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RISING STAR COACHES

a guest Jan 24th, 2020 88 Never
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  1. The 5 head coach openings have already been filled this offseason, but it's never too early to look ahead to *next* offseason.
  2.  
  3. Err, okay, fine. Maybe it's a *little* early. But nevertheless, it's always fun to speculate and get ahead of the curve. As savvy NFL fans, we want to track the rising star coaches to see how their stocks may rise or decline as the season goes on.
  4.  
  5. With that in mind, I consulted with Zandrick Ellison (of coaching "firing squad" fame) who gave me the 5 fresh faces to keep an eye on for 2021.
  6.  
  7. ######**old friends and foes**
  8.  
  9. We want to focus on NEW and RISING coaches, but obviously there are some big names who are already on the verge of landing head coaching jobs and will be in the mix again in 2021.
  10.  
  11. The top coordinators who are on the cusp of landing their first head coaching job include **Robert Saleh** (DC-SF), **Greg Roman** (OC-BAL), **Matt Eberflus** (DC-IND), and **Eric Bienemy** (OC-KC).
  12.  
  13. Among the "retread" names, we'd monitor **Josh McDaniels** (OC-NE), **Jason Garrett** (OC-NYG), **Jim Schwartz** (PHI-DC), and **Jay Gruden** (OC-JAX).
  14.  
  15. ######**new names to know**
  16.  
  17. With those familiar faces out of the way, let's focus on the "new" names of that NFL fans should take note.
  18.  
  19. **(1) Joe Brady, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers**
  20.  
  21. If you're a college football fan, Joe Brady isn't a new name to you at all. In fact, he set the whole damn NCAA on fire.
  22.  
  23. Coming over from the New Orleans Saints' staff, Brady was a "co-OC" for the LSU Tigers. He helped modernize their passing game, and helped senior QB Joe Burrow break out into superstardom.
  24.  
  25. The difference between Burrow's seasons are downright insane:
  26.  
  27. Burrow in 2018: 2894 yards, 16 TDs, 5 int, 57.8% completion, 133.3 QB rating
  28.  
  29. Burrow in 2019: 5671 yards, 60 TDs, 6 int, 76.3% completion, 202.0 QB rating
  30.  
  31. It's not an exaggeration to say that Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers just had the best passing season in college football history.
  32.  
  33. After that success, Joe Brady could have stayed at LSU and gotten a fat raise (top coordinators in college make millions.) He could have pursued a head coaching job elsewhere. Instead, he decided to return to the NFL and take the OC job under Matt Rhule in Carolina. It's one of the biggest coups for any team's offseason so far.
  34.  
  35. If Brady can repeat even *half* his success here in Carolina, he's going to be the most in-demand coaching candidate in 2021. Sure, he's extremely young (30) and has a limited track record, but that track record is historically good (so far.)
  36.  
  37. **(2) Kevin O'Connell, offensive coordinator, L.A. Rams**
  38.  
  39. We're going to see a theme emerging here -- but it's one that we've become accustomed to seeing in the NFL. Do you coach offense? Are you young? Sweet -- jump to the head of the line!
  40.  
  41. Another 30-something (34), Kevin O'Connell fits the mold of the next hot coaching name himself. A heady former QB, he recently served as the OC under Jay Gruden in Washington. In fact, there were reports that Dan Snyder was such a fan of O'Connell that he considered promoting him to head coach after Gruden got the axe. After all, the Redskins had previously let young OCs Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay slip out of the building, and they didn't want history to repeat itself.
  42.  
  43. Unfortunately for O'Connell, the results in 2019 simply didn't justify promoting him to head coach at this stage. New coach Ron Rivera didn't retain him either. But don't cry for KOC, Argentina. O'Connell landed on his feet, earning the OC job with McVay and the Rams. O'Connell may not call plays here in L.A., but it's not necessary for him to get in the head coaching mix. Heck, Zac Taylor was the Rams' *QB coach* and landed a job. If the Rams can bounce back to some degree, O'Connell will be interviewing for his own soon.
  44.  
  45. **(3) Anthony Weaver, defensive coordinator, Houston Texans**
  46.  
  47. Let's take a brief intermission from our regular scheduled QB-guru programming and glance over to the defensive side of the ball.
  48.  
  49. Veteran Houston DC Romeo Crennel will step down this year, and hand the baton off to the Texans' DL coach, Anthony Weaver. The last time this happened (literally, Crennel handing the DC role to a rising assistant), Mike Vrabel parlayed that into a head coaching job in Tennessee. And to be frank, Vrabel didn't actually do well as the DC. His one season in that role represented the Texans' worst in recent years. However, Vrabel demonstrated enough leadership traits to get a job regardless.
  50.  
  51. I won't claim the same is inevitable for Weaver, because it's not an easy role for a young defensive coach (or ANY defensive coach) to land a head job in the NFL these days. However, Weaver has some of those same leadership traits as Vrabel did. If he can coax this defense back up into the top 10, he's going to emerge as a rising name for potential head coaching jobs down the road.
  52.  
  53. **(4) Mike Kafka, QB coach, Kansas City Chiefs**
  54.  
  55. The media gets outraged every time Kansas City OC Eric Bienemy doesn't get a head coaching job. In reality, Bienemy has an uphill battle. His coaching profile (former RB turned RB coach turned non-playcalling OC) doesn't lend itself to head coaching jobs. The only similar resume I can think of would be Anthony Lynn, who did take over playcalling for the Bills before getting his first job.
  56.  
  57. Personally, I don't think of this as a *racial* profiling as much as *positional* profiling. NFL teams don't care about RBs or RB coaches. They want QBs and QB coaches.
  58.  
  59. And through that lens, KC QB coach Mike Kafka may be a better bet to land a head coaching job down the road than his "boss" Bienemy. Kafka is a former QB from Northwestern who has steadily risen the ranks on Andy Reid's staff. Through it all, he's gotten raves for his intellect and ability to work with quarterbacks. Still 32, Kafka is green (and comes off as young in interviews), but is still a name to know for a job down the road. In fact, I'd be very surprised if he's not an NFL head coach in the next 5 years.
  60.  
  61. As a sidenote: we're starting to see a trend in the NFL and sports in general towards educational pedigree for coaches. New Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski went to an Ivy League school in Penn (as did new Memphis Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins.) Mike Kafka went to a good school at Northwestern. **Mike McDaniel**, SF's own rising star run game guru, went to Yale. As general managers become more analytical (and arguably "snobbier"), they're going to be attracted to coaches with similar profiles.
  62.  
  63. **(5) P.J. Fleck, head coach, University of Minnesota**
  64.  
  65. As we know, Matt Rhule became the hottest coaching free agent this offseason. He earned raves for his ability to turn around a program, both at Temple and then at Baylor. If Rhule's first year in Carolina goes well, I'd fully expect more NFL teams to keep fishing down into the NCAA ranks for similar profiles.
  66.  
  67. Given that, P.J. Fleck is a name to keep in mind. Like Rhule, he's a turnaround artist. In his first year at Western Michigan, Fleck's team went 1-11. Three seasons later, they were 13-1. In his first year at Minnesota, his team went 5-7. This past season (year three), they were 11-2. With his QB Tanner Morgan returning next year, Fleck may crack 10+ wins again. He is young (34), offensive minded, and has a lively and charismatic personality that may appeal to (some) NFL owners.
  68.  
  69. However, when you project which college coaches the NFL will go for, you have to consider which college coaches would *go for the NFL* in turn. Matt Rhule fit that bill, and Fleck may as well. He had previously worked in the NFL as a receiver coach. And moreover, Minnesota is not the easiest place to win consistently at. It wouldn't surprise me if he sold high on his stock and jumped to a bigger program (be it in the NCAA or NFL.)
  70.  
  71. If you want to dive even deeper, file away the name **Graham Harrell** as well. The 34-year-old is a former NFL QB who is going to return as the OC for the USC Trojans. If Kliff Kingsbury (a former USC OC himself for a day or two) continues to do well for
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