NFL's next head coaches? Meet the top 7 rising coaching candidates for 2024

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Ben Johnson, Mike Macdonald
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As the NFL has grown in popularity in recent decades, the league's owners have become increasingly impatient when it comes to rebuilding their teams.

Because of this, the NFL's "Black Monday" has become as busy as ever. Every season, there are at least a handful of dismissals on or just ahead of the dark day; but in recent years, they have been even more plentiful and, in some cases, surprising.

Black Monday 2024 is already shaping up to be a big one. Josh McDaniels, Frank Reich, and Brandon Staley were all dismissed in-season already. Now, there are questions about whether coaches like Ron Rivera, Arthur Smith, and even Bill Belichick will be with their organizations by the end of business on Monday.

There are plenty of solid coaching candidates available for teams that do dismiss their leaders. Eric Bieniemy has notably been among the top options for about five years, and he might finally get his chance in 2024. Meanwhile, retreads like Brian Flores and Dan Quinn might be granted an opportunity to prove themselves as head coaches just a few years after their initial dismissals.

Among the potential first-time coaching candidates, Bieniemy stands out. So, too, does Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who was one of the hottest names on the market last season before he opted to return to Detroit to try to go on a playoff run with the Lions.

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Who will join Johnson and Bieniemy among the most exciting, up-and-coming coaches? Here's what to know about some of the top rising candidates who could receive attention during the 2023 NFL offseason.

NFL head coaching candidates

Ben Johnson

  • Team: Lions
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

Johnson was one of the hottest coaching candidates during the 2023 offseason before he decided to go back to Detroit. He figures to once again draw plenty of attention as the main attraction on the coaching carousel.

Johnson has only spent two seasons as the Lions' offensive coordinator, but Detroit is on pace to be a top-five offense for a second consecutive year under his watch. Detroit's running game has thrived in that span despite a completely different set of personnel, as David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jamaal Williams, and D'Andre Swift have all found success in his scheme. Meanwhile, Jared Goff has averaged 4,478 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions per 17 games since Johnson's hiring.

Many NFL teams are looking for an offensive-minded coach who can help develop young talent into star-caliber players as part of an explosive offense. Johnson has the skills needed to make that happen, so he can afford to be picky as he assesses his options during the offseason.

Eric Bieniemy
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Eric Bieniemy

  • Team: Commanders
  • Position: Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator

New year, same old story for Bieniemy. He hasn't yet been hired to serve as an NFL head coach, but could this finally be the year for him? Given the performance of the Chiefs' offense without him, it seems probable.

Bieniemy was the offensive coordinator for five years in Kansas City before he went to Washington. In those campaigns, the Chiefs finished as the NFL's top total offense three times. Since his departure, they rank just ninth in that category while Patrick Mahomes is on pace to post the worst passer rating (92.6) and QBR (62.5) of his career as a full-time starter.

Some may gripe with the fact that Bieniemy's offense with the Commanders hasn't been above-average, but it's worth noting that he helped make Sam Howell look like a solid starter to begin the season. Washington has had its warts on offense, but considering the team's lack of quality blockers and shaky quarterback play, NFL clubs should be encouraged by Bieniemy's results.

Mike Macdonald

  • Team: Ravens
  • Position: Defensive coordinator

Macdonald has been working under a Harbaugh since 2014. He spent most of the last decade with the Ravens but cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator at Michigan in 2021. That was enough to convince John Harbaugh to entrust him with taking over for Don "Wink" Martindale.

Baltimore's defense has been nothing short of stellar under Macdonald. The Ravens were a top-10 unit during his first year but now boast the NFL's top scoring defense. They have shut down the likes of the Dolphins and 49ers in recent weeks, so that will go a long way toward boosting Macdonald's stock.

Players seem to have a way of showing up and playing well under Macdonald. Justin Madubuike has recorded a career-high 13 sacks through 16 games in 2023; Jadeveon Clowney has revitalized his career with an 8.5-sack season; and Geno Stone has blossomed into an interception machine under Macdonald's tutelage.

Macdonald is just 36, so he could be the next wunderkind head coach who could develop into a scheme star. He may not fit the offensive-minded mold for which many owners are looking, but his upside is immense.

Bobby Slowik

  • Team: Texans
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

C.J. Stroud had one of the best seasons by a rookie quarterback in recent NFL history. Slowik deserves a lot of credit for making that happen.

Slowik comes from the Shanahan coaching tree. He got his start on Mike Shanahan's famed Washington staff of 2011-13 before returning to the NFL as a part of Kyle Shanahan's staff with the 49ers in 2017. He spent six seasons with the Niners, moving from the role of defensive quality control assistant to the team's passing game coordinator in his final season there.

Slowik clearly knows how to design effective passing offenses, as he has maximized Stroud during his rookie season. Any team looking to develop a quarterback or give their aerial attack a shot in the arm should be calling the 36-year-old Texans coordinator this offseason.

Frank Smith
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Frank Smith

  • Team: Dolphins
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

The Dolphins' "Greatest Show on Surf" offense has slowed down a bit toward the end of the 2023 NFL season, but that's more due to injuries than any inefficiency with the offensive scheme. Mike McDaniel deserves a lot of credit for developing that, but Smith's impact there should be noted, as well.

Smith was voted the No. 1 offensive coordinator in the NFL in a recent NFLPA poll surveying 1,700 NFL players. It's easy to understand why, as Smith helped transform what was a lackluster Dolphins offense under Brian Flores' regime into the No. 1 offense in the NFL in just two short years.

Smith has experience working under the likes of McDaniel and three Super Bowl-winning coaches: Sean Payton, Jon Gruden, and John Fox. That, plus his offensive credentials, should endear the 42-year-old to many owners across the league who want a proven, young, offensive-minded coach to lead their team.

Ejiro Evero

  • Team: Panthers
  • Position: Defensive coordinator

Evero is in just his second season as a defensive coordinator, but he is already viewed as a future head coach. He interviewed for every coaching vacancy during the 2023 offseason and should be on the shortlist for many teams in 2024.

Evero, 43, led the Broncos' top-10 defense during the 2022 NFL season despite having to support one of the league's weakest offenses. He has endured a similar fate with the Panthers this season, as his team ranks just third in the NFL in yards allowed despite Carolina ranking third-worst in points surrendered.

Evero is an adversity-tested coordinator, as he has had to work under interim coaches in each of the past two years. His ability to keep his defenses performing relatively well despite those circumstances will earn him the respect of several owners, and so, too, will his work with players like Derrick Brown, who has enjoyed his best season under Evero.

Perhaps Evero will need a more stable coordinator job before he can become a head coach, but he is, without a doubt, among the up-and-comers on the market.

Dave Canales

  • Team: Buccaneers
  • Position: Offensive coordinator

Canales has made a name for himself in each of the past two seasons for his work getting the most out of veteran quarterbacks. In 2022, he was Seattle's quarterbacks coach and helped Geno Smith turn into a Pro Bowler after being a career journeyman. His follow-up act with Baker Mayfield was every bit as good.

Mayfield has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2023 under Canales' watch. He entered Week 18 already having posted career-best marks in passing yards (3,907) and passing touchdowns (28) and is on pace to do the same in completion percentage (64.4 percent) and passer rating (95.9).

Canales played no small part in Mayfield's progression. He helped to scheme receivers open and set up easier throws for Mayfield that took advantage of the quarterback's strengths. As a result, he looked comfortable throughout the season and got better as the Buccaneers made their playoff push.

Canales is just 42 and has only one season of play-calling experience, so it might be a bit early for him to get the nod as a head coach this offseason. Still, he will draw plenty of interest and could end up being a great hire for a team in need of a quarterback guru.

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  • Shane Waldron is another up-and-coming offensive coach who will draw attention for the solid work he has done in Seattle with Geno Smith. His two seasons of solid play-calling and getting the most out of that offense should make him a quality candidate even among a loaded class of offensive coaches.
  • Brian Flores seems likely to draw a lot of interest after turning the Vikings around from one of the worst defenses in the NFL to a top-10 unit in defensive DVOA. He has a trend of getting a lot out of his defenses, so that may make him a coveted target for a team looking to impose a defensive identity.
  • Similar to Flores, Dan Quinn and Lou Anarumo will draw interest in teams as they kick the tires on veteran defensive coaches. Quinn has helped the Cowboys be one of the best defenses in the NFL during his time there, and Anarumo has routinely helped the Bengals play above their expected level.
  • Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a polarizing name. Philly's offense has taken a step back since the departure of Shane Steichen, but Johnson has done well in helping Jalen Hurts develop into a rock-solid starting quarterback. That could be enough to earn him some attention even amid the team's lackluster output in 2023.
  • Aaron Glenn is another well-respected, defensive-minded coach who was voted the No. 1 defensive coordinator to play for by NFL players in a recent NFLPA-run survey. He has interviewed for openings in the past, so perhaps a door will open for him this offseason.
Jacob Camenker Photo

Jacob Camenker is a senior content producer at The Sporting News.