Two of the biggest names being linked to the Los Angeles Chargers’ head coaching opening, Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh, probably do not fit. With each week that goes by, plugged-in executives who run NFL teams continue to struggle to find a landing spot for either of those two high-profile coaches, and Los Angeles certainly doesn’t seem like it.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley and GM Tom Telesco being out was not a surprise, but some of the conjecture about their possible replacements created a chuckle or two during the owners meetings last week. The Chargers remain a mom-and-pop shop by modern NFL standards, with a history of not paying anything close to top salaries for coaches and executives, and both Belichick and Harbaugh would bring not only significant compensation expectations but also strong views about personnel and team building — and about how much autonomy is required to achieve their goals. And the underlying reality with the Chargers is that the owner’s son, John Spanos, is president of football operations. The likelihood of him acquiescing to one of those two men is slim to none, while the odds of those headstrong leaders being cool with reporting to the owner’s son are seen as even more remote.
“They need to make a big-name hire, don’t you think?” said one general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to discuss the inner workings of other teams. “But I don’t think it’s either of these two. Bill Belichick and John Spanos, that won’t work. That’s not a fit. John Spanos is not going to want Bill Belichick hanging around.
“Same thing with Harbaugh. He’s going to want to bring his own GM, and those guys aren’t going to want to report to John Spanos, either. That’s a family business and they do things a certain way, and Harbaugh is not the kind of guy they hire. I’m not buying either one of those guys in L.A.”
I doubled back with some of the same executives who have been steadfast in their doubt that Belichick ends up as a head coach in 2024, and the refrain has not changed. Multiple high-ranking executives continued to be skeptical that he will find a head coaching fit, but they do believe Belichick will have options to remain in the game in some capacity, at the very least as a consultant. “Maybe as a VP of football operations, depending on the team’s structure,” the GM opined. “But I still don’t see it on the sidelines.”
So, who would meet that “big-name” qualification for the Chargers, with an appropriate pedigree and résumé, while representing a better fit for this family? I’d throw a dart at Mike Vrabel. I continue to hear the friction between him and new Tennessee Titans GM Ran Carthon is very real, and it seems unlikely Titans ownership would blow out another GM after just doing it last season. They doth protest too much in Nashville about how hunky dory everything is with their coach, and perhaps they could spark a little draft-pick bidding between the Patriots and Chargers, because Vrabel’s name continues to percolate around the New England job.
It’s safe to say the expectations for how Matt Patricia will fare as the Eagles’ new covert defensive coordinator, following the demotion of Sean Desai, are quite low. And the seeds of this unrest were sowed a year ago.
The Eagles made a play to land a proven defensive play-caller in Vic Fangio after losing Jonathan Gannon to the Cardinals, who hired him as their new head coach. It was widely believed around the league that Philadelphia made a concerted push for Fangio and, according to multiple executives who were at least considering coordinator changes last year, the Eagles had the most lucrative offer on the table.
“They thought they had Fangio,” said another NFL GM, under similar restrictions about discussing other teams. “That’s where this all started.”
Fangio played it out and ultimately decided to go to Miami instead, and the Eagles opted to go outside of their building, despite the strong candidacy of defensive passing game coordinator Dennard Wilson (who went to the Ravens to help their secondary after being passed over; otherwise he’d quite likely have had the opportunity to call plays himself in Philly by now). Eagles Coach Nick Sirianni instead chose to grab Desai, a Fangio discipline who spent last season with the Seahawks, and that’s backfired.
The Eagles’ pass rush and pass coverage are nowhere close to the levels they achieved during the NFC championship season a year ago. Patricia has had difficultly connecting with players and managing games since first departing New England to become the Lions’ head coach in 2018, and it struck many as odd that the Eagles would turn to him now out of apparent desperation this deep into a season in which they remain in the running for a top seed in the NFC. Philadelphia’s defense gave up a last-minute game-winning touchdown drive to Drew Lock and the Seahawks on Monday night, the Eagles’ third straight loss.
“I don’t think they realize how big of a mistake they are making,” the first GM said before that game. “Patricia isn’t going to make things any better.”
Potential playoff teams to watch
I asked a few executives I trust about some teams in the wild-card hunt, and which they had the most faith in to reach the postseason. They agreed on three teams: the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns in the AFC, and the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC. “Buffalo is one of the three best teams in the AFC,” said the first GM. “Maybe the league. They’re going to get in and they’re going to be tough to beat once they get in.” And the Browns concocting a deep passing game with Joe Flacco at quarterback has given them more quick-strike ability and made them much tougher to put away than past iterations of that team.
Meantime, members of the Ravens organization came away from their wild overtime defeat of the Rams at home in Week 14 believing Matt Stafford was playing like a top-five QB and that Los Angeles was headed back to the postseason. The Vikings, Packers, Falcons and Bears all losing over the weekend only aided the Rams’ cause.
There was some vocal support among the execs I surveyed for the Indianapolis Colts as well, with a nod to how well their rookie head coach is doing and the strong play of their young linebackers after making the difficult decision to move on from high-priced veteran Shaq Leonard (who ended up with the Eagles).
Notes from around the league
With the Jets finally eliminated from playoff contention, and Aaron Rodgers getting cleared for duty this week, brace for the early part of the NFL week to be dominated by this story. Given the significance of his injury and the insignificance of these games, I remain decidedly skeptical anyone with the Jets will be naive enough to let him play, no matter how much bluster he musters. “I’m still not buying it,” the first GM said. Guess we’ll find out how crazy they are soon enough …
Atlanta Coach Arthur Smith’s debacle of a loss at the Panthers won’t cost him his job during the season like Staley, a young coach also in his third year who was fired last week. But it only further cements the high probability that Smith will be out in a few weeks. Another divisional loss, this time to a one-win team, after a Week 14 meltdown against Tampa, is basically making the decision for owner Arthur Blank. “That kind of loss gets you terminated,” the first GM said.