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Which top minority coaching candidates would be good fits for NFL job openings?

A look at coaches of color who are ready to fill potential head coach positions

With two head coaches fired during the season and more likely to be ousted Monday, the NFL’s diversity problem will be widely scrutinized again. The league ended its 100th regular season with only three non-interim head coaches of color among 32 teams. And of the eight head-coaching vacancies during the previous hiring cycle, seven of those positions went to white coaches.

The NFL claims it wants to increase minority representation from the front office to the field, and Rod Graves believes there are many capable candidates to match with coaching jobs. Graves, formerly both an NFL general manager and a high-ranking league official, is in his first year as the leader of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advises the league on matters of diversity.

The right candidates are out there, Graves said, it’s just a matter of decision-makers opening their eyes.

“There is a strong pool of qualified candidates in three categories: Those who have had experience as head coaches, those who have been interviewed for positions in the past but who have yet to receive an opportunity, and newcomers,” he said. “We’re hoping that teams see fit to give a strong candidate from those areas an opportunity.”

Based on interviews with a group composed of more than 20 football-operations officials, assistant coaches and players, The Undefeated matched candidates of color with the current vacancies and other positions that could become available.

current vacancies

Carolina Panthers

Good fit: George Edwards, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator.

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards.

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards.

The Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera, a two-time Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year, with four games remaining in the regular season. Under Rivera, the Panthers qualified for the playoffs four times in nine seasons and reached the Super Bowl after the 2015 season, so he’ll be a tough act to follow. Edwards has the right credentials for the job.

In six seasons coordinating the Vikings’ defense, Edwards, a North Carolina native who played linebacker at Duke, has displayed strong organizational skills, as well as a knack for both relating well to players and getting the most out of them. With Minnesota, Edwards inherited a group ranked 31st in total defense. By his fourth season, the Vikings were No. 1 in the league.

Although Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is the team’s defensive play-caller, Edwards has a major role in designing the game plan each week. Edwards, according to those around the league, can flat-out coach.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: David Culley, Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach and wide receivers coach; Thomas McGaughey, New York Giants special teams coordinator.

JAN. 7 UPDATE: Sources: Baylor’s Matt Rhule to be Panthers’ next coach

Washington Redskins

Good fit: Jim Caldwell, Miami Dolphins assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach.

Miami Dolphins assistant head coach Jim Caldwell.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Caldwell has coached in multiple Super Bowls as both a head coach and an assistant. And here’s what should put Caldwell high on Washington’s short list: He has been widely praised for his work with quarterbacks.

Washington is trying to figure out what it has in rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 draft. After becoming a starter in November, Haskins showed progress late in the season. Now owner Daniel Snyder must hire a coach capable of helping Haskins grow quickly, and Caldwell definitely has the chops for that. Just ask Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, who have lauded Caldwell for understanding what they needed.

In seven seasons as an NFL head coach, Caldwell is 64-54, including the postseason. He led five teams to winning records and four to playoff berths. He guided the Indianapolis Colts to the 2009 AFC title. The Detroit Lions fired Caldwell after he had two winning seasons. Since then, the Lions have gone 9-21-1.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: Marvin Lewis, Arizona State special adviser and formerly longtime Cincinnati Bengals head coach; Ron Rivera, formerly Carolina Panthers head coach; Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator.

DEC. 30 UPDATE: Washington to hire Ron Rivera

potential openings

Dallas Cowboys

Good fit: Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator.

Eric Bieniemy of the Kansas City Chiefs is one of two black offensive coordinators in the NFL.

Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

After the Cowboys’ late-season collapse resulted in them missing the playoffs, it would be surprising if owner Jerry Jones retained longtime head coach Jason Garrett. Loaded with talent, the Cowboys need a leader who will help quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott maximize their ability entering the prime of their careers.

In 2018, the Chiefs led the NFL in both total yards and points scored. Superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who won the Associated Press NFL MVP award, is very high on Bieniemy. A former NFL running back, Bieniemy has playing and coaching experience at the position that could benefit Elliott.

Head coach Andy Reid is the Chiefs’ offensive play-caller. Bieniemy’s influence on the team’s powerful offense, however, is clear.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator; Kris Richard, Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach.

JAN. 6 UPDATE: Cowboys hire Mike McCarthy as new coach

Cleveland Browns

Good fit: Ron Rivera, former Carolina Panthers head coach.

Former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera.

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Cleveland was among the league’s most disappointing teams. In his first year as a head coach at any level, Freddie Kitchens lacked experience and it showed, as the Browns were a wildly undisciplined bunch. Rivera could provide the structure the Browns need.

Rivera understands what it takes to keep a team focused throughout a 16-game, 17-week schedule. He also has experience guiding a quarterback who was a former No. 1 overall draft pick.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton followed Rivera’s lead and won an MVP award and reached the Super Bowl. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield could learn a thing or two from Rivera as well.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator; Kris Richard, Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach.

New York Giants

Good fit: Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator.

Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur just completed his second season with the team. Shurmur has led the Giants to a 9-23 record, so it may be time for the team’s owners to make their third coaching change since the end of the 2015 season. Frazier has already proved he can lead an entire program, having guided the Minnesota Vikings to a 10-6 record and a postseason appearance during the 2012 season.

Most recently, Frazier has been a big part of the Buffalo Bills’ turnaround. Defensively, the Bills rank second in the league in points per game, third in yards per game and are in the top 10 in turnover differential.

Frazier is widely respected for being one of the league’s best defensive coaches. Many league officials believe he’s ready for his next head coaching opportunity.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: Jon Embree, San Francisco 49ers assistant head coach, tight ends; Joe Woods, San Francisco 49ers defensive passing game coordinator.

DEC. 30 UPDATE: Giants fire coach Pat Shurmur

JAN. 7 UPDATE: Giants hire Patriots’ Joe Judge as head coach

Jacksonville Jaguars

Good fit: Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars slipped badly after making a surprising run to the 2017 AFC championship game. Tom Coughlin, formerly Jacksonville’s executive vice president of football operations, was fired late in the season, and head coach Doug Marrone could be next.

Jacksonville drafted Leftwich seventh overall in 2003. In four seasons, the former quarterback started 45 of the 47 games, including the playoffs, he played for the franchise. A fast-riser in the coaching ranks after his playing days ended, Leftwich is widely hailed for being razor-sharp and a tireless worker. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians believes Leftwich has a bright future in the field.

Jacksonville could stir some positive buzz by bringing Leftwich “home.”

Leftwich has been an offensive coordinator for only two seasons. But as the hirings of Sean McVay and others have shown in recent years, longtime experience as a coordinator isn’t as important as it once was to become an NFL head coach.

Others with strong credentials potentially in mix: Richard Hightower, San Francisco 49ers special teams coordinator; Duce Staley, Philadelphia Eagles assistant head coach, running backs.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.