Hue Jackson became the sixth straight Cleveland Browns head coach to be fired after a loss to the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday, improbably continuing one of the more ignominious streaks in the NFL. While falling 33-18 on the road was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the organization, Jackson was 3-36-1 overall in three seasons with the team and signs of progress were fleeting in recent weeks as the team struggled to get over the hump late in games.
The question is, who will owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey turn to in the very near future to become the head coach? One thing is for sure, the roster and organization itself are in a much better place than when Jackson was hired and with guys like Baker Mayfield in the fold, it’s a much more enticing opportunity for coaches than perhaps at any point since the team’s return to Cleveland.
Who could wind up replacing Jackson long term? Here are 10 candidates to watch who could be the next Browns head coach:
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach
Riley has already been connected to the gig even before Jackson was canned and it makes plenty of sense. Not only did he develop Baker Mayfield from walk-on into the Heisman winner and No. 1 pick, but the organization would benefit from having some more young energy in the building. Riley is one of the best play-callers at any level of football and there’s already been talk of a move to the NFL (though mostly to the Dallas Cowboys instead). He is extremely content at Oklahoma however so there would take a lot of convincing on behalf of the Browns and a contract offer not far off of Jon Gruden’s to show they are serious.
Gregg Williams, interim head coach/defensive coordinator
The fiery assistant won the backroom battle to be named Jackson’s immediate replacement and got Todd Haley canned in the process too. It would take quite a second half run in order for him to get a lot of traction for the gig long term but stranger decisions have been made with the Browns in recent years. Commissioner Roger Goodell may subtly nudge Haslam in a different direction given Williams’ connection to the Bountygate scandal but wins could build momentum.
The NFL Assistants
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator
McDaniels has head coaching experience from a stint in Denver and nearly became the guy in Indianapolis before changing his mind. That reversal led many to believe that he could have had an agreement to take over for Bill Belichick when the time comes but he will at least draw interest from the Browns ownership once again and might have more talent to work with overall than he does in New England. McDaniels may be intrigued about the opportunity and could listen but it would still be a bit of a surprise if he decamped to Berea.
Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator
Schwartz is a defensive guy who will be a trendy name for teams who don’t want a green head coach and his personality is right in line with Dorsey’s. The record he had with the Lions (29-51 from 2009-13) will scare plenty of folks off but he’s rehabbed his image with a good run in Buffalo and a title in Philadelphia. His first NFL job was in Cleveland and a return would certainly be full circle.
John DeFilippo, Vikings offensive coordinator
DeFilippo has been a hot name in league circles the past several years and he’s from down the road in Youngstown. There’s experience in Cleveland from his stint as offensive coordinator back in 2015 and he’s polished his resume with a Super Bowl title in Philadelphia and one of the best offenses in the league in Minnesota. Young, offensive-minded OCs will be all the rage this hiring cycle (again) and Flip might be at the top of the list when all is said and done. There could be competition if the Browns really want him.
Dave Toub, Chiefs special teams coordinator
Somebody who Dorsey knows well, Toub could be a hot offseason candidate given the success in Kansas City and his ability to find guys at the edges of the roster who can help secure wins. There would be questions in terms of staffing and he wouldn’t win the press conference for Browns fans but for a franchise looking for a bit of stability, it would make plenty of sense and be a solid hire that is lauded, not lambasted, around the league.
Pete Carmichael, Saints offensive coordinator
Like Toub, more of an under-the-radar guy but one who could get a look from teams as Carmichael becomes more amenable to leaving New Orleans. He’s not one to put his name out and interview a lot but the success of the Saints' offense in recent years will make him worthy of interest. Drew Brees won’t play forever and the Browns crop of players could be a good fit with what he can draw up. Fellow Saints assistant Dan Campbell gets more traction in the media but Carmichael would bring a workman-like attitude to the organization and could pair perfectly with a young passer like Mayfield.
The Wild Cards
Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach
The Browns may not be able to lure Riley away from Oklahoma but they might have an eye on another Big 12 coach in Campbell. He’s from Massillon and was part of several national titles at powerhouse Mount Union. NFL types have always come away impressed with him over the years and he’s found success at Toledo and Iowa State to the point where many think he’ll follow Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
Mike McCarthy, Packers head coach
It sure seems like Green Bay and McCarthy are trending toward divorce the way the past few years have gone and, even if the team still makes the playoffs, an early exit from the postseason will likely see the head coach out the door after not receiving a long-term extension past 2019. Dorsey joined the Chiefs just after they hired a longtime head coach who was recently shown the door in Andy Reid and that run has worked out well even if the GM is now in Cleveland. These two have worked together before so there would be something there and getting a veteran, but offensive-minded, coach who has been around the block developing QBs would check off a lot of boxes.
John Harbaugh, Ravens head coach
John’s brother Jim is going to be connected to every single opening this offseason given his resume over the years but don’t discount the one with a Super Bowl title as a coach being an option as well. While consistency has been his hallmark in Baltimore, that could also be his undoing if the team doesn’t make it to the playoffs (and finds some success) so he very well could be available in January. He obviously knows the division well (he’s 18-3 against the Browns) and would instantly add some cache to the franchise with the title ring from 2012. Cleveland has often poached Harbaugh assistants, so why not get the man himself if he suddenly becomes available? He’s meshed well with Ozzie Newsome and his scouting approach over the years, which would appeal to Dorsey among others.
Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma head coach
Yes, technically Stoops makes 11 candidates and he has been enjoying the life of a retired multimillionaire the past few years; but there might be some mutual interest in returning to coach for the right opportunity. Another Youngstown native, he’d be a PR home run for the organization and has shown that he’s been able to adapt to the way the offensive game is going while still staying true to his defensive roots. His agent is down the street in Cleveland and Stoops has already spent plenty of time getting comfortable with ownership and the front office before and after drafting Mayfield. A big contract offer could be tempting even if Stoops doesn’t have a burning desire to coach again but could fill an itch to make a run at the NFL.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.