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2023 NFL head coach cycle: Assessing all five new hires

For years, NFL leaders have bemoaned how team owners raced to hire new head coaches just days after firing their old ones, affording little opportunity for lesser-known and newer faces to get into the candidate pool. The league has even put some rules in place to try to slow the process, designed to give greater opportunity for assistant coaches whose teams played in the postseason, who often felt passed over because owners did not want to wait for them to be available.

Maybe owners have finally listened. On Jan. 26, two and a half weeks after the 2022 regular season ended, the first job was finally filled, with the Carolina Panthers hiring Frank Reich. On Jan. 31, two more dominoes fell: The Denver Broncos hired Sean Payton, and the Houston Texans hired DeMeco Ryans.

Here are the five teams that sought new leadership this offseason and a rundown of which coaches they selected this cycle (arranged in alphabetical order).


Arizona Cardinals
2022 record: 4-13

HIRED: Jonathan Gannon

The final hire of this cycle is the Cardinals' selection of Jonathan Gannon, the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Despite its second-half struggles against Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl, Gannon made the Eagles' defense one the best in the league in his two seasons as the coordinator, and this season, the group had 70 regular-season sacks -- 15 more than the Chiefs, who were second in the league. 

Gannon, as a first-time head coach, will have his work cut out for him in Arizona. He is working with a first-time general manager in Monti Ossenfort, and the roster is likely about to undergo a massive overhaul, with more than two dozen players expected to become free agents. The defense was 31st in points allowed. Gannon has to figure out how to work with quarterback Kyler Murray, who is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season while recovering from a torn ACL. And the Cardinals have enjoyed little success or stability of late. Gannon is the Cardinals' fourth head coach in seven years, and the franchise last won a playoff game in 2015. 

For the Eagles, the loss of Gannon means Nick Sirianni must now replace both of his coordinators from the Super Bowl run. And Gannon's hire concludes a very disappointing hiring cycle for the league's efforts to diversity its coaching ranks. Just one of the five openings was filled by a man of color, Houston's DeMeco Ryans, and because he replaced another man of color, Lovie Smith, the league gained no ground in diversity this year. 

Carolina Panthers
2022 record: 7-10

HIRED: Frank Reich

Reich, the very first quarterback in Panthers franchise history, seems like a perfect fit for what the Panthers need right now. He is an experienced and respected offensive mind, with a reputation as quarterback-friendly, who compiled a 40-33-1 and went to the playoffs in two of his first three seasons as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts despite never enjoying the stability of having a franchise quarterback. 

That, of course, is the same problem the Panthers have. Reich's most pressing task, in tandem with general manager Scott Fitterer, will be to find Carolina's long-term quarterback and, assuming he is a rookie, develop him. The Panthers have the ninth overall draft pick, and the next few months will be spent scrutinizing their interest in the top quarterbacks in this class. If the Panthers opt to pursue a veteran free agent, Reich's presence likely enhances Carolina's attractiveness. The good news: the NFC South, which was won this season by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their 8-9 record, is wide open, with no dominant team or quarterback, so the Panthers, who finished 7-10, could be positioned for a very quick turnaround.

While Reich is widely liked around the league, his hiring over interim head coach Steve Wilks -- who went 6-6 with a roster and staff that were not his, and who won even after the Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey -- did not aid the NFL's efforts to further diversify its coaching ranks. Wilks enjoyed strong support from many players in the locker room. 

Denver Broncos
2022 record: 5-12

HIRED: Sean Payton

New franchise owners often find that their mastery of the industry in which they made their fortune does not necessarily translate to a smooth transition to the NFL. Which brings us to the Broncos' circuitous coaching search. Denver ultimately landed the biggest fish of all, Sean Payton. The good news for the Broncos: This is the right choice, even though NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the team also secretly tried to lure Jim Harbaugh from Michigan and tried to convince DeMeco Ryans to forsake the Houston Texans and take the Broncos job just before finalizing a deal with Payton. OK, then.

Still, presumably, Payton believes he can fix Russell Wilson. His track record as a creative offensive mind and his reputation as a culture builder give him the best chance of the available candidates to quickly turn the franchise around and salvage the acquisition of Wilson last offseason. The roster has talent, which is good, since the Broncos had to send a first-round draft pick this year to New Orleans as compensation for hiring Payton. Mostly, it is hard to imagine the Broncos will be anywhere near as dysfunctional as they were in 2022, or that Wilson will look as completely lost as he did. One caveat: While Payton made the playoffs nine times and won a Super Bowl during the 15 seasons he coached the Saints, he never had any divisional competition even close to the caliber of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, so expecting the Broncos to win the AFC West as often as the Saints won the NFC South when Payton was there is almost certainly folly.

Houston Texans
2022 record: 3-13-1

HIRED: DeMeco Ryans

The Texans have made it difficult to feel good about anything they have done in recent years, since they hired and fired consecutive head coaches after just a single season. But bringing back one of their most beloved players in Ryans is a start. Ryans, who has been on the head-coaching fast track in recent years, thanks to his outstanding tenure as a defensive coach and coordinator in San Francisco, has his work cut out for him. The first task, of course, will be helping to identify, along with GM Nick Caserio, the next franchise quarterback. Then, he will have to play a big part in convincing players that the Texans organization is back on the rails and is worth playing for.

As a player (with the Texans from 2006 to 2011 and the Eagles from 2012 to '15), Ryans was a captain and a born leader. His return has already excited former teammates like J.J. Watt. That he will also energize what had become a dormant Houston fan base is no small consideration. Most of all, the hope is that the Texans will be much more patient with Ryans than they were with his predecessors, David Culley and Lovie Smith. 

Indianapolis Colts
2022 record: 4-12-1

HIRED: Shane Steichen

After an incredibly exhaustive search, the Colts' choice of a hot offensive coordinator -- the Eagles' Shane Steichen -- probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise. The longer the search went on, the less likely it seemed that owner Jim Irsay would stick with his interim choice, Jeff Saturday. And Steichen checks some very important boxes for a team that has been adrift in the quarterback sea since Andrew Luck's stunning retirement just before the 2019 season. After cycling through veteran signal-caller options, the Colts seem nearly certain to draft a young quarterback (they hold the fourth overall pick in April's draft), and Steichen's star has risen along with the Eagles and Jalen Hurts. The offense was third in scoring and yards per game. 

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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