With three weeks of coaching madness in the books, the carousel seems to be slowing down. Five teams already have their man, and the 49ers are just waiting on theirs to be finished with the playoffs. There remains some intrigue in front offices, however, with the 49ers still unable to land a general manager and the Colts joining the market very late in the process. With all of that upheaval, it is worth taking a look at the coaching searches so far and the organizational structure of every team in the AFC.
Last Update: 8 p.m. EST on 1/23/2017
The NFC rundown can be found here.
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New General Manager
It is frankly stunning Chuck Pagano is still employed by the Colts after failing to win one of the worst divisions in the league with the “best quarterback in the league,” which is how Pagano describes Andrew Luck, but owner Jim Irsay finally took the needed step of firing GM Ryan Grigson, who had built a bottom-half roster outside of Luck and had way too many early-round misses during his five years in charge.
Irsay's choice to take over for Grigson will not end up being Peyton Manning, who was long rumored for the job, but the Colts will not have a shortage of options considering the 49ers have yet to hire and there were no other openings this offseason. Current interim GM Jimmy Raye III is reportedly the "clear favorite," but Irsay will also meet with Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Seahawks co-directors of player personnel Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer. All three were candidates for the 49ers' opening and would be good hires.
The problem the Colts' face is Irsay has already said Pagano will be the coach in 2017, and the best candidates will likely want to hire their own coach. The way the situation with Grigson was handled is unlikely to do Irsay any favors in his search, either. Still, the Colts already have their franchise quarterback, and that is the biggest hurdle any organization has to jump, making Indy an appealing landing spot for the top general manager prospects.
HC Chuck Pagano: Has not been gifted a quality roster, but his specialty, defense, is where the team struggles the most
OC Rob Chudzinski: Even with some injury issues, offense finished top-ten in both yards and points
DC Ted Monachino: Defense arguably got worse in his first year in charge
It is not a surprise Rex Ryan is gone after he was reportedly given a playoff-or-bust ultimatum by owner Terry Pegula last offseason, but the fact GM Doug Whaley will keep his job is downright shocking.
Even though he was a couple of weeks away from officially taking over the general manager position from Buddy Nix, Whaley was self-admittedly an “integral part” of the decision to select E.J. Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2013 draft and has seemingly pushed for Manuel to get chance after chance despite it being very clear he is not an NFL quarterback. On the other hand, Whaley has gone out of his way to share his lukewarm thoughts on Tyrod Taylor and seems to be the driving force pushing him out of town.
By keeping Whaley around, the Bills are not only giving him a chance to hire yet another coach, but they are also giving him another swing at acquiring a franchise quarterback after watching him fail miserably the first time and appear unable to recognize his mistake. That decision puts the Bills on a dangerous road which dead ends at a bottom-shelf roster and a complete organizational rebuild, much like the situation playing out currently in San Francisco.
The good news is Whaley and company seem to have gotten the first step right, hiring former Panthers DC Sean McDermott as head coach. McDermott has been spinning in the cycle for seemingly ever, and it is about time he was given a shot. While he is defensive minded, McDermott's personality is a far cry from Ryan's, and his scheme might be a better match for the talent on defense.
The first step for the McDermott did not seem to be going well, however, as the Bills appeared to be struggling to land an offensive coordinator. That changed when former Broncos coordinator Rick Dennison was hired almost out of nowhere. Dennison's only experience running an NFL offense has come under offensive-minded coaches, but he is an experienced option, which was needed under a first-time head coach.
McDermott also went with experience on defense, tabbing former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier as coordinator. It is not clear how big Frazier's role will be behind the defensive-mined McDermott, but at the very least he is an experienced ear.
GM Doug Whaley: Team is 30-34 in his four years in charge, but all signs suggest he is difficult to work with while his track record acquiring talent is average at best
HC Sean McDermott: Despite losing a lot of talent in the secondary, he was able to manufacture pressure and built a strong unit by the end of the season
OC Rick Dennison: Experienced at getting as much as possible out of a limited quarterback, which might be his task again in Buffalo
DC Leslie Frazier: An experienced lieutenant for first-year coach McDermott
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This opening comes as a bit of a surprise, but rumors started circulating late in the season Gary Kubiak was considering stepping down for health reasons. Those rumors turned out to be true, and Kubiak officially announced his retirement on Black Monday. A well-respected coach who spent 22 years with the organization in total and brought home a Lombardi in 2015, Kubiak is a big loss for a Broncos organization which has dealt with considerable turnover in the last year.
John Elway is more than capable of guiding Denver through the rough waters, however, and he has tabbed former Dolphins DC Vance Joseph, who the Broncos courted in 2015, as Kubiak's successor. Joseph has only been a coordinator for one season and his unit finished near the bottom of the league in total defense, but being a good head coach is often not as much about the xs and os as it is about being able to lead a locker room and make tough decisions. Based on his reputation, it seems like Joseph is someone both players and colleagues respect in that regard.
To that point, Joseph has already made a good decision early in his tenure, hiring former Chargers coach Mike McCoy to run the same offense he led from 2009-12. McCoy looked overmatched as a head coach, but he was a quality coordinator during his last stop in Denver, leading the offense to top-four finishes in total yards and points scored his final season in charge. Denver also brought in former Raiders OC Bill Musgrave to coach the quarterbacks.
With Joseph officially in, DC Wade Phillips' time in Denver is done. A top-flight coordinator, Phillips did not last long on the open market, landing with the Rams a day after the Joseph hire was made official. The Broncos will turn to former DBs coach Joe Woods to replace Phillips, although Joseph should run the show.
GM John Elway: One of the best in the business who will keep the organization on track despite the shakeup to the coaching staff
HC Vance Joseph: He is a bit of a risky pick for Elway, but he has earned the benefit of the doubt
OC Mike McCoy: Looked overmatched as a head coach, but should be right at home running Denver's offense again
DC Joe Woods: Joseph should take on a big role on this side of the ball
Gus Bradley seems to be a well-liked coach who should find a job coordinating a defense next season, but the Jaguars had no choice but to fire him. Bradley was 14-48 in almost four years in Jacksonville – the worst winning percentage for any coach with at least 50 games in the modern era – and the roster underachieved while Blake Bortles regressed to his high-school form this season. There was really no choice to be made
Aside from Bradley, however, the Jaguars did not change much, with Dave Caldwell given a two-year extension to match the three-year contract of interim turned permanent coach Doug Marrone. That duo will be joined by new EVP Tom Coughlin, who is expected to have "final say on everything" for the organization he helped bring to life in 1995.
Sticking with both Caldwell and Marrone while bringing in a 70-year-old to basically run the organization is not an exciting move, but that does not mean it is a bad one. Caldwell has, at least on paper, done a good job acquiring talent and should retain a large say in personnel decisions, and Marrone has likely learned from the relationship mistakes he made in Buffalo. If Bradley was the real issue, which it seems like the Jaguars believe, this group should have what looks like a talented roster performing better next season.
With Todd Wash staying on as defensive coordinator, the only question was about OC Nathaniel Hackett, who Bortles stumped for after the season. Despite that, the Jags flirted seriously with Chip Kelly before ultimately deciding to stick with Hackett. Bortles' support likely played a role, but it is possible Kelly turned them down.
GM Dave Caldwell: Has assembled a solid roster, but he will almost certainly be gone if Marrone does not work out
HC Doug Marrone: Seemed to spark the team after taking over
OC Nathaniel Hackett: Bortles recently said he would like Hackett to stay on, and ultimately the Jaguars acquiesced
DC Todd Wash: Despite being a Bradley disciple, he will be kept on under the new staff
San Diego Chargers
Mike McCoy can certainly blame injuries for some of his failures the last two seasons, but he looked generally overwhelmed in his first attempt as a head coach and might be better suited as a coordinator, a job he did well for four years in Denver. In fact, he will be returning to Devner to take on his old job
With McCoy gone, Tom Telesco got his second crack at hiring a head coach, although president of football operations John Spanos was heavily involved as well. The owner of a quality draft history and a decent record in free agency outside of a few big misses (see: Re-signing Donald Butler), Telesco probably deserves another shot, but his window to build a team around Philip Rivers is closing quickly.
As for the coaching search, the Chargers met with almost exclusively defensive candidates, but they settled on former Bills OC Anthony Lynn as the best option. Lynn is only 48, but he has been a rising star for several years and acquitted himself well in a short stint running Buffalo's offense.
Despite being an offensive mind, Lynn will retain OC Ken Whisenhunt, which is likely one of the reasons he was considered for the top job. The results have been bad for Whiz as a head coach, but his track record as an offensive coordinator is exceptional. The Chargers were right to want him to stay, but there could be a bit of friction if the new head coach is not completely on board.
As was reported throughout the cycle, Lynn wanted former Jaguars coach Gus Bradley to run his defense, and he ended up landing his man. Bradley was also on the 49ers' and Redskins' radar, but he made the right decision to take over a defense with a ton of young talent. Considering his success in Seattle and the improvement in Jacksonville this season, Bradley should be expected to have early success with the talent in San Diego.
GM Tom Telesco: The early returns from this year’s draft class are very promising, and the 2015 class looks much better than it did this time last year
HC Anthony Lynn: A rising name for several years, he did a great job in a short stint with a banged-up offense in Buffalo
OC Ken Whisenhunt: The front office clearly wanted Whiz to stay on, and they hired accordingly
DC Gus Bradley: The defense was not the problem in Jacksonville this season
The Browns seemed like they were going to have some continuity despite a 1-15 season, but they ended up shedding coaches like a cheap blanket, with DC Ray Horton being the biggest name to go. Horton did not have much talent to work with, but his defense was one of the worst in the league, and he has not coached a defense which finished better than 23rd in points allowed since 2012. Still, the decision to move on after just one year seems harsh and could point to some issues behind the scenes.
The Browns moved quickly to replace Horton, hiring former Rams DC Gregg Williams, who was likely to be out of a job himself when Los Angeles found their next coach. Williams is a good coach, but it is going to be difficult for anyone to turn that defense around without more talent. That said, potential No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett would seem like a good fit in Williams' 4-3.
Cleveland also lost associate head coach Pep Hamilton, who took a similar job with the University of Michigan. Hamilton was the closest thing the Browns have to an offensive coordinator behind Jackson, so they will need to replace him.
GM Sashi Brown: There are a ton of chefs in the kitchen – Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta chief among them – but Brown seems to have final say
HC & OC Hue Jackson: He did a great job early in the season keeping things competitive with the running game, but injuries and a lack of talent took their toll eventually
DC Gregg Williams: Defenses were not world beaters with the Rams, but a lack of offensive support played a big role, although he could face a similar situation with less talent in Cleveland
Despite plenty of rumors, Bill O’Brien will be staying on as head coach. While owner Bob McNair, said O'Brien's job was never in danger, there was too much smoke for there not to be any fire. O’Brien and Rick Smith do not seem to have the best relationship, and there is likely a considerable amount of friction over the signing of Brock Osweiler, although both guys have said they were on board with the decision.
Even so, someone had to take the fall for Osweiler's struggles, and it ended up being George Godsey, who "mutually parted ways" with the organization the Monday after their playoff exit. The numbers were not great his two years in charge, but it is still unclear how much of the offense was Godsey's and how much is O'Brien's, and the offense was productive enough with a slew of bad quarterbacks under center in 2015. Only 38, Godsey should get another shot to run an offense at some point.
As for the Texans, they would have had to convince someone to join an offensive-minded coach on a staff which could easily be out the door after next season to coach a quarterback who is very clearly not starter material or whatever bottom-barrel option they manage to scrounge up this offseason, which is likely why O'Brien is taking on the job himself. It is not a big departure for O'Brien, who shared play-calling responsibilities and outright took them over at different points this season.
There was a somewhat surprising shakeup on the other side of the ball, with Romeo Crennel giving up the defensive coordinator job to former LBs coach Mike Vrabel and accepting an assistant head coach position. Crennel will certainly remain involved in game planning, but Vrabel will take over the play-calling duties. The arrangement makes sense in that it allows the Texans to keep both guys on staff -- Vrabel has taken coordinator and even head coach interviews in the past -- but it is fair to wonder if one of the most diverse defenses in the league suffers under a new play-caller. Luckily for Vrabel, J.J. Watt will be back next season.
GM Rick Smith: Has built a quality roster, but Osweiler may end up being his albatross
HC & OC Bill O’Brien: Offense is his specialty, and the offense has been the problem
DC Mike Vrabel: A rising star in the coaching ranks the Texans obviously did not want to lose
As expected, first-year DC Vance Joseph landed a lead job, taking over for Gary Kubiak in Denver. It is a blow to the defense, but the Dolphins are expected to keep things moving with in-house candidate Matt Burke, who just finished his first year coaching the linebackers for Miami.
GM Mike Tannenbaum: Chris Grier has the title, but Tannenbaum calls the shots. Despite a great coaching hire, a playoff run, and hitting on the trade for Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, the decisions to let Lamar Miller and Olivier Vernon walk last offseason are still highly questionable
HC Adam Gase: Did a tremendous job changing his offense on the fly to save the season and earn a playoff berth
OC Clyde Christensen: Gase runs the show, but he certainly deserves some credit for the turnaround
DC Matt Burke: Has been a linebackers coach for eight seasons in the NFL with the Bengals, Lions, and Dolphins