Finally, the 2024 head-coaching merry-go-round has come to a halt. Dan Quinn is set to become the new head coach of the Washington Commanders, and we’ve learned three things about this hiring cycle.
First, it was one of the most diverse cross-sections of new head coaches that the league has ever seen, with four of the eight openings filled by persons of color. Those include the Atlanta Falcons’ Raheem Morris, the New England Patriots’ Jerod Mayo, the Las Vegas Raiders’ Antonio Pierce and the Carolina Panthers’ Dave Canales. In a league that has had significant diversity issues across the top of head-coaching trees, that’s not a small thing.
Second, the places teams went to get their coaches were not unusual. Two hires were internal candidates (Pierce and Mayo). Three were “retread” former NFL head coaches (Morris, Quinn and the Los Angeles Chargers' Jim Harbaugh), though we should note that Harbaugh doubles as the “star” hire of this cycle. And three hires were “hot” coordinators, including Canales, the Seattle Seahawks’ Mike Macdonald and the Tennessee Titans’ Brian Callahan.
But the third thing we learned from this rotation might actually be the most important reality heading into 2025. That head-coaching cycle is going to be arguably the most loaded and experienced the league has ever seen. It'll be a full spectrum of aged experience to rising-star upside that will include previously successful program leaders and builders in Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll, Mike Vrabel and Brian Flores, matched with two coveted offensive coordinators (the Detroit Lions’ Ben Johnson and Houston Texans’ Bobby Slowik) who might have their pick of multiple jobs before it’s all over.
That fact should have plenty of individuals looking over their shoulders throughout the 2024 season. Consider these franchise groupings as being under watch:
Dallas Cowboys: Wildly unlikely to stick with Mike McCarthy in the event of either a rollback in 2024 or another early-round playoff failure.
Buffalo Bills: Continuing to hit their heads on a playoff ceiling under Sean McDermott and in danger of regressing out of a Super Bowl window.
Philadelphia Eagles: Big expectations and big coaching staff changes seemingly everywhere except with Nick Sirianni.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Shocking backslide out of the playoff picture under Doug Pederson in 2023.
New York Giants: Face-planted in Year 2 with Brian Daboll.
The Total Underachievers:
New York Jets: 18-33 under Robert Saleh, with the front office and coaching staff hanging on the outcome of 2024.
New Orleans Saints: 16-18 in two seasons of Dennis Allen, despite a weak surrounding division.
Chicago Bears: 10-24 with Matt Eberflus, who might have the hottest seat of anyone in 2024.
So how should we be looking at these situations? Well, where it concerns “small window” guys such as Belichick and Carroll — who are each in their 70s — the most obvious pairings would be rosters that are built to compete now but in need of someone who can come in and turn the key with championship-level experience. All of the pressure-cookers fit in that category, and you could make an argument that Jacksonville could slide in with the quarterback spot and a significant amount of the surrounding roster locked in with talent. Of course, Belichick and Carroll both had immense control over their previous franchises, so there would likely need to be some finessing on the organizational power structure when pursuing either. But if your team’s runway is short, you won’t find two better coaches or résumés on the open market.
Then you have Vrabel and Flores, whose relative youth (48 and 42, respectively) and high-level success in defensive scheme-building make them a fit almost anywhere. That is, before you consider with whom each will be working. Both Vrabel and Flores are intense types who might not fit with every general manager — or every team owner, for that matter. All of which makes their interviews an extremely important part of the process. But the upside of finding the fit with either is that they have a significant amount of track left ahead of them as “second-chance” head coaches. Think of Pete Carroll’s 14-year run with the Seattle Seahawks. Vrabel and Flores could be capable of that and more.
And when you get to Johnson and Slowik — who are 37 and 36, respectively — you’re going to be talking about two of the hottest offensive coordinators in years. Johnson because he has now removed himself from the hiring cycle twice and still has an arrow pointed up with the Lions, and Slowik because he’s one of the most promising coaches to come off the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree and oversaw the staggering turnaround of the Texans' offense. That's with a rookie quarterback, no less, which will make him even more coveted with franchises that are either already working with young signal-callers or in position to draft one heading into the 2025 season.
Of course, there’s always a wild card in the field from one season to the next. A year ago, we couldn’t have known what the meteoric rise of Slowik would look like in Houston. Maybe next year that guy will be Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Drew Petzing or a yet-to-be-named offensive coordinator with the Commanders or Patriots, both of whom will no doubt be working with a coveted top-three quarterback draft pick next season. Add that to what we already know about the field in 2025, and it’s nothing less than a bumper crop.
In a league in which most coaches are hired to be fired — and seemingly axed more quickly than ever — the best gift the 2024 coaching cycle has given to the league is setting the stage for a historic field of candidates one year later.