NFL owners can only dream of what the Houston Texans got last January: a home run head-coaching hire who has transformed the culture of the franchise, developed a young, talent-filled roster and won the AFC South in Year 1, ultimately reaching the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Of course, the Texans cycled through two straight one-and-done head coaches before they hired DeMeco Ryans, which stands as a cautionary tale for how badly owners can mismanage the most crucial hire they can make. The current carousel began with a relative rarity: three in-season firings.
Some teams that were thought to have coaches sitting on hot seats righted themselves in the second half of the season, and their respective head men are staying put as a result. But several days after the season ended, a series of monumental, and in some cases shocking, departures -- in Tennessee, Seattle and New England -- gave the league a glut of openings.
Since then, all eight jobs have been filled, with four going to diverse candidates (Jerod Mayo in New England, Antonio Pierce in Las Vegas, Raheem Morris in Atlanta and Dave Canales in Carolina). Hiring of minority coaches has been a primary focus and source of frustration for NFL executives, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, in recent years. A series of initiatives and hiring rules have been put into place to expand the pool of diverse candidates and compel teams to slow down their hiring process and interview a wider range of coaches. The results of the 2023 cycle were the most hopeful the NFL has had in years, bringing the total number of minority head coaches to nine, the most in a single season in NFL history.
Below is an assessment of each of the eight hires made since the 2023 regular season ended:
The NFL gets knocked for recycling head coaches, but let’s be clear: Raheem Morris has more than earned his second go-around as the top man. Morris was a bright young thing -- the league’s youngest head coach at the time -- when he became the Bucs head coach at age 33 in 2009. He engineered a one-year turnaround from three wins to 10, but in three seasons, the Bucs went 17-31. The question that emerged from that time was whether Morris was simply too young to manage and discipline players who were his peers. That was a long time ago, though, and in the intervening years, Morris went back to being a defensive assistant coach, where his units routinely excelled. While on the Atlanta staff of Dan Quinn, he also spent time coaching wide receivers. In 2020, while the defensive coordinator, he was named the Falcons’ interim head coach after Quinn was fired. After that, he spent three seasons as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, and Sean McVay, Les Snead and Kyle Shanahan (with whom Morris worked in Washington) all gave strong endorsements of Morris’ head-coaching candidacy, as did players like Jalen Ramsey. In Atlanta, Morris will be paired with incumbent general manager Terry Fontenot, and the first priority has to be finding a quarterback, while his selection of an offensive coordinator will be critical. There is young talent on the team, though, and a highly respected owner in Arthur Blank. Another plus: The NFC South is entirely winnable. (The Bucs took the division title this season with a 9-8 record.) If the Falcons can figure out their quarterback situation, they could be poised for a very fast turnaround. Morris’ hiring came after an exhaustive search that included interviews with more than a dozen candidates, including Bill Belichick, who had two interviews with Blank and was perceived as an early front-runner for the job. Morris is the fourth diverse hire in this coaching cycle (Antonio Pierce, Jerod Mayo and Dave Canales are the others) and one of five from the defensive side of the ball (alongside Pierce, Mayo, Mike Macdonald and Dan Quinn).
A year ago, Dave Canales took the offensive coordinator job in Tampa Bay that other, more-experienced coaches did not want. He was appealing to the Bucs because of his contributions as the quarterbacks coach in Seattle, where he worked with Russell Wilson and then got the very best out of Geno Smith. That made him a good fit for the quarterback most assumed would be a bridge in Tampa -- Baker Mayfield. Instead, Canales maximized his opportunity, coached Mayfield to a career year (and likely a contract extension) and put himself on the coaching radar as the Bucs made a push to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. He and Dan Morgan, the Panthers new GM, worked together in Seattle, and now Canales will be charged with making Bryce Young into the franchise quarterback the Panthers thought they were drafting last season. Canales is also a culture builder, and he will bring a big dose of positivity and energy to a franchise that, after a miserable season, needs the boost. This hire is a shocker because of how quickly Canales, who spent just one season as a coordinator, burst onto the scene, but it follows a multi-year, league-wide trend toward young (Canales is 42 years old), offensive-minded coaches. The Panthers have a lot of work ahead, and owner David Tepper will have to be patient -- he’s paired a rookie head coach with a rookie general manager on a team that has a young quarterback who already needs a reset. The team does not have a first-round draft pick this year, but Canales and Morgan must get some weapons for Young. One other note: Canales is Mexican-American, making him the only Hispanic active head coach in the NFL and the fourth diverse coach hired in this cycle, joining Jerod Mayo in New England, Antonio Pierce in Las Vegas and Raheem Morris in Atlanta.
Mark Davis did not repeat the mistake he made two years ago, when he spurned then-interim head coach Rich Bisaccia to hire Josh McDaniels instead, even though Bisaccia had stabilized the team during a tumultuous 2021 season, leading the Raiders to the playoffs. This time, Davis paid attention to how his team responded to Antonio Pierce, the linebackers coach who became the interim head coach prior to Week 9. From there, the Raiders went 5-4, averaged a full touchdown more in points per game than in the previous eight games (even though McDaniels was hired for his offensive expertise), allowed a full touchdown less on defense, and went 3-1 against AFC West rivals, defeating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. A strong leader who, as a player, was also known for his football acumen, Pierce sought advice from his own former coach Tom Coughlin, among others, and enjoyed strong support from his locker room, including superstar pass rusher Maxx Crosby, who hinted he could seek a trade if Pierce were not given the job. Pierce brought energy and pride back to the team -- he made it clear he didn't just want to be a head coach, he wanted to be the Raiders' head coach -- and he demonstrated his love for the franchise even as Davis conducted his coaching search, wearing a Raiders jacket to a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. In the end, it seemed to be his job all along -- Davis was reported to have interviewed just two other candidates. Pierce is the rare interim to get the full-time job and one of three Black coaches hired in this cycle. Now that he has the job, Pierce's first priority is a familiar one: He has to find a quarterback.
UPDATE: The Raiders hired Tom Telesco as GM.
Jim Harbaugh's years-long flirtation with a return to the NFL has finally ended, with Harbaugh accepting one of the plum jobs available this offseason. Harbaugh inherits a talent-laden roster -- highlighted by quarterback Justin Herbert -- that has consistently underperformed. Harbaugh has won everywhere he has coached, in college -- most recently at his alma mater, Michigan, where he just won the national championship -- and in the NFL, where he is a former Coach of the Year and had the San Francisco 49ers inches from potentially winning the Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick. He has shown an ability to coach different styles of offense. Harbaugh is a turnaround artist, and a fast one. He is also a quirky character who has a history of engendering tension at some of his previous stops, which means his tenure might not last a decade-plus. That makes the choice of a new general manager especially interesting -- that person will have to be in alignment with Harbaugh, who famously was not on the same page with general manager Trent Baalke in San Francisco. Whoever the GM is will have to go to work on the salary cap -- the Chargers are currently projected to be more than $45 million over the cap in 2024, per Over the Cap. But the Chargers will almost certainly win with Harbaugh and win a lot. Their defense struggled last season, so his choice of a defensive coordinator will be critical, and the Chargers will almost certainly be a more physical team under Harbaugh. The only reason Harbaugh may not reign immediately is the reality of life in the AFC West -- he, like everyone else, has to get past the Chiefs. Still, this is a home run hire for the Chargers, which gives them a chance to win at the highest level and makes them instantly relevant.
UPDATE: The Chargers hired Joe Hortiz as their general manager.
Robert Kraft said he wanted to move fast to find the Patriots' next head coach, and he wasn't kidding. Little more than 24 hours after Bill Belichick's exit was announced, Jerod Mayo became his successor. In fact, Mayo was anointed as the heir apparent last year, when the Patriots established a succession plan in writing as part of a contract Mayo signed last offseason. The hope at that time, though, was that the Patriots would rebound from an 8-9 2022, Belichick would stay on for the 2024 season, and then Mayo would ascend. The collapse of the 2023 season sped up the timeline and now puts Mayo in the not-entirely-enviable position of being a rookie head coach overseeing a rebuild. Mayo, a former linebacker, first-round pick (in 2008) and team captain, spent his entire playing career in New England and has only coached under Belichick. While he represents continuity within the organization, at 37, Mayo is also so recently removed from the field (he last played in 2015) that he will likely have a different relationship to players than Belichick did. Two more hires will be critical for Mayo's success. The Patriots must hire a general manager, who will be charged with restocking a roster that, particularly on offense, was lacking in top-level talent, and which ultimately undermined Belichick, the de facto GM. And given the state of the offense and the overhaul to come, including the likely selection of a quarterback with the third overall draft choice, Mayo's pick of an offensive coordinator will be his most important staff hire. Replacing Belichick would have been difficult for anybody, and particularly so for a first-time head coach. Mayo deserves -- and will probably need -- a lot of support and patience as he gets his feet wet. Mayo is the first Black head coach in Patriots history.
The youth movement has arrived in Seattle, where the Seahawks replaced the oldest coach in the NFL (72-year-old Pete Carroll) with the youngest, 36-year-old Mike Macdonald. Macdonald is something of a supernova in coaching circles: smart, well-liked and respected and on a lightning-quick path to the top. He coached high school football while still earning his degree in finance (summa cum laude) at the University of Georgia. He was a Georgia graduate assistant just 13 years ago, was first hired by the Ravens' John Harbaugh as an intern in 2014, had a successful one-season stint as the University of Michigan's defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh in 2021 (when the Wolverines fielded a top-10 scoring defense and appeared in the College Football Playoff) and then rejoined the Ravens as defensive coordinator in 2022. This season, the Ravens had the top scoring defense, which shut the Chiefs out in the second half of the AFC Championship Game. Two days after the Ravens were eliminated in that conference title bout, the Seahawks interviewed Macdonald for the first time. Seahawks GM John Schneider said he wanted a coach who could maintain the culture that is already in place in Seattle. Macdonald inherits some young defensive talent, like cornerback Devon Witherspoon, although the defense finished near the bottom of the league rankings. There will also be salary-cap cuts coming, given the team's lack of projected space. It seems likely Geno Smith (who is under contract) returns as quarterback, although that could change. But a huge looming decision for Macdonald will be his choice of offensive coordinator.
That the Titans -- who might have found their quarterback of the future in Will Levis -- would go for a new head coach from the offensive side of the ball seemed likely all along. Now, former Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan will oversee a rebuild in the AFC South, which has produced a different champion in each of the past three seasons. Callahan has spent five years in Cincinnati, and he has been highly sought-after for head-coaching opportunities in the last two offseasons. He has been seen as instrumental in the success of Joe Burrow, but he has also worked with Derek Carr (as the Raiders quarterbacks coach), Matthew Stafford (as the Lions quarterbacks coach) and Peyton Manning (as a Broncos assistant). Callahan was part of the Bengals' rebuild, and now he will have to execute his own. The Titans' offense has been near the bottom of the league in points and yards in the last two seasons, and they could be moving on without Derrick Henry. The offensive line also needs an overhaul, and Callahan has special insight into that unit: His father is legendary offensive line coach (and former NFL head coach) Bill Callahan, who is currently coaching the Browns' O-line. (EDITOR'S UPDATE: Bill Callahan is joining his son in Nashville as an offensive line coach.)
Dan Quinn, who took the Falcons to a Super Bowl, gets his second chance as a head coach after spending three seasons turning the Cowboys' defense into one of the best units in the league. This move pairs a veteran head coach with a first-time GM in Adam Peters, and it came at the end of a long, exhaustive search that, for weeks, appeared to be focused on Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. After Johnson announced he was staying in Detroit, the Commanders ultimately settled on a candidate who is close to Johnson's opposite -- someone from the defensive side of the ball who is not new to the role. While Quinn is not one of the offensive wunderkinds who have been so popular in recent years, he will bring the same kind of positive, high-energy style that has defined so many of the head-coaching hires in this cycle. An extra bonus for the Commanders: His departure from the Cowboys weakens the best team in the NFC East. Quinn is one of five defensive coaches who received top jobs this offseason (Jerod Mayo, Antonio Pierce, Mike Macdonald and Raheem Morris are the others). Quinn and Peters are now in the position of resetting the culture for a franchise that suffered badly in the Dan Snyder years. They will also get to remake the roster. The Commanders own the second overall pick in this April's draft, which puts them in position to select one of the top quarterbacks available. They also are projected to have more than $70 million in cap space (per Over The Cap), the most in the NFL. With a young quarterback almost certain to be added to the roster, Quinn's offensive staff hires will be particularly important.