A very early look at potential replacements for Vic Fangio.
Is it too early to speculate on replacements for Vic Fangio?
Not if you’ve kept up with betting markets. The oddsmakers over at BetOnline released a prop bet about what NFL head coach will be fired first, and as I write this, the Broncos’ Vic Fangio is tied for the best odds with the Dallas Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy.
If you’ve kept up with my recent work, you’ll know I’m of the mind that Fangio deserves a fair shot at 2022. I’m not here to argue that point, however. Since George Paton was first hired, there’s been speculation from the Broncos’ flagshig Fangio would provide his new boss what amounts to a “freebie” year, and serve as the scapegoat if Drew Lock flubs again.
Spoke with a former NFL GM today asked him about Broncos situation, Lock, etc
Said smart career move is to run it back w/ coach and QB. If it doesn’t work you’ll have carte blanche to remold team & garner no blame for what you inherited.
If it does work, you look genius.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 5, 2021
With the Broncos’ ownership situation so murky heading into July, there’s definitely reasons to believe Allbright’s source has the right idea. Rather than debate the merits of such rationale or dig into how discouraging it’d be if the new general manager is playing office politics to protect himself, I thought my time was better spent looking at potential replacements.
A quick reminder that we haven’t even reached 2021 training camp yet, so obviously this is a very early look. Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list so much as the NFL candidates who stand out as potentially appealing to the Broncos if they make a move. I did not include coaches currently in the college ranks such as Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley or Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, as those types of situations typically require a substantial buyout that I do not anticipate the Broncos are willing to make. Lastly, it seems safe to assume some of these coaches will see their stars rise while others will see their chances at a head coaching job crash and burn.
My hope is that the list is enlightening and provides some useful information in the event Vic Fangio is canned.
These candidates are currently or have been NFL head coaches in the past.
Mike Zimmer – HC, Minnesota Vikings
Zimmer doesn’t have as good of odds as Fangio at being the first coach fired in 2021, but the current head coach of the Minnesota Vikings could be on the outs if the season doesn’t go as planned. If that occurs, the Broncos under George Paton look like an obvious fit after the two worked together for six years.
Through 2021, Zimmer has a 66-50 record that includes three trips into the postseason. It’s worth noting that he missed one game during the 2016 season because of emergency eye surgery. On top of the win/loss record, Zimmer has a reputation as a no-nonsense defensive guru who maximizes his personnel.
Leslie Frazier – DC, Buffalo Bills
Frazier joined the Bills as Sean McDermott’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in 2017, and every year since, Buffalo’s had a top 12 defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. So it came as little surprise that he began to receive traction for a head coaching job when Buffalo rolled off 13 wins in 2020.
He served as head coach of the Vikings before Zimmer, so it’s safe to assume Paton and Frazier are well acquainted.
Todd Bowles – DC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s hard to imagine the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn’t on team radars as a 2022 head coach after his defense battered Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl. A former head coach with the New York Jets who was a Ryan Fitzpatrick meltdown away from the playoffs in 2015, Bowles didn’t find a head coaching job after the 2020 season concluded, but another good year may serve as a springboard.
Bowles is renowned for his aggressive pressure packages that lean on press coverage from his corners, which could appeal to Paton after selecting Patrick Surtain II with his first draft pick.
At present, these coaches are widely considered front-runners for vacant positions in 2022
Joe Brady – OC, Carolina Panthers
A 5-11 record and the 17th best offense by DVOA weren’t enough to prevent the former LSU passing game coordinator from earning head coaching interviews in 2021. Failing to land with the Philadelphia Eagles or Atlanta Falcons may turn into a blessing in disguise. If Brady can resuscitate Sam Darnold’s career in just his second season as an offensive coordinator at any level, he’ll have his pick of head coaching gigs in 2022.
If Zac Taylor is fired, I expect a ton of buzz about him landing with the Cincinnati Bengals to reunite with Joe Burrow.
Brian Daboll – OC, Buffalo Bills
Another offensive coordinator who helped steer an SEC power to a National Title, Daboll interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs last year only to return to the Bills. If Josh Allen and the offense can build on or even sustain the dominance they showed throughout the 2020 season, it’s only a matter of time before they’re looking to replace their offensive coordinator.
It’s worth noting that while Daboll’s recent stints at Alabama and Buffalo has earned him praise, he’s been an offensive coordinator for three other NFL teams: the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs.
Byron Leftwich – OC, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A first round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Leftwich actually played quarterback in the NFL for nine seasons before he broke into coaching. That playing experience gives him the kind of personal insight most candidates on this list simply can’t match.
It also means his coaching resume is incredibly short for a potential head coach. He spent two years as a quarterback coach with the Arizona Cardinals, one with Bruce Arians and one without. During the 2018 season Leftwich received a promotion to interim offensive coordinator after Mike McCoy was fired. Following the 2018 season, Leftwich followed Arians to Tampa Bay after the quarterback whisperer was hired out of retirement. Their run in Florida has been an interesting one: in 2019 Jameis Winston became the first QB in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions and in 2020 Tom Brady joined the franchise.
What Arians, Leftwich, and Brady’s offense do to help Tampa defend their Super Bowl title will go a long way towards deciding the offensive coordinators head coaching opportunities in 2022.
Other candidates who could draw interest
The following coaches aren’t considered front runners at the moment, but stand out as potential candidates who could rise to prominence during the 2021 season.
- Mike LeFleur – OC, New York Jets
Another LeFleur off the Shanahan tree who could earn interviews next year if Gang Green looks promising in the first year of the Zach Wilson era.
- Matt Eberflus – DC, Indianapolis Colts
Is it a coincidence the Cowboys’ defense fell of a cliff after he left to coordinate for Indy? He’s been interviewing the last couple of cycles and I expect that to continue in 2022.
- Kevin O’Connell – OC, Los Angeles Rams
A former NFL QB who served as the OC in DC before moving west. If the Matt Stafford trade opens up the passing game as expected, O’Connell probably draws interest.
- Patrick Graham – DC, New York Giants
New York looks as if it should have one of the better defenses in football and the credit falls squarely on their assistant head coach.
- Matt Canada – OC, Pittsburgh Steelers
If the new play caller can help Roethlisberger lead a halfway decent offense, he probably receives attention. With Big Ben almost surely retiring, it’d make sense to capitalize.
- Don “Wink” Martindale – DC, Baltimore Ravens
A former Broncos defensive coordinator under Josh McDaniels, Martindale’s defense is known for its aggressive blitzing.
- Kellen Moore – OC, Dallas Cowboys
32-year-old Moore would become the youngest head coach in the league if hired. His stock could soar if the Cowboys’ offense becomes the best in football with Dak Prescott’s return to health.
- Joe Lombardi – OC, Los Angeles Chargers
After years learning under Sean Payton, the Bolts’ OC lands with arguably the best sophomore QB in the league. If Herbert builds off his OROY campaign, Lombardi gets calls.
What about Eric Bieniemy?
Omitting the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator may look like oversight on my part, but I do not believe Paton will consider him due to potential public relations’ concerns. Dating back to his days at Colorado, Bieniemy has a lengthy history of off field incidents that include:
- Disorderly conduct and fighting in public.
- Interfering with a firefighter.
- Driving with a suspended license.
- Driving under the influence.
- Harassing a parking attendant that led to being banned from CU’s campus for a year.
By no means am I ruling him out, but if the Broncos’ ownership situation turns as fluid as I expect it to over the next calendar year, it seems unlikely they’ll hire a coach who could turn off potential buyers.
Your Broncos’ News
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The winds of change of venue have been blowing for several years, with the league intent on moving the Combine. The NFL wants to make it a bigger event, efficiencies and practicalities be damned. Los Angeles had emerged as the obvious, no-brainer location for it, but there’s arguably an even better one: Las Vegas.
NFL could sell stakes in its media properties to strategic partners – ProFootballTalk
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“We knew the issue with the cap, and then obviously the cap went down this year, coming off the bizarre year with the pandemic, the cap actually shrunk. So we knew there were going to be some big decisions we would have to make coming up. The way everything worked out, we feel pretty good,” Smith said, via Pro Football Talk. “We feel like it was a win-win. With the salary cap, and Julio going to Tennessee and us right now being able to solve our short-term issue with the cap.”