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Offseason Lowdown

AFC Coaching Carousel

by Jesse Pantuosco

The NFL regular season has come and gone, which means it’s time for the league’s annual coaching migration to commence. Black Monday brought more carnage than usual this year, increasing the number of coaching vacancies to eight. While a handful of teams are preparing for the postseason, others like the Bengals, Broncos, Browns, Dolphins and Jets are putting together new coaching staffs one brick at a time. The rumor mill gets cranked up to a ten this time of year, so for your convenience, I’ve gathered all the latest coaching news and put it in one place. And where might that be? You’re looking at it, friend. We’ll keep this tab updated throughout the month as new names emerge and others come off the board.  


Cincinnati Bengals


What’s the sitch?


After a deployment spanning most of the 21st century, Cincinnati finally turned the page on Marvin Lewis after 16 memorable years as the Bengals’ head coach. Lewis helped elevate the Bengals from afterthought status to a yearly playoff contender, though the veteran coach was on borrowed time by the end of his run, closing the book on his Cincinnati tenure with three straight losing seasons. Notably, Lewis never won a playoff game (0-7) during his Bengals stint. Whoever Cincinnati hires next will be tasked with getting the absolute most out of Andy Dalton and shoring up a defense that crumbled in 2018 (dead-last in passing and total yards allowed). Lewis has insinuated that he’d like to continue coaching, though the 60-year-old may be better suited for front office work at this late stage of his career.

Who’s in the running?


The Bengals have already requested interviews with Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, Rams QBs coach Zac Taylor (that sit-down could come as soon as Friday) and Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron. Despite outcries from the team’s long-suffering fan base, coach Hue Jackson remains the leading in-house candidate to replace Lewis. Newly available Vance Joseph (the Broncos showed him the door on Monday) has also secured an interview with Cincinnati.


Cleveland Browns


What’s the sitch?


Hue Jackson’s pitiful reign as Browns head coach mercifully ended following a Week 8 loss to division rival Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, whose Browns tenure was preceded by an equally frustrating spell in Pittsburgh (highlighted by bar fights and a well-documented feud with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger), followed his head coach out the door, getting the boot roughly an hour after Hue-Jax. Jackson’s two-plus years at the helm in Cleveland will go down as one of the worst coaching stints in league history, resulting in a disastrous 3-36-1 record. No longer burdened by Hue’s ineptitude, the Browns, led by interim coach Gregg Williams and ascendant rookie Baker Mayfield, cruised to a dominant 5-2 record down the stretch. Given the team’s treasure trove of young talent (Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett) and the allure of Mayfield, the head job in Cleveland should be one of the most coveted positions in this year’s coaching cycle.


Who’s in the running?


Saints assistant/TEs coach Dan Campbell, Colts DC Matt Eberflus, Patriots DC Brian Flores, Ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Colts OC Nick Sirianni and Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski are among those slated to interview for the Browns’ coaching vacancy. Interim coach Gregg Williams will also interview for the head job along with OC Freddie Kitchens, though the Browns are expected to go with an outside hire. Former Colts and Lions top dog Jim Caldwell has also been mentioned in passing, though he’s not on the books for an interview yet. After spending the past year calling games for CBS, Bruce Arians hinted he’d be interested in returning to the sideline with Cleveland, but that interest appears to be one-sided. Despite rumblings, ex-Dolphins coach Adam Gase is not on the Browns’ radar. Mayfield’s former college coach Lincoln Riley won’t be an option for the Browns after putting pen to paper on a five-year extension with Oklahoma. 


Denver Broncos


What’s the sitch?


The Broncos’ head job opened up Monday with the departure of Vance Joseph, who was done in by a listless 6-10 season that ended with Denver losing its last four games. That marked Denver’s second straight losing season, a phenomenon the Broncos hadn’t experienced in over 40 years. Injuries and poor quarterback play contributed to the Broncos’ woes under Joseph, though it was the team’s lackluster defense that ultimately cost him his job. Upgrading the quarterback position would cure some of what ails Denver—Case Keenum clearly didn’t do the trick—but the real mission will be to find a coach worthy of leading the Broncos’ inevitable rebuild. The Bears (Matt Nagy) and Rams (Sean McVay) have both enjoyed quick turnarounds under young, offensive-minded head coaches and Denver would be wise to replicate that blueprint.


Who’s in the running?


Bears DC Vic Fangio, Brian Flores, Steelers OL coach Mike Munchak, former Colts coach Chuck Pagano and Zac Taylor have all been linked to Denver’s head coaching vacancy. Taylor’s interview is set for Saturday (the Rams are on bye this week) while Fangio will sit down with Broncos brass on Monday. The Broncos also have their eyes on Ravens coach John Harbaugh, though his job appears to be safe after erasing a four-year playoff drought in Baltimore.


Miami Dolphins


What’s the sitch?


The end came sooner than expected for Adam Gase, who watched his Dolphins empire fall to pieces, joining Vance Joseph, Marvin Lewis and Steve Wilks among this year’s Black Monday casualties. Touted as an offensive mastermind at previous stops in Denver and Chicago, Gase’s success as a coordinator didn’t translate in Miami as the Dolphins endured losing years in two of his three seasons at the controls.


Gase probably deserved what was coming to him after alienating the locker room and failing to take Ryan Tannehill’s game to the next level. But not everyone gets it right the first time around. Bill Belichick, the greatest coaching mind of our time, endured an ill-fated five-year stint in Cleveland before taking over as gatekeeper of the Patriots’ ironclad dynasty. After getting his feet wet in Miami, maybe a wiser, more-seasoned Gase will fare better at his next stop. He’s already lined up an interview with the Cardinals with others sure to follow. Besides firing Gase, the Dolphins have also made tweaks to their front office, reassigning executive VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum while installing GM Chris Grier as the team’s primary decision-maker.


Who’s in the running?


Miami has already narrowed its scope to a few main candidates: Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy (who has also been connected to openings in Arizona, New York and Tampa Bay), Vic Fangio, Brian Flores, Mike Munchak and Cowboys DBs coach/passing-game coordinator Kris Richard. Long-time special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi will also interview for the Dolphins’ head job. He tops Miami’s list of in-house options.


New York Jets


What’s the sitch?


It was hardly a surprise when the Jets pulled the plug on Todd Bowles, ending his four-year stay in East Rutherford after Sunday’s season-ending loss to New England. Aside from a fluky 10-6 campaign in his debut season, the Jets were never competitive under Bowles, consistently occupying the AFC East basement. The Jets gave Bowles the benefit of the doubt after last year’s 5-11 finish, but he wasn’t afforded the same luxury this year as the clock finally struck midnight on the 55-year-old’s New York tenure. With Bowles out of the equation, the Jets will likely pursue an offensive-oriented head coach capable of developing newly-minted franchise quarterback Sam Darnold. Along with the Cleveland job, the post vacated by Bowles will be one of the most sought-after positions available this offseason.


Who’s in the running?


The Jets have cast a wide net in their coaching search, pursuing names like Eric Bieniemy, Jim Caldwell, USC OC Kliff Kingsbury, Buccaneers OC Todd Monken and Kris Richard. But the most interesting candidate of the bunch is McCarthy, who has laid low since his exile from cheese country last month. McCarthy was known as an underachiever in Green Bay, but he also won a Super Bowl there and remains one of the bigger names available in a down coaching cycle. While McCarthy has been somewhat reluctant to uproot his family, he’d likely jump at the chance to work with an up-and-comer like Darnold. Apparently, the Browns have also piqued his interest. The Jets dipped into the college ranks by offering an interview to Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, but he wasn’t interested.


Other Openings


Jacksonville Jaguars


The Jaguars are staying the course with Doug Marrone, though they still need an offensive coordinator after sending Nathaniel Hackett packing. Ex-Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell will interview for that position later this week. Bevell is a candidate for the same opening in Atlanta and has ties to head coach Dan Quinn, who worked beside him at a previous stint in Seattle. It makes sense for Bevell to have a fallback with Dirk Koetter (who served as the Falcons’ OC before defecting to Tampa Bay) viewed as the favorite to replace Steve Sarkisian.


Oakland Raiders


The Raiders had a GM opening but they’re no longer taking submissions as that role has already been filled by long-time football commentator and draft guru Mike Mayock. He’s been tapped to replace Reggie McKenzie, who has yet to resurface since his firing last month. Mayock may have some say on personnel decisions, though he’s more likely to serve as a figurehead for power-thirsty coach Jon Gruden, who assumed almost complete control of the organization upon his return to Oakland last year.

Jesse Pantuosco
Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.