Top 5 candidates for the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns

John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Photo credit:

John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Photo credit:

Matt Ponikvar, Contributing Writer

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For the eighth time since they came back to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, the search for the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns has begun. Yes it’s tradition, for what feels like every two years, the Browns have fired their coach (this time Hue Jackson) before the season even ended and now they look for the man (or woman) who might be able to finally lead this team out of the basement of the NFL and into relevance for the first time this century. Make no mistake, this season hasn’t been a total failure. First year general manager John Dorsey has finally found a franchise quarterback for the Browns in Baker Mayfield and assembled a young, promising roster that could fight for a playoff spot next year and beyond (with the right coaching of course). A head coach is imperative for a team’s success, along with his staff, must gameplan for each game, and have the entire team buy in to said gameplan. He’s the CEO of the on field product, and it’s up to him to create a culture that is sustainable for a team’s success. So with that, I’ve narrowed down the list of potential candidates to fill the vacancy in 2019 to five.

#5-Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines

Harbaugh is probably the unlikeliest candidate on this list considering coaching his alma mater of Michigan is his dream job, where he’s done a pretty solid job of bringing them back to relevance. Still, the Browns would be doing a disservice to themselves if they didn’t at least reach out to Harbaugh for an interview. He is a proven coach at both the college and pro-level, and he succeeded at Stanford before jumping to the NFL and making the San Francisco 49ers a perennial contender, culminating in a SuperBowl appearance. There are some concerns though, the last years of his tenure with the Niners were disappointing before it all came to a head, and his inability to dethrone Ohio State in the Big Ten has been puzzling especially with how well Michigan played before losing in embarrassing fashion to Ohio State. None of that should disway the Browns from giving him a serious look, if Harbaugh has the itch to return to the NFL, the Browns would be his best option at succeeding right away.

#4-Josh McDaniels, Offensive Coordinator of the New England Patriots

McDaniels has been Coach Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator since 2006, save for a brief, disastrous two year stint as the Head Coach of the Denver Broncos. He’s widely regarded as having a bright offensive mind, and his partnership with quarterback Tom Brady rivals any QB/coach duo in NFL history. In my mind this is a risky move, McDaniels failed spectacularly as a head coach once before, granted he was 32 at the time and he’s probably matured and learned a lot of lessons from that disappointing stint, but it’s still something to keep in mind. Then there’s the fact that former Belichick assistants rarely work out, McDaniels himself can attest to this. Belichick and the Patriots have become so successful for so long that when his assistants leave to become their own boss, they use the same methods without realizing they should make their own mark instead of just copying their former boss. With McDaniels, hopefully his past mistakes lead him to being a better coach for Cleveland.

#3-Lincoln Riley, Head Coach of the University of Oklahoma Sooners

The trend in teams beginning their coaching search is that they’re all looking for the next Sean McVay. Last year, the Los Angeles Rams hired the 32 year old wunderkind to be their head coach and he’s taken the league by storm with his innovative offenses and ability to connect with the new generation of players. Riley shares many qualities with McVay- he’s 35 years old and is credited for being the mastermind behind Oklahoma’s explosive offenses since he took over as head coach last year, much like McVay’s explosive offense with the Rams. Riley’s connection with current Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield runs deep as well. Riley was Mayfield’s offensive coordinator from 2015-2016, before becoming his head coach in Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy winning season last year. The only downside to Riley is he’s never coached at the NFL level, so the transition could be rocky without a veteran staff. But if the allure of Mayfield draws him to Cleveland, and he hires the right support staff, Riley and the Browns could be the talk of the NFL this time next year.

#2-John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens

The older Harbaugh brother makes my list due to his surprising job security or lack thereof. If the Ravens do indeed part ways with him, John Dorsey should call him the second he’s available and offer him a contract on the spot. Harbaugh’s record is that good. He led the Ravens to five straight playoff berths his first five seasons at the helm, as well as a Superbowl victory in 2012 (coincidentally against his brother Jim who coached the 49ers at the time). To put that in perspective, the Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. He knows how to build a winning culture, something the Browns have needed for a long time, and Baltimore’s loss should be a gain for a division rival (one that just so happens to reside on the shores of Lake Erie).

#1-Bruce Arians, Former Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals

Last year, Bruce Arians called it quits on his career. The 66-year-old seemingly had coached the final game of his impressive 43 years of coaching, but it doesn’t seem like he’d stay in the announcers booth if he was offered one specific job, coincidentally, it’s the job I’m writing this article about. Arians was the offensive coordinator for Ben Roethlisberger while in Pittsburgh, as well as the head coach for Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer in Indianapolis and Arizona respectively. He has been credited for getting the best out of those three quarterbacks for his ability to connect with them and build his offense around their strengths and hide their weaknesses. On the surface, it looks like the often nicknamed “quarterback whisperer” would love to work with Baker Mayfield and this young Browns roster, but the true reason is deeper than that, according to the old coach. Arians told Jason La Canfora of CBS that he loves the city of Cleveland, the fans and the rich history of the Browns. When a coach as respected and accomplished as Arians says your vacancy is the only one he’d consider, you put him near, if not at the top of your list. Although his age and health problems are a concern, he retired last year due to those factors and he probably isn’t a long term answer as opposed to the other coaches on this list, this might be the first time someone with a proven track record has publically campaigned for the Browns job since they returned in ‘99.

The Browns coaching vacancy looks attractive to top-flight candidates for the first time in a long while, with such a bevy of qualified coaches available, hopefully the Browns will finally find their leader to put it all together and become a contender.

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