Mike Kafka

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

Texans Schedule Second HC Interviews With Mike Kafka, Ejiro Evero

Houston’s third consecutive offseason spent searching for a new head coach is heading into its next phase. The Texans are set to conduct a second interview with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, per ESPN’s Field Yates (Twitter link).

The 35-year-old met virtually with the Texans this past Sunday, one day after New York’s surprisingly successful campaign came to an end. Now, he is set to interview in person with Houston’s front office. Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes that the sit-down is scheduled to take place in Houston on Wednesday.

Kafka has enjoyed a quick rise up the ranks of NFL assistants receiving serious consideration for head coaching jobs. He was already a popular name in league circles last offseason when he left Kansas City (where he worked closely alongside Patrick Mahomes as the team’s quarterbacks coach) to join Brian Daboll‘s new staff in the Big Apple.

That represented not only his first OC opportunity at both the college and NFL level, but, to the surprise of many, his first time handling play-calling duties. Daboll’s time as Buffalo’s OC led to the expectation that he would carry on in a similar capacity with the Giants, but his decision to delegate to Kafka proved to be a successful one. New York put up middle-of-the-road numbers in terms of scoring and yardage totals, but ranked fourth in the regular season with an average of 148 rushing yards per game. The postseason saw New York continue that success against the Vikings, though their loss to the Eagles was certainly a different story.

Kafka is still a logical candidate for a second interview, as is Ejiro Evero. The Broncos defensive coordinator will also meet with the Texans’ brass tomorrow, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. The 42-year-old is, like Kafka, relatively inexperienced in terms of serving as a coordinator, with 2022 being his first DC gig, but his success has made him a hot commodity during this year’s cycle.

Evero has met with all five teams currently in need of a new head coach, illustrating the way he is viewed around the league. He led the Broncos’ defense to solid rankings in terms of yards allowed in particular, a testament not only to the unit’s talent and his coaching ability, but also his success in maintaining consistency in the wake of Denver’s offensive struggles. Evero has previously worked with the Rams, Packers, 49ers and Buccaneers at the NFL level, all-but exclusively seeing time on the defensive side of the ball.

After seeing David Culley and Lovie Smith each receive their walking papers after one-year stints, Texans owner Cal McNair recently indicated that he would take a more hands-on approach to the 2023 search. Adding either Kafka or Evero would provide the team with a much younger option on the sidelines, and presumably set the franchise up for long-term stability.

With the team’s set of second round interviews beginning to take shape, here is the latest on Houston’s HC search:

Colts Request HC Interviews With Mike Kafka, Don Martindale, DeMeco Ryans

The Colts’ list of head coaching candidates continues to grow. The team submitted three interview requests on Monday, beginning with one for Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero).

Kafka continues to draw considerable interest in this year’s coaching cycle. The 35-year-old has also received interview requests from the Panthers and Texans, teams looking to add a bench boss with experience on the offensive side of the ball. Kafka is in the midst of his first season as an OC, but his work to date has quickly boosted his coaching stock.

After leaving the Chiefs to join Brian Daboll in New York, Kafka was surprisingly given the keys to the Giants’ offense at the start of the year. That decision certainly paid off, as the team is bound for the Divisional Round of the playoffs in no small part due to their play on that side of the ball. A resurgent Saquon Barkley has powered the team’s ground game, while quarterback Daniel Jones has erased (at least most) doubts regarding his potential as a franchise signal-caller. To little surprise, then, Kafka is firmly on several teams’ radars as they look for similar improvement in 2023.

The Giants’ other coordinator, Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, is also a target of the Colts. Indianapolis placed an interview request with him, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports tweets. This marks the first such request for the 59-year-old this year, though he has been interviewed for HC vacancies in years past. His first season with the Giants has seen the team put up average numbers at best in several categories, but the unit – much like the offense – has overperformed relative to expectations in what was expected to be a rebuilding year. One of the most highly-respected defensive coaches in the league, Martindale has nearly two decades of experience on NFL sidelines.

Lastly, Indianapolis is seeking a meeting with 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). Another hugely popular name during the 2023 cycle, Ryans has a busy week ahead, with several interviews already lined up for this week prior to today’s request from the Colts. He will meet with interested teams in the build-up to San Francisco’s playoff game this Sunday, a notably different setup than that of Kafka and Martindale, who are expected to hold off on interviews this week (Twitter link via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post).

With three new names on their list, here is an updated breakdown of the Colts’ HC search:

  • Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator (Chiefs): Interviewed 1/12
  • Ejiro Evero, defensive coordinator (Broncos): Interviewed 1/12
  • Aaron Glenn, defensive coordinator (Lions): To interview 1/14
  • Jim Harbaugh, head coach (Michigan): Mentioned as candidate
  • Ben Johnson, offensive coordinator (Lions): Interviewed 1/13
  • Mike Kafka, offensive coordinator (Giants): Interview requested
  • Don Martindale, defensive coordinator (Giants): Interview requested
  • Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator (Rams): Interviewed 1/13
  • DeMeco Ryans, defensive coordinator (49ers): Interview requested
  • Jeff Saturday, interim head coach (Colts): Interview expected
  • Shane Steichen, offensive coordinator (Eagles): Interviewed 1/14
  • Bubba Ventrone, special teams coordinator (Colts): Interviewed 1/11

Texans Request HC Interview With Mike Kafka

Mike Kafka is turning into a popular name on the head coaching circuit. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Texans have requested permission to interview the Giants offensive coordinator for their head coaching vacancy.

[RELATED: Texans Request Five HC Interviews]

As our 2023 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker shows, Kafka joins an initial five-man list that includes Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, and Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.

Kafka, a 2010 fourth-round pick out of Northwestern, stuck around the NFL for six years before turning to coaching. He got his first NFL gig with the Chiefs in 2017, and he quickly became Kansas City’s QBs coach and, later, their passing-game coordinator. Kafka’s stint as QBs coach coincided with Patrick Mahomes‘ ascension, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Brian Daboll hired him as the Giants new offensive coordinator.

Kafka was entrusted with the role of offensive play-caller in New York, a surprising development considering Daboll’s offensive success in Buffalo. The Giants were middle-of-the-road in offense this past season,but Kafka was still credited with helping the offense climb out of the cellar. The team also saw strong efforts from Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, sparking optimism about Kafka’s ability to function with different personnel.

Thanks to the Giants’ surprising performance in 2022, Kafka has started to generate some interest as a head coach. He was previously connected to the Panthers head coaching gig, and now he’ll get a look as Lovie Smith‘s replacement in Houston.

Panthers Request HC Interview With Giants OC Mike Kafka

Another name has been added to the list of targets for the Panthers’ head coaching search. Carolina has requested an interview with Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, reports Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link).

[RELATED: 2023 HC Search Tracker]

The Giants’ surprising performance this season, one which has seen them post a 9-7-1 record and qualify for the postseason, has largely been attributed to the team’s new coaching staff. That unit is led, of course, by first-year HC Brian Daboll, but Kafka has played a key role in the team’s offense as well.

Kafka, 35, joined Daboll in New York last offseason after beginning his NFL coaching career with the Chiefs. He established himself as a top candidate for the position given his work alongside Patrick Mahomes as Kansas City’s QBs coach and passing game coordinator. Once the Bills promoted Ken Dorsey to replace Daboll as their OC, it came as little surprise that Kafka was hired.

Eyebrows were raised, however, when Kafka received a long look in the offseason handling play-calling duties. That role was assumed to be Daboll’s, given his success at the helm of Buffalo’s offense prior to being hired. Instead, Kafka was named the team’s full-time play-caller in September, putting him in an important position with respect to Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and Co.

The Giants finished the season with middle-of-the road figures in scoring and total offense, but the play of Jones and Barkley in particular helped the unit outperform expectations. That has led to questions about each of their futures with the team, but also highlighted Kafka’s potential early on in his career. His inclusion in the Panthers’ search thus comes as little surprise as the rebuilding squad looks for a long-term Matt Rhule replacement.

Their interview process – which will also include interim HC Steve Wilks – has largely taken the form of offensive candidates. While experienced options such as Frank Reich and Jim Harbaugh are on Carolina’s radar, they are also eyeing younger options like Ben Johnson, Shane Steichen and Dorsey. Kafka certainly falls into the latter category; while his relative lack of experience as a play-caller could keep him from earning a head coaching job in this year’s cycle, it is clear he has established himself as a name to watch.

Panthers’ Post-Rhule Fallout: Termination, Replacement, Trades

The NFL news circuit was set ablaze today when news broke of the firings of Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The termination of Rhule was not necessarily a surprise, as he’s been firmly on the hot seat all year and the possibility of firing Rhule had been discussed “well before” today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, but it did create a newsworthy fallout of information that is of interest to those who follow the sport.

Many have talked about the contract implications of Rhule’s termination, alluding to the millions of dollars still remaining on his contract. While it’s completely applicable to Rhule’s situation, it doesn’t sound like it is a concern to Carolina. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out that “Carolina is on the hook for this season, but the salaries for the ensuing seasons are offset by what his future college job pays him.” Essentially, Rhule will absolutely get his guaranteed money, but the onus won’t be on Carolina to pay it. Whenever Rhule, who is presumed to be a top college coaching candidate for next year, gets another job, his salary from the new school will offset the amount the Panthers owe him.

It was also announced that Panthers defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach Steve Wilks will sub in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The defensive-minded former head coach of the Cardinals has apparently already begun to make the team his own. When Panthers owner David Tepper was asked why Snow was fired, he reportedly pointed the finger at Wilks, telling reporters to direct that question to the interim head coach, according to ESPN’s David Newton.

Here are a few more fallout items from today, starting with some ideas on Rhule’s replacement:

  • The biggest nugget to come out of today concerning Carolina is that, as most NFL executives expected Rhule to lose his job, many in league circles are expecting the Panthers to start dealing veteran assets in an attempt to accrue draft capital that might make the head coaching position more attractive, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. The Panthers currently only hold four draft picks for 2023: first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, supporting the idea that trading away veterans could improve their current situation. Trading away veterans with expensive contracts, such as star running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Robbie Anderson, could prove troublesome, according to La Canfora, so the Panthers are reportedly willing to eat some of those salaries in order to facilitate moving those assets. Early reports claimed that the Bills have reached out about McCaffrey and that they did in the offseason, as well, according to Person, but Tom Pelissero of NFL Network clarified that, while every team will be calling about McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any trade talks yet. In addition to McCaffrey and Anderson, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports expects wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns, and defensive tackle Derrick Brown to be on the table.
  • Jeff Howe of The Athletic posed the question today of who might replace Rhule and offered quite a few suggestions. Howe started the list with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who took the Falcons to the Super Bowl as head coach in 2016. Next, he mentioned 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans interviewed for the Vikings’ job this offseason and was expected to interview for the Raiders’, as well. The 38-year-old has rocketed up coaching boards since retiring as a player in 2015. Another name mentioned was Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon who also interviewed for the Vikings last year, in addition to the Texans and Broncos. Howe went into great detail on every candidate, seeming to list anybody who may be up for a head coaching job in the next few seasons. His list included former NFL head coaches including the retired Sean Payton, Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as the current interim head coach, Wilks. Other serious candidates Howe mentioned were Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The list essentially devolved into an article about anybody who may make the jump to NFL head coach in the next few seasons, pointing out “wait and see” candidates such as Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, and Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
  • One interesting name that came out of today’s rumors was former Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Joe Person of The Athletic advised that an eye be kept on Kuechly, who remains close with Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, to come back in some capacity. After retiring from a pro scout position last year, Kuechly has been working as an analyst on Panthers radio broadcasts.

Mike Kafka To Call Giants’ Plays In Week 1

Mike Kafka‘s run calling Giants plays will not stop after the preseason. The team will keep its young offensive coordinator in this role to start the year, Brian Daboll said Monday morning.

The Giants hired Daboll after his run as the Bills’ play-caller led to Josh Allen rising to superstar status. Kafka, 35, received an extensive look calling plays this summer, but Daboll retaking the reins would not have been surprising. Kafka, the previous Chiefs quarterbacks coach, taking over to start the regular season marks an unexpected development — at least from the perception when Daboll was hired in January. Offense-oriented HCs generally work as their team’s play-caller.

This will be new territory for Kafka, who was behind Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City. Daboll has called plays for multiple teams before, though his Bills OC work catapulted him into position to become the Giants’ head coach. He will start the season as a CEO-type leader in New York.

Although Daboll and GM Joe Schoen are leading a Giants rebuild, this marks a seminal season for two Dave Gettleman-era cornerstones. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley are going into contract years. The team’s play-caller will do plenty to determine how New York’s starting quarterback and running back’s seasons go. That responsibility will fall on Kafka, who was Patrick Mahomes‘ position coach during each of the former MVP’s first four seasons. Kafka will be Jones’ fourth play-caller in four seasons, following Pat Shurmur, Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens.

Daboll was expected to be the team’s play-caller, but Kafka has been on the rise for a while. Mahomes’ explosive breakout naturally increased interest in his position coach, and ESPN.com’s Jordan Raanan opines the Giants used the prospect of calling plays as a way to poach him from Reid’s staff (Twitter link). Reid has regarded Kafka as a future HC, SI.com’s Albert Breer tweets.

Prior to joining Reid’s staff as a quality control assistant in 2017, Kafka was a GA at Northwestern. The ex-Wildcats quarterback spent six years on NFL rosters as a backup QB. Kafka becoming the Giants’ play-caller in earnest will place him on a faster track to receiving HC interviews, though Big Blue’s 2022 offense will determine how quickly that happens.

NFC East Notes: Giants, Mills, Eagles

The Giants continue to entertain the prospect of Brian Daboll not calling plays when the season opens. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka will hold that responsibility in the team’s preseason opener Thursday, via the New York Post’s Ryan Dunleavy. Working behind Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy as Chiefs quarterbacks coach, Kafka was not in a play-calling position in Kansas City. The former NFL backup QB also was not expected to be a play-calling OC, with Daboll being at the controls for Josh Allen‘s star turn. Daboll has not ruled out calling plays himself, but this matter being uncertain entering the preseason is an interesting development for the team.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • Just before their preseason slate, the Commanders are making a staff change. Ron Rivera announced the firing of defensive line coach Sam Mills III. Assistant D-line coach Jeff Zgonina will move up, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post (on Twitter), with assistant DBs coach Brent Vielselmeyer set to help out. Mills, 44, has been with Rivera throughout his coaching career, beginning with the Panthers — the team with which his late father, the recently inducted Hall of Fame linebacker, retired — in 2005 and staying on for Rivera’s nine-season tenure (2011-19). Rivera brought Mills with him from Carolina in 2020, and the latter headed up a defensive line that did plenty to spark the team’s surprise playoff run that year. Rivera (via Jhabvala, on Twitter) described the separation as having to do with this offseason and training camp, rather than previous years’ performance.
  • Darius Slayton has gone from the Giants‘ 2019 and ’20 receiving leader to a trade candidate to a player in danger of being waived. While it should not be ruled out another team trades for the contract-year wide receiver, Dan Duggan of The Athletic notes it would be a surprise if Slayton was on the team’s 53-man roster (subscription required). Slayton was not receiving many first-team reps during the offseason, when much of Big Blue’s receiving corps was battling injuries, showed where this could be headed. He has continued to be a second- or third-teamer at camp. If cut, the former fifth-round pick will surely generate waiver-wire interest.
  • Darnay Holmes appears to have seized command of the Giants’ slot cornerback competition. Competing with third-round rookie Cor’Dale Flott, Holmes has taken every first-team rep at the position during camp, Duggan adds. Their configuration could change during the preseason, but the Giants look set to go with Holmes, Adoree’ Jackson and 2021 third-rounder Aaron Robinson at corner.
  • Jeremiah Washburn has been working as an Eagles coach and executive for a bit now, and this rare combination has since come with a promotion. Washburn is now in charge of Philadelphia’s edge defenders, being named the team’s defensive ends and outside linebackers coach. He was previously a senior defensive assistant. Washburn remains the team’s player personnel director. Alex Tanney is also rising up the Eagles’ staff, moving from the quality control level to the team’s assistant quarterbacks coach.
  • Cowboys national scout Drew Fabianich left for a job at Auburn recently, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. He will become the SEC program’s general manager and director of football scouting and development. Fabianich was with Dallas for nearly 20 years.

Mike Kafka On Radar To Call Giants’ Plays

When the Giants hired four-year Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, it was expected the play-caller who helped Josh Allen become a top-tier quarterback would run the show for the Giants. The rookie HC might have other plans.

Giants OC Mike Kafka is calling plays at training camp, and while making these scripted calls is quite different from being an in-game play-caller, Daboll said he has not finalized his decision on who will call regular-season plays.

Mike has done a really good job in the spring, which he handled the scripts,” Daboll said, via Giants.com’s Michael Eisen. “And again, we talk on a day-to-day basis on plays and things to install. But he’s been on the headset with Daniel [Jones]. And he’ll be doing that through camp. And as we get closer to it, we’ll sit down and discuss it. … Once we cross that bridge, which we’ve still got a little bit here to go, you guys will know.”

Daboll has a several-year head start on calling plays compared to Kafka, who worked under both Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City. While Kafka, 34, was Patrick Mahomes‘ position coach during each of the superstar’s four years as the Chiefs’ starter, Daboll enjoyed play-calling stints prior to Buffalo. He worked as OC in Cleveland, Miami and Kansas City from 2009-12. Daboll then established himself as a candidate for HC jobs by elevating Allen from a raw talent to a player that has done the most to reinstall the Bills as a Super Bowl contender.

It would surprise if Daboll ceded play-calling reins in his first year on the job. Most OCs that rise to the HC level call plays, and Daboll’s arrival represented a key development for Jones, who is going into what amounts to a make-or-break year as the Giants’ starter. Kafka calling plays for the Giants would also give him a potentially quicker path to the HC level, though it is a bit early to predict when the former NFL QB will be part of a coaching carousel.

NFC East Rumors: Feliciano, Giants, Cowboys, Dickerson

New Giants’ interior offensive lineman Jon Feliciano had some interesting comments about how his time in Buffalo came to an end, according to Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com. After not being utilized in the Bills’ overtime loss to Kansas City, Felicano was quoted saying part of him thought they “got what (they) deserved.”

After riding out his rookie contract as a reserve lineman in Oakland, Feliciano signed a two-year deal to join the Bills. Despite only starting four games for the Raiders as an injury-replacement for Kelechi Osemele, Feliciano earned a starting job playing right guard for all 16 games of his first year in Buffalo. A shoulder injury and torn pectoral muscle delayed the start of his 2020 season, but, upon his return, he started the final nine games of the season, winning the Bills’ 2020 Ed Block Courage Award.

Feliciano signed a three-year extension before the 2021 season and began the year starting six of the first seven games at left guard. A calf injury landed him on injured reserve for a little over a month, but, upon his return, he was not welcomed back to his starting job, with Ike Boettger manning the position. Even when Boettger was unavailable in the playoffs, Buffalo turned to Ryan Bates, who had recorded the first four starts of his career earlier in the season, in lieu of putting Feliciano back in the starting lineup.

With the apparent contempt over the situation in Buffalo, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Feliciano follow his offensive coordinator, now-Giants head coach Brian Daboll, and his offensive line coach, Bobby Johnson, to New York. Johnson has a lot of respect for Feliciano, who he’s coached since their time together began in Oakland. A potential draw might have been that Feliciano will get the opportunity to play center for the Giants after playing at guard dating all the way back to his college days in Miami.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC East, starting with another rumor about Big Blue:

  • Daboll earned his first head coaching job due to his success calling plays in Buffalo. He hired former NFL quarterback Mike Kafka as the Giants’ new offensive coordinator after Kafka served as the Chiefs quarterbacks coach & passing game coordinator the past two years. Kafka has never called plays for an offense, as Chiefs head coach Andy Reid calls plays in Kansas City, but Daboll and the G-Men have provided Kafka the opportunity to try so far in offseason practices, according to Josh Alper of NBC Sports. It’s a show of good faith by Daboll and a low-risk chance, as Daboll can easily take the reins if they don’t believe Kafka is ready for NFL play-calling yet.
  • With the Bronco’s franchise rumored to be selling around $4.5BB, Peter King of NBC Sports was curious about the value of the NFL’s most valuable franchise, the Cowboys. According to Forbes, King says $6.5BB. According to popular NFL business consultant Marc Ganis, King says $8-8.5BB. According to Cowboys’ owner/president/general manager/supreme ruler Jerry Jones, King says over $10BB. Jones quickly added without provocation, “But let me make this very clear, I’ll say it definitively: I will never do it. I will never sell the Cowboys. Ever.” So feel free to put away your checkbooks. Jerry isn’t interested.
  • When the Eagles drafted Landon Dickerson out of Alabama last year, the idea was that the Crimson Tide’s unanimous All-American center and Rimington Trophy winner would eventually serve as the replacement for long-time center Jason Kelce. Well, according to Zach Berman of The Athletic, their plans may have shifted. Dickerson proved too talented to keep off the field and found his first opportunity at playing time at left guard. The chemistry with Dickerson next to tackle Jordan Mailata has the Eagles’ brass excited and eager to keep the tandem next to each other. This plan likely informed their decision to use their second-round pick this year on Nebraska center Cam Jurgens. Jurgens also has the flexibility to play guard and center, but with Dickerson likely to stick at guard, Jurgens becomes the clear front-runner to eventually replace Kelce.