5 best head coach candidates who didn't get a chance in this hiring cycle

The game of musical chairs has stopped, as these head-coaching candidates went home empty-handed. Here are some of the best NFL head-coaching candidates who did not get one of 32.

Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages
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With the Washington Commanders hiring former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to be their next head coach, all eight openings across the league have been filled. While the coaching carousel could be started once more for any number of reasons, whether that be Andy Reid retiring from the profession or Jerry Jones wanting to steal the headlines, this game of musical chairs is over.

A quarter of the league decided whatever they were doing in 2023 wasn't good enough any more. It was one of the most interesting hiring cycles I have ever seen. It had promotions from within (Jerod Mayo, Antonio Pierce), many strong coordinators (Brian Callahan, Dave Canales, Raheem Morris, Mike Macdonald, Dan Quinn), two head-coaching retreads (Morris, Quinn) and of course, Jim Harbaugh...

This past hiring cycle featured a wide array of candidates, with seemingly everyone besides the stubborn New England Patriots doing their due diligence in their searches of varying thoroughness.

Love them or hate them, these are the eight men who will be leading new NFL teams next season.

  • New England Patriots: Jerod Mayo
  • Las Vegas Raiders: Antonio Pierce
  • Tennessee Titans: Brian Callahan
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Jim Harbaugh
  • Carolina Panthers: Dave Canales
  • Atlanta Falcons: Raheem Morris
  • Seattle Seahawks: Mike Macdonald
  • Washington Commanders: Dan Quinn

I had some thoughts on each coaching hire, but I also have thoughts on the best who did not get one.

5 head-coaching candidates who will have to wait again until next year

5. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks

Of any strong head-coaching candidate out there, I think Steve Wilks probably got the rawest deal of all of them. Not to say I feel all that bad for him, as he has a pretty good thing going in his first year as the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, but I thought his time as the interim head coach of the Carolina Panthers could have gotten him a job this time. His guys did respond to him.

Wilks had been the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2018. Josh Rosen was his rookie starting quarterback, so how do you think that went? In the last five years, Wilks has been everywhere, man. While his time as the Missouri Tigers defensive coordinator did not go over well, his stock saw a huge uptick from his time leading the Panthers after Matt Rhule was let go only a few games through 2022.

While he may have been a serious candidate to be promoted from within, David Tepper owns that team, so god bless... The strangest thing to me was that Wilks was not seen as a serious candidate beyond just the initial interviews across the league. He is a leader of men, but he clearly needs to go to the right place. That team may not have been available in this past cycle. Hopefully, his day comes.

For now, Wilks has a difficult job to do, which is to slow down Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl.