Packers head coaching candidates, ranked
The Green Bay Packers are back in the head coaching market for the first time since 2005. Unfortunately, seven other teams are also looking for a new on-field steward, and the list of potential candidates is less than inspiring.
Here are 10 potential head coaching solutions for Green Bay, listed from least to most enticing – including nine options who the Packers have already scheduled interviews with, and one candidate the green and gold front office has yet to formally contact.
10. Joe Philbin, Green Bay interim head coach
Green checks: Um ... Rodgers seems to like him? He has a decade of history with Green Bay across two different stints?
Red flags: I'm very wary of promoting interim coaches to the full-time gig (looking at you, Gregg Williams), but the Packers are in no such position after their performance under Philbin over the final three weeks, scoring just 17 points in a loss at Chicago, allowing 38 points in an OT win at the New York Jets the following week and then losing 31-0 at home in the finale. (Don't forget about losing both challenges within 90 seconds of his first game against Atlanta. A remarkable feat.)
Philbin is now 26-30 in head coaching stints with Miami and Green Bay. He does not need another head coaching job.
9. Dan Campbell, New Orleans assistant head coach
Green checks: Campbell is actually intertwined with the previous man on this list. Campbell took over for Philbin as the interim coach four games into the Miami Dolphins 2015 season; he went 5-7 down the stretch and seemed to rally the support of the players. Miami ultimately chose not to retain him (the Dolphins brought in Adam Gase, another name coming up on this list), so Campbell has spent the last three seasons in New Orleans as an assistant head coach/tight ends coach for Sean Payton.
Red flags: Campbell acquitted himself well in his brief tenure with Miami, but the Packers need to nail this next coaching hire. Even though almost – if not all – of the coaches on this list come with their fair share of flaws, Campbell seems to be too unproven for the Packers. While a team like Arizona can have a bit of a longer leash with a new coach, Green Bay needs to be back in contention next season.
8. Mike Munchak, Pittsburgh offensive line coach
Green checks: Munchak is one of the most loyal men in football. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler who played his entire career with the Houston Oilers, and he immediately joined their staff after he retired in 1993. He stayed with the organization through their move to Tennessee, mostly as the offensive line coach, until he was promoted to the Titans' head coaching position in 2011. Ultimately, he was fired three seasons later when he refused to let go of some of his assistants. He has been the offensive line coach on Mike Tomlin's staff in Pittsburgh ever since.
Red flags: Loyalty is one thing, but Munchak's Tennessee squads also weren't that good, finishing 9-7, 6-10, and 7-9. The Titans never managed to settle on a quarterback during his tenure, so that could mean improvement is on the horizon if Munchak is paired with Rodgers. However, Green Bay seems unlikely to bet the end of Rodgers' prime on a coach with a mediocre track record.
7. Brian Flores, New England defensive coordinator
Green checks: Like Josh McDaniels, Flores has earned Bill Belichick's respect over the past decade and a half. Flores has held eight different roles with the Patriots since 2004 and was promoted to defensive coordinator prior to the 2018 season. His unit jumped into the middle of the pack this year after the Patriots defense finished towards the bottom of the NFL under Matt Patricia in 2017.
Red flags: Flores is only 37 years old and has just one year of coordinator experience under his belt. Also, teams love to hire the next young Patriots coordinator, but Belichick's coaching tree is loaded with misses. Hiring Flores in no way guarantees a two-decade dynasty reminiscent of the one Belichick has built in Foxborough.
And in this era of offensive explosion, building around a defensive-minded coach may be an outdated model, especially with a player like Rodgers on the roster. Even if Flores were to bring along a hotshot offensive coordinator to boost the offense, that OC would likely end up leaving after a year or two for a head coaching position, leaving Green Bay back at square one. (Look no further than Minnesota under head coach Mike Zimmer for proof of this revolving OC door issue.) Hiring a head coach with an offensive background seems like a safer way to build a consistent winner into the 2020s.
6. Adam Gase, former Miami head coach
Green checks: Gase is well regarded around the NFL, including by Peyton Manning, who was highly successful with Gase in Denver from 2012-14. Gase is fresh off a three-year coaching stint in Miami, featuring one playoff appearance. His success was generally limited by injuries and a messy cap situation, so a new start in a well-run organization could be just what the doctor ordered for Gase's offensive reputation.
Red flags: Despite playing the Bills and Jets four times a year, Gase finished just 23-25 with the Fins, quarterback Ryan Tannehill never really got appreciably better, and Miami finished 17th, 28th and 26th in points per game. Gase also dragged Jay Cutler out of retirement in 2017 in Miami, despite watching Cutler struggle first-hand in his own offensive system when the two were in Chicago together in 2014. Yet somehow, Gase is still rolling through a coaching tour this offseason, meeting with both Arizona and New York thus far.
Green Bay is yet to schedule an interview with Gase, but rumors connecting the two mean a future relationship is still possible.
5. Jim Caldwell, former Indianapolis/Detroit head coach
Green checks: Caldwell is 62-50 in seven years across two head coaching stints this decade, and 60-36 in the six seasons when Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins are not his three quarterback options. (Indy finished 2-14 in 2011 following Peyton Manning's neck surgery). He is also the only Detroit head coach this century to take the Lions to the playoffs twice. Caldwell posted records of 11-5, 7-9, 9-7 and 9-7 in his four seasons in Detroit, a run which looks even more impressive after the Lions stumbled to 6-10 in their first year post-Caldwell.
Caldwell is also a Wisconsin native; he grew up in Beloit and attended Beloit Memorial High School.
Red flags: Despite posting pretty impressive win-loss records, no one is ever excited that Caldwell is their head coach. He doesn't show any emotion on the sideline. He is rather conservative in crucial situations. The players appeared to like him in Detroit, yet it's not as if they were ever consistently dominant on either side of the ball. Opponents are never scared of playing a Caldwell-coached team.
Is Caldwell the right guy to extract every last drop of Rodgers over the next five years? Maybe not, especially because he turns 64 later this month. And while he may stabilize things and move Green Bay back above .500, can he push the Packers back towards the top of the NFC where they lived for the bulk of the Mike McCarthy era?
4. Pete Carmichael Jr., New Orleans offensive coordinator
Green checks: Carmichael has been with the Saints since 2006 and has been the offensive coordinator since 2009, meaning he has the ultimate trust of both head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees, two of the best at their respective jobs in football history.
Red flags: Despite the OC title, Carmichael still does not call the plays. (He did call plays for brief stints in 2011 and 2016 before Payton took the duty back himself). That's not a complete disqualifier, but it is a little odd to be an offensive coordinator at the same spot for a decade yet never take over as the full-time play-caller. For what it's worth, Payton has said he would trust Carmichael to call plays "in a heartbeat."
3. Chuck Pagano, former Indianapolis head coach
Green checks: Pagano's Indy teams immediately found success upon his hiring, winning 11 games in his first three seasons from 2012-14. (Pagano missed most of the 2012 season after being diagnosed with cancer.) His final three years were certainly disappointing – 8-8, 8-8 and 4-12 – but many of the struggles can be chalked up to Luck's injury issues and personnel mismanagement by the former front office. He is a pro's pro with playoff experience, and he should return to his winning ways in an organization more functional than the Colts' previous regime.
Red flags: Pagano is a completely acceptable candidate, and even though he is not the most inspiring hire, he comes with fewer question marks than many other options on the coaching market. He may have a slightly lower ceiling than some offensive innovators, but he is also much less likely to totally flame out.
2. Matt LaFleur, Tennessee offensive coordinator
Green checks: LaFleur has bounced around the sport for the last 10 years, spending time with the Texans, the Redskins, Notre Dame, the Falcons, the Rams and now the Titans. He has also been a key figure around some of the most high-profile offensive seasons in recent memory, including Robert Griffin III's phenomenal rookie campaign in 2012, Matt Ryan's MVP season in 2016 and the Rams' offensive renaissance in 2017. I imagine the 2019 stories detailing how LaFleur fixed Rodgers are already being written.
Red flags: Unfortunately, when Tennessee brought LaFleur in for his first gig as an NFL play-caller this season, the Titans' offense mostly stalled, finishing 22nd in offensive efficiency (DVOA) while quarterback Marcus Mariota ranked just 20th in QBR. Not all of that can be blamed on LaFleur; Mariota was banged up for the entire season, and the jury is still out on if the former no. 2 pick is actually good. Still, it's not a great sign for an offensive guru to have a disappointing offense.
1. Josh McDaniels, New England offensive coordinator
Green checks: McDaniels has spent 15 of his last 18 NFL seasons as a member of the Patriots staff, and before joining New England, he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban. He has studied under the two greatest coaches of the 21st century.
McDaniels is also still young (42 years old) and in working with Tom Brady, he has undoubtedly picked up several tips to extending a quarterback's career, something that should be all over the Packers' radar as Aaron Rodgers ages. (He turned 35 years old last month.) In the 11 years that McDaniels has helmed the Pats offense as a play-caller, his unit has never finished worse than 10th in points per game and no worse than fourth since returning to Foxborough in 2012.
Red flags: McDaniels' offensive resume is as impressive as any candidate available, yet his red flags shine just as brightly. The Bill Belichick disciple left the nest in 2009 to take the Denver head-coaching job but was fired less than two years later. McDaniels' Broncos began his tenure 6-0, and then only won five of their next 22 contests before he was let go prior to the end of the 2010 season. His Denver offenses finished in the bottom half of the league in points both seasons.
Oh, but it gets worse. Indianapolis decided to give McDaniels a second head coaching spin last winter, hiring him away from New England as the Colts looked for a young offensive mind to pair with quarterback Andrew Luck. Of course, McDaniels famously committed coaching sacrilege, removing his name from the consideration shortly after assistants agreed to join his staff and Indy already announced the time of his introductory press conference.
Two questions remain: Is McDaniels a capable head coach, and can a new organization trust him? Maybe he has grown as a sideline leader; after all, he was only 32 years old when he landed his first gig with Denver. But who's to say he won't bolt for New England if/when Belichick retires? Lingering doubts will always remain, even though his offensive acumen makes him a perfect fit as the spearhead of a modern football team.
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