CHICAGO – The Chicago Bears have already proven to be the biggest winners in the NFL’s 2018 round of “Let’s Hire A New Head Coach,” the annual game that has teams scurrying to get their guy and put together the best possible staff before their opponents can pick off the best talent and force them to compete for every hire, often losing out on the best coordinators and/or position coaches to other clubs, even if they get the guy they want for the top job.
With seven jobs open this year, the Bears were the first to get their guy, Matt Nagy, and even though the Raiders made a deal with Jon Gruden just a few hours later, it’s unclear whether any other team in the league would have even considered Gruden, while Nagy was of real interest to several clubs.
With the other five jobs still open as of our press time for this week’s Pro Football Weekly Insert (6:00 PM on Tuesdays), the Bears also already have the makings of an excellent staff of assistants and clearly got their top choices at coordinator — Vic Fangio on defense and Mark Helfrich on offense.
But what about those other six clubs’ openings? Here’s the latest with the Raiders, Colts, Titans, Giants, Lions and Cardinals, again, as of this past Tuesday evening.
Oakland Raiders – Yes, Chucky is back and the only other team besides the Bears to have their head coach spot filled broke the bank with the richest coaching contract in NFL history to get him, reportedly $100 million over 10 years.
Gruden is 100-85 in 11 years as an NFL head coach, including 38-26 over four years in Oakland and 2-2 in two trips to the playoffs, and just 57-55 in seven years in Tampa Bay and 3-2 in the playoffs, where he won the Super Bowl in his first season. But Gruden was just 45-51 over the next six seasons with only two more playoff teams.
Like Nagy, Gruden has assembled a strong staff with former Bears quarterbacks coach Greg Olson as offensive coordinator; Paul Guenther, who left Cincinnati and Marvin Lewis to take the job as Gruden's defensive coordinator; and Ralph Bisaccia, who spent the past four seasons as the Cowboys assistant head coach and special teams coordinator and have the same titles under Gruden.
It is also rumored that former Raiders head coach Tom Cable is about to return to coach the offensive line and Edgar Bennett — who was just fired as Packers offensive coordinator — will coach wide receivers.
It will be interesting to see what Gruden’s impact is on his new quarterback, Derek Carr, as the former ESPN analyst's results with other quarterbacks who’ve started for him as a head coach – Jeff George, Rich Gannon, Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Jeff Garcia at the end of his career – do not necessarily support the perception of Gruden, quarterback guru.
Indianapolis Colts – This is either the most desirable or the least depending on what you believe about one variable — will Andrew Luck be healthy?
If Luck is able to make a full recovery from the shoulder injury he’s been battling for a season-and-a-half now, this job is extremely appealing.
But the Colts arguably have the least talent of any of the seven teams making head-coaching changes this year, and a near complete rebuild is in order here.
As we’ve been reporting at Pro Football Weekly for over two weeks now, we believe Patriots offensive coordinator already has an “understanding” with Colts general manager Chris Ballard that this is the job he covets more than the Giants job he has also been rumored for.
Sources tell Pro Football Weekly that McDaniels believes he may be able to replicate the Belichick-Brady magic by working with Luck, and that he will take this job as soon as the Pats' season comes to an end.
We should qualify, however, that most of our intelligence was compiled before the Titans job came open, but we still don’t believe McDaniels will lean toward Mariota over Luck.
Tennessee Titans – As unusual as it is for a head coach to get fired after winning a playoff game, Mike Mularkey’s fate was sealed earlier in the season when the Titans limped to the finish line after a 6-3 start, due mainly to Mularkey’s inability to move Mariota forward.
If anything, Mariota appeared to regress in 2017, his second full season with Mularkey.
Because the Titans were late to the game with this job just coming open shortly before we went to press, there aren’t a lot of names connected to the opening yet. But it is believed general manager Jon Robinson, another Belichick disciple and product of the Patriot Way, will seek permission to interview McDaniels before he gets tied up with the Colts.
New York Giants – The four names most often connected to this job are McDaniels, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
There was some reporting and most likely wishful thinking form the New York Daily News last week that Patricia would be the Giants' next head coach, but everything we’ve heard at Pro Football Weekly is Patricia has been a lock for the Lions job for several weeks now, and that’s never changed.
A number of NFL Insiders have focused on Wilks, a former Bears assistant when Ron Rivera was running the Bears defense, in part because of his time with new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman when they were both with the Panthers.
But it now appears Gettleman has locked in on Shurmur, another top candidate who, like McDaniels and Patricia, is still coaching in the conference titles games with the Vikes.
Detroit Lions – This may be the easiest to predict of all the still open jobs. Our sources tell us Lions general manager Bob Quinn — yes, another Belichick prodigy – is actually fairly close with Patricia. Quinn already has a franchise quarterback in Matt Stafford to tantalize all the top prospects, but Patricia will take this job when the Pats' season is over.
Quinn interviewed his own coordinators — Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter — along with Shurmur, Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and Packers assistant head coach Winston Moss, but this has always been Patricia’s job to turn down.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals' vacancy is the toughest one to call because it is probably the least desirable.
There is nothing wrong with the franchise or ownership, and general manager Steve Keim is well-respected. It’s just that the offense is going to have to be completely rebuilt, and with no options at quarterback in a division that now features Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jared Goff, getting the Cardinals to the top may be a really heavy lift.
The Cards are leading the league in interviews, having met with Shurmur, Patricia, Wilks, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, Steelers O-line coach Mike Munchak, Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, Falcons and former Bears special teams coach Keith Armstrong and their own defensive coordinator, James Bettcher.
It appears DeFilippo may be emerging as a favorite, as the Cards have requested a second interview after the NFC title game.