NFL coaching candidates we'd hire: 45 ESPN analysts rank their choices

Gruden on Raiders HC job: There's a good chance (1:35)

Jon Gruden addresses the speculation that he will become the next head coach for the Raiders and discloses whether or not he was offered an ownership stake in the team. (1:35)

The ground rules are simple: We asked 45 of our NFL experts -- reporters, analysts, former players -- to play GM and rank five candidates who aren't currently head coaches in the NFL whom they'd try to hire for hypothetical franchises. That's 45 ballots, each with five names, ranked one through five.

Example: Voters could nominate Mike Leach (current head coach at Washington State) but not Dan Quinn (current NFL head coach). Got it? So -- here are the top five (and 45 other) nominations after all the votes were tallied.

Point system explained: First-place votes are worth five points, second-place worth four, third-place worth three and so on. There are 675 total points available. Full results of all coaches who received votes are at the bottom.

Top five

1. Jim Harbaugh: 95 points

Current job: Michigan Wolverines head coach
NFL experience: Former 49ers head coach (2011-14)

In Harbaugh's one NFL stop in San Francisco, he took over a 6-10 team and went 44-19 over the next four seasons -- which included a heartbreaking three-point loss in Super Bowl XLVII. Before that, he inherited a 1-11 Stanford team and went 29-21 over four seasons. Most recently, he inherited a 5-8 Michigan team and has gone 28-11 in the three seasons since.

2. David Shaw: 86 points

Current job: Stanford Cardinal head coach
NFL experience: Former assistant for Ravens (2002-05), Raiders (1998-2001) and Eagles (1997)

Shaw took over for Harbaugh at Stanford in 2011 and has gone 73-22 since -- a mark that includes three Pac-12 championships. He played wide receiver at Stanford in the early '90s. Other former Stanford coaches include Bill Walsh, Denny Green and (why not?) Pop Warner.

3. Josh McDaniels: 85 points

Current job: New England Patriots offensive coordinator
Other NFL experience: Former Broncos head coach (2009-10)

McDaniels has coached New England's offense and been Tom Brady's quarterbacks coach since 2012. In that time, the Patriots have finished first, fourth, sixth, fifth, second and second in Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA metric. McDaniels had an 11-17 record in a relatively brief stint as the Broncos' head coach in 2009 and 12 games into 2010.

4. Nick Saban: 59 points

Current job: Alabama Crimson Tide head coach
NFL experience: Former Dolphins head coach (2005-06)

Saban was 15-17 in a two-year stint as the Dolphins' head coach more than a decade ago, but that was with Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon and Gus Frerotte at quarterback -- not Drew Brees. Since leaving Miami, Saban has gone 131-20 at Alabama, winning four national titles along the way. Not too shabby. His overall record over 22 combined years as a college head coach is 222-62-1.

5. Jon Gruden: 58 points

Current job: ESPN analyst
NFL experience: Former head coach of Buccaneers (2002-08) and Raiders (1998-2001)

Gruden had a 95-81 career record as an NFL head coach, a stretch that included a Super Bowl title with the Buccaneers in the 2002 season. He has not coached since 2008. He started his career as a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 1986 and coached for the next 22 years before he was fired by Tampa Bay after the 2008 season.

Next 10

6. Mike Vrabel, Texans defensive coordinator (25 points): The former Ohio State All-American defensive end played 14 seasons in the NFL and immediately transitioned to coaching, first at his alma mater and now in Houston under Bill O'Brien.

7. Dave Toub, Chiefs special-teams coordinator (23 points): An ace special-teams coach in the NFL since 2001, Toub has consistently produced units that are among the league's best. John Harbaugh was a special-teams coach for the Eagles before he was elevated to Ravens head coach in 2008.

T-8. Pat Shurmur, Vikings offensive coordinator (21 points): Shurmur has done remarkable work with QB Case Keenum in Minnesota this season, and his 9-23 two-year stint as the Browns' head coach in 2011 and 2012 -- with Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace among Cleveland's quarterbacks over that span -- hasn't aged that poorly.

T-8. Matt Patricia, Patriots defensive coordinator (21 points): Instead of engineering military aircraft, Patricia opted to work his way up the New England and Bill Belichick coaching tree, where he's been since 2004. One plus: Patricia has coached offense and defense during his time in Foxborough.

10. Chris Petersen, Washington head coach (19 points): Petersen's record at his two college stops (Boise State and Washington) is 129-29. He once lost just eight games over a seven-year stretch at Boise State. He's renowned for his offenses and creativity.

11. John DeFilippo, Eagles quarterbacks coach (16 points): In less than two seasons, the 39-year-old has helped take Carson Wentz from a mistake-prone rookie to the likely MVP winner had he remained healthy. A hot name.

12. Steve Wilks, Panthers defensive coordinator (15 points): Sean McDermott left to become Buffalo's head coach last offseason, and Wilks took the reins of the defense in 2017. The Panthers allowed just 317.1 yards per game with Wilks at the controls in the regular season, the seventh-lowest average in the league.

13. Urban Meyer, Ohio State head coach (14 points): Meyer has a 177-31 record at the college level among his stops at Ohio State, Florida, Utah and Bowling Green -- a winning percentage that trails only Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy all time. In short: No college coach has a better winning percentage than Meyer in the past 65 years.

14. Mike Leach, Washington State head coach (10 points): Come for the wins, stay for the news conferences. The legendary offensive mind (and talker) has a 122-81 record at Texas Tech and Washington State and has authored some of the greatest passing offenses in history.

15. Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach (10 points): Swinney has a lofty 101-30 record at Clemson and a national championship to go with it.

Full results -- and some notable names


  • Youth rising: Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is just 34 years old but was on a number of ballots. His star is rising.

  • Special teams: Toub isn't the only special-teams coach to get acknowledged. Jerry Rosburg (Ravens) is one to watch.

  • Another Andy Reid assistant: Doug Pederson is off to a flying NFL start in Philly, and Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy made some ballots.

  • Another Pete Carroll D-coordinator: Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley are recent Carroll coordinators to land jobs. Kris Richard could be next.

  • Will Cowher ever come back? Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher still has his backers, though he hasn't coached since 2006.