Potential coaching candidates to replace Jay Gruden

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

In what ended up being just the latest chapter in the time that is Dan Snyder’s disastrous tenure as owner, head coach Jay Gruden was relieved of his duties last Monday after five-plus seasons with the team. 

Gruden’s dismissal was expected and for the most part necessary, but the move won’t simply fix the myriad of problems this team has faced this season. With Bill Callahan now taking over as head coach for the remainder of the season, we can expect a more disciplined team, but whether that results in better results on the field is up for debate.

It’s likely Callahan’s promotion is only temporary, and with that comes the debate of who takes over as the next coach of the Washington Redskins. It’s a job that will surely be looked upon as a risk by most suitors (Callahan will be the ninth head coach of this team since Snyder bought the organization in 1999) which may limit the options this team may have. Still, there are plenty of in-house candidates as well as some big-name targets on Dan Snyder’s wishlist that are sure to make this interesting. Here are just a few notable candidates that are in the running for the job. 

The In-house options

Bill Callahan

Callahan has the first opportunity to impress the front office with his 11-game trial as head coach. Callahan has had an interesting career as a coach, with a variety of good and bad experiences leading him to his second opportunity as an NFL head coach. 

His first go-round was as Jon Gruden’s replacement as the coach of the Oakland Raiders, a team that was already considered one of the best in the AFC when Gruden left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That success carried over into Callahan’s inaugural season, where the team went 11–5 led by a powerful offense headlined by quarterback Rich Gannon and Hall of Fame receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The team reached Super Bowl XXXVII against Gruden’s Bucs, but were blown out in a 48–21 walloping. He was fired after the team went 4–12 the following year. 

Callahan was also considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the league before coming to Washington as he coached a Dallas Cowboys line consisting of three All-Pro linemen in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. 

It’s unlikely Callahan keeps the job beyond this season unless the team performs significantly better, but it should be kept in mind that Bruce Allen is a huge advocate of his and was considered the reason Washington hired Callahan as an offensive line coach in the first place. 

Kevin O’Connell

While Callahan may be getting the first shot to impress, it’s Kevin O’Connell who’ll be the one to watch with Gruden out of the picture. With the exception of Dwayne Haskins’ second-half appearance against the Giants in Week 4, Gruden was the one calling plays this season. Now it’s O’Connell’s turn, and Redskins fans are genuinely intrigued by the prospects of another up-and-coming offensive coordinator in the mold of Sean McVay. 

The 34-year-old offensive coordinator may be the team’s best chance at putting Haskins and the offense in the best position to win. The final 11 games of the season should be telling, and a good finish to the season might put the front office in a position where they have to promote O’Connell or risk losing him altogether. If there’s any reason to tune in on Sundays this season, it’s to see what O’Connell can do leading the offense. 

Dan Snyder’s wishlist options

Mike Tomlin

Tomlin has probably been the most notable coach that has been consistently linked to the job, and for good reason. He’s led the Steelers to two Super Bowl appearances, one a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIII, and has helped keep the team relevant throughout his 13-year tenure. 

Tomlin is still of course coaching in Pittsburgh, but a 1–4 start to the season plus the possibility of a full rebuild on the horizon in Pittsburgh has led to speculation that the two may part ways by the end of the season. It’s not a guarantee by any measure, but the idea of a proven winner like Tomlin would be huge for Washington. 

One potential issue? Tomlin’s style may not mesh well with the front offices, particularly Bruce Allen’s need to control all aspects of the team. Still, Tomlin’s a proven commodity, and that may be enough to convince the front office to step aside and let him manage the team his way. 

Todd Bowles

Bowles has a foot in the door with this organization since he was a key contributor on Washington’s championship in Super Bowl XXII. He played seven seasons with Washington, and has now proven to be a serviceable defensive coordinator. 

In 2015, he was the AP Assistant Coach of the Year with the Arizona Cardinals after a strong stint as the defensive coordinator. His success led to him becoming a head coach with the Jets, and though it wasn’t exactly a great run there, he’s a strong enough defensive coach to at least be considered for the job. 

Eric Bieniemy

Since he was promoted to offensive coordinator in Kansas City before the 2018 season, Bieniemy has proven to be one of the most accomplished assistant coaches in the league. In his first year at the position, the Chiefs were first in the NFL in yards per game and points scored after Patrick Mahomes’ MVP season. 

The results have remained relatively consistent thus far as Kansas City’s offense has proven to still be one of the best in the league despite losing Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill. Bieniemy has shown that, with a young gunslinger like Mahomes, he can utilize the team’s skill players to the best of their ability. Perhaps he could do the same with Haskins. 

Other options to consider 

Byron Leftwich

The D.C-native is only in his second season as an offensive coordinator but he’s already impressed in that time. After being brought onto Bruce Arians staff in Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston has shown some improvements already, throwing just five interceptions in the first five games (he threw 11 interceptions last season). 

Leftwich might be sticking around in Tampa Bay beyond this season, but his early success as a coach as well as his success as a quarterback in the league (Leftwich was my comparison for Haskins coming out of the draft) might intrigue Snyder enough to give him at least some consideration. 

Lincoln Riley 

Reports have said Riley isn’t interested in the job, but his name is at least worth discussing. Riley has been one of the hottest commodities in college football thanks to two College Football Playoff appearances and two first-overall pick quarterbacks (who both won the Heisman) in consecutive years with a chance at a third this season. 

Whether or not he leaves for the NFL is up for debate, but if he does, a flashy young coach like Riley will be too exciting for Snyder not to try and court. 

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