the answer for Ryan Tannehill, but after a disastrous 2015, questions about Tannehill abound. It appears Miami’s front office will stick with Tannehill another season. If that’s the case, they need a head coach who can push the right buttons for both his quarterback and the rest of his team. Jim Harbaugh or Jon Gruden would be ideal hires, but both seem currently uninterested in NFL offers. Regardless of if the Dolphins draft a quarterback or continue to back Tannehill, Jackson is their best bet.
Runner Up: Matt Patricia
San Francisco 49ers: Sean Payton (Currently HC for New Orleans Saints)
After hiring an unproven assistant last offseason, the 49ers seem to be the early favorites to lure Payton away from the Saints. The Saints would be unwise to let go of Payton, but reports suggest they are willing. It’s unclear if GM Trent Baalke intends to draft a quarterback or give Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kapernick another shot. Payton is a great head coach, so he’s probably best suited to handle any of the three scenarios and given his track record of success the front office would likely have patience with the probable growing pains that lie ahead. With so many questions marks around this team, stability at head coach is essential for improvement. Chip Kelly and hot coordinators would bring more risk than the already established and respected Payton.
Runner Up: Mike Shanahan
Philadelphia Eagles: Teryl Austin (Currently DC for Detroit Lions)
Regardless of if you’re a Chip Kelly believer or hater, there’s no arguing that the Eagles fell apart in a hurry last season. There’s talent on both sides of the ball, but Teryl Austin’s expertise would elevate Philadelphia’s defense to another level. More than anything, this team needs a strong leader to rally behind and Austin’s resume makes a compelling case that he is up to the task. Austin’s defenses have played fast and physical and the Eagles could’ve used a little more of the latter last season. With the uncertainty at quarterback, Philadelphia should focus on improving the team around whoever lines up under center.
Runner Up: Sean McDermott