One week from the end of the 2022 regular season, here's a thumbnail look at where things stand with the three current head coaching searches, as well as a couple of potential openings elsewhere, according to sources close to the situations:
Firing head coach Nathaniel Hackett before the end of his first season showed Denver's new ownership isn't afraid to make bold moves. So don't be surprised if the Broncos swing big in the coaching search, with former Saints head coach Sean Payton, University of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn expected to be among the top targets.
Payton's situation is complicated because he remains under contract with the Saints, who would need to grant permission for the Broncos (or any other team) to speak with Payton, 59, and work out trade compensation. Would Denver have the draft picks to pull it off after the Russell Wilson trade last March? And does Payton believe he could work with Wilson, who is coming off the worst year of his career at age 34 and has a contract that's fully guaranteed for another two seasons? Payton will be selective and won't come cheap.
Harbaugh, 59, said after interviewing with the Vikings last year that he wouldn’t consider returning to the NFL again. However, the Broncos are one of multiple teams that have been doing homework on Harbaugh, who was 44-19-1 as the 49ers' head coach from 2011-14, leading San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game three times and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. Condoleeza Rice, a member of the Broncos ownership group and search committee, has deep ties to Stanford University, where Harbaugh coached before his first NFL stint. Harbaugh's full focus has been on the Wolverines' championship push; now that it's over after Michigan's loss to TCU, his interest in the NFL, if any, should become apparent quickly.
Quinn, 52, was a candidate for the Broncos' job last year that went to Hackett, who was fired on Dec. 26 with a 4-11 record in his first season. He's close with Broncos GM George Paton. And like Payton and Harbaugh, Quinn has prior experience and success as a head coach, having led the Falcons to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII during his five-plus seasons in Atlanta. The cultural turnaround on defense that Quinn has led in Dallas is impressive, and owner Jerry Jones surely will do whatever he can to keep Quinn, as he did a year ago.
The Broncos also are doing background work on many young coaches and have said they want to interview their defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero, who figures to be a candidate elsewhere as well. Broncos owner and CEO Greg Penner is new to the NFL, but he's a highly respected business mind and impressed in the press conference announcing Hackett's dismissal. He'll run the search with assistance from Paton and the new coach will report directly to Penner.
Interim coach Steve Wilks has the team in position to win the NFC South if they can complete a sweep of the Bucs today -- a remarkable feat considering Carolina opened the season with a head coach who's now a Cornhusker, a quarterback who's now a Ram and a star running back who's now a 49er. After a 1-4 start under ex-head coach Matt Rhule, they're 5-5 under Wilks.
The turnaround has positioned Wilks, 53, as a strong candidate for the full-time job. He's well-regarded and liked within the building. However, Carolina still intends to go through a full search process that also includes other in-demand candidates. Owner David Tepper's top priorities have been solidifying the quarterback position and the offense, so expect the Panthers to interview all of the rising offensive gurus. If Wilks is going to get the job, he'll need to sell his plan for that side of the ball, too. Tepper also respects Wilks' leadership traits, which is a huge part of the job.
Owner Jim Irsay grabbed the wheel in November with the benching of Matt Ryan, firing of Frank Reich and stunning hire of Jeff Saturday as interim head coach against the advice of his top executives. It's hard to predict what Irsay might do next.
What we do know: Irsay remains a big fan of Saturday, 47, who has lost five in a row since the Colts won his debut. Saturday absolutely will be a candidate for the full-time job, and if he can put together the right staff, especially on offense, he shouldn't be counted out. Irsay also has an affinity for Harbaugh, who's a member of the team's Ring of Honor as a player, though it's unclear whether that match would make sense for either side. The Colts have a traditional structure, with the head coach reporting to the GM, and the GM to the owner; that doesn't figure to change, which won't appeal to coaching candidates who want more control.
Indianapolis has a respected GM in Chris Ballard, who is expected to be involved in the search process. The final call is Irsay's, though, and he's a wild card.
The Texans plan to evaluate the future of head coach Lovie Smith at the end of the season, with the entire body of work being considered. The team has played well of late, including a win last week over the Titans and close losses to the Chiefs and Cowboys. But the Texans still have the worst record in the league (2-12-1). All of that will factor into where things go for 2023. Staff changes are possible if Smith, 64, gets a second season.
While speculation intensifies that head coach Kliff Kingsbury could be out after a disappointing fourth season, owner Michael Bidwill has not informed Kingsbury of any decision. Arizona just signed Kingsbury, 43, to a contract extension last March through the 2027 season, meaning they would owe him a lot of money if they move on. Could the Cardinals wait and see if they can secure an upgrade before moving on? Kyler Murray's uncertain status for the start of the 2023 season coming off ACL reconstruction and GM Steve Keim's indefinite leave of absence for health reasons further complicate Arizona's future plans.