Head coaches will soon start getting snapped up by teams looking to get a head start on rebuilds, after Black Monday, or are looking to jump start an already talented roster. Among these teams already are Cleveland, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Houston, Washington and Detroit. Here are just a few of the many candidates that have and will arise in the next few days. More will be added if I fancy them interesting enough to investigate.
Seahawks DC – Dan Quinn
With the Gus bus having departed for Jacksonville last season and the defense not taking a dive, the Dan van looks to be getting an opportunity for a cross-country venture of its own. Immediately upon firings, word came out that teams, specifically the Cleveland Browns, were looking to get an interview with Dan Quinn.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 30, 2013
Quinn is a career long defensive line coach and came up with several teams in the mid-to-late 2000’s, including the 49ers (’01-’04), Dolphins (’05-’06), Jets (’07-’08) and Seahawks (’09-’10). After jumping around and getting some experience he took the defensive coordinator position for the Florida Gators in ’11-’12. In his first year with the Gators, they finished 50th in the country in pts/game with 25.5 and 16th in yards/game with 328.7. The Morristown, New Jersey native’s defense made improvements (by ranking) in both categories in his second year, finishing the campaign ranked 47th in pts/game (26.5) and 21st in yards/game (334.0).
When Quinn made his return to the NFL, he was given the defensive coordinator position after Gus Bradley took the head coaching position in Jacksonville. The defense took the top spot in DVOA rankings by Football Outsiders after finishing 2nd under Bradley, in an admittedly strange year where the Chicago Bears scored an absurd amount of defensive touchdowns. The talent is clearly a huge part of the top ranking for the Seahawks defense this season, but with several injuries and more suspensions to the defensive backfield, they were able to take the top spot, a testament to the abilities of Dan Quinn.
He is a hot name currently, as will many names attached to successful teams like the Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots and possibly the upstart Carolina Panthers. It looks like the Dan Van might follow Gus Bus out of Seattle.
Bengals DC – Mike Zimmer
In what is becoming an increasingly offensive filled head coaching league, it is surprising that so many defensive based coaches are getting interviews again and again, though they don’t often get the hire is telling. Nonetheless, Mike Zimmer will continue to be a head coaching candidate until he fails as the Bengals defensive coordinator.
Finishing 5th in Defensive DVOA should be considered an absolute coup for the team as they were completely decimated by injuries. A rash of injuries is never an excuse for an unsuccessful season because each team must deal with it, but it is still informative to see a team like the Bengals deal with them so well. Three of the teams top defensive players were list before the end of the first week of November. DE Robert Geathers, CB Leon Hall and DT Geno Atkins were placed on Injured Reserve in each of the first three months.
The Peoria, Illinois native has a much longer track record as a coach than Dan Quinn, but he hasn’t jumped at chances it seems as he has been interviewed for years. Plus, the new hot thang tends to be the guy that get new head coach jobs. Zimmer started as a defensive assistant with the Missouri Tigers in 1979 and got his first chance at defensive coordinator in for Washington State in 1989.
Zimmer had a stint with the Dallas Cowboys as their coordinator from 2000-2006, where he finished the span with an average finish of 16th in Defensive DVOA, a high of 5th and a low of 25th (consecutive seasons). He cut his teeth in this time under Dave Campo, a defensive coach, and Bill Parcells, a defensive coach, retained him for his tenure in Dallas.
The 57 year old coordinator found success after a down year in Atlanta when he joined the Bengals coaching staff. After four years of acceptable but unimpressive rankings on defense, the last two years have shown Zimmer’s side of the ball finishing 3rd and 6th so far respectively.
He has had several chances in the annual interview process, but has yet to either be offered an opportunity or has refused several chances because he hasn’t found a situation he would like to take over. He will undoubtedly get a chance again this year and there are some intriguing defensive groups that he could take over.
Bengals OC – Jay Gruden
The first man on this list to have head coaching experience, albeit in the Arena League, Jay Gruden has helped an offense that is filled with mediocre talent to above average results. The Chicago Bears have shown that a different route than strictly paying your dues in the NFL for 8-10 years can lead to successful results. Gruden has his brother to inform him of pitfalls as well as a proven track record of winning championships…again in the Arena League.
His three years in Cincinnati have shown him lead an offense ranked 17th over a three year span. Not exactly ground breaking results. But until A.J. Green showed up in his second year, there was very little game breaking talent and the offense was being helmed by an underrated, though definitely limited QB in Andy Dalton.
Gruden has been interviewed by no less than six teams in the last two years; Jacksonville, St. Louis and Indy (turned the job down) in 2012 and Arizona, Philly and San Diego last off-season. Teams don’t like to miss out on their guy however, and though these offers help his chances, teams may be wary to be turned down and for that to be made public so they may shy away from choosing him as their top choice because of his track record.
Any team that might be able to lure him will get someone that has the ability to build an offense around the strengths and weaknesses of any at least capable starting QB. While not in the cards for Chicago, my suspicion is that Jay Gruden would be able to work magic with a QB that is somewhere around above-average and could make them look a lot better. Jay and Jay would make a nice pairing, despite it being highly unlikely unless the Bears surprisingly let him walk.
Browns DC – Ray Horton
A former defensive back for the Bengals in the 80’s and the Cowboys in th late 80’s, early 90’s, Ray Horton made his transition to coaching in 1994 with the Washington Redskins. He worked his way up slowly, going from assistant defensive backs coach, defensive backs coach, secondary coach and then defensive coordinator with the Cardinals.
His work this season was a bit overblown. While the Browns seemed to have a decent defense, they ended up finishing ranked 24th by Football Outsiders. They did feature some injuries at the end of the year with major effects (see – Joe Haden). His two years prior in Arizona may say more about his skills as his defenses were ranked 20th and 6th.
You always worry about one thing when a minority coach has gotten several interviews but hasn’t gotten a job…is he the token Rooney Rule compliance interview. Every team must interview a coach of minority background for head coaching positions, often teams pick a minority coach and give them a quick run down, but never truly consider them for the position. This is certainly possible with Ray Horton and it would be unfortunate if this is so. I am not alluding to anything saying it is, just a worry to think about. He doesn’t look like your classic head coach, likely because of his corn rows. No I am not saying that head coaches can’t have corn rows, it doesn’t bother me one bit, but GM’s and owners may be a bit more conservative in their thinking of the image their head coach should have. Here is to hoping that Ray isn’t just the Rooney compliance officer.
Lovie Smith – HIRED: TB
After taking a year off coaching, Lovie Smith may be ready to return to the sideline. He hasn’t been lured to a network for a cushy analyst job, likely because of his extremely…boring demeanor. He wants to get back in as a head coach and didn’t coach last year because he didn’t want to accept a defensive coordinator position, which was offered in spades to him.
The in vogue pairing right now in the twitterverse is Lovie Smith returning to the Buccaneers where he learned some of the secrets to his soon-to-be vaunted Cover-2 defense in Chicago. While the pairing makes sense on paper, I have a hard time falling for it that quickly. Too often we hear about a coach coming back where he started his career or got his shot and it doesn’t happen more often than it does because these decisions aren’t made with a story book ending in mind.
I think that Lovie could work some magic with the talent on the defensive side of the ball in Tampa Bay and he would be a wise, if uninspiring, hire by a new Tampa GM. But, he needs to find a true offensive guru that can properly develop Mike Glennon because Lovie may be able to lead and inspire Glennon, he will not be able to teach him how to be successful.
UPDATE (10:49 a.m. – 12/31/13) – Ian Rapaport is reporting that if Lovie Smith gets a job he already has his new offensive coordinator in hand, former Cal Bears head coach Jeff Tedford.
Impending hire of Jeff Tedford long been discussed internally by Lovie Smith and those close to him. A slam dunk (@JasonPhilCole 1st said)
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 30, 2013
Not exactly the innovator I mentioned earlier, but after watching Lovie for years, I’m not the least bit surprised. He is a great coach, but he doesn’t seem to take to innovation, he tried it (in his mind) with the hiring of Mike Martz, and that got him fired. Hiring a capable but unexciting offensive coordinator could fit well. If he goes to Tampa that is. Tedford could be a good fit for the development of a pro style QB in Mike Glennon. But as Bill Barnwell and his savvy thought process pointed out, he would be a near perfect fit in Detroit. His roots in a 4-3 defense wouldn’t necessitate a cash strapped team like Detroit into a scheme rebuild, and his demeanor and ability to keep his teams level headed would be greatly appreciated. Tedford would work in Detroit, but it would be a disservice to us all to not have someone squeeze every last bit of amazingness out of Calvin Johnson.
Patriots OC – Josh McDaniels
Maybe he isn’t a good head coach. Maybe he is a coordinator only. Maybe he just shouldn’t be given personnel control. Maybe he is just a product of Tom Brady. There is evidence to point to all of these things. But one thing is undoubtedly true, Josh McDaniels is still extremely young as far as a head coaching candidates go and has lots of room to grow.
The 37 year-old retread is looking at getting some interviews once again. He has had an extreme amount of success with the New England Patriots in both his stints as offensive coordinator. Offensive DVOA shows ranks of 4th, 1st and 7th in his first run, as well as 4th and 1st in his last two years with New England. All with Tom Brady of course. All much better results than when taken away from Tom Brady and the Patriots. Worrying, but not damning.
When given his shot with Denver, McDaniels was handed the reins of the team, personnel decisions and all, and allowed to run free. He then traded up in the draft to select the most polarizing QB in recent memory in Tim Tebow. Tebow has ruined several teams just with the circus he brings with him and that is a tough circus for a first time head coach to deal with and it sunk him in the end. In 2009 with the Broncos, McDaniels offense ranked 1st DVOA.
He’ll get another shot, and this may be the time. Now that he has hardened himself after his failures and hopefully learned from his mistakes, plus finding a front office that won’t thrust all decisions on his shoulders, he could be a great candidate once more.
Seahawks OC – Darrell Bevell
Regardless of how transcendent, beautiful and deity-like you find Russell Wilson, you can’t take away from the job that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has done in Seattle. My sneaking suspicion is that this offense didn’t look much like it does now when Matt Flynn was slated to be the starter. But, to Bevell’s credit, he has created a humming machine built around the run (a scary and novel idea in today’s NFL) and takes advantage of the intelligence and abilities of his starting QB in a way that weren’t present just three weeks prior when he was under the impression he would have Matt Flynn as the starter.
I know that I’ve been shoving DVOA down everyone’s throats, and I don’t want you to imagine that I find this to be some sort of god send of a stat. But, I do view it as almost WAR-like in its utility, especially for judging the work of something as broad as an entire offense while not having access to years of tape. This is a stat that give you a great birds-eye view of what was accomplished by that offense. Specifics must be looked at if you want to prove or disprove DVOA for that year, but it is a great starting point. Soapbox removed.
Anyhow, Bevell took over the reins of the Vikings offense in 2006 after spending several years as an assistant and QB coach with the Green Bay Packers. At the end of his Vikings tenure, the Yuma, Arizona native only finished in the top 10 of Offensive DVOA once, finishing eighth in 2009 with Brett Favre. His other years featured offenses lead by Tarvaris Jackson mostly, finishing 31st, 16th and 25th in his three years. It is slightly worrisome for GM’s that Bevell was unable to develop Jackson. However, seeing as Wilson’s development has been phenomenal and Jackson was a second round pick that was seen more as a sixth round pick, he likely never had the chops.
Bevell’s use of the read option with a QB that can run it may help or hurt him. The Redskins have a QB in Robert Griffin III that is an obvious fit in the current Bevell offense, but Washington ownership could be terrified of installing anyone that wants to make Griffin run, despite the clear upside of it as well as the risks. Don’t forget that Bevell is likely the type of coordinator that will mold his offense around his personnel, the read option is not a necessity for Bevell.
Arizona DC – Todd Bowles
Prior to his current defensive coordinator gig in Arizona, Todd Bowles only had about a half season’s work as a defensive coordinator at the NFL level. He was the secondary coach in Philadelphia in 2012 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in mid-October when Juan Castillo was let go. Weighted DVOA doesn’t tell a very nice story though. Weighted DVOA gives games at the end of the season more meaning so it shows how teams are playing at that time, i.e. when Bowles took over. His defense ranked 32nd according to Football Outsiders.
Defenses so often fail because of personnel and taking over a defense mid-season can not be an easy task. His results in Arizona speak for themselves. Despite finishing 10-6, the Cardinals missed the playoffs this year. Despite being lead on offense by Carson Palmer, the Cardinals finished the season at 10-6. With the help of a defense ranked second in Defensive DVOA, the Cardinals finished at 10-6. There was talent on this defense and they were no rag tag group, finishing sixth last season, but an improvement is still a credit to Bowles.
It seems a bit early for this hiring to me, but not impossible. Defensive coaches, though in high demand early in this process, will forever have a harder time getting head coaching opportunities. Bowles could use a few more years to showcase his abilities and his “style” if you will on defense to other teams.
Broncos OC – Adam Gase
The next Josh McDaniels it may seem. Teams are already asking to interview Gase, but it seems to be more of a due diligence measure to me. Gase is still just 35 years old and only has one year under his belt as an offensive coordinator. A record setting year yes, but only one year (with Peyton Manning at the helm no less). I get the sense that teams don’t want to miss out on the next phenom, despite phenoms not being phenoms very often.
Of course, the Ypsilanti, Michigan native’s offense finished first in DVOA this year, one spot better than the previous year. But, Peyton Manning had no small part in that. The former beneficiary of a Peyton Manning offense, Mike McCoy had a mostly successful year, all things considered, in San Diego, but McCoy has much more experience coaching.
There isn’t a lot to see here, he is a wild card in almost every sense of the word when it comes to possible head coaches. Someone like the Broncos with Josh McDaniels may decide to take the risk and hope he can be the coach for the next 20 years, but in all likelihood, teams just don’t want to miss on the most intelligent offensive mind to come along in years. As soon as he proves to be capable, but not transcendent, he will likely need more seasoning before being given his shot.
Broncos DC – Jack Del Rio
The former Jacksonville Jaguars head man got an opportunity to showcase that he isn’t quite done yet. He was given the opportunity to be the interim-head coach while John Fox was sidelined for medical reasons. Del Rio went 2-1 in his stead and showcased that the defense wasn’t just Fox’s doing, but Del Rio’s as well.
The former NFL linebacker turned head coach Del Rio has a knack for vastly improving defenses in his first year with the team. The Castro Valley, California native took over as defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers, under John Fox, in 2002 and improved the defense from 21st to 3rd in his lone season there. He was immediately hired as the new head coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars and improved their defense from 25th to 9th. Three years later he had the defense ranked third overall before a precipitous fall to 32nd in his second to last year with the Jags. He took over in Denver immediately and the defense jumped from 18th to 5th before dropping to 15th in 2013.
He may be another deserving but longshot pick to get a job. He doesn’t inspire much fanfare, though that shouldn’t be the reason of a head coaching hire. His ability as a defensive coach could fit nicely with the personnel in either Tampa or Detroit. Del Rio may be on almost level heading with Lovie Smith scheme and expectation-wise, but he won’t be as desirable because of his bad last few years with Jacksonville, whereas Lovie finished relatively strong with Chicago.