When the 2023 NFL season kicks off in September, five teams will have new head coaches manning the sidelines, with those five franchises hoping their trajectory takes an immediate tick upward.
As DeMeco Ryans, Frank Reich and Shane Steichen potentially start quarterbacks selected at the top of the 2023 draft, Sean Payton and Jonathan Gannon will look to lead drastic turnarounds with veteran quarterbacks.
Which head coach will orchestrate the quickest turnaround? Who has the best chance to transform a bottom-dweller into a surprise contender? Discover how this year’s head coaching hires stack up, with insight from executives across the NFL.
5. Jonathan Gannon, Arizona Cardinals
Not to put an expiration date on his tenure before it even begins, but Gannon has the best chance to be one-and-done.
The Philadelphia Eagles‘ defensive collapse in the second half of the Super Bowl left much to be desired, as did Gannon for skirting accountability when asked by reporters at the NFL combine about what happened in that game. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals might boast the least-talented roster in the league.
Turning around the Cardinals in one season, in a division that houses two contenders, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, as well as a Los Angeles Rams team that should rebound, would be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. But Gannon’s play-calling flaws were exposed by the Chiefs, and it remains unclear whether he has the temperament to be a successful NFL head coach.
4. Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers
Frank Reich, who was abruptly let go by the Indianapolis Colts last season, now finds himself in Carolina with a golden chance to develop a hand-picked young quarterback, Bryce Young. It marks his first opportunity to mold a potential franchise quarterback since his stint as Carson Wentz‘s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 2016 to 2017.
“The NFC South is wide open, so Frank will probably do pretty well,” an AFC personnel executive told Heavy. “Frank is the definition of a pro’s pro. His key will be Bryce Young and his ability to stay on the field. I worry that Bryce is going to get killed — like, smashed.”
Concerns about Young’s 5-foot-10 and 194-pound frame aside, Reich gets to oversee an offense that features dynamic dual-threat running back Miles Sanders along with reliable pass catchers Adam Thielen and tight end Hayden Hurst. Reich’s experience, play-calling prowess and track record for being a quarterback whisperer give him the chance to see immediate success.
3. Shane Steichen, Indianapolis Colts
Steichen was viewed as one of the most coveted head coaching candidates — and for good reason.
Steichen molded Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts into a legitimate MVP candidate while overseeing a balanced offense that featured dynamic deep-threat receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith yet also finished with the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing offense.
Now in Indianapolis, Steichen has the chance to work with one of the most gifted quarterback prospects in recent years, Anthony Richardson. If Steichen can tap into Richardson’s immense potential — following the path of Hurts and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert — the Colts will be in phenomenal shape for 2023 and beyond.
2. DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans
If DeMeco Ryans is anything, he’s a culture driver and one of the brightest defensive minds currently in the sport.
“It’s an easy choice for me,” an AFC scouting director told Heavy. “It’s DeMeco Ryans. They’ve upgraded the talent on that roster significantly, and they finally have a head coach with sustainability.”
An NFC personnel executive echoed those sentiments, citing the Houston Texans‘ easy road in the AFC South as a potential driving force for Ryans to orchestrate a quick turnaround.
Ryans arrives in Houston after leading the 49ers’ top-ranked defense last season. The Texans made bold moves by adding the most highly regarded defensive prospect of this year’s class, Will Anderson, and potential franchise quarterback C.J. Stroud with consecutive picks. While winning the AFC South might be a tall order this season, Houston has assembled a talented and youthful roster that could pose a significant challenge to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2023.
1. Sean Payton, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos‘ new ownership group made a big splash, luring Sean Payton out of the television studio and coming away with the prize of this year’s hiring cycle.
“Hands down, it’s Sean Payton,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy when asked his choice for the coach who will make the biggest immediate impact. “Sean’s a proven winner, has a veteran quarterback and [has] a damn good defense.”
Payton, who arrives in the Mile High City with a Super Bowl ring on his finger and the 2006 Coach of the Year award in tow, inherits Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson and a defense built around Pro Bowl cornerback Pat Surtain and All-Pro safety Justin Simmons.
If Payton can engineer a significant turnaround for Wilson after the most disappointing season of his career, the Broncos will have a puncher’s chance in the loaded AFC.