Browns coaching candidates: Lincoln Riley, Mike McCarthy, Jim Harbaugh top list after Hue Jackson fired
The Browns finally fired Hue Jackson, who leaves Cleveland with an astonishing .088 winning percentage in less than three seasons at the helm of the Browns. It was inexplicable to bring Jackson back after going 0-16 in 2017, but Jimmy and Dee Haslam had a soft spot for Hue and kept him around. Rumors even percolated ahead of Week 8 it might be OC Todd Haley losing his job instead of Hue, but as it turned out, they were both fired.
Ultimately the Browns did the right thing here, although it’s a case of too little too late. There was dysfunction flying in Cleveland and there were justifiable concerns about the development of Baker Mayfield, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, who has been under an immense amount of pressure over the last several games.
Now the Browns will focus on who the next head coach for this team will be. The last five head coaches in Cleveland won a combined 36 games. The bar is very low. But this is an attractive job now, somehow, thanks to the young talent on the roster, including Mayfield.
It’s Mayfield who actually connects the dots for the most obvious coaching candidate of all.
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Lincoln Riley, HC, Oklahoma Sooners
Expect a LOT of questions sent Riley’s way this week during his media availability about his interest in the Cleveland gig. And expect a lot of non-answers from Riley, who is trying to focus on chasing a Big 12 championship and perhaps more for the Sooners. But make no mistake: he should be in the crosshairs for the Browns in this search. Riley is just 35 years old (and barely that, he turned 35 in September) and has already put together an impressive coaching resume at the college level. After playing at Texas Tech, he worked on the Red Raiders in various capacities until 2009, when he jumped to East Carolina to serve under Ruffin McNeil. He left Greenville after putting together some explosive offenses, for Oklahoma, where he took the OC job under Bob Stoops, before eventually taking the program’s reigns after Stoops retired before the 2017 season. Oklahoma won the Big 12 title, Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy and Riley had the Sooners poised to face off against Alabama in the CFP title game before Georgia stormed back and won.
Hot young offensive minds are all the rage in the NFL these days (hi, Sean McVay) and Riley fits the mold to a tee. There’s no way he’s jumping ship in Oklahoma without having some kind of assurances about the quarterback situation in the NFL, and there’s no way he could ask for a better quarterback setup than he would have with Mayfield, his former pupil. It’s entirely possible Riley doesn’t want to leave: he’s 7-1 at Oklahoma and by virtue of how that program is structured, he’s going to be in the mix for a conference title and national title almost every year if he can recruit well. He’s been running the show in Norman for less than two years; it would be early to bounce out of town. Riley said as much Monday, noting he doesn’t have the itch to make the leap to the NFL right now. But the opportunity to take over an NFL club with a stabilized front office, young talent and Mayfield under center would have to be alluring.
Mike McCarthy, HC, Packers
This is a spicy candidate, but McCarthy could be a fit in Cleveland, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora. Additionally, Steve Wyche of NFL Media included McCarthy on his list of possible replacements for Jackson. A couple of things would need to happen for this to work out, starting with the Packers (3-3-1 after losing to the Rams on Sunday) missing the playoffs and struggling on offense. If they miss the playoffs — or even lose in the first round after an uninspiring regular season — it would not be out of the question to see McCarthy and the Packers part ways. He would instantly be scooped up by another club, much in the same way Andy Reid landed in Kansas City immediately. And there are connections here, with Dorsey having worked in Green Bay at the same time as McCarthy. McCarthy would give the Browns what they have sorely needed: an experienced, veteran coach with a track record of success who can develop a young offense and center it around a first-round pick. Say what you want about McCarthy’s conservative approach to in-game coaching and his reliance on Aaron Rodgers talents, he has had a ton of success in Green Bay. Packers president Mark Murphy’s been engineering a serious shake up over the past year and it wouldn’t be stunning if the Packers hired a different coach to take Rodgers’ career down the stretch should 2018 go south.
Jim Harbaugh, HC, Michigan
This one is going to make a lot of people in Michigan mad, because Wolverine fans are firmly entrenched in the idea that Harbaugh will never leave Ann Arbor, but I heard it floated by Daniel Jeremiah on NFL Network and it makes sense to at least consider. I’d like to remind them that many people were putting Harbaugh on the hot seat prior to this season because of his inability to beat Ohio State and the other B1G rivals or, at the very least, starting to make waves about whether or not Harbaugh was the answer in Michigan. Harbaugh won 10 games in each of his first two years, but people wanted more. He might be getting it this year, starting the season 7-1 with a 5-0 in-conference record. Harbaugh could end up winning a conference title and maybe even winning a national title (or at least playing for one) and that could solidify his standing with the team. Or maybe winning big could ultimately result in Harbaugh trying to get back in on the professional level. He and Dorsey seem like a duo that could work together, and the Browns fit a similar mold to the 49ers when Harbaugh took over in San Francisco. There’s a young quarterback, a lot of young talent on defense and it doesn’t feel like the Browns are that far off if they can land a huge head coaching upgrade. Harbaugh took the Niners from the dregs to an NFC Championship Game in a single season. He might not be a beloved figure in Ohio because of his status as a Michigan guy, but this would be an opportunity to win big and resurrect a floundering franchise.
John DeFillipo, OC, Vikings
Another hot young offensive name, DeFillipo was once the offensive coordinator in Cleveland, so there might be some concern about his returning there. (And that concern might very well be HIS.) But after leaving the Eagles where he was the quarterbacks coach to become the offensive coordinator of the Vikings, it’s hard not to be impressed with DeFillipo and the job he’s done with Kirk Cousins. The Vikings offensive line is a MAJOR problem and they haven’t had Dalvin Cook all season, yet Cousins is playing at a very high level and Adam Thielen is out there doing things Jerry Rice never did. Again, a young offensive mind to pair with Baker is probably going to be a very high priority for the Browns in this coaching search, so don’t be surprised to see “Flip” pop up on these lists considering the work he’s done with Carson Wentz and Cousins over the last several years.
Josh McDaniels, OC, Patriots
What would be a coaching candidate list without McDaniels on it? He spurned the Colts last year at the last minute, so he might not be the most popular name on the board here. And it might take more than one season before anyone is willing to hire McDaniels. But NFL teams want to win and, again, they covet smart young offensive minds. McDaniels fits the bill and with John Dorsey in charge, he wouldn’t need to be making personnel decisions. He would have an opportunity to work with a talented, young, healthy quarterback (and Baker/McDaniels would just be a lovely combo of brashness) and there’s more than enough young talent on both sides of the ball to make this job interesting. The one catch could be any promises made by Bill Belichick to McDaniels about taking over in New England, or how long McDaniels would stay, or even a sense that McDaniels should never go coach the Browns, who once fired Belichick. That might be seen as too much of a betrayal.
Dave Toub, ST, Chiefs
Toub’s an under-the-radar coaching candidate who gets some semi-love each hot seat season. But maybe this is the landing spot for him, considering his ties with Dorsey, who was in Kansas City before his departure to Cleveland. Toub isn’t the young offensive mind, but it’s not like he can’t hire an offensive coordinator who fits the mold here. He’s well respected and surely Dorsey is willing to think outside the box on this one — think John Harbaugh when you picture a special teams coach who can come in and create the kind of structure that allows an organization to flourish.
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