In November, Mike LaFleur was listed as a future head coaching candidate by NFL.com. By January, he was out as the Jets’ offensive coordinator.
The Jets and LaFleur on Wednesday mutually agreed to part ways, according to a team official not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.
The news came three days after an ugly 11-6, season-ending loss to the Dolphins in Miami. It capped a terrible offensive stretch to end the season for the Jets, which ultimately cost LaFleur his job after two years. The Jets (7-10) didn’t score a touchdown in their final three games and averaged 11 points per game over the six-game losing skid, which was only made worse by how well the Jets’ defense 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 did not play after Week 7.
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Recently, Robert Saleh made it clear he felt LaFleur deserved a chance to stick around — 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 to move on from LaFleur. Ultimately, the Jets offense wasn’t good enough, though, and LaFleur paid the price.
Now, Saleh will likely seek to fill the role with a veteran coach with play-calling experience as he enters a 2023 season where anything short of making the playoffs won’t be good enough. The Jets want to develop Wilson into an NFL-caliber quarterback, although they will likely try bringing in a veteran quarterback to steer a moribund offense. Any offensive coordinator Saleh hires must understand that if things don’t turn around in 2023, Saleh and his staff might be looking for new jobs at this time next year.
So who are some candidates?
We came up with a list of 16 who make sense, listed in alphabetical order.
Darrell Bevell (Dolphins QBs coach/passing game coordinator): The 53-year-old has been the offensive coordinator for four teams, including the Seahawks when Saleh was on staff. This season, he worked with Mike McDaniel, who came from the Kyle Shanahan tree, so the fit would be more seamless than some of the other veteran coaches on this list.
Tom Clements (Packers QBs coach): The 69-year-old has been the Bills and Packers offensive coordinator and would be coming from the staff of Matt LaFleur, one of Saleh’s closest friends.
Nathaniel Hackett (ex-Broncos head coach): He turned into an object of mockery, fired in less than one 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 OC for the Jaguars from 2016-18, and Jacksonville’s QBs coach before that. He and Saleh were on the same staff in Jacksonville.
Pep Hamilton (Texans offensive coordinator): The 48-year-old ran a disjointed offense in Houston, although like LaFleur, he didn’t have much to work with at quarterback. He was also the offensive coordinator for the Colts in 2013-15 and has a reputation around the league for developing quarterbacks.
Brian Johnson (Eagles QBs coach): The 35-year old has only been an offensive coordinator at the college level (at Florida in 2020) but he is considered a coach on the rise and played a major role in Jalen Hurts’ development into an MVP candidate.
Kliff Kingsbury (ex-Cardinals head coach): Once upon a time the Jets tried hiring him as head coach, so it’s conceivable Johnson might 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 might not be in a rush to work.
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Gary Kubiak (retired former head coach): The 61-year-old Kubiak announced his retirement in 2021 and he is unlikely to come out of it to call plays again. But he gave Saleh his first NFL coaching job and would be an ideal candidate to come in as a senior offensive assistant to help get the offense back on track. He might be more willing to work again if the Jets hired the next candidate on this list. …
Klint Kubiak (Broncos passing game coordinator/QBs coach): Saleh never technically worked with Kubiak, Gary Kubiak’s son, but he certainly knows him well from the ties to his father. The Broncos will be hiring a new coaching staff so this Kubiak will likely be looking for work. He doesn’t have play-calling experience but could still come onto the staff in some capacity (passing game coordinator? QBs coach?) to help rebuild the offense.
Ben McAdoo (Panthers offensive coordinator): The Panthers might just keep interim head coach Steve Wilks on full time, which would mean McAdoo would likely stay with the Panthers. But if not, McAdoo deserves a lot of credit for developing Sam Darnold into a solid NFL quarterback and he has 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 bearing his likeness and signature catchphrase: “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die” — and won a lot of support when he led them to a win as the interim head coach when Saleh was out with COVID-19 in 2021. He’s never called plays before but he’d be supported by the locker room.
Matt Nagy (Chiefs senior assistant/QBs coach): Things went awry 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. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs 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 been an offensive coordinator for six teams and over the years has run a West Coast scheme. The Rams also might be hiring a new staff with Sean McVay potentially bolting for TV.
Kevin Patullo (Eagles passing game coordinator): The 41-year-old has never called plays but was the Jets QBs coach in 2015, when Ryan Fitzpatrick had one of his best years. Patullo has played a key role in the rise of the Eagles offense under Nick Sirianni.
Frank Reich (ex-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 to take the offensive coordinator job for a head coach he doesn’t have ties to (Saleh) in a playoffs-or-bust season, and in a different style of offense than Reich runs. He fits the mold of what the Jets should be looking for — veteran coach, play-calling experience, history of developing quarterbacks — but it would be a surprise if he were a real candidate unless Johnson forces him on Saleh.
Brian Schottenheimer (Cowboys coaching analyst): The 49-year-old spent the 2022 season on the Cowboys staff after one year with the Jaguars (passing game coordinator) and two as the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator. He was the Jets’ offensive coordinator once upon a time (2006-11), so he’s a familiar face in Florham Park. He was also the Rams’ offensive coordinator from 2012-14.
Scott Turner (ex-Washington offensive coordinator): Turner, fired on Tuesday by the Commanders, spent the last three years calling plays for Washington.
(Top photo of Nathaniel Hackett and Robert Saleh: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)