In November, Mike LaFleur was listed as a future head coach candidate by NFL.com. In January, he was absent as the Jets’ offensive coordinator.
The Jets and LaFleur agreed Wednesday to part ways, according to a team official not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.
The news came three days after a nasty 11-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins. It capped a terrible offensive streak to end the Jets’ season, which ultimately cost LaFleur his job after two years. The Jets (7-10) haven’t scored a touchdown in their last three games and averaged 11 points per game during the six-game losing skid, which has only been made worse by how whose Jets defense has played for most of the season. . Quarterback Zach Wilson led the Jets with six passing touchdowns, and rookie running back Breece Hall led with 463 rushing yards — and the injured Hall didn’t play after Week 7.
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Recently, Robert Saleh made it clear he felt LaFleur deserved a chance to stay – 49ers fans called for Saleh to be fired after his second season as defensive coordinator in San Francisco, but he wasn’t – so it’s fair to wonder if owner Woody Johnson pushed the coach out of LaFleur. In the end, the Jets offense wasn’t good enough, and LaFleur paid the price.
Now Saleh will likely look to fill the role of a veteran coach with playing experience as he enters a 2023 season where anything less than making the playoffs won’t be good enough. The Jets want to make Wilson an NFL-caliber quarterback, although they’ll likely try to bring in a veteran quarterback to lead a moribund offense. Any offensive coordinator Saleh hires needs to understand that if things don’t go right in 2023, Saleh and his team could be looking for new jobs around this time next year.
So who are the candidates?
We’ve put together a list of 16 that make sense, listed in alphabetical order.
Darrell Bevell (Dolphins QBs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator): The 53-year-old served as the offensive coordinator for four teams, including the Seahawks when Saleh was on the staff. This season he worked with Mike McDaniel, who comes from the Kyle Shanahan tree, so the fit would be more even than some of the other veteran coaches on this list.
Tom Clements (Packers QB coach): The 69-year-old was the offensive coordinator for the Bills and Packers and is said to come from the staff of Matt LaFleur, one of Saleh’s closest friends.
Nathaniel Hackett (former Broncos head coach): He turned into an object of mockery, fired in less than a season in Denver. But before that, he was a highly regarded offensive coordinator for the Packers — for Saleh’s friend Matt LaFleur. He was also the CO of the Jaguars from 2016 to 2018, and the coach of the Jacksonville QBs before that. He and Saleh were on the same staff in Jacksonville.
Pep Hamilton (Texans offensive coordinator): The 48-year-old led a scrappy offense in Houston, though, like LaFleur, he didn’t have much to work with at quarterback. He was also the Colts’ offensive coordinator in 2013-15 and has a reputation in the league for developing quarterbacks.
Brian Johnson (Eagles QB coach): The 35-year-old has only served as an offensive coordinator at the collegiate level (at Florida in 2020), but is considered a coach on the rise and played a major role in developing Jalen Hurts into an MVP candidate.
Kliff Kingsbury (former Cardinals head coach): Once upon a time, the Jets tried to hire him as a head coach, so it’s conceivable that Johnson would want to bring someone like him on board to help Saleh. Kingsbury will be paid by the Cardinals for a few more years, so he may not be in a rush to work.
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Gary Kubiak (former retired head coach): Kubiak, 61, has announced his retirement in 2021 and is unlikely to emerge to call games again. But he gave Saleh his first coaching job in the NFL and would be an ideal candidate to become a senior offensive assistant to help get the offense back on track. He might be more willing to work again if the Jets hire the next candidate on this slate. …
Klint Kubiak (Broncos passing game coordinator/QB coach): Saleh has technically never worked with Kubiak, the son of Gary Kubiak, but he certainly knows him well from his connection with his father. The Broncos will be hiring a new coaching staff, so this Kubiak will likely be looking for work. He has no experience in the game, but could still be on staff in some capacity (passing game coordinator? QB coach?) to help rebuild the offense.
Ben McAdoo (Panthers offensive coordinator): The Panthers could just keep interim head coach Steve Wilks full-time, which would mean McAdoo would likely stay with the Panthers. But otherwise, McAdoo deserves a lot of credit for turning Sam Darnold into a solid NFL quarterback and he’s got plenty of play-calling experience from Carolina and his days with the Giants.
Ron Middleton (Jets tight ends coach): He’s a popular figure among Jets players – many often wear a shirt featuring him and his slogan: ‘Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die’ – and has won a lot of support when he led them to a victory as the interim head coach when Saleh was out with COVID-19 in 2021. He has never called games before but would be backed by the dressing room.
Matt Nagy (Chiefs Senior Assistant / QB Coach): Things turned sour at the end of his tenure with the Bears, but it’s easy to forget that Chicago won 12, eight and eight games in his first three years. Prior to that, he was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for two years and was one of the most sought-after coaching candidates when the Bears hired him.
Greg Olson (Rams senior offensive assistant): The 59-year-old has served as offensive coordinator for six teams and over the years has led a program on the West Coast. The Rams could also hire new staff with Sean McVay potentially bolted for TV.
Kevin Patullo (Eagles passing game coordinator): The 41-year-old has never called a play, but served as the Jets’ QB coach in 2015, when Ryan Fitzpatrick had one of his best years. Patullo played a key role in the rise of the Eagles attack under Nick Sirianni.
Frank Reich (former Colts head coach): The pipe dream for many Jets fans, but it’s really just that — a pipe dream. Reich seems more likely to get another head coaching job than taking the offensive coordinator job for a head coach he has no connection to (Saleh) in a playoff season or collapse, and in a different style of attack than Reich. He fits the mold of what the Jets should be looking for — veteran coach, call-play experience, history of developing quarterbacks — but it would be a surprise if he was a real contender unless Johnson forced him into Saleh.
Brian Schottenheimer (Cowboys coaching analyst): The 49-year-old spent the 2022 season on the Cowboys coaching staff after one year with the Jaguars (passing game coordinator) and two as Seahawks offensive coordinator. He was once the Jets’ offensive coordinator (2006-11), so he’s a familiar face at Florham Park. He was also the Rams’ offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014.
Scott Turner (former Washington offensive coordinator): Turner, fired Tuesday by COs, has spent the past three years calling games for Washington.
(Nathaniel Hackett and Robert Saleh top photo: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)