Vie. Feb 23rd, 2024

When the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens lost Sunday, the Washington Commanders won — at least, when it comes to when they can hire a new coach. With both teams eliminated from the playoffs, the Commanders can find their next coach this week.

Considering those teams have four potential candidates on Washington’s list, not having to possibly wait two more weeks to hire a coach was crucial for the Commanders.

The Commanders will be busy, having interviewed two candidates Monday and another three scheduled for Tuesday. They had previously interviewed Houston Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik last week and their current offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, two weeks ago.

Washington fired coach Ron Rivera after four seasons and a 4-13 record this past year.

Here’s a look at their candidates:

Ben Johnson

Current position: Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Interview status: In-person Tuesday in Detroit. He interviewed via Zoom before the divisional playoff round. Connection: Chris Spielman, a special assistant to Detroit owner Sheila Ford Hamp, is the brother of former NFL general manager Rick Spielman, who is part of Washington’s advisory board during its search.

Many in the NFL have long anticipated Johnson would get this job. However, multiple sources said, his hire is not a foregone conclusion in Washington. Seattle, the only other coaching vacancy, remains interested in Johnson as well.

Teams want him because of his offensive acumen: In his two seasons as Detroit’s coordinator, the Lions are a combined second in yards per game and third in points.

More than X’s and O’s, new Commanders general manager Adam Peters said leadership will be the No. 1 trait they desire. Those who have worked with Johnson say he’s a clear communicator. One opposing assistant coach considered Johnson «innovative.»

Johnson is considered the best offensive coach available during this coaching cycle, but he would not be inheriting the same offensive talent he has with the Lions. Washington needs to rebuild its offensive line, find its quarterback of the future and add a shifty third-down back like Detroit’s Jahmyr Gibbs.

The Lions also had quarterback, Jared Goff, who threw a combined 59 touchdown passes to 19 interceptions under Johnson. Washington has Sam Howell, who has started 18 games and has thrown 22 touchdowns and 22 picks. But the Commanders also have the No. 2 pick and drafting a quarterback will be high on their list.

As one NFL executive said, «It’s about quarterback.»

Johnson has worked in numerous offenses, allowing him to adapt to his talent. He knew Howell because both played quarterback at North Carolina — Johnson was a walk-on whose only time occurred on special teams — and he coached him at the 2022 Senior Bowl.

Two weeks ago Johnson said of Peters, «I’ve heard nothing but fantastic things about people that have worked with him directly or have met him over the course of scouting on the road. I look forward to meet him and talking with him.»

Aaron Glenn

Current position: Detroit’s defensive coordinator Interview status: In-person Tuesday in Detroit. Connection: Same as Johnson’s.

Multiple sources, who either coached Glenn or coached with him, consider him a strong leader. He played corner in the NFL, a position that’s typically not one of leadership for an entire team, but that’s the trait that clearly would draw him to Washington. Chris Spielman’s insight in this area would help as well.

«The biggest thing is he’s ambitious and a competitor,» said one person who coached Glenn and remains in the league. «He has infectious enthusiasm.»

The leadership and motivational skills are two traits that have consistently come up in Washington’s coaching search. The Lions’ defense has not been as good statistically as their offense. In three seasons combined under Glenn, the Lions rank 31st in both yards and points. But they did improve in both categories this season compared to 2022: going from 28th in points to 23rd and from last in yards to 19th.

Dan Quinn

Current position: Dallas’ defensive coordinator Interview status: In-person interview Tuesday. Connection: No direct connection.

Quinn is the only candidate who has been a head coach, compiling a 43-42 record in five-plus seasons with Atlanta. He led the Falcons to the Super Bowl after the 2016 season, where they lost to the Patriots in overtime — after leading 28-3.

Multiple people who played for Quinn, coached under him or worked in the same organization have raved about his ability to lead, with one of his former coaches saying he set the standard for a team as well as any coach he has been around. One current assistant coach, whose team has faced Dallas, praised Quinn for adjusting his scheme over the years.

Quinn also remains among Seattle’s possible choices, having interviewed with the Seahawks. He spent four years in the organization — including three after John Schneider took over as general manager — with the last two as defensive coordinator. He coached Seattle’s defense when it won Super Bowl XLVIII.

Quinn has served as Dallas’ defensive coordinator the past three seasons. The Cowboys rank a combined fifth in points and seventh in yards. But they lead the NFL with 93 turnovers forced under Quinn.

Anthony Weaver

Current position: Baltimore’s associate head coach/defensive line. Interview status: His in-person interview occurred Monday in Baltimore. He interviewed via Zoom before the wild-card round. Connection: No direct connection. Weaver played seven seasons in the NFL and has coached in the league since 2012 with five different organizations. He joined the Ravens in 2021 as their defensive line coach and run game coordinator. He was elevated to associate head coach the following season.

One person who has worked with Weaver said he has «great presence» and can be «tough but fair.»

Since he joined the Ravens’ staff three years ago, Baltimore ranks a combined third in rushing yards per game and fourth in yards per carry. But it slipped in both categories this season — 14th in yards per game and 25th in yards per carry.

Mike Macdonald

Current position: Baltimore’s defensive coordinator. Interview status: His in-person interview occurred Monday in Baltimore. He interviewed via Zoom before the wild-card round. Connection: Washington’s senior vice president of football strategy Eugene Shen was the Ravens’ director of coaching analytics from 2014 to 2019 and initially shared an office with Macdonald; the two became close.

Like Johnson, he has drawn widespread praise for how his side of the ball played all season. Also like Johnson, he’s expected to interview with Seattle.

Macdonald climbed from a coaching intern with Baltimore in 2014 to its defensive coordinator starting in 2022. In his two seasons as coordinator, the Ravens were a combined second in scoring and sixth in yards.

Even in Sunday’s loss to Kansas City, the Ravens allowed only 17 points and none in the second half. In two postseason games, the Ravens allowed a combined 27 points and only 266 yards per game — 56 fewer per game than anyone else.

One person familiar with Macdonald considered him a «great communicator and organized» with a reputation for maximizing his group’s talent — evidenced by how they altered their looks to attack various offenses. Macdonald’s secondary coach, Dennard Wilson, has been interviewed for multiple defensive coordinator openings.

Bobby Slowik

Current position: Houston’s offensive coordinator. Interview status: He interviewed in-person last week. Connection: He was an assistant coach in various roles with San Francisco from 2017 to 2022; Peters joined the 49ers’ front office in 2017. Slowik served as a defensive assistant from 2011 to 2013 under former coach Mike Shanahan.

Slowik interviewed with Carolina, Tennessee and Atlanta, all of whom opted for a different head coach, as well as Seattle. He interviewed virtually with the Seahawks. Slowik’s work with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud in Houston opened eyes around the NFL.

Stroud threw 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions as the Texans went from 3-13-1 in 2022 to 10-7 under first-year coach DeMeco Ryans.

Slowik spent six seasons with San Francisco, starting off as a defensive quality control coach and eventually working over to offense and ending up as the 49ers’ pass game coordinator. But he also has an analytics bent — the Commanders have placed a strong emphasis on this under Josh Harris — and worked for Pro Football Focus for three years.

Eric Bieniemy

Current position: Washington’s offensive coordinator. Interview status: He met with Washington’s decision-makers earlier this month. Connection: Bieniemy was Minnesota’s running backs coach from 2009 to 2010 (being elevated to assistant head coach for his final year); Spielman was the Vikings’ vice president of player personnel during this time.

Washington’s offense struggled for a variety of reasons under Bieniemy, who was in his first season with the team.

The Commanders finished 24th in yards and 25th in scoring and numerous players chafed playing under Bieniemy, known for his demanding and relentless style. At season’s end, veteran left tackle Charles Leno Jr., when asked about Bieniemy, said: «E.B. was the same person every day. You know what you were going to get out of him. That’s really all I’ve got to say.»

Washington attempted 22 more passes than any other team — and the desire to throw wasn’t dictated by the score. In games that were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Commanders had the fifth highest pass attempts and the second fewest run attempts.

Bieniemy served as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator for five seasons — helping the Chiefs win two Super Bowls — before arriving in Washington, though coach Andy Reid remained the primary playcaller.


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