An In-depth Look At Detroit Lions Head Coach Candidates For 2018


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 Likely Candidates To Become The Lions Head Coach If Jim Caldwell Is Fired On Black Monday.

Whether you believe Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell should be fired or not is not going to matter on Monday. He will be fired or he will not be fired. There have been rumors that the Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Tennesee Titans, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be looking for head coaches. Some of those have been confirmed and some denied, but we will not really know until Monday.

The NFL advisory committee gives teams a list of up and coming head coaching candidates every year. Just to help you form an opinion rapidly, I am going to profile the ten that have not been the Lions head coach (Jim Schwartz), or current Lions offensive coordinators (Jim Bob Cooter). I’ll start with the obvious candidates, and move to the more obscure as I go down the list.

Josh McDaniels

Josh McDaniels, the New England Patriots offensive coordinator has been rumored to be Bob Quinn‘s first choice since the Lions GM took the job. McDaniels was the son of a high school football coach, his father won the USA Today award for High School coach of the year in 1997. McDaniels was a high school quarterback but moved to wide receiver in college at John Carrol University. His coaching career began in 1999 as a graduate assistant with Nick Saban’s Michigan State Spartans. After a single season, he moved to Cleveland for two years and sold industrial plastics.

In 2001 McDaniels joined the Patriots as a personnel assistant, one season after Bob Quinn joined the team. While Quinn stayed in personnel, McDaniels moved on to coaching. In 2002 he became a defensive coaching assistant. He was promoted to quarterback coach in 2004. In 2005 he called the offensive plays for the team, but was not given the title of offensive coordinator. McDaniels got that promotion in 2006, and in 2007 he called the plays for an offense that scored 75 touchdowns and scored 589 points. For scale, only two teams are within 200 points of that total going into week 17 of the 2017 season. Leading the way are McDaniels’ Patriots with 432.

In 2009 McDaniels became the head coach of the Denver Broncos. He immediately alienated the team’s promising franchise quarterback, young (and still good) Jay Cutler, by trying to get him traded for Matt Cassel. McDaniels took over an 8-8 team, and destroyed it, the team was 3-9 when McDaniels was fired partway through his second season as a head coach. The team returned to mediocrity immediately after McDaniels was gone, going 8-8 in 2011.

McDaniels spent one season in St. Louis with the Rams before Steve Spagnuolo was fired, and McDaniels was allowed to leave. The Patriots immediately hired McDaniels back, their new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was leaving to take the head coaching position at Penn State. McDaniels helped the team win Super Bowls in 2012 and 2016 as their offensive coordinator. Ironically, with the Patriots, McDaniels has shown the ability to get the job done with any and all players he has been given. It is only his insistence on meddling with the personnel that did him in as a head coach. Rumors say that he would like to be active in that area again if he were hired. Bob Quinn would likely have to give up some authority to bring McDaniels in. McDaniels is widely regarded to be the top candidate for a vacancy as the Lions head coach.

Matt Patricia

The Patriots defensive coordinator was an interior offensive lineman at Rensselaer Polytechnic institute from 1992-95. He graduated with a bachelor of science in Aeronautical Engineering. In 1996 he remained at RPI as a grad assistant before taking a job at Hoffman Air and Filtration systems as an applications engineer. He turned down a six-figure salary with another firm in 1999 and instead took the defensive line coach job at Amhurst College.

In 2001 he became a grad assistant at Syracuse. It was 2004 when he joined the Patriots as an offensive coaching assistant. In 2005 he became an assistant offensive line coach. It was in 2005 that Patricia switched to the defensive side, serving as the linebackers coach. He began calling the Patriots defensive plays in 2010 but was not promoted to defensive coordinator until 2012. Detroit Lions Podcast contributor Jeff Risdon said on the podcast that people he has spoken to have told him that Patricia is the type of person who sees his players as game pieces.

Patricia would be the polar opposite of Jim Caldwell, who relies on his personal leadership to unite the team in times of trouble, and keep them humble when times are easy. Patricia is undoubtedly smart and capable enough tactically, the question is whether he can lead a team. His Roger Goodell clown shirt stepping off the team plane returning from the Superbowl in January of 2017 will cool his prospects with a lot of teams. His personal relationship with Bob Quinn will likely detyermin whether he becomes the next Lions head coach.

Mike Vrabel

Mike Vrabel was an Ohio State All American defensive end, who went in the third round of the 1997 draft. He was drafted by the Steelers, recorded seven sacks in four years before he found his way to the Patriots in 2001. He won super bowls with the Patriots in 2002, 2004, and 2005. Vrabel was a 3-4 linebacker with inside/outside versatility. He had a career-high of 12.5 sacks and recorded multiple touchdowns as a goal-line tight end. in 2009 he was traded to the Chiefs along with Matt Cassel for the number 32 pick in the draft. He retired as a player in 2011.

Vrabel immediately started coaching linebackers at Ohio State. When Meyer took over the Buckeyes he moved Vrabel to the defensive line coach role. Vrabel got spectacular reviews at the collegiate level as a coach. He moved up to the NFL as the Houston Texans Linebacker coach under defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. In 2017 Crennel moved to an assistant head coach position with the Texans, and Vrabel became the team’s defensive coordinator.

The Texans were decimated with injuries this season, and their defensive performance regressed significantly. The 2016 Texans, largely without J. J. Watt, allowed the fewest yards per game in the NFL. In 2017 they were number 23. The Texans have 20 players on IR going into week 17. That regression, however, does give some analysts, including last week’s podcast co-host Dan Orlovsky, a reason to pause and take a beat. Vrabel may need some more seasoning before taking the next step in his career. He is a long shot to be the Lions head coach in 2018.

Pat Shurmur

Pat Shurmur was a center at Michigan State. He was a co-captain of the Spartans team that defeated the USC Trojans in the 1988 Rose Bowl. Shurmur joined the NFL coaching ranks in 1999 after nine years coaching at lower levels. He was the Eagles tight ends and offensive line coach. In 2002 he became the quarterback coach in Philadelphia and oversaw the best years of Donovan McNabb’s career. He left the Eagles in 2009, for the Rams offensive coordinator job under head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Two years later Shurmur hopped on board the perpetual train wreck that is the Cleveland Browns. Shurmur was given the task of making Colt McCoy a franchise quarterback. Despite that handicap, Shurmur won nine games in two seasons, a miracle in Cleveland. The Jimmy Haslam era began with the first of his almost yearly housecleanings. GM Tom Heckert was fired and Shurmur went with him.

He landed as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator in 2013. He was made the Eagles interim head coach after Kelly was fired. The 2014 illusion that Nick Foles was actually a good quarterback was the work of Mr. Pat Shurmur. The only game Shurmur coached for the Eagles as their head coach was a 35-30 win over the Giants, for second place in the NFC East. Shurmur was narrowly beaten out for the Eagles head coaching job by Doug Pederson.

On January 25, 2016, Pat Shurmur became the Vikings tight end coach. On November 2, 2016, he was named the Vikings offensive coordinator in the wake of Norv Turner’s bizarre midseason resignation. The Vikings finished the year 8-8 despite a season that included their best player missing 13 games, and averaging 1.9 yards per carry in the three he did play, playing their fourth and fifth option at offensive tackle, and having their starting quarterback go down with a career-threatening non-contact injury.

Shurmur was confirmed as the permanent choice as the team’s offensive coordinator after the 2016 season ended. He has cobbled together a perfectly functional offense despite losing his starting quarterback, running back, and a patchwork offensive line from week to week. The offense has not been the defining quality of the Vikings in 2016, but Shurmur’s ability to use the pieces he is given will likely make him an attractive head coaching candidate in the 2018 hiring cycle. Schurmur has the pedigree to become the Lions head coach in 2018.

Dan Campbell

Dan Campbell was a high School tailback that moved to tight end at Texas A&M. He went to the Giants in round three of the 2000 draft and started immediately. He primarily served as a blocker and he appeared in Superbowl XXXV. In 2003 he moved on to the Cowboys under Bill Parcells and offensive coordinator Sean Payton. He ended up the number two tight end behind Jason Whitten, and the highlight of his time in Dallas was missing a mere ten days of practice after an appendectomy in 2005. He joined the Lions in 2006 and put up career-high receiving numbers with 308 yards and four touchdowns. In 2007 and 2008 Campbell was on IR before the month of September ended. He was released in February of 2009.

Campbell was immediately signed by Payton in New Orleans. It always speaks well of a player’s leadership qualities when a former coach brings them back late in their career. Campbell’s body didn’t even make it through August with the Saints and he retired shortly after receiving his Superbowl ring, despite not playing a down for the Saints during the regular season.

Campbell became the Dolphins tight ends coach in 2011 after a year as a coaching intern with the team. Charles Clay developed as a player under Campbell’s tutelage. In 2015, when Joe Philbin was fired early in the season, Campbell took over a locker room that was fractured, and a roster that was terrible. He took the 1-3 Dolphins to a 6-10 record, moderately improving the team’s performance. Campbell was immediately hired by his former coach Sean Payton when the Dolphins let Campbell go. He has been the Saints assistant head coach and tight end coach since 2016.

The 2015 Dolphins started with two impressive victories under Campbell, blowing out the Titans and Texans with a combined score of 82-36. The success, however, was not sustainable. The Dolphins told the press that Campbell was their second choice after the man they hired, Adam Gase, but they were concerned that he had never been more than a tight ends coach. Campbell requested his release rather than serving under head coach Adam Gase.

That was not an unreasonable concern, and it is still true. The assistant head coach title Campbell holds in New Orleans is not a substitute for in-game authority and experience. There have been coaches that have seen success without serving as a coordinator, the San Diego Chargers rookie head coach Anthony Lynn was a running backs coach and has led his team to an 8-7 record going into week 17. Campbell’s chances at a head coaching job have likely been served well by Lynn’s success. Campbell is not a front-runner to be the Lions head coach in 2018.

Matt Nagy

Matt Nagy was a quarterback for the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens. After his graduation, he joined the New York Dragons of the AFL. He also spent time with the Carolina Cobras, the Georgia Force, and the Columbus Destroyers. He won an Arena Bowl in 2005 with the Force and lost one in 2007 with the Destroyers.

Nagy joined the Eagles on a coaching internship in 2009. After injuries to their roster, the team tried to sign him as a player, but the NFL disapproved the contract, presumably because they do not want teams stashing players as coaching interns. In 2010 he was promoted to a coaching assistant position, and in 2011 to a quality control coaching spot. The 2013 season saw Nagy in Kansas City as the Chief’s quarterbacks coach. he oversaw the revitalization of Alex Smith’s career. He became the Chiefs offensive coordinator but did not take over playcalling duties until December of this season.

Nagy seems like a long shot to grab a head coaching job, with his limited experience as a play-caller. The Chiefs would also certainly like to keep the coach who has been shepherding Patrick Mahomes through his rookie campaign. It is not inconceivable that the Chiefs will give Nagy a sizable raise in order to hold on to him for at least another season. I do not believe Nagy will be the Lions head coach in 2018.

Steve Wilks

Steve Wilks was a defensive back at Appalachian State from 1987-1991. His playing career consisted of a single season with the Charlotte Rage of the AFL as a wide receiver, defensive back, and kick returner. he pops up on the documented coaching radar as the defensive coordinator at Johnson C Smith University in 1995. In 1997 he moved on to the defensive coordinator at Savannah State and took over the head coaching position in 1999. One year later he was the defensive backs coach at Illinois State, and he followed that with a one year stint in the same position back at Appalachian State. He followed that with a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator at East Tennessee State. In 2004 he became the defensive backs coach at Notre Dame. He took the same position at Washington in 2005.

Wilks entered the NFL in 2006 as the Bears defensive backs coach. He joined the Chargers staff at the same position in 2009 and the Panthers in 2012. in 2015 he was promoted to assistant head coach in addition to his defensive back coach responsibilities. In 2016 he took over the defensive coordinator duties for the Panthers. After a tumultuous 2016 campaign, the Panthers defense has returned to form. The Panthers defense ranks seventh in yards allowed and eleventh in points allowed going into the final week of the 2017 season. Wilks would be a solid choice to be the Lions head coach in 2018.

George Edwards

George Edwards played linebacker for Duke. He was a two-year special teams captain and earned All ACC recognition. He began his career on the sideline at Florida as a coaching assistant in 1991. The 1992 season saw Edwards make his way to Appalachian State in the same role. In 1996 he joined Duke as a coaching assistant, and in 1997 he was a tutor for Richard Seymour and Marcus Stroud among other duties at Georgia.

In 1998 Edwards became the linebacker coach in Dallas, a role he held until joining Washington as the assistant defensive coordinator and linebacker coach in 2002. He took over the defensive coordinator role full time in 2003. Washington cleaned house in 2004 and Edwards took a job as the linebacker coach in Cleveland. The Browns cleaned house in 2005 and Edwards found his stride as the linebacker coach in Miami under Nick Saban. When Saban bolted for Alabama after the 2006 season, Edwards kept his job under new head coach Cam Cameron, and then again the next year under new head coach Tony Sparano.

In 2010 Edwards became the defensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills under head coach Chan Gailey, but two years later he was back in Miami as the linebackers coach. in 2014 he got the defensive coordinator job in Minnesota but does not call plays, a duty that is held by head coach Mike Zimmer, one of the NFL’s keenest defensive minds. Edwards will undoubtedly get a lot of interviews, but his inclusion on this list is a bit baffling.

That he has remained employed in the NFL consistently for two decades is impressive, but that is not the greatest accomplishment a head coach should have. The Vikings defense is incredible, but it is also clearly Mike Zimmer’s baby. It would not be the first time a Vikings Defensive coordinator nobody expected to actually be hired got a job as a team’s head coach. Nobody thought Mike Tomlin had a prayer in 2007 either. George Edwards would be a surprising choice to be the Lions head coach in 2018.

Dave Toub

Dave Toub was an offensive lineman for Springfield college in 1980 and 81. He moved on to the University of Texas-El Paso for the 1983 and 84 seasons. He earned all WAC honors twice. Toub was drafted by the Eagles in the ninth round of the draft but never made an NFL roster. He attended one training camp with the Eagles, and two with the Rams. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant at UTEP in 1986.

In 1987 Toub became the strength and conditioning coach at UTEP. He then moved on to the University of Missouri where he served as the strength and conditioning coach for nine seasons. Andy Reid was the offensive line coach there from 1989 to 1991.  Toub finished his time with Missouri as the defensive line coach for three seasons. In 2001 he entered the NFL as a special teams and quality control coach with the Eagles. In 2004 he became the Chicago Bears special teams coordinator. He was voted special teams coach of the year by the NFL’s coaches in 2007, a season where he sent a returner, gunner, and punter to the pro bowl.

Toub interviewed for the Miami Dolphins head coach position in 2011, and then for the 2013 Bears opening after Lovie Smith was fired, but was never hired. The Bears wanted to retain Toub but he moved on when they chose Mark Trestman as their head coach. Toub reunited with Andy Reid in Kansas City and the Chiefs special teams units have been among the league’s best. It is rare but not unheard of for a special teams coordinator to become a head coach. John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens is among the league’s best head coaches and came up in the league as a special teams coach. Toub is a long shot candidate to be the Lions head coach in 2018, but crazier things have happened.

John DeFilippo

John DeFilippo was a quarterback at James Madison University from 1996 to 1999. he did coaching internships in the summers of 1997 and 1998 with the Panthers and Colts respectively. In the year 2000, immediately following his playing career, DeFilippo landed the quarterback coach job at Fordham. DeFilippo took a grad assistant spot at Notre Dame in 2001. He moved on to the quarterback coach job at Columbia 2003.

In 2005 DeFilippo joined Tom Coughlin’s Giants staff as a quality control coach. In 2007 he joined the Lane Kiffin coached Raiders staff as quarterbacks coach. DeFilippo was retained after Kiffin was under new head coach Tom Cable. Defillipo joined Rex Ryan’s Jets staff in 2009 in the same role but lasted only one year. In 2010 He took a job as the San Jose State quarterback coach and was promoted to the offensive coordinator position in 2011.

DeFilippo got back into the NFL in 2012 as the Raiders quarterbacks coach. He got his first and only coordinator job at the NFL level under head coach Mike Pettine. The entire management and coaching staff were fired after that season by owner Jimmy Haslam, but Defilippo was brought on board in Philadelphia to work with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. The play of Wentz is the primary reason that DeFilippo is a candidate for head coaching jobs, and it is likely that he will find a position with a team that is looking to bring a young quarterback into the fold. Defilippo does not seem to be a likely candidate for the Detroit Lions head coach position if it becomes available.

 Bill O’Brien

Bill O’Brien is the best head coach that might be fired in 2018. He played linebacker and defensive end for the Brown Bears from 1990-1992. in 1993 he coached tight ends at his alma-matter. He moved to coaching inside linebackers a year later before moving on to Georgia Tech as a graduate assistant from 1995-1997. In 1998 he became the Yellowjackets running backs coach. He took on the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach role in 2001 and added assistant head coaching duties in 2002. in 2003 he left Georgia Tech for a role as the running backs coach at the University of Maryland.  in 2005 O’Brien became the offensive coordinator at Duke, where he coached former Detroit Lions Thad Lewis.

In 2007 O’Brien made the jump to the NFL, taking a job with the Patriots as an offensive assistant. In 2008 he took on playcalling and quarterback coach duties after Josh McDaniels left to take the Denver Broncos head coaching position. O’Brien claimed the offensive coordinator title in 2011 and helped the Patriots make it to Superbowl XLVI. O

O’Brien took the Penn State head coaching job in 2012, replacing legendary head coach Joe Paterno. In July of that year, we all learned of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Penn State was harshly punished. O’Brien interviewed for head coaching positions with the Eagles and Browns in 2013 but decided to remain at Penn State. He Took the Texans head coaching job in 2014.

O’Brien took over a 2-14 Texans team and took them to a 9-7 record in his first season despite a lack of contribution from first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney. He repeated a 9-7 record in 2015 and 2016. O’Brien was able to string together three winning seasons with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, Bryan Hoyer, T. J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, and Tom Savage at quarterback.

In 2017, however, the Texans ended the year with 20 players on injured reserve, including rookie phenom Deshaun Watson, and 2/3 of the team’s elite pass rushers J. J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. The Texans are 4-11 and the relationship between O’Brien and Texans general manager Rick Smith has become toxic according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. If O’Brien were to come available, he would be an ideal candidate to become the Lions head coach in 2018.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.