A closer look at the 7 candidates to be the next Commanders head coach

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When Adam Peters, the newly hired general manager of the Washington Commanders, took stock of the franchise he’s now running, he didn’t see a complete mess. He saw “a few cornerstone pieces” on the roster. He believed the foundation for success was already there.

“This is not a total rebuild,” Peters insisted in his introductory press conference on Tuesday. “This is a wonderful group of people here that just needs leadership.”

The first step towards that new leadership was when new owner Josh Harris bought the franchise that July. Then came the quick decision to hire Peters, the former assistant GM of the San Francisco 49ers, shortly after that disappointing 2023 season ended.

Now comes what might be the most crucial step — hiring a new Commanders head coach.

That search is already underway to find Ron Rivera’s replacement, and it will continue throughout this week as they wrap up virtual interviews with at least seven candidates. Peters wouldn’t specify what he was looking for in a coach, except to say he wanted to be “aligned in that vision” with whoever he and Harris hire.

“And it’s not going to be in a box,” he said. “It’s not going to be offense, it’s not going to be defense. It’s going to be the best leader for this organization.”

So far much of the speculation around the NFL has centered around Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, arguably the hottest young assistant on this offseason’s coaching carousel. There is a strong belief that Peters wants to find his own version of Kyle Shanahan — the next young, bright offensive mind.

Three of the known candidates have actually coached with Shanahan, including one (Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik) who was an assistant in San Francisco while Peters was there. But five of the seven candidates have been primarily defensive coaches in their careers.

And there could still be more added to the list.

For now, though, here’s a closer look at the seven candidates so far:

Ben Johnson: The 37-year-old Detroit Lions offensive coordinator is the man of the moment on the head coaching carousel with interviews set with six teams, including the Panthers, Falcons, Chargers, Titans and Seahawks. He’s the hottest candidate because of the revival in Detroit and the masterful work he’s done building an offense around quarterback Jared Goff.

Johnson was a holdover from the Matt Patricia regime in Detroit when Dan Campbell was hired in 2021 and named him the passing game coordinator. One year later, he was the offensive coordinator and the Lions became a top-five offense in each of the last two years. He also turned Goff, cast off by the Rams, into one of the most reliable and productive quarterbacks in the NFC.

The obvious hope in Washington would be that he could do the same for either Sam Howell or whichever quarterback the Commanders take with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.

Dan Quinn: The 53-year-old Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator might be the one non-offensive candidate that could rise to the top of Peters’ list. He remains one of the most respected defensive minds in the game (despite what just happened to his Cowboys defense in the playoffs) and he once took the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl as a head coach (notably with Shanahan as his coordinator).

Many around the NFL have believed he’s ticketed for Seattle, though, where he won a Super Bowl as the coordinator with the “Legion of Boom” defense. As usual, he’s also a popular candidate, with requested interviews from the Panthers, Chargers and Titans, too. And don’t completely rule him out as Mike McCarthy’s successor in Dallas if Jerry Jones decides to make a coaching change there.

Does Dak Prescott, Mike McCarthy or Dan Quinn or look the worst in Cowboys loss?

Does Dak Prescott, Mike McCarthy or Dan Quinn or look the worst in Cowboys loss?

Bobby Slowik: The 36-year-old Houston Texans offensive coordinator was a defensive assistant on the famous 2013 Washington staff that counted Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, and Mike McDaniel as assistants. More importantly for Peters, Slowik later followed Shanahan to San Francisco, where he worked his way up from defensive quality control coach to offensive passing game coordinator in 2022.

His work in Houston, though, is what has him on everyone’s radar. Under his guidance, C.J. Stroud had arguably the best rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history and carried the Texans not just to the playoffs, but to a first-round win. The Seahawks, Falcons, Titans and Panthers plan to interview him, too.

Raheem Morris: Another former Washington assistant, and member of the famous 2013 coaching staff, the 47-year-old Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator has been searching for his second shot at a head coaching job since his three-year run as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach ended in 2011 with a 17-31 record.

He’s very well respected around the NFL and has interview requests with the Panthers, Falcons, Seahawks and Chargers. He was also the receivers coach in Atlanta when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and the Falcons reached the Super Bowl. He was later their passing game coordinator, so even though he’s mostly been a defensive coach, he’s got some offensive experience too.

Mike MacDonald: If Harris, a Maryland native, wants to build a winner in Washington he could do a lot worse than looking up the road to Baltimore where the Ravens have become one of the most successful franchises of the last two decades. Their 36-year-old defensive coordinator has been an assistant there for nine of the last 10 years.

It’s his work with the Ravens defense the last two years, though, that’s earned him interviews with the Commanders and Falcons. He took over a defense that fell apart under Wink Martindale in 2021 (28th in the league) and turned them into a top-10 unit in each of the last two seasons. This year the Ravens gave up the fewest points in the NFL en route to the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

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Marcus Williams reveals how Mike Macdonald has transformed the Ravens defense

Aaron Glenn: The former Pro Bowl corner has been seen as a rising star in the coaching ranks for years and has had a few head coaching interviews along the way, too. But this may be the best shot for the 51-year-old Lions defensive coordinator, who also has interview requests from the Titans, Chargers and Falcons.

After some impressive work in five seasons as the New Orleans Saints defensive backs coach (2016-20), he’s been running the defense for Dan Campbell the last three years. And while they were the NFL’s worst defense last season, they made a significant improvement to 19th to help the Lions win the NFC North this season.

Anthony Weaver: The Ravens’ 51-yearold associate head coach and defensive line coach is probably the longest shot in the field. He’s been a coaching nomad, working for four organizations in his 12 NFL seasons, mostly as a defensive line coach. He does have defensive coordinator experience with the Houston Texans in 2020, though he oversaw the 30th-ranked defense in the league.

His defensive lines have been dominant, though, during his three years in Baltimore, which is surely what got the attention of the Falcons and Commanders, the two teams to interview him so far.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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