As of yesterday all of the current NFL coaching vacancies have been filled. That means that the great Bill Belichick will not be coaching in 2024 along with his protege Mike Vrabel. That’s not to say a surprise opening may still come but most likely the 8 new head coaches below will be it.
This coaching cycle was filled with big-time names and the candidate pool was large. There were some surprises along the way (see Ben Johnson) and some interesting hires. With that said, let’s break down each new coaching hire and offer grades for them.
Raheem Morris – Atlanta Falcons
It’s a full-circle moment for former Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris. Morris spent 5 years in Atlanta and filled in as head coach when Dan Quinn was fired in 2020. He spent the last three years in Los Angeles as the defensive coordinator for the Rams. Morris was part of the Rams Super Bowl winning season in 2022.
No matter where he has been one thing is certain, the players love Morris. Over the years he has had several endorsements from players including this year when cornerback Jalen Ramsey praised the hire. The offensive staff will be key for Morris in Atlanta and the Falcons recently hired Zac Robinson to fill that role. Robinson worked with Morris in LA and was the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator.
For Morris to have success in Atlanta it will come down to the quarterback position. The Falcons will likely look at the draft to address this but it appears Desmond Ridder‘s time in Atlanta is over. This is a solid hire for the Falcons as Morris is already familiar with the organization and we already know he will get the best out of his players.
Dave Canales – Carolina Panthers
One of the first coaches to be hired this offseason was former Buccaneers OC Dave Canales. Although raw, Canales was excellent in his role coordinating the Bucs offense. He also helped resurrect the career of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is now likely to sign with the Tampa Bay long term thanks in large part to Canales.
In Carolina, Canales will look to do the same for former #1 pick Bryce Young. Young had a disappointing rookie season but due to the coaching turnover and turmoil, it’s tough to judge his on-field performances. Next year will be different for Young. Canales will work with his strengths and get the most out of his talent. If Young fails again then it won’t be on coaching more so his limitations.
For me, this is an underrated hire for the Panthers. They didn’t go after the big name but instead found the next great offensive mind. The only part I didn’t like about this hire was the 6-year contract. It’s likely that Panthers owner David Tepper needed to add the extra year to seal the deal.
Antonio Pierce – Las Vegas Raiders
When Antonio Pierce took over for the fired Josh McDaniels he wasn’t given much of a chance to keep the job long-term. As the season went on though it became clear Pierce was an excellent leader and he led the Raiders to a 5-4 record down the stretch. That was good enough for 2nd in the AFC West and once the season ended it was up to ownership to make the move.
Like Raheem Morris, Pierce received several ringing endorsements for current Raiders players. None bigger than Maxx Crosby who essentially stated he would want to be traded if the Raiders didn’t bring on Pierce long term. Las Vegas ownership heard the chatter loud and clear and decided to bring on Pierce full-time.
This is another solid hire and I give credit to the Raiders leadership for listening to their players. Pierce is a natural leader and will get the most from his players. There are also indications that Las Vegas will bring in Kliff Kingsbury as their OC which is a smart move.
Jim Harbaugh – Los Angeles Chargers
Perhaps the biggest name on the market this offseason was former Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh had just won the National Championship and there were many indications that this was the year he would jump back to the NFL.
No matter where he’s been, Harbaugh has proven to be a winner. From Stanford to San Francisco and eventually at Michigan, Harbaugh has been successful at each stop. The former Chargers quarterback will now get a chance to coach one of the best young quarterbacks in the league Justin Herbert. Herbert still has untapped potential and Harbaugh will teach him how to be a winner.
To me, this is the best hire of this coaching cycle. Harbaugh and the Chargers are the perfect match and I expect them to compete for Super Bowls. The only downside is how long he will last in LA. Harbaugh has a tendency to not stick around long at any of his stops. If the Chargers can get a Super Bowl out of him it won’t matter in the end.
Jerod Mayo – New England Patriots
After it became clear Bill Belichick would not be back in New England owner Robert Kraft had a choice to make. He could either go out and find a fresh face in the coaching pool or stick with the Belichick tree and hire within. Kraft ultimately decided to hire within and promote Jerod Mayo to head coach.
Mayo spent the last 5 seasons in New England as the inside linebackers coach. Like Antonio Pierce, Mayo was praised by former Patriots players including Tom Brady who called him an excellent leader. At just 37, Mayo is still young and if he works out the Patriots will be set long term.
What’s interesting about the New England situation is that Mike Vrabel wasn’t considered. Vrabel seemed like the perfect successor to Belichick. For whatever reason the Patriots decided not to pursue him and it may come back to bite them. By all accounts, Mayo seems like a solid hire but I fear the Patriots will once again be looking for a new coach in just a of couple years.
Mike Macdonald – Seattle Seahawks
One of the hottest names of this coaching cycle was Ravens DC Mike Macdonald. He did wonders for Baltimore’s defense and shut down some of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL this year. Before his stop in Baltimore, Macdonald spent 1 year as defensive coordinator at Michigan.
Although only 36, Macdonald has also been praised for his leadership qualities. He will have big shoes to fill in Seattle taking over for Pete Carroll. The Seahawks have a bunch of young talented players on defense and solid pieces in place on offense. The question for Macdonald will be if he decides to keep Geno Smith.
In all, I am a fan of this hire for the Seahawks. Seattle targeted him early on and eventually got their man.
Brian Callahan – Tennessee Titans
In Tennessee, it’s the end of the Vrabel era. This was perhaps the most surprising of the offseason firings. Although they had a down year the Titans were respectable with Vrabel at the helm. Former Bengals OC Brian Callahan will step in his place.
Callahan has been with Cincinnati since 2019 and helped to tutor quarterback Joe Burrow. He is somewhat of a quarterback whisperer as he was able to do wonders for Jake Browning who filled in for the injured Burrow this season. If the Titans decide to stick with Will Levis I expect to see a big improvement in his game.
I am somewhat neutral on this hire. It’s not flashy by any means but Callahan will come in and elevate the Titans offense. The big question is if he is a good leader as he will be replacing Vrabel who is known for his leadership.
Dan Quinn – Washington Commanders
For Washington Commanders fans this offseason got off to a perfect start. The new ownership group led by Josh Harris was now fully in control and they took no time hiring new GM Adam Peters. Peters knows how to build NFL teams as he helped build the 49ers into a championship contender.
Many expected the next move for Peters and the Commanders was to hire Ben Johnson as their head coach. As we all know that didn’t happen as Johnson decided to stay in Detroit. We don’t really know what happened behind the scenes and perhaps Johnson was never their preferred choice but in the end, Washington decided to hire former Cowboys DC Dan Quinn.
Now Quinn was not the most popular candidate on the market but it’s hard to ignore what he has done for the Cowboys defense. Quinn completely turned around that side of the ball and will need to do the same for the Commanders. Like the other defensive coaches that were hired, Quinn will need to pick the right staff to run his offense. So the next few hires will be key.
By all accounts, Quinn seems like a great leader of men and should help change the culture in Washington. I am just not sure about the fit. I would’ve liked to see the Commanders go after a young offensive mind. Washington is going through a full rebuild and I think they should’ve gone outside of the box on this hire.