Coppola’s Column: Coaching carousel as the NFL season nears its conclusion

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As the NFL playoffs roll on, a good portion of the league is now in a period of suspense, waiting for the offseason to officially begin. A handful of teams out of the postseason are still very much active, looking for coaches to replace those who have departed or been released. Here is an update on the situations of five teams in search of their next head coach.

Panthers

The Panthers arguably have the most appealing job available for prospective head coaching candidates. However, they also might have the easiest choice among the handful of teams looking for a head coach. Interim head coach Steve Wilks made a pretty compelling case for himself after taking over for Matt Rhule, who was fired five games in. After turning a 1-4 team into one that just missed out on the postseason, it makes a lot of sense for the man leading the charge to return.

The roster has plenty of young talent, from D’Onta Foreman, DJ Moore, Brian Burns, Frankie Luvu and Jaycee Horn. The pieces are in place to build a solid roster, although considering their draft capital and cap situation, an improved quarterback may be hard to come by. Luckily, the NFC South seems pretty advantageous for any coaching candidate as the three other teams have deeper questions that need to be addressed. At this point, Wilks appears the most reasonable candidate for the job.

Cardinals

From Washington Football Team at Arizona Cardinals, State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, September 20, 2020. Photo courtesy of All-Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of questions surrounding this squad, both in terms of the players that will be taking the field next year and who will be the coach. Steve Keim is out as GM, with Monti Ossenfort taking his place. Quarterback Kyler Murray is injured, and his value to the team in relation to his monstrous contract is a topic of debate as well. Plenty of offensive weapons remain, although DeAndre Hopkins could potentially be dealt this offseason as well, thanks to his immense contract. Their defense performed poorly last year as well, and figuring out where to go from there requires a large undertaking.

The coach that is taking over needs to deal with Murray, and more importantly, bring ownership on their side. Vance Joseph has been labeled the favorite so far, as he is a former head coach and their current defensive coordinator. However, he is likely not the best option for this job, considering the defensive struggles from last year and the focus that needs to be placed on the offense. Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has been a popular choice, due to Philadelphia’s success this season. Jim Caldwell’s name has been floated around as well, and the coaching veteran could be a very popular choice for leading this team forward. But as of now, none of the trio has been interviewed by the organization, and thus the question of who’s leading next year remains more speculative than certain.

Colts

The Indianapolis Colts head coaching gig won’t be the most difficult one on this list, but it certainly won’t be easy. The Colts are facing a handful of highly-paid stars underperforming from the season prior, injury concerns and a lack of a starting quarterback. Having the fourth overall pick will help, but they’re going to need the right coach to turn the team around. As terrible as they performed last season, the defense is in position to have a bounce-back year. The offense has some strong assets as well, and it’s not totally out of the question for this team to make a significant turnaround next season.

Owner Jim Irsay and General Manager Chris Ballard need to pick the right guy, and they’ve talked to plenty of high profile coaches so far as they narrow down options. Jim Harbaugh has been a popular name thrown around, but Michigan believes he will be staying. Aaron Glenn, Detroit’s defensive coordinator, has already interviewed and has been talked about as a possible finalist. The culture that Glenn could instill is his greatest asset, looking to calm down a team that has been, simply put, all over the place for the last few seasons. If a guy like Glenn could do that, and capture a solid quarterback this offseason, they are a likely playoff team.

Broncos

As with the Cardinals, the appeal of this job depends on who you ask. For starters, they exist in the same division as the Kansas City Chiefs, who have the division crown locked down. They also are short on draft capital following the trade to acquire Russell Wilson. Wilson, for his part, was given an absurd amount of money to play so poorly last season. The good news is that the defense should be a solid unit next season, and there are a boatload of young weapons on offense. The issue that needs to be decided is with who’s starting at quarterback. The Broncos either need to find a creative way to get rid of Wilson and bring in a new guy or somehow fix the play of the former star, who just had the worst season of his career.

Having ownership as supportive as Denver does is a nice incentive for any coaching candidate to take the job, and the taking is plentiful. The lack of resources and flexibility available is not ideal, but there are pieces in place. They’ve interviewed Jim Caldwell, Ejiro Evero (their defensive coordinator) and former Stanford coach David Shaw. However, the candidate that has been discussed most is former Saints head coach Sean Payton. They’ve requested to interview the retired coach, but have yet to complete it. The Broncos have been given permission, and they have the budget to pay for such a high-profile coach. With Denver’s motivation so high, it’s only a matter of time before a coach is named.

Texans

There’s no way to sugarcoat it – the Texans are the least desirable job available. The last two head coaches only lasted a season each, and the team continues to disappoint year after year. The team still needs a new quarterback, and some more offensive weapons, as well as rethinking and retooling this defense. Luckily, they do have draft capital to either get more young pieces or to use as trade bait.

It is a long-term process for certain, and it’s not necessarily hard to find a candidate willing to go through that. The issue will be if Cal McNair is willing to be patient enough for it. They’ve interviewed some strong candidates, such as Eagles OC Shane Steichen and 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans. Steichen has already been interviewed, while an interview with Ryans has been requested. Four additional interviews by Houston have already been completed as well as they look to nail down a candidate that will finally last longer than a season.

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