What we learned from the 2023 NFL hiring cycle

Jonathan Gannon’s hiring as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon put a proverbial bow on the 2023 NFL hiring cycle – with five head-coaching vacancies filled in the span of a little more than five weeks.

This year’s coaching searches were historically expansive, as each team interviewed at least eight candidates for its opening. But the resulting hires were hardly surprising.

Three teams hired young, up-and-coming coordinators, including Houston (DeMeco Ryans), Indianapolis (Shane Steichen) and Arizona (Jonathan Gannon). Two teams hired retread coaches: Denver, with Sean Payton, and Carolina, with Frank Reich.

Only one of the five men hired, Ryans, is a coach of color.

The moves leave the NFL – where an estimated 60% of the players are Black – with as many Black coaches (three) as white coaches named “Sean.” (Three other NFL head coaches identify as coaches of color.)

Here are five other notes from this year’s coaching cycle and how it compared to those of years past, according to that interview and hiring data compiled by USA TODAY Sports using contemporary news reports and team announcements.

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Indianapolis Colts new head coach Shane Steichen speaks during an NFL news conference, Tuesday, Feb.  14, 2023, in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Colts new head coach Shane Steichen speaks during an NFL news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Indianapolis.

Thorough searches

According to multiple media reports, at least 27 candidates interviewed for just five open jobs this hiring cycle, making it the most crowded field in USA TODAY Sports’ data, which dates back to 2003. Rarely, if ever, have so many candidates been in the mix for so few jobs.

The Colts’ search was particularly thorough. Indianapolis sought to arrange interviews with as many as 14 candidates and ultimately met with 13. It’s just the fourth coaching search since 2003 that has included more than a dozen publicly reported candidates, and no NFL team during that time is known to have interviewed more than 13 potential head coaches. (Excluding, of course, secret interviews that were never reported.)

It’s also worth noting that this was the third hiring cycle since the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule, requiring that teams interview two external minority candidates for head coach positions.

Each of the five hiring teams in 2023 interviewed at least three coaches of color, and the majority of the Broncos’ candidates (five of eight) are Black.

11 minority candidates, one hire

About 41% of the head coach candidates in this year’s pool were coaches of color – 11 of 27. Five of those minority coaches had two interviews or more, led by Ejiro Evero, who interviewed with every team that had a head coach vacancy, according to multiple reports.

Ryans was the only one hired.

That’s largely in line with recent history. Since 2010, there have been an average of seven head coaching jobs open each year. In nine of those 14 hiring cycles, either one or zero minority coaches were hired.

With regard to Black coaches, specifically, the Texans have now hired more Black head coaches (three) since 2019 than every other team in the NFL combined (two). But their past two hires, David Culley and Lovie Smith, were fired after just one season.

Three under 40

Three of the five coaches hired this cycle are 40 or younger – Gannon, Ryans and Steichen. This marks the continuation of another trend that has become evident in recent cycles, since the Los Angeles Rams’ hiring of 30-year-old Sean McVay in 2017.

In the five cycles prior to McVay’s hiring, only 11% of the head coach vacancies in the NFL were filled by someone 40 or younger.

In the five cycles after, that rate effectively tripled, with coaches under 40 making up 35% of the hires.

Long-time, first-time candidates

The 2023 hiring cycle saw several popular candidates once again get passed over for jobs, most notably Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. According to USA TODAY Sports’ research, no coach has interviewed for more head coaching vacancies (16) than Bieniemy in the Rooney Rule era without being hired.

Long-time candidates Jim Caldwell and Dan Quinn also interviewed for multiple jobs this cycle, pushing their career interview totals to 19 and 15, respectively. Quinn chose to stay in Dallas as his defensive coordinator, and Caldwell was hired as a senior assistant in Carolina.

There were also several coaches who got their first head-coaching interviews this year, including Evero, Ken Dorsey, Ben Johnson, Mike Kafka, Jeff Saturday and Bubba Ventrone.

Contact Tom Schad at or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL head coaching cycle: What we learned from 2023’s searches

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