Ever since the Jets hired a headhunting firm three years ago to hire a new general manager, becoming a sports executive headhunter has become a dream of mine. No offense to Jed Hughes, but the search he led resulted in the hiring of John Idzik who had a very unsuccessful tenure.
Sometimes I wonder what qualifies somebody like Hughes over you or me. He has been part of some successful hires (John Schneider with the Seahawks and Mark Murphy with the Packers), some unsuccessful hires (Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke at Michigan), and some out-and-out fiascos (Idzik with the Jets and Greg Robinson at Syracuse)
This MMQB article mentions Jim Harbaugh at Michigan as one of Hughes' hires. Again, no offense to Hughes, but did Michigan really need him on the payroll to figure out Harbaugh was a good candidate?
With that in mind, I am going to channel my inner sports headhunter to suggest head coaches for NFL teams that currently have vacancies.
This is going to be a great post. It will provide you with multiple layers of opportunities to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about. I am going to suggest seven candidates. There is no chance you will like all seven.
Because of how many teams are in the NFL, there is also no way all seven of these guys will be successful so you can come back to this article in a few years and laugh at me again. With that in mind, here are my suggestions.
New York Giants: Josh McDaniels
The Giants say they always like to hire somebody with prior head coaching experience. This is a high pressure job in the biggest market in the country. If possible, they would like to avoid on the job training.
McDaniels does have head coaching experience. It was a two year stint with the Broncos many view as a disaster. In the past year or so, I have come around on the idea that McDaniels would do well if he got a second chance.
He has shown himself to be a brilliant, adaptable coach on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, he has Tom Brady, but the Pats have seemlessly replaced parts. Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton have also looked good in the past playing for McDaniels. That is no small feat.
What I really like about McDaniels is that he stepped back for a few years to become a coordinator again and think about the mistakes he made. He could be a head coach now if he wanted to be, but he is instead waiting for the right fit.
The Giants feel like that fit. They have a steady, patient ownership. They also separate their personnel department from their coaching. Surely their coach will have roster input, but not the all powerful role McDaniels had in Denver, which led to mistakes that sped his demise up.
The Giants do like to hire people with ties to the team. Four of their last five head coaches had previously been Giants assistants. McDaniels was never an assistant with the team, but he is a protege of Bill Belichick, who has longstanding ties to the organization.
Philadelphia Eagles: Teryl Austin
After firing a coach, teams usually want to hire a replacement who is the opposite. After going the college route for Chip Kelly, the Eagles might want an experienced NFL head coach with a conventional outlook.
I'm not that impressed by the retreads available this year, though, so I am going with Austin.
One of the big reported problems with Kelly was an inability to connect with his players. Austin receives a lot of praise for his ability to communicate with and motivate his players.
I am not a big believer in seeking out a coach on a specific side of the ball, but his defensive acumen cannot be overlooked as an asset. Austin has a reputation as being a creative and adaptable schemer on defense. He could help speed up fixing what is wrong in Philly.
Tennessee Titans: Adam Gase
I think Tennessee's focus is on the development of Marcus Mariota. The temptation is to say Chip Kelly is the right man for the job. He and Mariota had a partnership in college at Oregon.
I don't want Mariota to be the quarterback he was at Oregon, though. I want him to continue to develop as a pocket passer. He was banged up enough this season. His mobility is an asset, but I don't want an offense that is going to get him hit too frequently.
Gase really did a nice job with Jay Cutler this season at a point where a lot of people thought Cutler was finished. Peyton Manning also has a lot of good things to say about Gase too. If I am Tennessee, I want a guy who can build a partnership with Mariota for a decade. I think Gase can be that guy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: David Shaw
Shaw might be tough to get. He by all accounts loves being at Stanford. Would he go to Tampa Bay? It would likely cost a lot of money. After firing Lovie Smith, the Bucs are now going to pay two coaches to not work for them next season along with Greg Schiano. Would Shaw find an unstable organization attractive where he would be the fifth coach in nine seasons?
The Bucs do have a trump card. The path to winning in the NFL goes through a franchise quarterback. Tampa Bay has a 22 year old in Jameis Winston who seems like one.
For his part, Shaw's resume looks superb. He has nine years of NFL experience as an assistant so he will have a network of assistants to tap. He has been wildly successful as a leader and strategist in college. He runs a pro style offense so there is no question whether his schemes work. A lot of people view him as a dream hire in the league. Could Tampa Bay be so lucky.
Miami Dolphins: Chip Kelly
No, I am not trying to sabotage the Dolphins. If Kelly was too controlling in Philadelphia, the previous regime in Miami might have run too loose of a ship. A guy like Kelly might help things out.
The Dolphins don't really have any choice other than to go forward with Ryan Tannehill. Do they want him in his third offensive system in five years? The previous Miami offensive coordinator worked under Kelly with the Eagles and installed an offense that wasn't a carbon copy but does have a degree of overlap.
Say what you will about Tannehill. He is a cut above the Vick/Foles/Sanchez trio that Kelly guided to back to back 10 win seasons. Kelly the coach was pretty successful. Kelly the GM wasn't. Here he will be freed of running the entire organization and can focus on coaching.
He also will have a head of football operations with philosophical alignment. Like Kelly, Mike Tannenbaum believes in cutting edge sport science as a way of making a team better.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Holmgren
The biggest problem the 49ers have is a credibility gap. They ran a hugely successful coach out of their organization a year ago and dropped to the bottom of the league. Hot candidates like Gase and McDaniels didn't want any part of this job a year ago. Holmgren, however, has expressed that he wants the job.
At 67, he would not be a long-term solution. He could help the franchise get back on stable footing and make this job more attractive when it comes open in a few years. He would not have personnel control, which is a good thing. Holmgren's career story is that he has been very successful when he has not had control over personnel and unsuccessful when he has.
He has the network to build a high quality coaching staff. He has a pedigree of taking two teams to the Super Bowl, and although this isn't very important, he does have ties to the glory days of the franchise as a Bill Walsh Era assistant.
Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson
If the 49ers have a credibility problem, there is no phrase in the English language that describes what a mess the Browns are. This year's annual organizational overhaul has their front office committing to analytics by giving personnel control to a lawyer with no personnel background and hiring a baseball executive. We will see how long this lasts before the Browns overhaul their front office again.
Jackson fits because he has experience leading a totally dysfunctional organization to some degree of success. He was part of the only two .500 Raiders seasons since 2002, first as offensive coordinator and then as head coach. He was fired when the Raiders hired a new general manager after the 2011 season.
He is a highly regarded offensive mind and a very good playcaller. Maybe he can work miracles here.