The New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers have already found new head coaches in the form of Joe Judge, Mike McCarthy, Ron Rivera and Matt Rhule, respectively. This also means that only one vacancy remains ahead of the NFL’s divisional playoff round: the Cleveland Browns, who parted ways with Freddie Kitchens last week, are the lone team that has not yet found a head coach for the 2020 season.
This is not for a lack of candidates, however, as there are seven men linked to organization — one of them being New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was also in the race in New York and Carolina. In order to get his first head coaching job since unceremoniously getting fired by the Denver Broncos during the 2010 regular season, however, McDaniels will need to beat out his competition during his interview on Friday.
Likewise, there is now a real chance that the 43-year-old eventually returns to New England either if another candidate beats him out or he simply decides that the situation in Cleveland is not worth leaving the Patriots for. With that being said, let’s take a look at the men against whom McDaniels competes against for to become the Browns’ 10th official head coach since their rebirth in 1999.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy: Bieniemy is serving as the right hand man of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid since last season, and has overseen one of the most potent offenses in all of football over the last two years. Adding the 50-year-old to a position group that can be compared to Kansas City’s — the Browns field a high-upside quarterback in Baker Mayfield and tremendous talent at the skill positions — could result in Cleveland becoming similarly productive on this side of the ball.
Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll: Long-time Patriots assistant Brian Daboll returned to the NFL in 2018 and since then has been instrumental in the development of the Bills’ offense and quarterback Josh Allen. While the young passer has been hit-and-miss over the last two seasons, Daboll’s play-calling helped put him in favorable situations and in turn take a noticeable step forward in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman: Considering the work he did with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and this season with MVP-candidate Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, it is not hard to see why Greg Roman will likely become a head coach at one point in the future. When it comes to the Browns gig, the 47-year-old has one clear advantage over McDaniels: his run-first offense produced very well in 2019, while the Patriots’ struggled for much of the season.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh: One of just two defensive coaches on the list of candidates to take over the Browns, Robert Saleh is considered a long-shot to get the job given his limited body of work — he is in his first year as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator — and the fact that Cleveland’s issues last year were primarily a result of offensive struggles. Still, Saleh is a fast riser and could therefore eventually join Joe Judge as one of the more surprising hires of this year.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz: The only candidate linked to the Browns other than McDaniels that has actual head coaching experience in the NFL — he led the Detroit Lions between 2009 and 2013 — Jim Schwartz is the second defensive coach to be in the running. The questions about Cleveland’s offense and whether or not Schwartz will get a coordinator that would help on that side of the ball remain even with him, but his tenure in Philadelphia certainly helped his stock go up again.
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski: Stefanski might be the biggest competition for McDaniels and the other candidates, considering that he was already interviewed for the head coaching vacancy twice last season before eventually returning to Minnesota. Despite being in just his first year as the team’s offensive coordinator, he has done a solid job crafting a unit around Kirk Cousins and is therefore again on Cleveland’s radar. Now the question is if the Browns would be willing to wait until the Vikings depart this year’s playoff race.
Ultimately, it seems likely that the Browns will try to go with an offensive coach — all but eliminating Saleh and Schwartz from the equation — to help Mayfield and company get back on track after not living up to the hype in 2019. Stefanski should be seen as the favorite at this point, but Bieniemy, Roman and McDaniels bring considerable experience to the table as well and could challenge him. Either way, the next two days should give us more clarity about the Browns’ search and how it impacts the Patriots.