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At 5 p.m. ET on Monday, the Houston Texans shocked the football world. Longtime Houston Chronicle beat writer John McClain tweeted the words that would stun many: "Texans owner Cal McNair has fired Bill O'Brien as coach and GM."

With one tweet, McClain unofficially fired the starter's pistol for the NFL's hiring cycle. This year it just started much earlier than anyone expected.

This isn't an article to justify or condemn chief executive officer Cal McNair's decision to fire O'Brien after the Texans started 0-4. This isn't even about the team blowing a 24-0 lead against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoffs. This isn't even about the Texans.

This is about the rest of the NFL. Because while the Texans are officially looking for a new head coach and general manager, many team owners already know they want to move on from their current coaching staffs. Owners in New York (both teams), Atlanta, Detroit and elsewhere must now feel the pressure to act fast or risk being jumped for the top available coaching candidates.

 

"This just kick-started everything," one prominent coaching agent said by phone Tuesday evening. "We had already started connecting some dots with potential clients to potential teams, but my phone rang nonstop last night because teams are asking for priority time with these coaches after the season."

That's interesting. The season is only one-fourth of the way through, and already teams and agents are lining up backroom deals to set up interviews for when the season ends. That's the cutthroat nature of the National Football League: Before you're even fired, the team is making sure an option better than you exists and is interested.

Interest is the big thing, according to one league insider.

"Two years ago, we all thought the Baltimore Ravens were probably going to fire John Harbaugh when the season ended. They weren't playing very well, [Joe] Flacco looked done, and they hadn't put Lamar [Jackson] in yet. So, it looks like Harbaugh is a dead man walking. I bet 10 teams legitimately reached out to his agent to set up post-season interviews. I know of a few teams—the New York Jets are one of them—that were really confident they'd locked him up before he was even fired!"

The NFL has often been compared to Game of Thrones, but these backroom deals are equal parts iron throne strategy and straight-up cold-blooded.

It's that maneuvering behind the scenes that many believe is already starting.

As the coaching agent explained to me: "Eric Bieniemy [offensive coordinator], in Kansas City, is the hot name, but people kind of forget about guys like Robert Saleh [49ers defensive coordinator] and Josh McDaniels [Patriots offensive coordinator] because they didn't get jobs last year. But I'd bet a month's salary that their agents are already lining up which teams are interested should a fire happen post-season."
 

Teams don't have to fight for the first interview with under-the-radar candidates, but they do with obvious priority guys. One source remembered waiting to see where Kyle Shanahan would interview the year the Atlanta Falcons made their eventual Super Bowl run.

"Those few weeks before the season ended, we were all really waiting to see where Kyle would interview first, because he was the top candidate and that would really set the stage for where other candidates would interview. If you're Sean McVay, who was also in that hiring class, you don't want to wait for Shanahan to interview somewhere and go after him. So you hear, 'Kyle is talking to San Francisco,' and you set up Los Angeles. It's where having a powerful, connected agent helps."

Many sources we spoke to for this piece believe two teams are ready to get a jump on lining up interviews: the Falcons and Jets.

"The Falcons know what they're doing," the coaching agent said. "Arthur Blank is a good owner, and he understands this process having hired Dan Quinn and being involved in Shanahan leaving. So they're already probably putting together a list of candidates and letting their agent know there is interest. The Jets, though, who knows with them because they've literally mangled every decision since Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan were given extensions [December 2017]."

Another factor that plays into this: some coaches will not want to coach for certain owners or in certain situations. Said the agent: "There are places I don't want my guys to go. Like, I'm not sending anyone to the Jets this offseason. There's no way I want my guy getting his first [head coaching] job with that organization. You only get so many chances at these things, so you need a good fit."

This doesn't bode well for the Jets, who have an unstable ownership situation and a general manager in Joe Douglas who isn't receiving rave reviews around the league for his decisions since taking the job in June 2019. It could benefit the Falcons, who have a solid owner, a beautiful new facility, a very good quarterback in Matt Ryan and a strong front office.

If Thomas Dimitroff is retained as general manager, the Falcons job immediately becomes one of the most alluring in the NFL among those jobs expected to come open. That's why the Bieniemys and Salehs of the world are no doubt telling their agents the Falcons are priority No. 1.

 

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I don't buy it. Why would keeping TD here make the job appealing (or unappealing for that matter)? I also don't think we're as desirable as we've been in a long time. Ryan is not done, not at all, but he's not a spring chicken, and neither is Julio.

Something else makes the job unappealing too -- who made DQ hire DK? Surely a football mind did not make that decision? So there's meddling interfering with a coach's ability to get good things done.

A coach would be wise to insist on strong power before coming here. I'd like to see us have one person be head coach and GM (but we need to choose wisely of course).

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14 minutes ago, DriveHomeSafelyAtlantaWins said:

I don't buy it. Why would keeping TD here make the job appealing (or unappealing for that matter)? I also don't think we're as desirable as we've been in a long time. Ryan is not done, not at all, but he's not a spring chicken, and neither is Julio.

Something else makes the job unappealing too -- who made DQ hire DK? Surely a football mind did not make that decision? So there's meddling interfering with a coach's ability to get good things done.

A coach would be wise to insist on strong power before coming here. I'd like to see us have one person be head coach and GM (but we need to choose wisely of course).

I wouldn’t want a first time head coach also being the GM. That’s asking for trouble imo. 
 

If they’re around a few years and your GM leaves for whatever reason, then you could entertain letting the coach be the GM. I just don’t think there’s many guys who can actually pull that off successfully and definitely not a guy who hasn’t been an NFL HC before. 

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27 minutes ago, DriveHomeSafelyAtlantaWins said:

 

Something else makes the job unappealing too -- who made DQ hire DK? Surely a football mind did not make that decision? So there's meddling interfering with a coach's ability to get good things done.

 

As to your last sentence...see Bill Parcells.

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