The University of Michigan fired defensive coordinator Don Brown on Tuesday, meaning he'll likely take the fall for a 2-4 season from the Wolverines, one that included three consecutive canceled games to end the regular season.
In all likelihood, Jim Harbaugh will return for a seventh season as the head coach of his alma matter. Harbaugh, 57, has a 49-22 record at Michigan, but has failed to produce a team that can consistently compete with the likes of Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson.
There was some thought that Harbaugh could be pulled back to the National Football League this year. While his style may come with a shelf life more suited for coaching at the collegiate level, Harbaugh had a 44-19 record in four seasons as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, including guiding the team to an appearance in Super XLVII. It's hard to think that someone who posted a .695 winning percentage in his first stint as an NFL head coach will never get another shot to lead a team on the sport's highest stage.
That said, things appear to be trending towards Harbaugh signing a new deal with Michigan, so for the time being, he appears content to remain at the NCAA level.
Early Tuesday evening, NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero reported that teams around the NFL with an opening at head coach may request and conduct virtual interviews with candidates employed by other teams. However, teams are allowed to deny any request made by another team.
With that now in place, and Harbaugh likely out of the picture, here are the best coaching candidates for the 2021 cycle, which includes a mix of NFL coordinators, past NFL head coaches and some of the best minds at the college level:
There was outrage both inside and outside of the sport that Bieniemy didn't get a job last offseason, which, along with another tremendous season from the Chiefs, has made the Kansas City offensive coordinator a near slam dunk to get a head coaching job this time around. Bieniemy and other candidates employed by other teams currently were allowed to begin interviewing for head coaching jobs on Dec. 22, meaning that by the time the Chiefs begin their playoff run, he could have interviewed for multiple jobs, and gone through a few rounds of meetings with organizational brass. The feeling here is that the former NFL running back could be the No. 1 target of multiple organizations.
When you consider how many detractors Josh Allen had when he was taken No. 7 overall by the Bills in the 2018 NFL Draft, Daboll deserves tremendous credit for helping develop Allen into being one of the sport's most complete quarterbacks. Most teams looking for head coaches tend to either have a young quarterback or a draft pick they plan to use on a quarterback, so Daboll projects to be one of the most appealing coaching candidates this offseason. The 45-year-old has worked under Sean McDermott since the 2018 season, and also has experience on the staffs of Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.
Given how important it is to get the quarterback position right, most teams are inclined to hire an offensive-minded head coach. That said, Saleh could be the exception this offseason. The 41-year-old brings tremendous energy, and has kept the San Francisco 49ers' defense ranked among the top five in 2020, despite dealing with a slew of injuries to notable players. The Dearborn, Michigan native is the exact type of person you could imagine overseeing an NFL program, and building a strong culture.
It may not take an offensive genius to get the most out of Derrick Henry, but the Tennessee Titans, despite having a head coach with a defensive background, have the No. 2 ranked offense in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill looked like a below-average quarterback while working in Miami under Adam Gase, but he's developed into one of the game's most productive quarterbacks in Smith's offense. Additionally, Corey Davis and A.J. Brown have thrived under Smith as well. Ultimately, Smith may not get a position this offseason, but he's definitely trending towards becoming a head coach in the future.
With no clear short or long-term answer at quarterback in New England, you wonder if McDaniels would be more inclined this offseason to cash in on the cache that he's built up in his second stint as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. There's no guarantee he'll succeed Bill Belichick in New England, and frankly, it's hard to know if doing so would even be an intriguing opportunity. There's also no indication Belichick will retire anytime soon. The question is, three years after reneging on a commitment to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, will there be a team that makes McDaniels their top priority this offseason?
Brady, 31, could probably stand another year or two of seasoning as an NFL coordinator, but there's little doubt that he'll be a head coach in the near future. After guiding one of the most explosive offenses in collegiate history at LSU last year, the Sean Payton disciple has seemingly gotten the most out of Teddy Bridgewater as the offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, despite Christian McCaffrey missing most of the season. The Panthers probably hope that Brady doesn't get a job, especially if they choose to draft a quarterback with their first-round pick in 2021. The reality facing Matt Rhule and company, though, is that if they don't lose Brady this offseason, they probably will shortly thereafter.
The lack of success that the Detroit Lions have had since dismissing Caldwell has helped the 65-year-old's chances of landing a third head coaching job. In seven seasons as a head coach split between the Indianapolis Colts and Lions, Caldwell has a 62-50 record, including helping to guide Peyton Manning and company to an appearance in Super Bowl XLIV. Caldwell may not be the sexy pick, but he's been very competent in two prior stints as head coach, and has already interviewed with the Houston Texans this offseason.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Dec. 20 that two NFL teams "already inquired about Fitzgerald's availability," which makes you think more could be coming after they play Auburn in the Citrus Bowl. Fitzgerald is 105-81 in 15 seasons as the head coach of the Wildcats. Given the seeming success of Matt Rhule in building a culture during his first season in Carolina, it's not hard to imagine a team trying to emulate that strategy with Fitzgerald.
Riley's name may be cooler than it was at this time last year, but three of his former quarterbacks - Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts - are all having tremendous success in the NFL. And remember, all three of those quarterbacks transferred to Oklahoma, so it's not as though they were instant success stories at the collegiate level. Riley has developed a reputation as a quarterback whisperer in college, and considering there's now a track record of said players being successful in the NFL, it's only a matter of time before someone woos Riley to coach their team on Sundays.