NFL defensive Coordinator matchmaker: Assigning ideal Coach for each job opening, including Dolphins, Vikings

There are just three games left in the 2023 NFL playoffs, and four teams are still alive in the race to be the Super Bowl champion. Yet for the 28 teams eliminated, it’s already the offseason. That means it’s time to remake both rosters and coaching staffs.

As we discussed on Tuesday, there are an absolute ton of teams looking for a new Offensive Coordinator. In fact, there are currently 12 (TWELVE!) Offensive Coordinator vacancies. We played matchmaker for seven of them (the teams looking for a Coordinator that already have their head Coach in place), pairing teams with the Coach who best fits for what they are looking to do offensively.

Today, we’re going to do the same thing on the defensive side of the ball, where there are eight teams looking for coordinators. It’s worth keeping in mind that there are five teams that still have head-coach openings, which makes it nearly impossible to choose a defensive coordinator for them. So, we won’t be making a match for the Broncos, Cardinals, Colts, Panthers or Texans just yet. That leaves us with three teams for which to find fits: the Dolphins, Falcons and Vikings.

Before we give it a try, let’s do some housekeeping. I’ve compiled a list of candidates who have either been interviewed for one of the aforementioned openings, been requested for an interview or are rumored to be a potential candidate. That list is extensive. Here it is, in alphabetical order:

Aaron Whitecotton Jets DL Coach
Al Holcomb Panthers interim DC
Anthony Camponile Dolphins LB Coach
Anthony Weaver Ravens Assistant HC, DL Coach
Aubrey Pleasant Packers Consultant
Brian Flores Steelers senior assistant
Cory Undlin 49ers secondary Coach
Dennard Wilson Eagles pass game coordinator
Ed Donatell Former Vikings DC
Ejiro Evero Broncos DC
Eric Washington Bills senior assistant
Frank Bush Falcons LB Coach
Gus Bradley Colts DC
Jerome Henderson Giants DB Coach
Jerry Gray Packers DB Coach
Jim Leonard Wisconsin DC
Joe Whitt Jr. Cowboys secondary coach
Joe Woods Former Browns DC
Jonathan Cooley Rams DB Coach
Josh Boyer Former Dolphins DC
Kris Kocurek 49ers DL Coach
Chris Richard Saints DB Coach
Lovie Smith Former Texans HC
Mike Pettine Vikings Assistant HC
Mike Zimmer Former Vikings HC
Raheem Morris Rams DC
Renaldo Hill Chargers DC
Ryan Nielsen Saints co-DC
Sam Madison Dolphins DB Coach
Sean Desai Seahawks AHC
Steve Wilks Panthers interim HC
Tony Oden Jets senior assistant
Vance Joseph Cardinals DC
Vic Fangio Former Broncos HC

It’s entirely possible that several more defensive coordinator positions could open up, given that 49ers DC DeMeco Ryans, Cowboys DC Dan Quinn, Giants DC Wink Martindale and Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, among others, remain heavily in the mix for head-coaching positions around the league. Some of those coaches could be replaced by internal candidates (San Francisco has a long history of promoting up the chain, for example), but others might need to be succeeded by someone from outside the building.

Keeping all that in mind, Let’s get to it …

Dolphins: Former Broncos HC Vic Fangio

I was tempted to give the Dolphins Kris Kocurek — the Fantastic defensive line Coach for the 49ers — but he supposedly likes being a D-Line Coach and is extremely well compensated. Other candidates that Mike McDaniel could pluck from San Francisco, like Cory Undlin, figure to be in the mix to take over for DeMeco Ryans if and when he gets a head-coaching position. So instead, we go back to the top of the Vic Fangio defensive coaching tree and go with Fangio himself. This hire would be a lot like when Sean McVay brought Wade Phillips to the Rams — hiring a legendarily awesome defensive Coordinator to basically be the head Coach for that side of the ball, while the young head Coach handles the offense and the game/team /personality management side of things. It’s hard to imagine a better hire for that role than Fangio.

Falcons: Saints co-DC Ryan Nielsen

Nielsen was the longtime defensive line coach for the Saints before being elevated to co-defensive coordinator this past season after Dennis Allen replaced Sean Payton as the team’s head coach. The Saints were again a top-10 defense by most measurements under his leadership, and the defensive lines have been incredibly productive since he arrived back in 2017. We know Arthur Smith has a strong belief in the importance of line play on both sides of the ball. Nielsen’s connection to New Orleans could be relevant here as well, given that Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot worked there for 18 years before taking the job in Atlanta.

Vikings: Ravens Assistant HC/DL Coach Anthony Weaver

Weaver Interviewed for this job last offseason, before ultimately losing out to Ed Donatell. With Kevin O’Connell being a 37-year-old first-time head coach, it made a degree of sense for him to look for a defensive coordinator with significant experience, and Donatell certainly fit the bill. (He had been in the NFL for all but one season since 1990 and had spent 10 of those years as a defensive coordinator.) But things did not work out at all for the Vikings on defense last season, so they have to be looking for some fresh ideas. Weaver has worked for an eclectic mix of coaches during his career, and does have a season of defensive coordinator experience under his belt. His work with Baltimore’s defensive line over the past two years has been impressive, and he could hopefully help the Vikings get enough pressure to make up for what is right now a below-average secondary.

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