With a bye week, we have a little more time for extracurricular activities in Seattle, and that includes that activities of Dan Quinn, Tom Cable, and Darrell Bevell, who could all be having conversations right now about head coaching jobs in other cities. Mostly just Quinn though.
It seems like everyone wants a discussion with the Seahawks defensive coordinator, and that's not surprising. He's a Super Bowl winner and has coached the number one defense for two years running. Gus Bradley only had one great season as the d-coordinator in Seattle, and look where that got him.
To Jacksonville! Sorry, Gus.
But there's actually a reason why I don't think Gus, or Quinn, quite exemplify what I would look for in a head coach's background based on recent history. It's not that they are bad coaches, or that they can't win football games, but I've spent a lot of time looking over the qualities of Super Bowl coaches, and it's a very specific set of things I'm looking for and other things that get overblown, that I don't think matter at all.
Here is how I broke it down.
Side of the ball: Doesn't matter
They say that defense wins championships, and that may be true, but having a coach with a background in defense matters not. Or a coach with a background in offense. In this era, it doesn't matter if you can pass the ball or stop the pass, as long as you can do one of those things.
The three times in that last 10 years that the two Super Bowl coaches in any given year had the same-side-background was 2009 when Sean Payton's Saints defeated
Peyton Manning Jim Caldwell's Colts. The last time that both Super Bowl coaches had a defensive background was 2006, when Peyton Manning Tony Dungy's Colts beat Lovie Smith's Bears. The other time was Super Bowl XLVIII, when Pete Carroll's Seahawks beat Peyton Manning John Fox's Broncos.
The only former special teams coach in the last 20 years to reach the Super Bowl was John Harbaugh in 2012. Previous to that, Marv Levy, who reached four Super Bowls in a row with the Bills, was also a special teams coach.
Defense, offense, it doesn't matter. But where on defense or offense, is crucial.
Position group: QB or DB, few exceptions
There are many positions in American football:
- Running back
- Walking back
- The Talking Back, with Chris Hardwick
You get the idea.
Dan Quinn is credited as coordinating the entire defense, but his background is on the defensive line. A matchup with the Jets makes sense because New York has one of the best young defensive lines in football: Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, and Quinton Coples. Previous to Quinn being the defensive coordinator in Seattle, the job belonged to Gus Bradley, whose background was in coaching linebackers, and Jacksonville's linebackers have performed well above expectations.
But surprisingly, nobody has tapped the Seahawks most important layer of defense: The secondary. And for some reason that includes Pete Carroll, who tabbed Quinn as his defensive coordinator over Rocky Seto (passing defense coordinator) and Kris Richard (DB coach.) Either Carroll doesn't think those two thirty-somethings are ready, or he's hiding his best people, but whether it's in Seattle or somewhere else, I'd be searching for a guy with a history of coaching defensive backs as my next head coach.
Coaches with an extensive history of coaching defensive backs include Carroll, Fox, Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Lovie Smith, and Jeff Fisher. And while John Harbaugh was a special teams coach, he did coach DBs as well with the Philadelphia Eagles. That's a combined seven Super Bowl championships and 15 appearances. Belichick and Smith also had time coaching linebackers, but the most recent example of a Super Bowl coach with an extensive history coaching linebackers would be Bill Parcells, and as far as defensive line, you'll be searching for awhile.
Of course, that does not mean it isn't possible to win a Super Bowl with a defensive line coach like Quinn or someone else, it would just be an exception. Like Russell Wilson is an exception. I think knowing you're getting the right person to lead a team is the most important thing, but if I hired a defensive coach, I would probably hire a defensive backs coach because of the era of football we live in.
Current candidates with a history of coaching defensive backs include Teryl Austin (Lions) and Todd Bowles (Cardinals) while Jim Mora (UCLA) is also being considered by some teams, apparently. I guess if we weren't completely biased we might say that Mora got a raw deal in Seattle, but I think we'd all agree that he died for Ruskell's sins and three days later rose from the grave as Pete Carroll.
It used to be that running backs and linebackers coaches were the best coaches because that was the era of how football was won back then. Carroll is succeeding cause nobody knows better how to make a team's best player look mediocre. The only other option: Find a coach that can make a team's best player look better, and for a lot of team's, that player is the quarterback.
Former quarterbacks or quarterbacks coaches include Jim Harbaugh, Andy Reid, Payton, Mike McCarthy, Caldwell, Mike Holmgren, Bill Walsh, Dick Vermeil, Mike Martz, and Jim Fassel. Jon Gruden also played some quarterback and his brother Jay was a very good quarterback. Any coach should know a little something about how to play quarterback, because it is the most important position on the field, but having someone who knows a lot about it is even better.
(The Seahawks QB coach probably isn't going to ever be the head coach of a football team: Carl Smith is older than Carroll.)
Again, there are some exception, but not many.
Tom Coughlin was a wide receivers coach, while Brian Billick and Ken Whisenhunt (he did make a Super Bowl, amazingly) were tight end coaches. Bill Callahan was an offensive line coach, while Reid also has some experience on the offensive line. If you go back to the nineties, then you'll find running backs coaches like Dan Reeves, Barry Switzer, Mike Shanahan, and Joe Gibbs.
But if you wouldn't spend a first round pick on a running back in this era of football, why would you hand over the entire team to his coach?
I like Tom Cable as a head coach candidate because he has prior experience and he's Carroll's right hand man, but if I was picking an offensive-minded coach, I'd lean towards someone with a background working with quarterbacks. This year, those candidates include Adam Gase (Broncos), Frank Reich (Chargers), Josh McDaniels (Patriots), Hue Jackson (Bengals), Pep Hamilton (Colts), Pat Shurmur (Eagles) and Darrell Bevell.
College coaches: Whatever
The history of hiring college coaches to the pros, whether they have NFL experience or not, has been very hit and miss. Coaches with significant college coaching experience include Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, Coughlin, Caldwell, Shanahan, Brian Billick, Vermeil, Walsh, Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Parcells, Levy, and George Seifert. So you might be getting a dynasty, or you might be getting Greg Schiano.
And even if Schiano was an odd hire based on the fact that Rutgers isn't exactly winning national championships, it didn't help Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier.
In recent years, Chip Kelly and Bill O'Brien made the direct jump, but there aren't many names being bandied about from college at the moment except for Mora. Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) are talked about, but neither had a good season in 2014 and neither have ever coached in the NFL, even as an assistant. I can't believe I'm saying it, but Mora is a much better candidate, in my mind, than either of those two. Which might just go to show that there isn't a good candidate from college this year.
Stanford's David Shaw has a better coaching record than either Sumlin or Malzahn, has coached quarterbacks, is only 42, and coached for the Baltimore Ravens. He could make the same jump as Harbaugh and pick up where they left off in San Francisco. (Though, I'm not sure if that's a good idea.)
It's hard to have it better than Saban, but if he wins his fifth national championship, is that enough for him to give the NFL one more try? He's a former DB coach and he has had three stints in the NFL as either an assistant or a head coach. He wasn't as unsuccessful in Miami as we remember, and if the Dolphins had just signed Drew Brees instead of Daunte Culpepper, Saban very well have made the playoffs in 2006 and still be coaching in the pros. Would the Atlanta Falcons job be of interest to him?
There are enough similarities to Carroll that I'd definitely consider Saban as my head coach. I'd also talk to Shaw, but I don't think any of the other names I've heard are that exciting.
Previous NFL head coaching experience: Not bad
I think one of the worst things about being a professional or college level coach is that everyone knows when you've been fired. When most people get fired, they sit, mope, and lie for two months (right?) but when Mike Smith got fired, everyone knew. For weeks, even. He's not a candidate anywhere that I know of. While Rex Ryan is already being mentioned for several jobs even though he hasn't had a winning season since 2010 and just went 4-12.
He doesn't exactly have the same pedigree as Reid or Fox when they were let go by their former teams and quickly got another job.
For many coaches, they just need a little bit of time for people to forget about why they weren't wanted at some point and then second chances re-appear. Current examples include Cable, Jack Del Rio (Broncos), Gary Kubiak (Ravens), Hue Jackson (Bengals), Mora, McDaniels, Tony Sparano (Raiders), Mike Singletary, and Shanahan.
A lot of people would look at that list and say, "We already know those guys are #epicfails!" but it's easy to forget people said the same about Carroll (fired by Jets and Patriots), Belichick (fired by Browns), Coughlin (fired by Jaguars), Dungy (fired by Bucs) and Levy (fired by Chiefs.) Fox took the Broncos to the Super Bowl only a few years after being fired by the Panthers. Dan Reeves was fired after taking Denver to three Super Bowls (but not winning any of them) and then six years later took the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
The coach hired last year that exemplified this was Jim Caldwell. He went 14-2 in his first season with the Colts and then 2-14 in his third, when Manning missed the entire season. Would he not have been able to have as much success as Chuck Pagano, knowing that the team would go from the worst QBs in the NFL to Andrew Luck? He has now taken the Detroit Lions to the playoffs in his first season.
Other current second-chance coaches are Lovie Smith, Jeff Fisher, Whisenhunt and Reid. You'll notice that those guys have not had a ton of success, but like hiring someone out of college, it does't mean that it can't work with a second-chance coach.
The second-chance that best fits the bill is probably McDaniels. People seem to have a disdain for him that far exceeds the disdain they have for Kim Jong-Un, but he's likely getting "hate run-off" from his many years with the Patriots and his connection to Tim Tebow. There were plenty of mistakes while he was in Denver -- they traded the pick that would become Earl Thomas for Alphonso Smith, did the Tebow thing, and lost 17 of 22 games after a 6-0 start -- but I don't shy away from people that have made mistakes, I shy away from people who think they never have.
As long as he acknowledges his issues from the Broncos, McDaniels is the best second-chance candidate. Also, make sure he's paired with a good GM who knows the bounds of Tebow's skills.
The best current head coaching candidates
There are currently six jobs available: Raiders, Jets, Bills, Bears, 49ers, and Falcons. Notice that the only teams that probably know for sure who their quarterbacks are going to be in 2016 are San Francisco and Atlanta. Oakland might, but the sample size is too small. At least Colin Kaepernick and Matt Ryan have contracts, though Kaep's isn't too binding.
The Bills have a great defense, but no first round pick.
The Bears have a first round pick, but a bad quarterback owed $15 million next season.
The 49ers have All-Pro talent and Hell-No ownership.
The Falcons have the worst defense in the NFL, but Desmond Trufant is a great start to make it better.
The Raiders and the Jets are the Raiders and the Jets. But Oakland has potentially found their quarterback and New York could be very good if they had a very good quarterback.
Still, it's six teams that have combined to go 0-4 in the Super Bowl since 1995.
These are my six favorite head coaching candidates, based on all of the criteria above:
- Teryl Austin, Lions, defensive coordinator
He's a former defensive backs coach that went to a Super Bowl with the Seahawks under Holmgren, a Super Bowl with the Cardinals under Whisenhunt, and a Super Bowl with the Ravens under Harbaugh. He's helped turn the Lions around into one of the top three defenses in the league even though they didn't have many "name" players going into the season. And still don't really.
Pair him with Trufant in Atlanta and give Matt Ryan a good defense to work with.
- Adam Gase, Broncos, offensive coordinator
He's only 36 but he has 12 years of experience in the NFL. I would buy into the fact that he was only really successful "with a QB" until Manning arrived, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't learned a few things in the last three seasons. Including how to use CJ Anderson when Manning is struggling without Julius Thomas.
I wonder if Buffalo would hire Gase, because they have good wide receivers already, and then trade for Brock Osweiler.
- Josh McDaniels, Patriots, offensive coordinator
San Francisco probably wants someone with a little bit of experience, someone who knows quarterbacks like Harbaugh did, but shared none of Harbaugh's other traits. Given the Tebow debacle, they could tell McDaniels, "Hey, let Baalke handle the drafting and you handle the team" and get more of a yes-man than they had before.
- Doug Marrone, formerly of the Bills
We didn't talk about Marrone, an offensive mind that coached o-line and was the offensive coordinator for the Saints from 2006 to 2008, but I do think that he will end up on the Jets. So there's that. I don't know that he actually fits the criteria I would look for, but I appreciate the move he pulled on Buffalo. It was smart.
- David Shaw, Stanford
I don't have the slightest idea of Shaw is being contacted or even if he'd take the call but if I were a GM with an open position, I'd definitely dial 1-800-STANFORDPIPELINE, which I assume is the correct number. Coaches that had prior experience at Stanford include Harbaugh, Walsh, Billick, Seifert and Dennis Green. Pep Hamilton also fits that bill. But other than that, Shaw has a lot of the qualities that I like in a candidate, including his experience with quarterbacks and his experience at the NFL level.
Oakland, here is your guy.
- Frank Reich, Chargers, offensive coordinator
I wrote in Mike Singletary here first, but I think it's just too "easy." Yeah, he probably got a raw deal in San Francisco, but maybe the right position for Singletary is to be the Bears defensive coordinator. Earn up some trust and then if he can fix that mess, he'll get his opportunities. Let Reich fix the mess at quarterback.
The former Bills QB that famously led Buffalo on a comeback against the Oilers in the 1993 playoffs (down 35-3, won 41-38) has been coaching since 2008, and the players he's worked with include Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and Philip Rivers at various stops. The last two years in San Diego, with this past season being his first as offensive coordinator, Reich has really made the most of what he's given. Rivers has looked MVP-like at times, before Riversing field, but more impressive is that it didn't really look like the Chargers had many impressive weapons.
What the fudge could he do with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte? Maybe he could actually make Jay Cutler worth a fraction of the $15 million he's owed next year.
The Bills are the team that's apparently the hottest after their former QB, but Chicago should swoop in first. It's far more sensible once you get past the same nostalgia that almost had me give this job to Singletary.