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Who’re the recent coaching candidates within the NFL?

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The Detroit Lions are unlikely to achieve the playoffs. They don’t feature a horny passing game. They’ve been hapless for years, they don’t have a high profile and so they’re hardly notorious for producing future head coaches.

They check almost not one of the boxes one would expect by way of employing a hot commodity within the 2023 head coaching cycle, and yet they feature a rising young offensive coordinator who’s generating way more heat and recognition that anyone would have expected a couple of months ago. First-year coordinator Ben Johnson, 36, began opening eyes in the beginning of the season, deploying a multiple and unique rushing attack that has helped the Lions be way more viable on offense than most would have predicted. Thanksgiving’s stout performance against an elite Buffalo defense was in some ways his national coming out party.

Perhaps you heard Tony Romo gushing about Johnson’s gutsy play calls and intrinsic feel for putting his players in position to succeed. The CBS analyst was merely saying out loud what NFL decision makers have been whispering for the reason that summer. The more people study Johnson’s approach and schematics — and the more they hear how his players speak about him — the more buzz grows that he has the makings of a head coach himself, quite possibly in 2023.

“It looks like what Mike McDaniel is doing in Miami,” longtime NFL broadcaster and analyst Brian Baldinger told me. “All of the shifts and motions. I actually like when he’s doing with that offense.”

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Johnson has found a strategy to roll up points with way more regularity than anticipated. He’s getting the best possible out of Jared Goff, a system quarterback who was mainly a salary dump within the Matt Stafford trade with the Los Angeles Rams. He has helped use shifts and motion to spice up an unheralded receiver group, and has keep reinventing a niche rushing scheme despite not having his most dynamic cog, D’Andre Swift, near full health for much of the season. His unit is backed by a defense that’s dead-last in most key categories, yet Detroit’s offense spearheaded a recent three-game winning streak and nearly pulled off an enormous upset of the Bills on Thursday.

“I like every thing in regards to the guy,” said one longtime NFL evaluator, who has been an element of various successful coaching hires. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss a coach under contract.) “He form of got here out of nowhere, but I’m buying him as a future head coach.

The primary-time play-caller entered Week 12 with the Lions ranked in the highest six in the share of drives that reach the red zone and in touchdowns per drive. He’s served as a good ends coach and quarterbacks coach and has an innate ability to process information and understand analytics, in line with individuals who have watched him. Johnson was a math and computer science double major who walked on at North Carolina and ended up playing quarterback for the Tar Heels. He was working in software development and writing code before stepping into coaching, and he has studied all elements of the offensive side of the ball, including working with offensive line guru Chris Foerster in Miami.

The Johnson buzz has spread through NFL circles by word of mouth, not via an enormous PR push and decidedly without the form of hype that tends to coalesce around outstanding members of coaching staffs from playoff regulars. Lions Coach Dan Campbell, in his second 12 months, didn’t win his first road game until earlier this month, and if anything the Lions coaches have battled for his or her reputations after the staff got here under fire last season.

Suffice it to say, Johnson is making a really strong impression.

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“He’s special,” said one other longtime personnel executive, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “What he’s had to beat with injuries and from a personnel standpoint, the best way they run the football, what he’s done for Goff: Not many coordinators are doing what he’s doing. You take a look at the film and the best way his players reply to him. That’s the way you evaluate a coach. That’s coaching.”

Is the age of ‘QB gurus’ waning?

NFL execs I’ve talked to are keeping an in depth eye on Arizona, Denver, Cleveland, Houston and Carolina because the teams with the best probability of head coaching openings, with Recent Orleans also getting a couple of votes. Some are wondering if 71-year-old Pete Carroll would retire in Seattle, although they’re betting against it given the best way that franchise has surged this season.

There may be a growing consensus about another young coaches within the league who, like Johnson, are primed to get serious traction on this hiring cycle. And a few wonder, with running the football and powerful defense back in vogue this season, whether the trend of searching for so-called “quarterback gurus” shall be bucked.

“I feel the candidates on the defensive side [among those without prior head coaching experience] are higher,” said one NFL general manager not at liberty to talk publicly about other teams’ staffs. “You possibly can’t keep chasing the subsequent [Sean] McVay.”

If the Broncos fire overwhelmed rookie head coach Nathanial Hackett before the season ends — the execs I speak to recurrently imagine it is kind of likely — it could make sense to advertise defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero in his stead, with an eye fixed to creating him the everlasting substitute. “He’s a rock star,” said one longtime NFL exec who has been an element of multiple successful coaching hires. Evero has vast experience on either side of the ball and studied under longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, whose coaching tree continues to spawn more roots.

San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has a legion of supporters and has impressed teams in past hiring cycles. Jonathan Gannon, Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator, is anticipated to interview for multiple openings, and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is well positioned as well. In a cyclical league, the pendulum swinging back to the defensive side of the ball wouldn’t surprise me.

Sean Payton tops splashy decisions

When it comes to former head coaches, there’s little to no debate that Sean Payton shall be the prize for any owner trying to make a splash. His Super Bowl résumé and skill to construct an offense and get probably the most out of players puts him on a unique level than the remaining of this class.

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Some who know Payton well imagine the Chargers can be a preference — something we have now reported on this space before — as he enjoys living in Southern California and has family there. Working with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, should that job turn into a possibility, can be a siren call.

Regardless, Payton can have his pick of jobs should he opt to return to the sidelines, and it could be a surprise if he didn’t. In some unspecified time in the future, Cardinals ownership might be going to need to concede defeat on the Kliff Kingsbury experiment; Payton’s arrival in Arizona would likely force an entire rethink of their football operations department, which, frankly, should have already got been into consideration years ago.

Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier needs to be a head coach already. He did well during a stint in Minnesota and is as respected as one may very well be. Bills ownership has been leading the Frazier charge for a couple of years now, making the case for him running his own team. Perhaps that is the 12 months. And training agents and NFL execs anticipate Dallas defensive coordinator Dan Quinn jumping back in; he coached the Falcons previously. If George Paton stays the final manager in Denver, there are strong ties between him and Quinn.

Recently fired Colts head coach Frank Reich can even be heavily sought out. “He’ll get a job if he wants one,” the NFL GM said.

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