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The Darkest of NFL Dark Horse Coaching Candidates



Black Monday is quickly approaching and the National Football League will likely have multiple coaching vacancies heading into 2019 once again. The Cleveland Browns have already fired their former head coach, Hue Jackson, and rumors swirl around teams like the Jets, Broncos, Cardinals, Ravens and Packers regarding their front men.

It’s become customary that some candidates that get interviewed, or even hired, raise some eyebrows from fans and media personalities alike.

A number of NFL assistant coaches, and college coaches alike, could be surprise hires for a franchise in 2019.

Byron Leftwich, offensive coordinator, Arizona Cardinals-

While Byron Leftwich’s experience as an offensive coordinator will hardly be half an NFL season by the end of 2018, his presence has been felt by the Arizona Cardinals.

Leftwich took over for Mike McCoy after a horrendous start to the season and their offensive production immediately saw a spark. Josh Rosen, who struggled mightily in his first few NFL starts under McCoy, has played much better under the Bruce Arians disciple. David Johnson, coming off of a major injury, has actually been able to move the football with Leftwich calling the plays.

With only two years of NFL coaching experience, and not even a full season as a coordinator, the former first round quarterback may be two or three years out from getting serious consideration as a head coaching candidate. His work with Rosen, however, and Arizona’s offense as a whole could garner him a look or two after the season. His career is trending towards this position down the line.

Urban Meyer, head coach, Ohio State Buckeyes-

Urban Meyer’s tumultuous year as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes seems to be coming to a head. After the Zach Smith saga, Meyer’s subsequent suspension and multiple disappointing performances from the team, Meyer may be on his way out of Ohio State University by his own accord or from the decision makers in Columbus.

With the Ohio State job being one of the most decorated and coveted in the country, Meyer likely wouldn’t take a job at a smaller school right away. Meyer could take some time off from coaching as he did when he ‘retired’ from the Florida Gators or look for a chance to coach at the highest level.

Meyer has turned around multiple collegiate programs and won National Championships at Florida and Ohio State. He’s accomplished about as much as he could as a collegiate coach. While he hasn’t coached in the NFL in any capacity, his past accomplishments would garner interviews from franchises looking for a new leader if he chose to make himself available.

George Edwards, defensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings-

When speaking of potential head coaching candidates in Minnesota, most immediately mention offensive coordinator John DeFilippo as a prime candidate to be promoted. DeFilippo’s track record speaks for itself but he isn’t the only member of that staff deserving of an opportunity to run the show.

George Edwards, who has coordinated Mike Zimmer’s defense since 2014, has been a major part of the Vikings’ ascension to the best, most consistent, defensive unit in the National Football League.

While Zimmer calls the defensive plays, being the play caller hasn’t always been a prerequisite for a head coaching opportunity in the past (Brad Childress is an example of this). Edwards called the defensive plays as coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, so he has experience calling plays. While his stint in Buffalo was ultimately a failure, Edwards has rebuilt his reputation as a staple on Zimmer’s staff and another team could look to bring some of that success to their franchise.

Teams could use Zimmer against Edwards, however, as much of the defensive success in Minnesota is attributed to him and his scheme. Edwards, while a part of said success, would have to alleviate some of those concerns during the interview process.

Steve Sarkisian, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons-

Perhaps the most accomplished name on this list outside of Meyer, Sarkisian would be a shoo-in candidate for a head coaching gig if it wasn’t for his off-the-field concerns.

Sarkisian’s drinking and prescription medication abuse problems came to light in 2015 while he was the head coach of the USC Trojans. Sarkisian reportedly showed up to practices games intoxicated. He was replaced by Clay Helton on a permanent basis after that season. After a short stint with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Sarkisian joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 in an attempt to further his career and rebuild his reputation.

Sark’s first season in Atlanta failed to meet expectations but he’s helped Matt Ryan rebound into one of his best seasons as a professional. He’s also managed to keep his offense explosive despite multiple injuries at the running back position and a rookie wide receiver in his starting lineup. If Sarkisian can prove his past transgressions are behind him, a team desperate for a top offensive mind could give him a chance to run the show. His coaching background and experience fit what currently trends as a ‘hot coaching candidate.’