NFL head coaching vacancies hit new level of uncertainty

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You think the head-coaching hires have proceeded glacially this year? Well, good. It’s always mystified me how teams sprint to hire the most important person (non-quarterback) in the organization. It’s frustrating the candidates, the agents, and even some teams. “I’ve never seen a year with such uncertainty,” one veteran agent who represents some coaches said Saturday afternoon. “Especially this deep into the process.”

It’s Jan. 24, and NFL teams have filled none of their eight head-coaching openings. Certainly what I’m about to say has something to do with the fact that the NFL season stretched this year to Jan. 9, a week later than normal with the advent of the 18-week, 17-game regular season. But look at these NFL coaching factoids:

• Since 2013, not including in-season interim hires, NFL teams have made 63 head-coaching hires or commitments. Only two occurred after Jan. 24: David Culley in Houston last year (Jan. 27) and Frank Reich in Indianapolis in 2018 (Feb. 11, after Josh McDaniels dropped out). Some hires were made official after the Super Bowl, with contracts agreed to before Jan. 24 in that season. I call those commitments.

• Let’s account for the extra week, and let’s figure out how many commitments to new coaches were made as of Jan. 17 in each hiring season. Of the 63 coaches hired, 53 had been hired/committed to by Jan. 17.

• In four of the last nine hiring seasons, every team had hired its coach by Jan. 17.

NFL: JAN 09 Patriots at Dolphins
Former Dolphins coach Brian Flores. (Getty Images)

There are reasons for this, and for the slow pace of GM-hiring. Giants president/co-owner John Mara elucidated one when he said after his coach and GM both were gone after this season: “I don’t want to rush into anything. We made that mistake in the past.” Dave Gettleman, hired as Giants GM on Dec. 28, 2017 is the perfect example. What was the rush? No one was hiring Gettleman. But Mara felt safe with him because Gettleman was a longtime Ernie Accorsi lieutenant. This time, it’s different. The Giants vetted nine GM candidates with interviews, and brought three back for more interviews, before hiring Buffalo assistant GM Joe Schoene on Friday.

Another reason: There’s no superstar coaching candidate out there. Even the coveted ones, former coaches Dan Quinn and Brian Flores, have zits. Quinn was 7-9, 7-9 and 0-5 in his last three Falcons seasons, not able to capitalize on the team’s Super Bowl appearance, before getting fired; Flores coached three straight non-playoff seasons in Miami, though to his credit Miami was getting good in 2021—he had a seven-game winning streak for the Dolphins. But there’s this: In three seasons, Flores had an alarming revolving door on the offensive coaching staff, with four offensive line coaches, four offensive coordinators (including the George Godsey/Eric Studesville job-share in 2021) and four QB coaches. You shuffle coaches that often, particularly with a young quarterback, and there’s going to be some mayhem.

We’ll see how it shakes out, but the fact that teams are slow-playing the coaching carousel, I think, is a very good thing. For a moment, consider the two coaches in the opening game of the divisional weekend. Mike Vrabel was hired 20 days after the end of the regular season in 2018. Zac Taylor reached a commitment with the Bengals 21 days after the end of the regular season in 2019. (He couldn’t sign till after his 2018 team, the Rams, played in the Super Bowl.) Patience paid, for Tennessee and Cincinnati.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column