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Rising Stars: Five NFL Assistant Coaches That Could Be Head Coaches Next Year

With the NFL playoffs in full swing, many teams are already looking ahead to preparations for the 2023 season. This offseason will include a head coaching change for at least five NFL teams - the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts will all be looking to fill vacancies at head coach.

For most franchises, prior coaching experience on an NFL sideline is a prerequisite for the head coaching job. The coordinator and position coach roles provide valuable experience in game planning, situational awareness, and managing specific position groups while giving a glimpse into the requirements of leading the locker room as a head coach.

So which current NFL assistant coaches are best positioned to be head coaches in 2023?

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First, What Can We Learn From 2022 Head Coach Hirings?

There were 10 head coaching changes in the lead-up to the 2022 season. Seven of these vacancies were filled by first-time head coaches, all coming from offensive or defensive coordinator positions. The remaining spots went to head coaching veterans in Doug Pederson, Todd Bowles, and Lovie Smith.

Five of these 10 new head coaches led their team to the playoffs in 2023, while two were fired less than a calendar year after taking the job. The five new head coaches for 2022 who have already seen playoff returns are the aforementioned Doug Pederson in Jacksonville, Todd Bowles in Tampa Bay, Brian Daboll with the Giants, Kevin O’Connell in Minnesota, and Mike McDaniel with the Dolphins.

It should be noted that four of these five are offensive-minded coaches with playcalling experience coming from offensive coordinator roles at their previous franchises.

It is clear that prior reps leading the offensive or defensive side of the ball indicate a higher likelihood of being hired as a head coach. Which current coordinators or assistants are likely to make the leap to head coach in 2023?

 

#1. San Francisco 49ers DC Demeco Ryans

Demeco Ryans is one of the hottest names in coaching circles right now, and for good reason. The former All-Pro linebacker has had a quick ascent up the coaching ladder since retiring as a player in 2015. Ryans started as a defensive assistant with the 49ers in 2017 before progressing to defensive coordinator just five years later, replacing former DC Robert Saleh, who took the head coaching job with the Jets.

In his two years as the 49ers' defensive coordinator, Ryans’ units have finished third and first in the NFL in yards allowed, with the defense playing a large role in the team’s deep playoff runs over that time. The 49ers also ended the 2022 regular season with the top-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 15.3 points per game.

Ryans has interviews lined up with several teams already, including the team that drafted him, the Houston Texans. It would be a surprise to many if he does not land a head coaching job this cycle.

 

#2. Philadelphia Eagles OC Shane Steichen

Eagles OC Shane Steichen has flown largely under the radar as a key contributor to Philadelphia’s recent offensive success, largely due to the spotlight being on second-year head coach Nick Sirianni. Steichen has played a critical role for the Eagles in his two years as offensive coordinator, including calling plays for the NFL’s second-best offense by both points and yards in 2022.

Steichen came to Philadelphia after a short stint as OC with the Los Angeles Chargers, meaning his pedigree includes coaching two rising stars in QB Justin Herbert and QB Jalen Hurts. Steichen’s playcalling helped catapult Hurts into the MVP conversation this year and has been instrumental in leading the Eagles’ explosive offense into the NFC Championship this postseason.

Expect Steichen to be a top candidate with teams looking for an offensive mind at head coach in 2023.

#3. Denver Broncos DC Eljiro Evero

The Denver Broncos had a disastrous season under first-time head coach Nathaniel Hackett in 2022, with the one silver lining being Eljiro Evero’s defensive unit.

Evero inherited a defense that ranked 20th in total DVOA in 2021 and helped improve them to 10th in DVOA among defenses in 2022. Despite a bottom-tier offense not providing much relief, Denver’s defense tied for second in the NFL in 2022 in yards per play allowed.

While Evero only has a year of coordinator experience under his belt, his previous experience coaching with the likes of Sean McVay, Mike McCarthy, and Vic Fangio has helped prepare him for the next step.

 

#4. Dallas Cowboys OC Kellen Moore

Another former player turning heads as a head coaching candidate is current Cowboys OC Kellen Moore. In his third season as offensive coordinator, the Cowboys finished 2022 as the third-best scoring offense after leading the league in this category last year.

The 2022 season brought new challenges for Moore and the Cowboys' offense, including an early-season injury to QB Dak Prescott that brought backup QB Cooper Rush into relevance. Rush went 4-1 during Prescott’s absence, putting a spotlight on Moore’s ability to adapt the gameplan according to the team’s strengths on a week-by-week basis.

Moore will likely garner interest again as a head coaching candidate this offseason.

 

#5. Philadelphia Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon

With Philadelphia being one of the hottest teams in 2022, it is no coincidence that two Eagles coordinators made this list. DC Jonathan Gannon is in his second year as head of the Eagles' defense, joining the team in 2021 alongside Nick Sirianni.

The Eagles finished the 2022 regular season with the eighth-best scoring defense in the NFL, a stark improvement over their 2021 campaign where they finished 18th in this category. Philadelphia led the league with 70 sacks this season, 15 more than the next-highest team. They also finished the season with a 15.1% turnover rate, good for third-best in the NFL.

For teams looking to replicate the same magic that other defensive-minded coaches like Mike Vrabel and Robert Saleh have seen in their first HC jobs, don’t be surprised if Gannon gets his first shot at a head coaching role in 2023.



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