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Commanders Reacts Survey - Washington’s next head coach

Poll questions!!

NFL: Chicago Bears at Washington Commanders Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Throughout the year we ask questions of the most plugged-in Washington Commanders fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to participate in regular email surveys.


The questions

Question 1

We begin our survey with the usual weekly question that asks if you are confident in the direction of the team. Washington ‘won’ their bye week as multiple 4-win teams scored upsets to get to 5 wins on the season, leaving the Commanders in sole possession of the 4th overall draft pick based on current standings. Given everything that’s happening, how are you feeling?

Question 2

Normally, with 4 games left in the season, I would ask for a “fourth quarter” win-loss prediction, but it feels like that’s become somewhat irrelevant at this point as we, in the words of Montez Sweat, are “just waiting on the season to end, kind of.”

With Ron Rivera’s future seemingly a fait accompli, the focus is increasingly on what will happen after the final whistle blows on the Washington-Dallas game to mercifully end the season on January 7th.

In the comments section of last week’s Reacts survey, at least two people said that they’d like to see a survey question asking about the background (offense, defense or special teams) for the next head coach. I had no better ideas for what to ask this week, so I decided to go with that.

I think the most common initial impulse of most NFL fans these days is to answer that an offensive-minded head coach is the natural answer, but a defensive-minded head coach in combination with a creative offensive coordinator can prove successful — even with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. Just ask Houston fans, who have watched head coach DeMeco Ryans and rookie signal caller CJ Stroud lead the Texans to a 7-6 record with Bobby Slowick (another of the Redskins’ 2011-2013 Shanahan assistants) calling the plays as offensive coordinator.

For longer-term success, we can look at a guy like Sean McDermott, who was the defensive coordinator for the Eagles and Panthers before taking over the Buffalo Bills in 2017. McDermott has had 3 OCs in his tenure in Buffalo: Rick Dennison, Brian Daboll, and Ken Dorsey.

It’s harder to find head coaches with a special teams background, but the poster boy for it is just up the road with the Ravens. John Harbaugh coached special teams in the NFL from 1989 to 2006. He has been the Ravens head coach since 2008. Harbaugh’s special teams coordinator, Chris Horton, has been with the Ravens since 2014, and could be a worthy successor as one of the rare special teams coordinators to make the leap into a successful head coaching career.

Question 3

Since we were focusing on the background of the next head coach in Question 2, I decided to stick with the general theme in our final question by asking about the experience Commanders fans preferred in the next head coach, with the options being: a head coach from the college ranks, a first-time head coach promoted from a coordinator’s job, a guy with previous NFL head coaching experience, or a sort of ‘none of the above’ option.

College

College programs tend to be successful if the head coach is a strong recruiter. Since this skill doesn’t translate well to the NFL, I think that one key is to look at coaches who have been successful at schools that are not recruiting magnets. Another factor is that head coaches at the biggest college programs often get paid more and experience higher prestige and job security than their NFL counterparts, making it hard to lure them away. One guy that grabs my attention is Matt Campbell from Iowa State, who coached Brock Purdy and Breece Hall.

NFL Coordinators - offense

The most commonly discussed prospective head coaching names over the past few months have mostly belonged to NFL offensive coordinators. I mentioned Bob Slowick and Ken Dorsey above. At the top of many lists has been the name of Ben Johnson, the Lions offensive coordinator who, like Commanders QB Sam Howell, is a former UNC quarterback. Dolphins OC Frank Smith has been getting more attention with Miami’s prolific scoring (#2 behind Dallas). There are perhaps another half-dozen NFL OC’s that will get interviewed for head coaching positions this offseason, including Washington’s own OC, Eric Bieniemy.

NFL Coordinators - defense

In the modern game, two things are against defensive coordinators becoming head coaches. First is that the NFL is viewed as an offensive league, but perhaps more importantly is that defensive-minded head coaches presumably need to rely on a strong OC to run the offense; if the OC is successful, as with Brian Daboll in Buffalo, then he will get poached, and the team’s offensive starters — and QB in particular — will have to regularly adjust to a new scheme and new leader. Still, there are a number of DCs who will get consideration as first-time head coaches this offseason. Wink Martindale of the Giants is a 60-year-old coordinator who has gotten head coaching interviews before. A younger DC who shows promise is Jeff Ulbrich, defensive coordinator of the Jets, who, for all their offensive struggles, rank 8th in points per game and 5th in yards per game on defense.

‘Second chance’ head coaches

There’s a frequent tendency for fans to turn their individual or collective noses up at NFL head coaching ‘retreads’, though some of the game’s more successful coaches (such as Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll) fit that description. The guy that seems most likely to get another chance in 2024 is the current defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Quinn. The 52-year-old was 43–42 during his time with the Falcons, making the playoffs twice in four-plus years and reaching the Super Bowl in the 2016 season. The other ‘retread’ that I might not object to is also from the defensive side of the ball — Steve Wilks, currently DC of the 49ers. Wilks did very well as interim head coach of the Panthers following the firing of Matt Rhule. Wilks went 6–6 in Carolina in an almost impossible situation, where the team’s best offensive player, Christian McCaffrey, was traded away. When he wasn’t given the Panther’s head coaching position in 2023, Wilks beat out some serious competition for the DC job in San Francisco. He was previously head coach of the Cardinals in 2018, but recently, an understanding of Arizona’s very complicated dynamics has emerged, making it seem as if being successful under Bidwell was perhaps even less likely than being successful under Washington’s previous ownership. Wilks feels like one of the rare ‘retreads’ who could be poised for a long and successful career as a head coach for the right franchise.

Comments & Results

Of course, we invite you to answer the survey questions below, but also feel free to expand on your answers and provide nuance in the comments section. I rely on those comments when discussing the results of the survey when they are posted in a separate article the next few days.

POLL QUESTIONS