Allen Park — The Detroit Lions will have a new offensive coordinator in 2019. On Tuesday, the team announced it was parting ways with Jim Bob Cooter, opting not to explore a contract extension after the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford struggled throughout the season.
This hire will potentially be the most important of coach Matt Patricia's tenure in Detroit and one he can't afford to screw up after going 6-10 in his first year leading the organization.
Let's take an early look at some of the potential candidates for the opening.
Shane Waldron — Rams passing game coordinator
You’re going to notice a theme throughout this list, a connection to Patricia’s past. Perhaps a prisoner to the timing of his hiring, the Lions coach has shown reluctance to go outside of his circle when building his staff.
Waldron, the pass-game coordinator for the Rams, overlapped twice with Patricia in New England, serving as an operations assistant in 2004 then as a quality control coach and tight ends coach from 2008-09.
In Los Angeles this season, Waldron oversaw one of the league’s most explosive and efficient pass attacks. The team finished fifth in yardage and second in yards per attempt. Quarterback Jared Goff had a 101.1 passer rating, throwing to a pair of receivers who finished with more than 1,200 yards, and a third, Cooper Kupp, who was on his way to eclipsing 1,000 before a season-ending injury.
Rams coach Sean McVay raved about Waldron during a conference call with Detroit media earlier this season.
"He's a phenomenal coach," McVay said. "He’s a great communicator. He’s got a rare ability to authentically and genuinely connect with not only coaches, but the players and be able to correct in a manner that doesn’t make guys' guards come up. It's all about problem solving and doing it together. He’s obviously done a phenomenal job, really mainly as a leader for our offense, not exclusively to just being a pass-game coordinator.”
Dirk Koetter/Todd Monken — Former Bucs head coach and offensive coordinator
The former Bucs coach and his offensive coordinator led a surprisingly potent passing attack in Tampa Bay. Whether it was Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, the yards came in droves. Fitzpatrick led all quarterbacks this season with a staggering 9.6 yards per attempt. Winston was 10th at 7.9 yards. For comparison’s sake, Stafford sat at 6.8 yards, 27th in the NFL.
Koetter would bring a wealth of experience, having held eight college and pro coordinator jobs prior to getting promoted to the lead job in Tampa in 2016. He knows the value of the run game, something Patricia is sure to appreciate, having coached Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson at previous stops.
Monken, who is getting some head-coaching looks, has local ties, having started his coaching career as a grad assistant at Grand Valley and spending seven years at Eastern Michigan.
He is aggressive, probably too aggressive for Patricia’s ball-control sensibilities. The Bucs’ relentless willingness to push the ball downfield led to a league-high 26 interceptions in 2018.
George Godsey — Lions quarterbacks coach
The in-house candidate, Godsey served as the Lions quarterbacks coach this season. That’s not the ringing endorsement it used to be, especially since Stafford is coming off one of the worst years of his career, and the team’s young backup Jake Rudock regressed in his third preseason, clearly losing a roster battle to underwhelming veteran Matt Cassel.
Prior to coming to Detroit two years ago, Godsey served two seasons as the Houston Texans offensive coordinator. Those teams both finished in the bottom half of the league in yards and points, and big-money free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler bombed in his one year under Godsey’s guidance.
From a public relations perspective, this move wouldn’t be well received.
Aaron Kromer — Rams run-game coordinator
The other half of the Rams’ offensive coaching setup, Kromer handles the run game for McVay. Kromer has worked under some of the game’s best offensive minds the past two decades, starting with Jon Gruden in Oakland and Tampa Bay, Sean Payton in New Orleans and now McVay.
Kromer was the Saints’ interim coach in 2012, when Payton was suspended six games for his role in Bountygate. After that, he had a two-year run as Chicago’s offensive coordinator, leading the No. 2 scoring offense in 2013 before a steep decline to 23rd the following year.
Leaning on ultra-talented running back Todd Gurley, the Rams finished third in the NFL in rushing this year, averaging an impressive 4.9 yards per carry.
Chad O'Shea — Patriots wide receivers coach
Bill Belichick has never seemed keen on letting his assistants take jobs elsewhere, and there is an expectation O’Shea is the likely option to replace Josh McDaniels if the Patriots current offensive coordinator takes a head coaching job this offseason. But Patricia should at least inquire.
There’s easy familiarity there, given O’Shea has been in New England for a decade as the team’s receivers coach. He had previous stops in Kansas City and Minnesota.
Routinely a top-10 red zone offense, at least before this season, McDaniels has credited O’Shea for being the mastermind behind New England's success near the goal line.
Mike Kafka — Chiefs quarterbacks coach
Even more so than the Rams this season, the Kansas City Chiefs passing attack has been the talk of the NFL this season. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the league by storm in his second year, becoming just the third passer in NFL history to rack up 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns.
And the man behind Mahomes is Kafka.
Without question this would be an outside-the-box hire. The former backup quarterback is still wet behind the ears, from a coaching standpoint. But some guys just have it and it never hurts to pick fruit from Andy Reid's coaching tree.
Nathaniel Hackett — Former Jaguars offensive coordinator
Patricia has an affinity for guys who coached at Syracuse, but Hackett was the school’s offensive coordinator (2011-12) long after Patricia had cleared out of central New York.
Hackett didn’t survive this year as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator, but you can make a strong case he was saddled with subpar personnel. A year after squeezing an unbelievable year out of Blake Bortles, the Jags let receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns walk in free agency. Combine that with star running back Leonard Fournette missing six of the first eight games, what was Hackett supposed to do?
He’s a coordinator who will commit to the run game, and it would be interesting to see how he’d handle working with a quarterback of Stafford’s caliber, which is significantly better than anything he had in Buffalo and Jacksonville.
Adam Gase — Former Dolphins coach
Perhaps the most surprising firing this week, early signs point to Gase getting another shot at being a head coach this offseason.
But if that doesn’t happen, the Michigan native and former Lions quarterbacks coach (2007) should be strongly considered for a homecoming. He’s got plenty of work with pocket passers, from Peyton Manning to Jay Cutler to Ryan Tannehill, so he should be plenty equipped to design a scheme around Stafford.
What’s troubling with Gase is his teams have finished near the bottom of the league in DVOA the past two years, an efficiency metric that evaluates an offense based on how it fares on a play-by-play basis against the league average.
Charlie Weis — Former Patriots offensive coordinator/Notre Dame head coach
We’re more than a decade removed from Weis’ glory days in New England, where he ran the Patriots offense for three of the franchise’s Super Bowl victories. His coaching journey took him to Notre Dame, where he bombed. And outside of a successful one-year stint as Kansas City's offensive coordinator, there’s been little to write home about since 2004.
Weis, 62, has been out of coaching since he was fired by the University of Kansas in 2014. But just last week he expressed interest in returning to the NFL as an offensive coordinator. Patricia started his NFL career working as an offensive assistant under Weis. Could Patricia bring him back to the league, much like he did with defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni?
Mike Munchak — Steelers offensive line coach
You want a no-nonsense, ball-control coordinator? Munchak is your guy. The longtime offensive line coach’s three-year stint as the Titans' head coach wasn’t particularly memorable, but his work with the hogs in both Tennessee, and most recently Pittsburgh, demonstrates what the Hall of Fame offensive lineman can do.
In Pittsburgh, without Le'Veon Bell this season, the Steelers plugged in unproven back James Conner into the starting lineup and didn’t miss a beat. Meanwhile, the team's passing offense tallied more than 5,000 yards while giving up just 24 sacks.
If Munchak’s primary impact as offensive coordinator would be significant improvement to Detroit's offensive line performance, you could justify the hire.
Freddie Kitchens — Browns offensive coordinator
A former college quarterback who both played and coached under Bruce Arians, Kitchens, 44, has seen his profile steadily rise with his half-season of work in Cleveland. His performance was punctuated by the outstanding production he got out of rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb.
There’s a good chance the next Cleveland coach would want to keep Kitchens on staff, and that’s a lock if the team hires Arians. But if Kitchens becomes available, he’s worth a closer look. The biggest question would be whether Patricia would be comfortable with a coordinator who is obviously media-friendly.
Duce Staley — Eagles running backs coach and assistant head coach
A 10-year NFL veteran who racked up more than 8,000 yards from scrimmage during his career, Staley has been coaching in Philadelphia since 2011. Hired by Andy Reid, he’s survived two coaching changes and is now working for Doug Pederson, Reid’s former offensive coordinator in Kansas City.
Staley started low on the ladder, as an assistant special teams coach, moving to the running backs room in 2013 and scoring the assistant head coaching title this season. He earned that with an impressive 2017 season, expertly managing a complicated backfield rotation to maximize the group’s impact on the way to a Super Bowl title.
OC would admittedly be a big jump for Staley, who was passed over for a pair of jobs last offseason. His work with quarterbacks is limited, and he’d be a rookie play-caller, something the Lions might not want to risk with this hire.
Kevin Stefanski — Vikings interim offensive coordinator
Promoted late in the season after Minnesota canned John DeFilippo, Stefanski met coach Mike Zimmer’s demands to lean more heavily on the run. That resulted in two straight double-digit wins, before a season-ending loss to the Bears kept the Vikings out of the postseason.
Stefanski has been in Minnesota for a dozen years now, coaching every offensive position group other than the line at one point. It would be easy to see him continuing on as the team’s permanent OC, but his contract expired and he’s exploring the market for the services.
His father, Ed, happens to be a senior adviser for the Detroit Pistons.