Predicting the 2025 NFL head coaching cycle

For as difficult as it is to predict which teams will have an opening at head coach in 2025 and who they will hire, the most recent hiring/firing cycle proved to have few real surprises— at least in terms of candidates.

The only candidates who weren’t on anyone’s radar a year ago would have been Antonio Pierce, just a linebackers coach on the Las Vegas Raiders at the time who has only ever been a head coach at the high school level. And Dave Canales.

Everyone else who was hired, whether it was the top college coach who took NFL interviews the past two years (Jim Harbaugh), the fastest-rising defensive coordinator (Mike Macdonald), the head-coach-in-waiting (Jerod Mayo), the always-a-bridesmaid (Raheem Morris), or the most popular retread (Dan Quinn), or a Super Bowl offensive coordinator with bloodlines (Brian Callahan), you need only ask, “Where?”

This year the coaches who did not get hired is so star-studded that we may only need focus on linking them to teams who could have an opening in 2025.

On average there are 6-7 head coach openings every cycle. With eight changes this past year, I will assume seven NFL head coach changes in 2025. These are the best potential fits for all of them.

Chicago Bears: Bobby Slowik

In 2017, the Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky. A year later, they fired John Fox.

In 2021, the Bears drafted Justin Fields. A year later, they fired Matt Nagy.

In 2024, the Bears might draft Caleb Williams. Maybe Matt Eberflus should just starting interviewing for defensive coordinator jobs now.

Even if this is part of the reason that Chicago has never developed a premier quarterback prospect, I don’t expect the Bears to start acting differently than they’ve always acted. Assuming that Chicago will trade Fields and give new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron a year to develop him as best he can, Eberflus has an extraordinary mountain to climb if he wants to improve upon his career 10-24 record as Bears head coach:

You say, “The Bears got better as the season went on.”

I say, “So did the Packers and the Lions, and the Vikings may only need bring back Kirk Cousins to have a top-10 offense again.”

Even a “generational” rookie Williams is still a rookie, so Bears ownership could ask themselves how to improve the offense if Chicago loses more often than they win and C.J. Stroud’s offensive coordinator in 2023 is the most logical next step in that thinking process.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Houston Texans

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Slowik, who is sort of the “sixth Beetle” of Mike Shanahan’s famous 2013 Washington coaching staff (next to Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel, and Raheem Morris), didn’t end up finalizing a deal for a head coaching job this year. But the 36-year-old is going to be at the top of lists next year given how he helped Brock Purdy at the 49ers passing game coordinator in 2022 and Stroud as the Texans offensive coordinator in 2023.

So long as Caleb Williams doesn’t spurn the Bears and vice versa, this could be a match made in Houston.

New York Jets: Aaron Glenn

Robert Saleh’s future is in the hands of a 41-year-old Aaron Rodgers coming off of Achilles surgery and needing to get the better of Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, while the Patriots are potentially setting up to draft a quarterback of the future or Marvin Harrison, Jr.. In other words, it’s a miracle he’s made it this far, how much longer can he hold off owner Woody Johnson without winning a playoff game in 2024?

Not much.

The most intriguing option comes full circle, 31 years after the Jets made him the 12th overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. Glenn, a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback who played eight years in New York, is now one of the most respected defensive coaches in the league and more than just an excuse to fly to Detroit to talk to Ben Johnson.

NFL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive

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Starting his coaching career on the 2014 Browns (same staff as Kyle Shanahan, Mike McDaniel, Anthony Weaver, and Mike LaFleur), then going to the Saints in 2016, where he started working with Dan Campbell, Glenn has been the Lions defensive coordinator since 2021. Taking over a defense that ranked 32nd in points and yards, Glenn has slowly improved that side of the ball and Detroit’s seven was 13th in DVOA in 2023.

He interviewed with the Titans, Commanders, Chargers, and Falcons this year. He interviewed for five jobs between 2022-2023. Glenn has been on the precipice of landing a job, going back to the Jets would seem like fate waiting to happen.

Las Vegas Raiders: Mike Vrabel

If there is a team voted most-likely to fire a head coach after one season or less, it is the Raiders. The team has had 17 head coaches, not including interims, in the past 38 years. It does include Jon Gruden and Art Shell twice.

If there is a worst time to be head coach of the Raiders, it is 2024. The fact that owner Mark Davis removed the interim tag from Pierce at a time when players were imploring him to do so or threatening mutiny might only confirm that Las Vegas has accepted its fate as a last place team in the AFC West: You’re now fighting against Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, Sean Payton in Denver, and John Harbaugh/Justin Herbert in L.A..

All Broncos need do is get a competent quarterback and the Raiders could be bookmarked for an 0-6 division record, since they’re still mulling over how to proceed with Aidan O’Connell but only have the 13th overall pick. Not high enough for a star rookie quarterback.

Syndication: The Tennessean

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So if you’re going to fire a popular coach, you need come strong the next year with a popular replacement. Vrabel wasn’t the first choice of Raiders fans in a poll run last month, but the media would put down the pitchforks after firing Pierce if Davis responded by hiring someone who was similar but has had a good track record in the AFC.

Davis’s three hires prior to Pierce were retreads: Jack Del Rio, Gruden, and Josh McDaniels. Those didn’t work, but he’s got a type (when he’s not being pressured by Maxx Crosby).

Dallas Cowboys: Ben Johnson

Currently the subject of controversy over whether he’s turning down teams or being turned down by teams, Ben Johnson has something going for him that will always trump rumors, stories, and narratives: He’s a really good offensive coordinator for a really good team.

The Lions have had a top-5 offense in both of Johnson’s seasons as offensive coordinator, so as long as Detroit doesn’t take a nosedive in 2024, which is improbable given their talent on the offensive line and weapons around Jared Goff, he will again be a popular interview subject in 2025.

And if the reason that Johnson has been cold on job opportunities in Carolina (2023) and Washington (2024) is that they have uncertain quarterbacks who need development, then the most logical landing spot would be a team that has an established quarterback who is an upgrade over Goff.

That’s where pairing Johnson with Dak Prescott makes the Cowboys the right team to give the coach what he’s waiting for and Johnson the right upgrade in place to fire Mike McCarthy if Dallas fails to make a deep playoff run next season.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp

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One reason Jerry Jones wouldn’t fire McCarthy is that there haven’t been any candidate who represent clear upgrades that would inspire the fanbase to believe that next year will be different. Dan Quinn is not an upgrade. Bill Belichick likely needs too much power and had one of the worst teams in the NFL the last couple of years. And Jones wants a big name in place if he’s going to fire McCarthy for going 12-5 but not making the Super Bowl.

Johnson is unproven as a head coach, but he took chances with college coaches Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer, winning a Super Bowl with both. Johnson’s offense has proven itself and in Dallas he would have an upgraded quarterback, a good offensive line, plus CeeDee Lamb and Jake Ferguson. Plus money. Lots and lots of money.

Cowboys fans could find reasons to pick apart any hire. They would welcome Johnson because not only is he one of the most respected assistant coaches in the NFL…he disrespected the Commanders. That should go over well in Dallas too.

New Orleans Saints: Ejiro Evero

11 years after the first time he was hired as a head coach, and finally in his fifth try, Dennis Allen posted a winning record. The Saints went 9-8 and had both a top-10 scoring offense and scoring defense. Now for a dose of reality: Allen has probably made it as far as he will go.

The Saints went 8-3 against teams that did not make the playoffs and 1-5 against playoff teams. Their sole win was a 23-13 victory over a Bucs team that also only had one win against a playoff team during the regular season. Basically, someone had to win the NFC South and their strength of schedule is the only reason New Orleans had a winning record.

Facing many more challenges this offseason, including a projected -$87.8 million in cap space and only the 14th overall pick in the draft, the Saints could end up with a top-three pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. Maybe the only reason the Saints let Allen keep his job is because New Orleans expects a challenging season and doesn’t want to bring in a new coach until they’ve reset in a year.

That’s where Evero comes in as yet another coach off of the trees of Sean McVay, Jim Harbaugh, and Jon Gruden.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Scrimmage

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The 43-year-old won a Super Bowl as the Rams defensive passing game coordinator in 2021 and has had top-10 defenses in yards allowed as coordinator for the Broncos in 2022 and Panthers in 2023. This is not to say that those were successful seasons and the Panthers had many struggles on both sides of the ball, but he didn’t have any talent to work with.

Evero’s recent history in the NFC South and his offensive connections around the league to hire a coordinator (he’s worked with everyone from McVay to Kevin O’Connell to Frank Reich, Harbaugh, Matt LaFleur, Zac Taylor, and Mike McCarthy) make him a good fit for a Saints defense that has a lot of promising young talent.

As bad as his last two teams have been, teams around the league know how good Evero is and though he didn’t get a job this cycle, it could be his turn in the next one.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Zach Orr

Oh, I’m well aware.

The Steelers have only had three head coaches since 1969 and Mike Tomlin stunned everyone by leading Pittsburgh to the playoffs this season, but patience was already running thin by December and even the most die-hard fans of the team have to admit that this drought doesn’t represent the franchise as they know it: The Steelers haven’t won a playoff game since 2016 and they’ve had a negative point differential in four of the last five years.

That includes giving up 20 more points than they scored in 2023 and having a bottom-10 offense in each of the last five seasons.

Since losing the Super Bowl to the Packers 13 years ago, the Steelers are 3-8 in the playoffs. If the Patriots can fire Belichick six years after winning his sixth Super Bowl, if the Seahawks can fire Pete Carroll with as many winning seasons as he had, then I guarantee you that Pittsburgh can fire Tomlin. If they miss the playoffs in a division with Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and whatever the Browns are, that’s certainly a route I expect them to consider.

This is where we get to the “Dave Canales” of the 2025 hiring cycle, a 31-year-old first-time defensive coordinator who was still playing in the league less than a decade ago.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos

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What was Tomlin when the Steelers hired him in 2007? A 35-year-old defensive coach who had only been a coordinator for one year. The team also hired Bill Cowher when he was 35 and Chuck Noll when he was 37. They don’t care about age and experience, they care about toughness, grit, and determination. Orr has all of that and if the Ravens do to the Steelers what they did to the Seahawks last season (setting in motion Seattle’s decision to hire Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald), they will see fit to change the course of the AFC North by stealing the Ravens secret weapon.

So scared was Baltimore of losing Orr to a defensive coordinator job that they let him pass over Anthony Weaver to get the job only two years after they made him the inside linebackers coach, letting Weaver leave to take the DC job with the Dolphins.

As far as determination, Orr went from an undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2014 to being a second-team All-Pro linebacker on the Ravens in 2016. A spinal condition cut his career short following that season and yet he still tried to make a comeback a year later. Orr wanted to play, teams were too afraid that they would do him damage and he went into coaching. He’s skyrocketed up the ranks and don’t be surprised if he becomes the NFL’s youngest head coach since the Rams hired McVay in 2017.

If not the Ravens, where else would make better sense for Orr than the Steelers? This should be the coach they covet as much as they coveted the last three, all of whom reached multiple Super Bowls and won at least one. In Pittsburgh, it’s not just how you do but who you are, and even if he’s a Raven now, the Steelers only need him turn his hatred for them as a division rival in the other direction and he could be the surprise hire who turns into the best move of the 2025 offseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Bill Belichick

I did not think that I would find a suitable fit for Bill Belichick because there are quite a few variables at play, the same ones that kept him from being a popular candidate for available jobs last month.

Is the team terrible, like most that fire their head coaches? Belichick just left a terrible team, he turns 72 this year, why would he want to go to a terrible team? He doesn’t have time for a long-term project.

Is there a controlling owner or GM? Belichick won six Super Bowls his way, why is he going to let someone tell him what to do? Clearly Belichick needs help with drafting, but I don’t see Jerry Jones or Eagles GM Howie Roseman, both Super Bowl winners in their own right, letting someone else call their shots.

Does the team already have a quarterback? The one team that showed interest in Belichick, the Falcons, are one of the only teams with no quarterback and no clear path to a good one. Belichick saw his career with and without Tom Brady. He doesn’t want to develop a rookie, he doesn’t want to deal with a mid veteran like Derek Carr, or a slight upgrade to Mac Jones. He needs a quarterback who is either great or could be great with the help of an upgraded offensive staff and players.

Syndication: Cape Cod Times

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I didn’t think there would be any teams that fit all of the criteria. And then I remembered that the Jaguars could have decided to fire Doug Pederson after Jacksonville’s late season collapse and that if they miss the playoffs next season in a division with the Texans and Colts, what’s to stop owner Shad Khan from saying, “Oh my god, I could have Bill Belichick?”

In fact, what’s stopping him from saying that right now?

Belichick gets a roster with Lawrence, Travis Etienne, a defense with Josh Allen, Travon Walker, Foyesade Oluokun, and in a division that historically isn’t that hard to win. General manager Trent Baalke is going into his fourth year and if Jacksonville doesn’t make the playoffs, he could follow Pederson out the door (he’s now haunted by the decision to pick Walker over Aidan Hutchinson), allowing Belichick an opportunity to create his own front office for an owner who is desperate for the franchise to reach its first Super Bowl.

Doug Pederson was at best “Belichick lite”. Now Khan can get Belichick-right.

Maybe next year

Some candidates left without jobs in this exercise include Pete Carroll, Frank Smith, Brian Flores, Steve Wilks, Anthony Weaver, Wes Phillips, Mike LaFleur. Some teams that were considered by not available include the Cardinals, Bucs, Giants, and Eagles.

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