Ben Johnson

2023 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Last year, 10 NFL teams hired new head coaches. Following the Panthers’ hire, this year’s vacancy count sits at four. Last year’s Saints and Buccaneers moves, however, showed these job openings can emerge at unexpected points.

Listed below are the head coaching candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status. If other teams decide to make head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 1-26-23 (4:36pm CT)

Arizona Cardinals

Carolina Panthers

Denver Broncos

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

OC Ben Johnson To Stay With Lions

JANUARY 19: As could be expected, the Lions will reward Johnson for staying. The second-year Detroit OC will receive a large pay raise, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). While the Byron Leftwich development shows the risk of coordinators bypassing potential opportunities, Johnson will be attached a higher salary ahead of a potential 2024 HC bid.

JANUARY 17: Part of multiple teams’ HC searches during this year’s cycle, Ben Johnson is bowing out. The young offensive coordinator is opting to stay with the Lions, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Despite entering this season having not called plays before, Johnson became a hot name. The Colts, Panthers and Texans requested interviews with him. Carolina’s meeting was to take place Wednesday, but that will no longer come to pass.

Johnson, 36, had already interviewed virtually with the Colts and Texans. But he was viewed as a frontrunner for the Panthers job. Assistants’ stocks can change quickly, making Johnson’s decision somewhat risky, but the Detroit play-caller views the Detroit situation as promising enough to pass on this year’s lot of available jobs.

Dan Campbell promoted Johnson to OC last year, after the team moved on from Anthony Lynn after one season. The Lions’ offense led the way to the team becoming one of the season’s biggest surprises. Jared Goff delivered a bounce-back showing, ranking fifth in QBR and going from bridge starter to a player the Lions believe they can use as a long-term option. Jamaal Williams also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. The former Packers draftee finished the season with 17, breaking Barry Sanders‘ record during the Lions’ upset win in Green Bay that prevented a Pack playoff appearance.

The Lions also have Amon-Ra St. Brown signed through 2024 and Jameson Williams inked through 2025. Williams stands to be available for all of 2023, after his January ACL tear shelved him for much of this season. The team wants to bring back DJ Chark, and the former Jaguars second-round pick said recently (via the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers) he wants to stay in Detroit. D’Andre Swift battled injuries this season, and Williams’ rise impeded the 2020 second-rounder’s role. But he remains under contract. Although Williams is a free agent, his Hard Knocks performance and season-wrapping NBC interview certainly point to an interest in sticking around. The Lions also have four starting offensive linemen from this season under contract for 2023.

This would set up Johnson to draw interest again in 2024, though he is passing on parlaying his first Detroit OC season — which produced top-five rankings in scoring, yardage and DVOA — into a gig this year. But Johnson has been with the Lions since 2019, moving from the quality control level to tight ends coach to OC. While Matt Patricia hired Johnson, he had worked with Campbell in Miami. Johnson will bet on his value remaining high at this time next year.

Patriots’ Jerod Mayo Declines Panthers HC Interview

We can cross one candidate off the list of Panthers head coaching options. According to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (via Twitter), Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo will not be interviewing for the job. Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston was first with the news (on Twitter).

A few days after we learned that the Panthers had requested an interview with Mayo, the Patriots revealed that they were working on a new contract with the coach that would keep him in New England for the foreseeable future. Mayo later backed out of his defensive coordinator interview with the Browns, a development that wasn’t particularly surprising since Mayo effectively has the same role in New England. However, it’s telling that Mayo is also rejecting head coaching opportunities, an indication that he could emerge from the Patriots negotiations with a new job title.

Elsewhere on the OC front, the Panthers have scheduled an interview with Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson for Wednesday (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter). However, there are some question marks surrounding the interview status of 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. We heard yesterday that an interview still hadn’t been scheduled due to logistical reasons, and while the organization still hopes to interview the coach, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets that an interview may not happen depending on the length of the 49ers’ playoff run and the progress of the Panthers’ coaching search. Person adds that the organization still needs to conduct an in-person interview with another minority candidate to comply with the Rooney rule.

With Mayo off the board (and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh no longer on the radar), the current list of candidates includes:

Panthers Request Interviews With Three Offensive Coordinators For Head Coach

9:45pm: Carolina has added a third current offensive coordinator to their requests, this time one from the AFC. Rapoport reports that the Panthers have requested to interview Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey for their open head coaching position.

Dorsey’s rise as a coach has been fairly quick. After joining the Panthers organization initially as a scout in 2011, Dorsey quickly transitioned to quarterback coach, mentoring quarterback Cam Newton during the seasons in which Newton won MVP and led his team to the Super Bowl.

Dorsey was a casualty when the Panthers fired former offensive coordinator Mike Shula and was hired a year later to be the Bills’ quarterback coach under Sean McDermott. Dorsey’s success coaching second-year quarterback Josh Allen led to multiple teams reaching out about hiring him as their offensive coordinator. When Brian Daboll was hired to coach the Giants, Dorsey was promoted to offensive coordinator in Buffalo for the 2022 season.

After one season at the helm of the offense, Dorsey is getting his first interest for a head coaching position. Coincidentally, that interest just happens to be coming from the franchise that broke him into the coaching ranks of the NFL 10 years ago.

9:26pm: The Panthers’ search to replace former head coach Matt Rhule continued this evening as the organization requested interviews with Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, as reported separately by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. The two have become popular names in the 2023 head coaching market. Both Steichen and Johnson had received requests from the Texans and Colts today, as well. This makes six candidates who appear to be in the running for the open head coaching position in Carolina.

Steichen, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, took over as Philadelphia’s play caller when Nick Sirianni was named head coach in 2021. Steichen has played a crucial role in the development of quarterback Jalen Hurts. Together, in only their second season of work together, the two led a third-ranked Eagles offense to the NFC’s top seed.

Johnson is a holdover assistant coach in Detroit from the Matt Patricia-era to the Dan Campbell-era. Campbell was so impressed with Johnson he promoted the former tight ends coach to offensive coordinator this past offseason. Johnson excelled in the role, helping turn the Lions’ season around from a 1-6 start to a 9-8 record despite sporting the league’s worst scoring defense. Johnson helped the offense fire around quarterback Jared Goff and coached a rushing attack that saw running back Jamaal Williams break Barry Sanders record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 17.

Carolina is also expected to interview former Colts head coaches Frank Reich and Jim Caldwell, who more recently coached the Lions, and interim head coach Steve Wilks will get an opportunity to state his case after just falling short of a division title despite a disastrous start to the season. University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has been in contact with the team, as well, to discuss the position.

The Panthers will have plenty of routes to choose from in their search. Whether they decided they prefer the experience of veteran coaches like Caldwell or Harbaugh, they decide they would like to see more out the small samples provided by Wilks and Reich, or if they decide they want to give a debut opportunity to the younger coordinators, Carolina will do their due diligence in their search.

Colts Request HC Interviews; Jeff Saturday Wants To Stay

On display knocking the Packers out of the playoff race, the Lions finished off a remarkable turnaround this season. Early interest is coming in for Dan Campbell‘s coordinators.

Following a Texans interview request, OC Ben Johnson received another from the Colts, whom Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes (via Twitter) are interested in speaking with Lions DC Aaron Glenn. Jeff Saturday is believed to remain in the equation for Jim Irsay‘s team, but the owner said last month he looked forward to meeting with a host of candidates for the gig. The Colts will also attempt to meet with Rams DC Raheem Morris, per CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones (on Twitter), and Eagles OC Shane Steichen, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

This run of HC interest represents quite the rise for Johnson, who started last season as Detroit’s tight ends coach. For Glenn, the HC interest comes a few months after rumors of his potential ouster as Detroit’s DC surfaced. The Lions, however, completed an incredible bounce-back effort by going from 1-6 to 9-8.

Glenn’s defense did not cross the finish line with particularly strong marks. The Lions’ late-season surge still ended with their defense in last place in yards allowed and 28th in scoring. A crucial December loss to the Panthers ended with Carolina setting franchise records in total yards and on the ground. Still, the development of players like Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, Jeff Okudah and Kerby Joseph reflects well on Glenn, who was up for the Saints’ HC job that went to Dennis Allen last year. Glenn, 50, took over Lions DC duties in 2021 but spent the previous five years on Sean Payton‘s staff.

Jared Goff finished the season fifth in QBR — by far the highest placement of his career — and closed his second Lions campaign with a 29-7 TD-INT ratio. Behind one of the league’s better offensive lines, Jamaal Williams also put together a 1,000-yard season that ended with him leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns (17 — a number that broke Barry Sanders‘ 31-year-old Lions record). Johnson, 36, has gone from never calling plays at any level prior to 2022 to being a sought-after interviewee.

Morris, a former Buccaneers coach and Falcons interim HC, wrapped his second season as the Rams’ DC. While 2022 proved to be a rough year for the defending Super Bowl champions, Morris’ work shaping the 2021 Rams’ defense will still make him an intriguing candidate. Morris, 46, has experience coaching on both sides of the ball at the NFL level. Mostly a defensive coach, he helmed the Falcons’ wide receivers from 2016-19.

The Texans also requested a Steichen meeting, but the Eagles’ continued growth on offense — as Jalen Hurts morphs from a player with long-term questions to a surefire extension candidate — has been expected to generate looks for their play-caller. Ex-Colts OC Nick Sirianni gave Steichen play-calling duties midway through last season, and the 37-year-old assistant drove the team to becoming the league’s top rushing attack. The Eagles rank third in total yards and points this season, and Hurts took a major leap as a passer.

Despite the Colts completing their worst regular season in at least 11 years, Irsay has stumped for Saturday on multiple occasions since making the controversial hire. Saturday wants to stay on as head coach, Mike Chappell of CBS4 notes, adding that while no interview has been scheduled one should be expected. It would be odd (and wildly unpopular) for the coach in charge of the Colts’ first seven-game losing streak to end a season since the team’s 1953 expansion year would stay on, but that scenario remains in play.

Texans Request Five HC Interviews

The Lions made major strides on offense this season, and their young coordinator received an interview request Monday. Not long after their Lovie Smith firing, the Texans requested an interview with Ben Johnson, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). Other interview requests are coming in fast.

49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon and Broncos DC Ejiro Evero are on the team’s candidate list, with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com adding the Texans have requested interviews with each defensive play-caller (Twitter link). While KPRC’s Aaron Wilson reported Evero, Johnson and Gannon are expected to be in the mix, he added Ryans is not expected to pursue the job. It will be interesting to see how the former Texans linebacker proceeds regarding this request.

Johnson has been with the Lions since Matt Patricia‘s hire in 2019. Dan Campbell not only kept Johnson on but promoted him this past offseason. The production of Jared Goff and Jamaal Williams certainly will boost Johnson’s chances, and this probably will not be the only job he winds up being linked to during this cycle.

Johnson’s age (36) and the experience levels of the other candidates are notable here. The Texans made two odd hires in 2021 and ’22, adding 60-somethings in Smith and David Culley despite neither being on the radar for other teams at the time. GM Nick Caserio made each a one-and-done, leading to rumblings about his own future. Evero is the oldest of this bunch, at 42, with Gannon being 40 and Ryans — a Texans inside linebacker from 2006-11 — having entered the profession a bit later. The 38-year-old DC, however, will be one of this interview cycle’s top names, considering what he has done with the 49ers’ defense this season.

Robert Saleh‘s successor, Ryans has rocketed onto the HC tier — to the point he is expected to land a job — after elevating San Francisco’s defense to the No. 1 spot. The 49ers launched their 10-game win streak by mounting a four-game streak in which they held opponents without a second-half touchdown. It will certainly be interesting if Ryans passes on a meeting with his former team, but the Texans’ past two coaching searches — each involving Josh McCown, despite no NFL staff experience — have surprised. The Broncos also requested a Ryans meeting.

The other Eagles coordinator — OC Shane Steichen — joins Gannon among the Texans’ interview requests, Rapoport adds (via Twitter). Considering Jalen Hurts‘ progression and the Eagles’ run to the NFC’s No. 1 seed, it should be expected Steichen — the former Chargers OC — receives attention during this year’s cycle. Steichen is 37. The Eagles, who were linked to veteran QBs via trade this past offseason, rank third offensively and have shown malleability under Steichen. Nick Sirianni gave Steichen the play-calling reins midway through the 2021 season, and the Eagles’ pivot to a run-heavy offense drove them to last year’s playoff bracket. Hurts’ progression as a passer this year led to the team’s latest crack at the NFC’s top seed.

The reported frontrunner, Gannon was a finalist for Houston’s HC position last year. That makes his inclusion in Caserio’s third HC search in three years more intriguing. The Eagles also progressed significantly on defense, using a menacing pass rush — one that fell two sacks shy of the 1984 Bears’ single-season record — to spearhead a unit that ranks second in total defense. It is entirely possible the Eagles lose both their coordinators this year, but candidates might be choosey with regards to the Texans, given their recent history.

Evero makes for one of the more unusual candidates in recent years. The Broncos finished 5-12 and fired the coach who brought in Evero — Nathaniel Hackett — after 15 games, making him just the third coach since the 1970 merger to be canned before his first season wrapped. But Evero was on Sean McVay‘s first five Rams staffs and was rising before Hackett hired him. Despite steady injuries and Denver’s offense cratering under Hackett, Evero’s defense finished seventh this season.

Latest On Texans’ Lovie Smith Firing, HC Candidates

The Texans got a head start on ‘Black Monday’ by firing head coach Lovie Smith last night. The move was expected given the circumstances of his hiring last year and the team’s poor performance, but further details have emerged painting a discouraging picture of the organization’s operations during his tenure.

Not long before Smith was dismissed, it was reported that part of the reason he was on thin ice was his aversion to change and suggestions from others regarding his approach. That included a range from conversations with players, to a stubbornness on the subject of things like analytics and the role of modern approaches to on- and off-field operations.

One Texans player said, via Aaron Wilson of KPRC2“Lovie would meet with players, but he would never use any of our suggestions and ideas… We wanted to be heard, and he ignored what we had to say. It was very frustrating. Talking with him became a waste of our time.”

With Smith following David Culley as a one-and-done on the sidelines, attention has now turned to the Texans’ list of replacement candidates. To little surprise, Wilson reports that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon sits atop the list of Houston’s targets. He adds that there is a “mutual interest” between the 39-year-old and the Texans to make him the franchise’s next head coach.

Gannon was one of three finalists during Houston’s HC search last offseason, alongside former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores and longtime NFL quarterback Josh McCown. Flores’ racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and several teams was filed not long before Houston’s ultimate decision to pivot very late in the process to Smith. Circling back to Gannon would come as little surprise considering the interest shown in him previously, and his success this season.

Philadelphia has been stellar on defense this season, ranking seventh in the league in points (20.2) and second in yards (301) allowed per game. They also comfortably led the NFL in sacks with 70 in the regular season, and boasted the best pass defense in the league. That represents a step forward for Gannon’s unit, something which will likely only make him an even more sought-after coach in this year’s cycle. Gannon met with the Broncos and Vikings in addition to the Texans last year.

Wilson also lists Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and Broncos DC Ejiro Evero as other names to watch as Houston prepares their latest search. The former has drawn plenty of attention with his role in helping Jared Goff and Detroit’s offense help the team to a 9-8 record and nearly clinch an unlikely postseason berth. Evero, meanwhile, has been commended for his performance with Denver’s defense, a unit which (to a degree) masked the team’s offensive woes. Evero will interview for the full-time HC gig with the Broncos.

On the other hand, one candidate who appears unlikely to be hired is 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans. The former Texans linebacker “is not expected to pursue the job,” per Wilson, in spite of Houston’s interest in him. Ryans is likely to draw significant interest from at least some of the other four teams (the Panthers, Colts, Broncos and Cardinals) in need of a new bench boss given his success in his current role. The Texans will still have plenty of options to consider even if he steers clear of the organization.

Lions OC Ben Johnson Generating Head Coaching Interest?

Not long before the 2022 season started, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was not assured of acting as the team’s play-caller. He has operated within that role this season, and the unit’s performance has reportedly caused many around the league to take notice in him.

In a breakdown of emerging head coaching candidates, Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post names Johnson as a staffer generating considerable buzz around the league. Johnson’s Lions have been surprisingly efficient on offense, ranking in the top eight in the league in both total and scoring offense (averaging 374 yards and 25 points per game). Their pass game has been far more effective than many expected, especially with first-round rookie wideout Jameson Williams still yet to make his debut.

On the ground, Detroit has put up just shy of 130 rushing yards per game on average; that figure comes as somewhat striking given the limited usage top running back D’Andre Swift has seen as he continues to battle nagging injuries. It represents a reflection, in the eyes of many executives and evaluators, of Johnson’s creativity from a schematic standpoint – something which “quite possibly” could put him in the conversation for a HC gig as early as this coming cycle.

The 36-year-old was promoted from tight ends coach to OC this offseason as the Lions’ replacement for Anthony Lynn. It remained unclear for months after that expected decision, however, if he or head coach Dan Campbell would handle play-calling duties. The decision to give that responsibility to Johnson has paid clear dividends for Detroit, which sits at 4-7 despite fielding the league’s lowest-ranked defense. Especially when Williams is able to suit up, the degree to whish Johnson will be able to maintain the offense’s effectiveness will be worth watching as the season winds down.

A number of assistants have had their names floated around for the upcoming cycle, one in which Carolina and Indianapolis will be conducting full searches for permanent bench bosses. Other teams will likely be on the lookout for new hires as well; despite his lack of experience compared to top candidate Sean Payton, Johnson could very well be on the radar to land with one such squad this winter.

Lions Unlikely To Decide On Play-Caller Until Regular Season Nears

While the Patriots have the runaway lead on offensive staff uncertainty this offseason, the Lions feature some as they go through OTAs.

Detroit moved to a new offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, this year. It remains unknown if he will take over the team’s play-calling. Dan Campbell, who called Lions offensive plays down the stretch last season, said it is unlikely he will determine the team’s play-caller until the regular season nears, per the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers.

In his first months as the Lions’ full-time OC, Johnson has been calling plays during OTAs. That distinction obviously means considerably less than calling them during training camp or in the preseason. But that is how the Lions are proceeding as of early June. It is not a lock that is the direction they will go come September.

Look, I’m really not even worried about it right now,” Campbell said, via Rogers. “I just want to take it as it comes and see how [Johnson] goes with it and see how he handles running the offense, doing what I need to have done on my end and kind of my viewpoint and see how the quarterbacks are and just everything, and then go from there.

“I’m a gut guy, so I’m going to trust my gut to make that decision when the time’s right.”

Campbell relieved 2021 OC Anthony Lynn of play-calling duties midway through last season, taking on that responsibility himself for the final nine games. That was a noticeable undertaking for the first-year Lions coach, who had not been a coordinator in between his time as Dolphins interim HC (2015) and his Lions hire. During Campbell’s play-calling stint, the Lions scored at least 29 points four times; they did so only once in the eight games prior.

Johnson, 35, is a first-time coordinator who has never called plays at any level. A Matt Patricia-era holdover who began last season as Detroit’s tight ends coach, Johnson worked as the team’s passing-game coordinator to close last season.

More will be expected of the Lions’ offense this season. The team added D.J. Chark in free agency and traded up 20 spots for Jameson Williams, who should be ready to return from ACL surgery at some point during his rookie season. Those two will join emerging playmakers D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown in what will be Jared Goff‘s second go-round leading the offense. After Sean McVay worked as Goff’s play-caller throughout their four-year run together, the seventh-year quarterback could have three play-callers in two years to start his Lions tenure.

Coaching Notes: Broncos, Fangio, Jags, Lions

Ten candidates have emerged in the Broncos‘ coaching search. Despite the team going back-to-back with defensive coaches, Dan Quinn is believed to be one of the early frontrunners, per ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler (ESPN+ link). Despite being fired early in the 2020 season, the ex-Falcons HC has become a hot name in the 2022 interview cycle. The interest in Quinn puts him in position to be picky, as the current Cowboys DC has raised his stock after turning around the NFC East champions’ defense this season. He has yet to interview for the Broncos job yet. Quinn and Denver GM George Paton worked together in Miami under Nick Saban from 2005-06. Quinn, 51, was the Dolphins’ defensive line coach in those seasons. The Broncos have also done extensive work on Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett, Fowler adds. Both Hackett and Green Bay QBs coach Luke Getsy are on Denver’s HC interview list.

Here is the latest from the coaching ranks:

  • Bill O’Brien interestingly finds himself in the mix for NFL jobs on two tiers, with the Panthers eyeing him as an offensive coordinator and the Jaguars are set to interview him for their head coach job. O’Brien’s ignominious Texans exit notwithstanding, he has become a candidate to watch for the Jacksonville job, Fowler notes. O’Brien just finished his first season as Alabama’s OC.
  • Should O’Brien land the Jags gig, Vic Fangio will be a DC target, per Fowler. Given Fangio’s history of DC success, and the Broncos sporting an above-average unit during his tenure despite major injuries to Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the recently fired coach will likely have a few options. The Jags are prepared to be patient this time around, with Sports Talk 790’s Aaron Wilson noting this process could last for an additional two weeks (Twitter link). Second interviews are expected here. The Jaguars being thorough should not surprise, given their rash decision to hire Urban Meyer last January.
  • The Lions are considering hiring their next OC from within. After parting ways with one-and-done Anthony Lynn, Detroit is examining tight ends coach Ben Johnson for that role, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes. Dan Campbell took over play-calling duties from Lynn midseason, but Johnson’s responsibilities expanded as well. Johnson joined the Lions as a quality control coach in 2019. GM Brad Holmes is also leaving the door open to Campbell remaining the team’s play-caller.
  • Seahawks assistant head coach Clint Hurtt is on the University of Miami’s radar, with Fowler tweeting the Hurricanes are eyeing him for their defensive coordinator job. A Miami alum, Hurtt has spent the past five years as Pete Carroll’s defensive line coach.
  • Joe Judge‘s Giants staff will likely splinter soon. One of Big Blue’s position coaches, D-line coach Sean Spencer, will land on his feet. Duke is hiring Spencer to be a co-defensive coordinator, USA Today’s Josina Anderson tweets. Spencer was set to leave regardless of Judge’s status. Spencer’s pre-Giants coaching resume unfolded entirely at the college level. The 51-year-old assistant spent six years at Penn State prior to his short Giants stay under Judge.
  • Second-year Browns assistant Jeremy Garrett is expected to leave Cleveland and become the Liberty D-line coach, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman tweets.