After the Green Bay Packers announced they were hiring Nathaniel Hackett as their next offensive coordinator, Detroit Lions fans were left with their hands in their pockets. All three coaches the Lions were rumored to be interested in have found coaching jobs elsewhere—four if you include Adam Gase.
Steve Sarkisian headed to the college ranks to join Alabama as their offensive coordinator. Hackett is Matt LaFleur’s latest hire to the Packers. And Todd Monken is the offensive coordinator—without play-calling responsibilities—of the Browns.
So with no rumors to snack on, all we’re left with is speculation and educated guesses. Now that the Lions offensive coordinator search is entering week three, it seems logical to conclude that the team has zeroed in on someone, and the fact that they haven’t been hired is a good sign that the target is currently unavailable. The Lions can’t hire someone in the playoffs, so it stands to reason that’s where we should start our search for the next candidate.
And no news could be very well end up being good news for the Lions. All four remaining teams in the playoffs finished as the top four scoring offenses in 2018. The Chiefs (35.3 PPG), Rams (32.9 PPG), Saints (31.5 PPG) and Patriots (27.2) have led the charge in the offensive revolution in the NFL, and to take someone from any of those trees would make a lot of sense for a Lions team that finished 25th in scoring last season.
Here are some candidates from those remaining teams that the Lions may be targeting.
WR coach Chad O’Shea
Let’s start with the obvious. Matt Patricia has shown that he likes surrounding himself with people he knows—whether it be from his days in Syracuse or his 14 years in New England.
O’Shea seems like the most likely candidate from the Patriots, as it looked like he was next in line as New England’s offensive coordinator had Josh McDaniels landed a head coaching job this year. O’Shea has been with the Patriots for a decade, holding onto the wide receivers coach position for his entire tenure. However, there were signs that the Patriots were molding him to become the next offensive coordinator. He called plays in New England’s preseason finale in 2017, and McDaniels has consistently showered him with praise throughout his career. Take these quotes from McDaniels:
“One of the best assistant coaches I’ve ever had the chance to work with.”
“Chad’s unbelievable. He’s incredibly responsible for any and all of our success in the red zone.”
Assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinski
The Lions just got rid of Jim Bob Cooter, who had been Matthew Stafford’s closest coach and confidant. Stafford could use a new mentor, and the guy that helped mold Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett could be a good fit—especially since the Lions have had trouble developing a backup quarterback behind Stafford for years. Here’s what Garoppolo had to say about Schuplinski:
“I can’t even tell you how many conversations I had with Jerry just man-to-man, him helping me out and getting me acclimated to the NFL life,” Garoppolo told WEEI.com. “I really thank him for that. I probably wouldn’t be where I am at without him.”
Schuplinski has been with the Patriots since 2013, starting first as an offensive assistant then promoted to his current position in 2016.
Note: Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy was a top name for head coaching jobs, but it’s unlikely he’d jump from the Chiefs offensive coordinator job to the same position with the Lions, so I’m not including him.
QB coach Mike Kafka
It seems not so long ago, Kafka was backing up the likes of Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb with the Eagles, but the former NFL quarterback has quickly made an impression on the coaching world.
It would be incredibly odd for a quarterback taken in the draft AFTER Stafford was taken to lead the offense, but Kafka was one of the prime candidates to take over had Bieniemy landed a head coaching job.
TE coach Tom Melvin
While Mike Kafka is the unproven up-and-comer, Melvin is the long-tenured coach that has worked alongside Andy Reid for nearly his entire career. Melvin dabbled with offensive coordinator duties back in the 90s in college, but has been tied to Reid’s hip since. The Reid coaching tree has seen a lot of success, so if the Lions could somehow pry Melvin from his mentor, it could be worth it, but it’s been a long, long time in football years since he’s run an offense.
Passing game coordinator Shane Waldron
Arguably the leading candidate for the Lions’ OC job, Waldron’s connection to the Lions has been repeated over and over again. He spent two years in New England as the offensive quality control coach and the tight ends coach. Having already seen a promotion under Sean McVay’s outstanding offense, Waldron clearly is well respected around Los Angeles these days. Back in November, McVay told the Detroit media that he believes Waldron is ready for an offensive coordinator gig.
“There’s no doubt about it,” McVay said. “He’s a great coach and he’s certainly ready if that’s the next step that he decides he wants to take.”
QB coach Zac Taylor
Assuming there is no Josh McDaniels type of backout, Taylor will become the Bengals head coach. Don’t bother getting your hopes up.
Assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell
Campbell received a fair amount of interest for head coaching gigs around the NFL this year, landing interview requests from the Browns and Packers. Though it’s unclear if he would accept an offensive coordinator gig, he certainly has the pedigree for it.
He served as an interim head coach for the Dolphins in 2015 and has the leadership qualities that has made him a head coaching candidate ever since.
The problem with Campbell would be his lack of coordinator experience. As Sporting News’ Alex Marvez put it, Campbell is more of a big picture leader and “has never displayed his Xs-and-Os acumen as a coordinator.”
QB coach Joe Lombardi
Senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson
Johnson has a coaching career that spans 35 years. He’s mostly been a wide receivers coach but his first tenure with the Saints earned him a head coaching job with Tulane for four seasons. After that didn’t go so hot, Johnson eventually returned to the Saints in 2017 as the wide receivers coach/senior offensive assistant.
Though he hasn’t shown any interest as an offensive coordinator, it’s clear head coach Sean Payton thinks highly of him.