Best field of candidates for NFL head coach positions would be ALL of them

Steve Brownlee

It’s been quite a carousel in the NFL coaching ranks this week, with at least three jobs — if I didn’t miss any — being filled in just the last few days.

I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on teams to fill openings as soon as possible so that it gets first choice of the best candidates out there.

But looking at the Detroit Lions’ two coordinators who are on most or all lists of potential hires — offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn — did they miss out on the best jobs, say the Los Angeles Chargers, because their current employer is still alive in the NFL playoffs?

Even though they may be interviewing, whether formally by making visits to the site of their potential employer or less formally by having Zoom-like chats online, it would be pretty hard for either Motor City coordinator to accept a job while they’re still trying to coach their team for the NFC championship game on Sunday at San Francisco.

The same goes for any candidates affiliated with the 49ers, Ravens or Chiefs, the other three teams vying for a spot in the Super Bowl.

That means none of these guys are going to be the new head man in Los Angeles with the Chargers, or in Atlanta, Carolina, Las Vegas, New England or Tennessee — all those jobs have already been filled. All that’s left is Seattle and Washington, which could both be good opportunities, but is still only two of the eight positions that had been available.

It makes me realize why former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy couldn’t get a head coaching job if he really wanted one for the past half-dozen or so years.

He was always coaching in the conference championship round, and considering the good position he had as an assistant to head coach Andy Reid and as a mentor to future Hall of Fame quarterback Patrick Mahomes, he probably wasn’t going to take just any head coaching position.

This season, the league already put a moratorium on in-person coaching interviews until after the divisional round of the playoffs — last weekend’s games — but maybe they should just put a hold on at least officially hiring until after the Super Bowl.

You have to figure that in almost every year, certainly a majority of years, there’s coaches with one or both Super Bowl teams who are going to be coveted for head coaching positions.

To make everyone available for every position, you really need to wait until the season is over for EVERY team.

Some might complain that the new coaches may start behind the 8-ball because they’re hired barely two months before the NFL draft.

But that could be a good thing, since maybe it would make owners and/or front-office staff less eager to fire their coaches at the end of the season.

Plus, coaches aren’t supposed to be the ones conducting the draft; it should be some combination of the general manager, team president and owner, with the coach getting a pretty decent say. And I don’t see any restriction of when you can hire the GMs or presidents like you do head coaches.

Personally, it sure wouldn’t bother me, and I doubt it would bother Lions head man Dan Campbell, if Johnson or Glenn stick around Detroit for another year.

OK, enough of that. Now let’s look at this weekend’s conference championships, with seeding, current records and TV coverage:


AFC No. 3 Kansas City (13-6) at No. 1 Baltimore (14-4), 3 p.m. Sunday, CBS — This is the “sexy” game with the two marquee quarterbacks still left in the tournament, the Chiefs’ Mahomes and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.

But for those who aren’t confident in the 49ers, these may also be the two best defenses left in the playoffs.

It’s kind of a weird juxtaposition — the team that has looked the most dominant throughout the 2023 season, Baltimore, also has questions about its playoff pedigree, having won hardly any postseason games since the Jackson era began.

And for a KC team that is the defending league champion and has its main man, Mahomes, looking just as good as ever, the questions have surfaced this season about its sputtering offense, even as the defense has rose up into one of the NFL’s best.

So I guess it comes down to who do I trust more, the Ravens this regular season or the Chiefs’ playoff pedigree?

I’ll base it on which team looked better playing the kind of quality opposition they’re going to see across the ball on Sunday.

And hands down, that’s Baltimore, having snuck past Joe Burrow-led Cincinnati 27-24 on Sept. 17, beating down Cleveland 28-3 on Oct. 1, thumping Detroit 38-6 on Oct. 22, thrashing Seattle 37-3 on Nov. 5, sneaking past the Rams 37-31 in overtime on Dec. 10, dominating the 49ers 33-19 on Dec. 25 and annihilating Miami 56-19 on Dec. 31.

Three of their four losses came within their division, the final one in a meaningless Week 18 game vs. Pittsburgh after the No. 1 seed had been sown up.

Ravens, 27-19.


NFC No. 3 Detroit (14-5) at No. 1 San Francisco (14-4), 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox — Surprise, surprise, I’ve been agonizing over this one all week, heck, really since the Lions pretty much sowed up their division.

I figured they’d get through their wild card game at home, and was hopeful about the second round even if it meant going to Dallas, since Detroit came within a-player-declaration-to-an-official of winning there not even a month ago.

But this one, eeuuw, this one. How the heck do you beat the No. 1 team in the NFC on their field when a berth in the Super Bowl is on the line?

And then the 49ers played lights-out — oh, wait, that means you were good — I guess it was lights-ON at home against the Ravens on Christmas Day, a 33-19 trouncing that I remember as not being as close as that score. Basically reminiscent of the Lions losing by 32 in Baltimore two months earlier, also probably not as close as the already lopsided 38-6 final score attests.

A TV pundit made the point that the Lions don’t fare well outside on real grass, but looking at their results game by game, I don’t buy that argument.

Their three road losses were at Baltimore, where I don’t think they could’ve won if they’d been playing in sand, on a Zamboni-smoothed NHL rink or on a tar-covered parking lot in mid-July; at Chicago, a 15-point loss that I suppose could be blamed on grass; and by one point at Dallas, which plays indoors on turf just like Ford Field.

They won in Green Bay, in Kansas City, in Tampa Bay, in Minnesota and in Los Angeles (Chargers), and a list of NFL grass fields I found shows grass in KC and Tampa, with Lambeau Field a grass-turf hybrid they call Desso GrassMaster.

My big sticking point is the Lions’ defense, or lack thereof. I think they may be able to generate offense, even against San Fran’s quality pass rushers, to keep up in an average game, but can they really outscore one of only two offenses in the NFL that actually outgained the Lions during the regular season?

And it’s an offense that is almost equally as balanced as Detroit’s — they average one less passing yard per game and about 4 1/2 more rushing yards each contest.

Meanwhile, the Lions’ defense was 19th overall and 27th against the pass, while the 49ers were eighth overall and 14th vs. the pass.

Turnovers were no better — San Fran was tied for sixth with plus-10, while the Lions were in the middle, 16th, at zero.

All in all, I see a Detroit “D” getting pushed around and the offense keeping up until it can’t at the end.

49ers, 41-38.


Last week — 3-1, 75 percent. Playoffs — 7-3, 70 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 552. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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