Matchmaking the NFL’s Head Coaching Vacancies With Candidates

David Lawrence

Friday, January 9, 2015 6:50 PM GMT

Six teams are looking to fill head coaching vacancies and while the pickings are slim this year for qualified options, someone still needs to fill the shoes. Find out what this handicapper expects.

Buffalo Bills
The Bills job is a tricky one to take as the expectations are both high and low. On one hand, fans are hungry for a playoff berth since this is the team with the longest playoff drought. However, they’ve experienced mediocrity for so long that a losing season will be acceptable at first. Whoever takes over will have some pieces to work with as the Bills have the No. 4 defense in the NFL, allowing just 18.1 points per game. That should only improve as they get star linebacker Kiko Alonso back next season after he missed the entire 2014 campaign. On offense, there’s a framework with a decent rotation of running backs and Sammy Watkins at wideout. However, the Bills don’t have a quarterback and that’s a huge problem. They went 9-7 with Kyle Orton, for crying out loud.

Bizarre as it would look, Ryan would be a good choice for the Bills. For starters, he’d keep their defensive integrity intact, which is the strength of the team. This team doesn’t need a complete makeover; they need some minor tinkering. In the past, we’ve seen Ryan work with a decent running game and defense, and take a team deep into the playoffs. He’d have to find a replacement for E.J. Manuel but if there’s someone out there that’s serviceable – either the draft or free agency – and the team can improve the offensive line, then Ryan will be stepping into a very familiar scenario. On top of that, he knows the division, he knows the landscape and he has a history of being a thorn in the New England Patriots side. This is a good match.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Rex Ryan

 

New York Jets
The Bills and Jets swapping head coaches might seem like a trash for trash trade, but this move also makes sense. The Jets just need a breath of fresh air and Marrone would be exactly that. They need a good set of eyes to comb through the roster and examine who’s worth keeping and who needs to be sent to the scrap heap. For example: veterans like Michael Vick, Geno Smith and Chris Johnson need to be removed from the equation immediately. Then the Jets need to start replenishing the roster.

The good news is that former GM John Idzik left the team with $21 million in cap space and the Jets will have high draft picks. Marrone has already shown he can clean up a mess rather quickly mopped up for Chan Gailey pretty quickly in Buffalo. He also delivered the team’s first winning season since 2004 while being handicapped by horrible quarterbacking. With endorsements from former Jets Curtis Martin and Kevin Mawae, the Jets would be wise to snap up Marrone.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Doug Marrone

 

San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are in a unique situation because they’re only a year removed from playing in the NFC Championship game but at the same time, the roster could be more flawed than it might appear. Whoever steps into this job will have to figure out how to get the most out of Colin Kaepernick because he’s being paid $120 million like a franchise quarterback but he averaged just 176.6 passing yards per game over his final eight contests of 2014 with just seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s a mess right now.

While the 49ers could hire a coach known as a quarterbacks guru, like Kyle Shanahan or Josh McDaniels, the trouble is that neither of those guys – nor does anyone that’s available – have a track record of playoff experience. On the surface, this should be a team that’s Super Bowl-ready but no coach out there has the experience of taking a team to the Promised Land…except Mike Shanahan.

It was a horrible time and decision for the 49ers to part ways with Jim Harbaugh. They should have done what the Philadelphia Eagles did and give Harbaugh more power and booted whoever was giving him problems in the front office. Harbaugh deserved the benefit of the doubt given his successful history. Instead, they’re going to have to hand an experienced team with high expectations to a first-time coach…unless they go with Shanahan.

The good news with Shanahan is that he has a track record of success. He’s a respected voice and he’d come as a package deal with his son, Kyle, who could help straighten out Kaepernick’s play. If that tandem comes along and Vic Fangio sticks around to coach the defense, this just might work out.

Shanahan didn’t do much for the Washington Redskins but the 49ers are stuck on options that the players would respect. He’s one of them.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Mike & Kyle Shanahan Tandem

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Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders need a fresh start. The franchise is a complete train wreck and the cupboard is pretty bare. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr had a 21:12 touchdown to interception ratio, running back Latavius Murray emerged, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and the defense has Khalil Mack. That’s about it. They suffered 12 losses by 20 or more over the last three seasons, they have lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 12 seasons, have never been over .500 since 2002.

So who’s out there than can clean this up? It’s a tough call but it’s worth giving Jack Del Rio a shot here. For starters, Del Rio is one of the better defensive minds in the NFL, so the Raiders would improve on that side of the ball. Maybe Charles Woodson comes back, maybe the Raiders get Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown back and healthy, and then Del Rio just needs to find a pass rush to make this defense respectable. With Del Rio, we know he’s smart, he’s steady and while he’s not spectacular, the Raiders just need an experienced coach that can get them out of the basement and back to the .500 level. Del Rio is capable of doing that. During his last eight full seasons with the Jaguars, they finished with less than seven wins just once.

The coaching market right now is slim pickings. The Raiders can’t afford to pull another Dennis Allen and trust a guy that hasn’t been a head coach before. Del Rio has a track record – just look at how bad the Jags have been since he was fired – and the Raiders should trust him to right the ship.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Jack Del Rio

 

Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears have a deplorable defense that’s more than one offseason away from being fixed. However, they have some incredible talent on the offensive side of the ball that could get them into playoff contention if paired with the right coach. Two coaches stand out here: Hue Jackson and Adam Gase. Jackson coordinated the Cincinnati Bengals offense last season and got the most out of “Bad Andy” Dalton. Jay Cutler is in a similar realm in terms of being a mistake-prone quarterback, so maybe Jackson would be the right fit there. However, that move wouldn’t inspire much optimism; it’s not a sexy hire.

That means that Gase would be the choice. He has helped coordinate a lethal offense with the Denver Broncos and while the situation is different there, he’s proven to be a smart mind. When Peyton Manning was peaking as a passer, Gase told him to let it fly. And when Manning started to fade, Gase and the offense adjusted, shifting to more of a ground-oriented attack. One of the Bears biggest failures last season was that they passed too much (seventh in pass attempts) and didn’t run the ball enough (30th in rush attempts). With some more balance by relying on Matt Forte, they could keep Cutler out of those bonehead mistakes and keep the stumbling defense on the sidelines.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Adam Gase

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Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are not that far off from being a playoff team – and not just because the NFC South is so weak right now. The truth is that the Falcons have a stellar offense going with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones, but the defense is really what’s dragged this team into the dumps. The biggest issue is that the Falcons can’t get to the quarterback as they registered just 22 sacks this season, which was tied for 30th in the NFL. The Falcons haven’t finished better than 19th in this category for six years. So who’s better to get this team back on track than the man who’s coordinated one of the fiercest pass rushes over the last handful of seasons: Dan Quinn.

The Falcons keep hanging their offense out to dry as Ryan and company constantly have to do too much. If Quinn can come in and fix this defense, this team could be in the playoffs next year. Considering his track record, he looks like the right man for the job.

Matchmaker Says The Best Choice Is: Dan Quinn