In the last few years, not every team in search of a new head coach has trended towards “youth.” In 2020, we saw Mike McCarthy and Ron Rivera land jobs again, while Matt Rhule came with little NFL experience but 45 years spent on the planet.
However, 38-year-old Joe Judge landed with the Giants and 37-year-old (at the time) Kevin Stefanski was hired by the Browns. Both are currently in position to make the playoffs this season, albeit with Judge in a much different type of postseason race than most teams thanks to being in the NFC East. Stefanski has Cleveland at 9-3, their first winning season since he was a 25-year-old assistant for the Vikings.
In 2019, the Broncos, Jets and Buccaneers all went with experience over exuberance but some teams did opt to go for “the next Sean McVay.” That included the Packers hiring 40-year-old Matt LaFleur, who has them at 9-3 in the NFC North right now, and the Cardinals hiring 40-year-old Kliff Kingsbury; Arizona has slipped to 6-6 but they’re much more competitive than the pre-K days. Meanwhile, the Dolphins went with 37-year-old Brian Flores and Miami’s gone from one of the worst 0-7 starts in history a year ago to currently holding an 8-4 record with a shot to win the AFC East.
Then there was the Bengals, who hired 36-year-old Zac Taylor, who like LaFleur also used to coach for McVay with the Rams. Taylor’s team is 2-9-1 but there’s been little talk of moving on from him, at least until he gets another shot to work with a healthy Joe Burrow.
Then of course we can flip all the way back to 2017, when McVay was hired by the Rams when he was 11 days shy of 31 and the 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan when he had just turned 37. Both coaches have taken their team to a Super Bowl in the three full seasons since.
Realistically, where are the recent endorsements for hiring an “experienced” head coach? Arian having the Bucs at 7-5? Frank Reich getting the Colts to 8-4? Jon Gruden leading the Raiders to 7-5 with a near-loss to Gase’s Jets on Sunday? There are experienced coaches who are having success, none more so than Andy Reid, but where would the Chiefs really be right now without Patrick Mahomes above all else?
That’s why it may not be much longer before Brandon Staley is a head coach — and the LA Rams are back on the market for a defensive coordinator who could emulate the success that he’s had through his first 12 career games at the position.
The Rams sit at 8-4, one win shy of their 2019 total under McVay and not-youthful defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. They are fifth in points allowed, second in yards allowed, fifth in yards per carry allowed and first in net yards per pass attempt allowed. Opposing teams have thrown for 14 touchdowns (fewest in the league) and 12 interceptions. Of the three by Kyler Murray on Sunday, all came with some extenuating circumstances, like a random broken coverage or a short field after a turnover.
Give credit to Aaron Donald for being the best player on the planet and Jalen Ramsey for being an elite corner, but Staley’s got three things working greatly in his favor when the 2021 coaching interviews begin:
- He works for Sean McVay
- He coaches the best defense
- He’s turning 38 in three days
I think we can guarantee that Staley will be getting interviews. What are the chances any of those teams wants Staley bad enough to take him over the other candidates on the market?
You could make some argument for any of these teams, but what if Staley is so popular that he gets to choose his destination? Then I think I’d cross the Lions off right now. Even though they have a better record than Atlanta or Houston, they seem to be further from success than a team with Deshaun Watson or Matt Ryan. Just my opinion, not a fact obviously.
The expected openings
I’m adding the Chargers to “expected” after they lost 45-0 to the Patriots on Sunday. I even had to Google it to make sure Anthony Lynn wasn’t fired when I typed this.
I think Staley would do his best to avoid the Jets and Jaguars, but the Chargers make a compelling case given that they have Justin Herbert, Joey Bosa and several other key players to build around. Plus, Staley wouldn’t have to move.
But then there are two other job openings that could be coming, especially if they think they can get Brandon Staley.
These aren’t necessarily huge surprises, but the 4-8 Broncos and 5-7 Bears are both entering that period of time when they can consider making another transition at head coach. And they were also Staley’s two most recent coaching stops.
Vic Fangio, 62, is 11-17 in two seasons with Denver and the Broncos defense has fallen well short of the expectations they had when they made that hire two years ago. Fangio brought Staley with him from Chicago but this season they are 21st in points allowed.
The Bears hired Matt Nagy when he was a few months shy of 40, but after a 12-4 record in his first season, he’s fallen to 8-8 in year two and it seems all but assured that he won’t post a winning campaign in year three. Chicago has a terrible offense and a mediocre defense and that’s not what the Bears organization stands for; they just wouldn’t be the “Bears” if they didn’t have an excellent defense ... to go with their terrible offense.
Other “surprise” openings — which by definition may not make them surprises — would be the Bengals, Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings and Ravens; Baltimore has ridden with John Harbaugh for 13 years, but it’s been eight since they won the Super Bowl and the Ravens are 1-3 in the postseason since that shocking championship for Joe Flacco. That would also be an organization that I’d expect to interview the NFL’s best defensive coaching candidate.
And as of now, that person might be Brandon Staley.