EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was published before the start of Week 8. Since then, a head-coaching position has opened, with the Browns firing Hue Jackson on Monday. At least one potential candidate for the job -- Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley (listed below) -- was asked by reporters about his interest in filling the vacancy shortly after the news broke.
Who's this year's Sean McVay -- the young, up-and-coming coach who may get an NFL head job sooner than expected?
I asked the question around this time a year ago and identified seven candidates, three of whom ended up getting hired (Matt Nagy by the Bears, Mike Vrabel by the Titans and Matt Patricia by the Lions) and two others (John DeFilippo and Kris Richard) who received interviews. As I noted then, McVay -- a 30-year-old with three years of experience as a coordinator when the Ramshired him in January 2017 -- is a rare guy, and pretty much nobody has comparable experience at such a young age. But with the 7-0 Rams hot again, you can bet some NFL teams will be willing to look past the length of the resume (or lack thereof) if they feel they have a shot to land the next superstar head coach.
The criteria here remains loose: the age cutoff is in the early 40s, and the person can't have been a full-time NFL head coach before. Here's a short list of names to remember, based on dozens of recent conversations with NFL executives, coaches, players and others close to the search process:
Vikings OC John DeFilippo: If Minnesota's offense keeps rolling, this might end up being the hottest name in this hiring cycle, period. DeFilippo, 40, is sharp, driven, detailed and a lifetime QB guy going back to his college playing days. He was Carson Wentz's position coach the past two seasons in Philadelphia. Now he's putting his stamp on Kirk Cousins, who's on pace to set career highs in passing yards (4,941) and touchdowns (32) in a new offense, and showing he can put the likes of undrafted receiver Adam Thielen in position to succeed week after week. DeFilippo interviewed with the 49ers after the 2015 season (which he spent as the Browns' OC on a doomed staff) and the Cardinals and Bears this past year.
Saints assistant head coach/TEs Dan Campbell: People who have worked with Campbell, 42, rave about his leadership traits, command and communication skills. A 10-year NFL veteran as a player, Campbell knows how to reach players and demand accountability. He was 5-7 under tough circumstances as the Dolphins' interim head coach in 2015 -- a stint that provided valuable experience for learning what it's like to sit in that seat. Working with Saints coach Sean Payton the past two-plus seasons has expanded his knowledge of offense. He's involved in game-planning and run-game presentation for New Orleans' high-octane attack. But scheme isn't his selling point. He'd need to hire strong coordinators and focus on setting the program. The Colts interviewed him this past year.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley: The expansion of college elements into the pro game and a dearth of obvious candidates from the NFL coordinator ranks has some league executives predicting a college coach gets a job this year. And no name comes up more than Riley's. He's still just 35 years old and in his second year running the Sooners after two years as Bob Stoops' OC there. But Riley has impressed NFL scouts who come through the school, particularly with the way he developed current Browns QB Baker Mayfield. He's an offensive guru, and the modern NFL is a points race. My understanding is that Riley would listen if an NFL team calls and be intrigued by the idea of testing his approach at the next level. It'd be a huge jump, no doubt, but Riley's experience leading a high-profile college program -- recruiting, selling, influencing people -- is valuable training for the job.
Cowboys passing game coordinator/DBs coach Kris Richard: Part of the exodus from Pete Carroll's staff in Seattle after last season, Richard, 38, quickly won fans in Dallas -- including veteran DC Rod Marinelli, who handed over play-calling duties. He's a good leader with a strong defensive mind and has benefited from his time around Marinelli. Personnel isn't Richard's strength, so he'd need to be in the right place with the right GM. The Bills and Colts interviewed him in the past two cycles, respectively.
Rams QBs coach Zac Taylor and TEs coach/passing game coordinator Shane Waldron: It's only a matter of time until someone hires from the McVay tree, and Taylor and Waldron have impressed with how they've stepped into leadership roles. Their styles are different, but McVay considers both special. Taylor, 35, is more likely to win over people in an interview -- more pizzazz, has the feel of a head coach. He was a college QB and has called plays before. Waldron, 39, hasn't had as much time in front of the room and may need a little more time to work on his presence, but he has leadership traits and also worked under Bill Belichick in New England.
Patriots LBs coach Brian Flores: He's only seven games into calling plays for Belichick's defense after Patricia's departure from the defensive coordinator seat, but Flores, 37, can lead the room and has a good toughness and edge to him. Players respect him. He started with the Patriots in scouting and also has spent time coaching offense and special teams -- a diverse background that's rare anywhere but in New England, giving him a holistic view of team-building and personnel. It's a matter of readiness. The Cardinals interviewed Flores last year.
Titans OC Matt LaFleur: Here's one more from the McVay tree (which is itself a branch of the Gruden/Shanahan tree), for good measure. LaFleur, 38, was McVay's offensive coordinator last season with the Rams before interviewing for the Titans' head coaching job and landing as OC under Vrabel. He has a sharp mind, knows offense and is getting valuable experience as a first-time play-caller, helping him become a better leader and communicator. This one would be a hard sell right now, with the Titans' offense ranked 30th in both scoring and yards amidst some injury-related challenges. Some who have worked with and like LaFleur feel he would benefit from another year or two of being in charge of the offense under the defensive-minded Vrabel. But if the Titans finish strong, don't be surprised if he gets a look.
Others to watch in coming years:Dolphins DC Matt Burke; Eagles QBs coach Press Taylor; Iowa State coach Matt Campbell; Falcons DC Marquand Manuel; Giants DC James Bettcher; Vikings QBs coach Kevin Stefanski and TEs coach Todd Downing; Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter; Chiefs QBs coach Mike Kafka; Jets OC Jeremy Bates; Packers WR coach David Raih; 49ers QB coach Rich Scangarello, run-game specialist Mike McDaniel and DC Robert Saleh; Cardinals QB coach/interim OC Byron Leftwich; Panthers QB coach Scott Turner.