Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn made it official on Monday morning, announcing that Jim Caldwell would not return to the team for a fifth season. The move comes after weeks of rumors that Caldwell’s seat was getting progressively hotter. Things came to a head in Week 16 when the Lions dropped a must-win game to the Bengals, ending their playoff hopes a week before the season was over.
Now that Caldwell is officially gone, it’s time to start looking at candidates. Detroit is one of five teams that have already fired their coach, so they’ll need to get a jump on their coaching search in an effort to ensure they get the candidate they want.
Here are 10 possible candidates for the job.
Matt Patricia (Patriots defensive coordinator)
Patricia has to be the odds-on favorite for the job right now. Just about every report links him to the Lions and according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Detroit has officially submitted a request to interview Patricia. And it makes a lot of sense, too. In his 14 years with the Patriots, he has increasingly gained the trust of Bill Belichick and the respect of his players.
As the defensive coordinator for New England, Patricia has had mixed results, but he is widely considered a film-room genius and is expected to get a head coaching shot sooner rather than later.
Josh McDaniels (Patriots offensive coordinator)
Yes, let’s get the two Patriots coordinators out of the way. Normally, looking at the Patriots’ coaching tree would be lazy analysis, but Bob Quinn has already gone to this tree a few times—hiring several former Patriots scouts and their strength and conditioning coach—and all sources seem to indicate that’s where the head coaching search is trending as well.
McDaniels is considered one of the top offensive minds in the league, but his history is marred by an ugly, failed stint as the Broncos head coach (went 11-17).
Pat Shurmur (Vikings offensive coordinator)
Not many expected the Minnesota Vikings to have one of the top offenses in the league, especially with Case Keenum as the starting quarterback. But what Shurmur has done as offensive coordinator of the Vikings has truly been miraculous, especially considering his limited resources.
The Lions, on paper, have much more resources to work with, yet struggled to build a consistent offense in 2017. Shurmur could help right that ship, especially in regards to the much maligned running game.
Dave Toub (Chiefs special teams coordinator)
It’s not often that a special teams coordinator is considered high on the head coaching candidates list, but that’s a testament to how good at his job Toub is. The Chiefs coordinator was listed as a top-12 candidate according to the NFL’s Career Development Advisory Panel.
The Lions don’t need a lot of help on special teams—they had one of the best special teams units in 2017—but Bob Quinn has shown his affinity for that aspect of the game.
Mike Vrabel (Texans defensive coordinator)
Since things seem to be trending in the Matt Patricia direction, it appears the Lions may favor a defensive-minded coach. Vrable certainly fits that bill, as he’s been the orchestrator of one of the most consistently good defenses in Houston. The Texans have also had a boatload of talent on that side of the ball, but the former NFL linebacker has quickly climbed the coaching ladder. He started his coaching career in 2011 as a linebackers coach at Ohio State. Three years later he had the same job with the Texans.
Though his jump to defensive coordinator in 2017 was only met with mild success—the Texans’ defense ranked just 20th in DVOA—Vrabel would make for a wonderful mentor to Detroit’s young linebacking corps. He also obviously knows Bob Quinn well from his former playing days in New England.
Frank Reich (Eagles offensive coordinator)
After a failed two-year stint with the (then) San Diego Chargers, Reich took over the mess that Chip Kelly left in Philadelphia and quickly turned them into one of the best offenses in the league with the help of young quarterback Carson Wentz.
However, the most tempting aspect of Reich’s tenure is his ability to establish a running game. The Eagles current rank third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (132.2) and fourth in yards per carry (4.5).
Steve Wilks (Panthers defensive coordinator)
The Panthers have long been considered a defensive-minded team, but after a lackluster 2016 season marred by injuries and inconsistencies, Wilks turned the defense immediately back into a contender in his first year as defensive coordinator.
Wilks has been coaching football for over 20 years now and is primed to finally get a head coaching shot. His history is littered with defensive back coaching jobs, and he’d have plenty of secondary talent at his disposal in Detroit.
He is one of the three coaches the Lions have already requested to be interviewed.
Jack Del Rio (former Raiders head coach)
A somewhat surprising casualty of Black
Monday Sunday, Del Rio has more head coaching experience than anyone on this list. However, he hasn’t been all that successful. In 12 years as a head coach of both the Jaguars and Raiders, he has amassed a 93-94 overall record with just one playoff win.
Still, Del Rio is considered a solid defensively-minded coach, and he quickly brought the Raiders back to relevancy. Had it not been for an unfortunate late-season injury to Derek Carr in 2016, he may still be coaching there.
Kris Richard (Seahawks defensive coordinator)
Continuing the theme of defensive-minded coaches, Kris Richard is partially responsible for building the infamous “Legion of Boom” in Seattle. Richard has been coaching in the secondary for the Seahawks since 2010, a year before they drafted Richard Sherman and the Legion of Boom was formed.
A few years later, Richard was promoted to defensive coordinator and has since enjoyed coaching one of the most feared defenses in the league over the past decade.
George Edwards (Vikings defensive coordinator)
While Mike Zimmer gets most of the credit for turning the Vikings into one of the best defenses in the league, don’t sleep on Edwards. The Fritz Pollard Alliance recommended him as one of six minority candidates for a head-coaching position, saying “He’s moved into a position where he’s very, very much involved in the game-day operation of calling the plays and runs the defense room.”
The results speak for themselves. Since joining the Vikings in 2014, Minnesota’s defense has ranked in the top 10 in defensive DVOA in the past two years, after starting at 23rd in his first season.
Which of these head coach candidates interests you the most?
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Jack Del Rio