Ryan Nielsen

2023 Offensive/Defensive Coordinator Search Tracker

As the head coaching carousel spins, many of the league’s offensive and defensive coordinator positions are open as well. Teams seeking new head coaches will soon begin OC and DC searches — some have already started those processes — but a handful of other teams that did not make HC changes are also searching for top assistants.

The Browns and Patriots have begun 2023’s coordinator hires. Here are the rest of the teams searching for new OCs and DCs. As new searches emerge, they will be added to the list.

Updated 1-26-23 (3:14pm CT)

Offensive Coordinators

Baltimore Ravens (Out: Greg Roman)

Los Angeles Chargers (Out: Joe Lombardi)

Los Angeles Rams (Out: Liam Coen)

New York Jets (Out: Mike LaFleur)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Out: Byron Leftwich)

Tennessee Titans (Out: Todd Downing)

Washington Commanders (Out: Scott Turner)

Defensive Coordinators

Atlanta Falcons (Out: Dean Pees)

Carolina Panthers 

Miami Dolphins (Out: Josh Boyer)

Minnesota Vikings (Out: Ed Donatell)

Vikings, Dolphins Request DC Interviews With Sean Desai

The Vikings and Dolphins are in need of a new defensive coordinator, and both clubs have requested interviews with Seahawks defensive assistant and associate head coach Sean Desai (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). Desai was also a candidate for the Browns’ DC post that was recently filled by Jim Schwartz.

Minnesota enjoyed a 13-4 record in 2022, Kevin O’Connell‘s first year as head coach. However, the team’s defense was a sore spot all season, and after a wildcard-round loss to the Giants in which the Vikes struggled to slow New York quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell received his walking papers. Minnesota subsequently requested an interview with Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores and also hopes to talk to Desai. In addition, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (via Twitter) that the Vikings have requested an interview with Saints co-DC Ryan Nielsen, who is expected to interview with the Falcons for the same position.

Like the Vikings, the Dolphins were bounced in last week’s wildcard round, giving up over 400 total yards in their loss to the Bills. The team’s defense finished the regular season in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed, but the unit dropped from 16th in points allowed in 2021 to 24th in 2022 while falling from 10th to 15th in DVOA. That drop-off cost defensive coordinator Josh Boyer his job, and in addition to Desai, the ‘Fins hope to talk with Vic Fangio about their DC vacancy.

Desai, 39, may not have Fangio’s track record, but he did work under the renowned defensive guru for a few years while both men were on the Bears’ staff, and he was named Chicago’s defensive coordinator in 2021. He found himself in need of new employment at the end of that campaign, as the Bears elected to part ways with head coach Matt Nagy & Co. In 2022, Desai ended up in Seattle under fellow ex-Fangio staffer Clint Hurtt.

Although the Bears were anxious to clean house after a disappointing end to the Nagy era, Desai’s defense did finish sixth in the league in yards allowed per game (316.7) in 2021, despite injuries to a number of key players. The Vikings — along with the Giants and Raiders — actually interviewed him for their DC post in last year’s cycle before opting to move forward with Donatell, and they are now giving him another look.

Falcons Request DC Interviews With Jerry Gray, Ryan Nielsen

The Falcons have reportedly hit a roadblock with their first target to take on their vacant defensive coordinator position. Two new names have quickly emerged as candidates the team is interested in meeting with, however.

Atlanta has put in an interview request with Packers defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Jerry Gray, per Benjamin Albright of KOA Colorado (Twitter link). A sit-down is expected to take place next week, Albright adds. That news comes as little surprise, given the fact that Gray was quickly named as a candidate to replace Falcons DC Dean Pees following his retirement announcement.

Gray, 60, has NFL coaching experience dating back to 1997. His time on the sidelines at the pro level began in Tennessee, and includes a stint as the Bills’ DC from 2001-05. Gray ultimately found himself back with the Titans in 2011, when he took charge of their defense. His unit put up generally sub-par numbers during his time in Nashville, aside from his first year in charge where the team’s defense ranked eighth in scoring.

In addition, the Falcons have their eyes on the Saints’ Ryan Nielsen, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic tweets. The 43-year-old has exclusively worked with New Orleans during his time as an NFL staffer, beginning with the team in 2017. He spent five years working strictly with the defensive line, before being promoted to the role of co-DC this past offseason.

That move was necessitated by Dennis Allen being promoted to New Orleans’ head coach, of course, and increased Nielson’s importance (along with that of Kris Richard) to the Saints’ defense. The unit delivered a strong performance in 2022, ranking fifth in the league in yards allowed and ninth in scoring. That wasn’t enough to guide the Saints to a postseason berth given their offensive struggles, but it likely boosted Nielson’s stock as a high-end coordinator candidate.

Either option would bring significant experience to the rebuilding Falcons’ defense, so they could be serious candidates for the job. Atlanta is expected to cast a wide net in their search for Pees’ successor, however, so their list of interviewees is likely to grow in the coming days.

Latest On Saints’ Coaching Staff

WEDNESDAY: Both will indeed become co-DCs for the Saints. Nielsen agreed to a two-year contract as New Orleans’ co-DC, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman tweets, while NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero notes Richard is ticketed to stay on as Saints secondary coach with the co-DC title added (Twitter link). Nielsen will remain the Saints’ D-line coach, and Pelissero adds special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi is now an assistant head coach with the team.

The Saints also announced quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry is now the team’s passing-game coordinator. Curry has been with the Saints for seven years. Doug Marrone is on track to be the Saints’ offensive line coach, a role he held from 2006-08, when he was also New Orleans’ OC.

MONDAY: Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard are getting promotions in New Orleans. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (via Twitter), the pair of Saints defensive assistants are taking on new roles. The duo could be promoted to co-defensive coordinators, although the reporter cautions that nothing has been set.

[RELATED: Saints To Keep Pete Carmichael As OC]

Richard made a name for himself with the Seahawks, working his way up from an assistant to defensive coordinator. The coach ended up spending three years in that role before getting canned following the 2017 campaign. Since that time, the 42-year-old has worked as the Cowboys defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, and he joined the Saints as their defensive backs coach in 2021. Richard met with both the Ravens and Steelers about their DC vacancies last month

Nielsen has been with the Saints organization since 2017, and he earned a promotion to assistant head coach in 2021. Prior to his stint in New Orleans, the coach was in the collegiate ranks, including a stint as defensive coordinator at Northern Illinois. We heard recently that Nielsen was a candidate for the DC gig.

The Saints have met with multiple outside candidates, including Michael Wilhoite and Aubrey Pleasant. Meanwhile, Pete Carmichael will be sticking around as offensive coordinator on Dennis Allen’s staff.

NFC Coaching Notes: Nielsen, Vikings, Giants

The Saints promoted from within to fill their head coach position and halted their offensive coordinator search to keep Pete Carmichael in that role. Their other top staff job may involve a similar process. Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen is a candidate to take over as defensive coordinator, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Nielsen, 42, has been with the Saints for the past five seasons, each as the team’s D-line coach. Nielsen has DC experience, but it came at the mid-major (Northern Illinois) and Division I-FCS (Central Connecticut State) levels. The Saints also have a former NFL defensive coordinator on staff, in secondary coach Kris Richard. The former Seahawks DC should receive a look as well. He met with both the Ravens and Steelers about their DC vacancies last month. The Saints have met with multiple outside candidates, Michael Wilhoite and Aubrey Pleasant, for the position as well. Wilhoite began his coaching career in New Orleans, working as a lower-level assistant from 2019-20.

Here is the latest from the NFC’s coaching ranks:

  • New Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell is interested in more Rams assistants. Minnesota requested permission to interview Los Angeles assistant DBs coach Jonathan Cooley, per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic (on Twitter). The Vikes are eyeing Cooley for their secondary coach/passing-game coordinator position. After gigs at multiple MAC schools from 2018-19, Cooley joined the Rams in 2020. The Rams are already lost their top secondary coach, Ejiro Evero, to the Broncos. They are also expected to lose tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive assistant Chris O’Hara to the Vikings, who are interviewing Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown for their OC job.
  • The Vikings are poaching another assistant from the Broncos, being poised to hire Justin Rascati as their assistant offensive line coach, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Rascati served as an offensive quality control coach in Denver last season. O’Connell is already bringing ex-Broncos staffers Ed Donatell and Curtis Modkins to Minnesota.
  • Bryan Cox is back on an NFL staff. The Giants are hiring the former NFL linebacker, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com. Cox will be the Giants’ assistant D-line coach under Don Martindale. This will be Cox’s first NFL gig since the Falcons fired him following Super Bowl LI five years ago.
  • The 49ers are promoting offensive quality control coach Brian Fleury to their tight ends coach spot, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes. Fleury, who will replace new Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree in this role, has been with the 49ers for three seasons.

Saints To Be Without 8 Assistants Due To COVID-19 Protocols

SATURDAY: The Saints will be down two more coaches due to virus protocols. Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen and pass rush specialist Brian Young will not coach in Week 2 as well. However, the team announced Nugent will be able to be on the sidelines Sunday. The Saints are still down eight coaches, with two defensive assistants now joining offensive and special teams staffers set to skip the Charlotte trip.

FRIDAY: Following reports earlier this week of several Saints assistants testing positive for COVID-19, the team announced which coaches will miss their Week 2 game due to the NFL’s coronavirus protocols.

Run-game coordinator and tight ends coach Dan Roushar, offensive line coach Brendan Nugent, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, running backs coach Joel Thomas, assistant special teams coach Phil Galiano, offensive assistant Declan Doyle and offensive analyst Jim Chaney will not be with the team for its Week 2 game against Carolina.

This group of coaches is fully vaccinated, according to Sean Payton. New Orleans’ recent run of COVID-19 issues also included Michael Thomas, who tested positive earlier this week. Thomas was already on New Orleans’ reserve/PUP list and is out until Week 7. As a result of these positive tests, Saints players will be required to be tested daily — regardless of vaccination status — and wear masks at the team’s facility until the NFL permits the team to exit the heightened protocols, NFL.com’s Kevin Patra notes.

The Saints’ virus issues do not quite match the Browns’ from late last season, when several staffers missed Week 17 and Kevin Stefanski missed the team’s wild-card game. And the Saints staffers’ vaccinations make this development a lesser concern than last season’s virus cases on coaching staffs. But it is certainly notable as the NFL begins its second season since the pandemic began.

Jim Leonhard, Others In Contention For Packers’ DC Job

The Packers are conducting an expansive search to replace Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator. Several more names joined the early wave of candidates.

Former Chiefs DC Bob Sutton interviewed for the position recently, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, who adds five other new candidates emerged on Green Bay’s radar as well. This comes after news of the Packers interviewing former Seahawks DC Kris Richard, Chargers passing-game coordinator Joe Barry, Washington secondary coach Chris Harris and Rams safeties coach Ejiro Evero. Richard and Sutton have since lined up positions with the Saints and Jaguars, respectively. Perhaps a sign about the direction the Packers’ search has taken.

Ten-year NFL safety-turned-Wisconsin DC Jim Leonhard, former Dolphins DC Matt Burke, Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, Saints D-line coach Ryan Nielsen and Packers secondary coach Jerry Gray either have interviewed for the position or will do so by Wednesday, per Demovsky.

Leonhard, whose NFL playing career wrapped up after the 2014 season, has not coached at the NFL level. But he has been the Badgers’ DC since 2017. Three times in the past four seasons, Wisconsin has deployed a top-10 scoring defense in Division I-FBS. Although Leonhard’s nomadic career did not include a Packers stop, the 38-year-old is a Wisconsin native.

Gray served as the Titans’ DC from 2011-13, spent the next six seasons as Vikings secondary coach and signed on as Packers secondary coach last season. The former NFL cornerback has been an assistant in the league since the late 1990s. Kiffin spent 2020 with the Browns but worked with Matt LaFleur‘s brother Mike with the 49ers previously. Burke oversaw the Dolphins’ defense from 2017-18 and was with the Eagles during the past two seasons, while Nielsen has spent the past four seasons as New Orleans’ D-line coach.

Coaching Notes: O’Connell, Raiders, Saints

The Rams just lost their DC Brandon Staley when he took the Chargers’ head coaching job, but it doesn’t sound like they’re about to let their OC follow him out the door. We heard yesterday that Staley was interested in bringing Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell with him, but Sean McVay has other ideas. The Rams have blocked him from interviewing with the Chargers, sources told Albert Breer of SI.com (Twitter link), which they can do since it’s a lateral move.

O’Connell doesn’t call the plays with the Rams, McVay does, and he presumably would’ve been able to with the Chargers. McVay had previously let his former OC Matt LaFleur leave to go become the Titans’ OC when it came with play-calling responsibilities, but it sounds like he’s tired of getting his assistants poached. Breer adds the Rams “really value” O’Connell. Breer does note that things could change, but that’s the Rams’ current position. O’Connell was the OC for Washington in 2019 before he was swept out with the rest of Jay Gruden’s staff.

Here’s more from the coaching ranks:

  • Speaking of the Chargers, Staley is at least getting who he wants for one position. Los Angeles is hiring Raiders tight ends coach Frank Smith away to be their new offensive line coach and run game coordinator, Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com tweets. Smith and Staley previously served on Vic Fangio’s Bears staff together, so there’s a connection there. As Gutierrez points out, Smith did a great job in helping Darren Waller blossom into one of the league’s best tight ends.
  • Smith isn’t the only assistant coach shuffling the Raiders are doing. New DC Gus Bradley is starting to flesh out his staff, and he’s hired Richard Smith and Ron Milus as his linebackers and defensive backs coaches respectively, Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal tweets. Smith and Milus held those same roles under Bradley with the Chargers previously.
  • The Lions are by all accounts planning on hiring Saints assistant Dan Campbell to be their new head coach, although notably no deal has been announced even though it’s been a couple of days now since New Orleans was bounced from the playoffs. Interim coach Darrell Bevell “earned serious consideration for the position,” and it’s possible he could get the job if talks with Campbell fell through, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Bevell was Detroit’s OC before taking over for a fired Matt Patricia. Bevell was 1-4 as interim coach, and was the Seahawks’ OC from 2011-17.
  • LSU was finalizing a deal to make Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen their new defensive coordinator, Jane Slater of NFL Network tweets. However, that hit a snag as it was reported New Orleans was blocking him from getting out of his contract. Things were resolved this morning with Nielsen being given a new three-year contract and the added title of assistant head coach to stay with the Saints, a source told Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (Twitter link). With Dennis Allen getting a head coaching interview with the Eagles, Nielsen could be a candidate to eventually take over as DC as he’s apparently very highly regarded within the building.

Coaching Notes: 49ers, Browns, Bills, Saints

New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan could look to pilfer one of his Atlanta subordinates, as running backs coach Bobby Turner could be leaving the Falcons for San Francisco, reports D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Turner has long been associated with Shanahan and his father, Mike, having coached with the family in Denver and Washington before joining the Falcons in 2015. A previous report indicated Atlanta was unlikely to allow Turner to follow Shanahan to the West Coast.

Here’s more from the 2017 hiring cycle:

  • The Browns have agreed to hire former Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee for the same role, tweets Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Lee, 63, has coached offenses and QBs since the mid-1970s, and most recently had two separate stints with the Buffalo interrupted by a run with the Jets. In Cleveland, he’ll work with Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, and — if he’s retained — Robert Griffin III. Previously reported staff changes that included moving tight ends coach Greg Seamon to QBs coach were only in place for the Senior Bowl, adds Cabot (Twitter link).
  • The Bills have hired former NFL wide receiver Chad Hall as an offensive coaching assistant, according to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Hall, who played for the Eagles in 2010 while new Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott served as the club’s defensive coordinator, will work with the Bills’ wideouts, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. The Buffalo gig will mark the first coaching job for Hall, who last played in 2014 with Jacksonville.
  • Hall wasn’t the only coach hired by the Bills this week, as Buffalo also announced that its hired Bobby Babich as assistant defensive backs coach. Babich, the son of longtime NFL defensive coordinator Bob Babich, will serve under newly-installed DBs coach Gill Byrd. Babich, who spent the 2016 campaign with Florida International, has also spent NFL time with the Browns and Panthers.
  • The Chargers have hired D’Anton Lynn as a defensive assistant and Dan Shamash as an offensive quality control coach, per Caplan (Twitter link). Lynn, the son of new Los Angeles head coach Anthony Lynn, coached with the Bills last year, while Shamash spent the 2016 season with Jacksonville.
  • Former North Carolina State defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen has been hired in the same role by the Saints, reports Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports (Twitter link). New Orleans originally pursued former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula for the position, but will instead roll with Nielsen, who’s coached with the Wolfpack since 2014.
  • The Bears could have interest in hiring Bob Bicknell as their new wide receivers coach, tweets Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. Bicknell has coached wideouts at the NFL level since 2012, spending time with Buffalo, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and isn’t expected to retained by the 49ers.
  • Cedric Smith is returning to the Broncos as an assistant strength and conditioning coach after seven years in Houston and Kansas City, per Mike Klis of 9NEWS (Twitter link). Smith previously worked for Denver from 2001-06.