The NFL playoffs are quickly approaching their anticipated finale, with Super Bowl LVIII just around the corner. The 2024 coaching cycle is now in full swing, almost half a dozen teams have already named new head coaches and some are still looking for a top candidate. In the end, more than 20% of the league will start the new season with new leaders on the sidelines.
It's impossible to know which of this year's new hires will actually succeed. Some years, the least celebrated promotion ultimately gets the last laugh. Just like in free agency, big names don't always lead to big results. Remember that this is a team game, and that means that coaches, like quarterbacks, are often influenced by the staff and supporting forces around them.
But how do new hires register now? Here's our best attempt at evaluating each of the head coaching additions:
Jim Harbaugh Getty Images
We've seen big-name college signings fail before (see: Urban Meyer, Matt Rhule, Chip Kelly), but the difference is that Harbaugh has been an undisputed winner wherever he's coached, and that includes also the NFL. He was just one win shy of a Super Bowl title with the 49ers in 2012. Now he's back on the West Coast and already has a franchise quarterback and a playoff-caliber roster leading the team he once played for in the '90s. It's a perfect combination of a talented but sometimes slow prospect and a resilient program builder who knows how to put together a lively offense. The AFC West is interesting again.
Dave Canales Getty Images
Impatience is the name of the game in Carolina, and owner David Tepper has kept coaches and quarterbacks on their toes in recent years. At 42 years old, fresh off his first year as offensive coordinator, Canales could be a real linchpin for the franchise. He's certainly more unknown than his 2024 counterparts, but he has no shortage of promising credentials: He worked as an assistant to Pete Carroll in Seattle for 13 years before reviving Baker Mayfield's career as the Buccaneers' play-caller. As an up-and-coming QB whisperer, he's exactly the type of coach who could accelerate Bryce Young's development at center.
Jerod Mayo Getty Images
Is this more of the same in New England or a changing of the guard? It's a tough question considering Mayo has only ever played or coached for Bill Belichick, the man he replaces. The track record of Belichick alumni as head coaches is uninspiring, to say the least. Mayo's transparent approach at least suggests a more welcoming personality, and he has been directly involved in the Pats' always feisty defense. But the key here will be whether he differs from Belichick in terms of offensive line-up and roster construction, at least since Tom Brady's departure in 2020 left a crater in the organization.
Raiders: Antonio Pierce
Antonio Pierce USATSI
Team owner Mark Davis opted for a promising outside signing in 2022 that was notoriously tentative and that quickly backfired, leaving him destined to give Pierce a fuller picture after the latter went 5-4 as a replacement for Josh McDaniels was eliminated for the season. Personality-wise, it's obvious that Pierce's playful grit enjoys the support of the locker room. But he only has six years of college and NFL coaching experience total, so it's difficult to get a real sense of his overall vision. Like his former linebacker colleague DeMeco Ryans with the Texans, his future likely depends just as much on the personnel and personnel decisions that accompany his promotion.
Titans: Brian Callahan
Brian Callahan Getty Images
If productive connections were a head coach's No. 1 priority, Callahan would easily accomplish it. The son of longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan, who led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002, he has worked with Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow over the years, most recently as the Bengals' OC from 2019-23. The fact alone that he intends to bring a modern offense to Tennessee makes him an enticing replacement for the hard-nosed but defensive-minded Mike Vrabel. And yet, like many others, his impact will depend in large part on what he does or develops at QB.