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Outside the box coaching candidates for the Jets

Washington State v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For our latest podcast mailbag, I was asked for an outside the box coaching candidate for the Jets. It got me thinking.

How many times do we see the “hot coordinator” fail upon being elevated to a head coaching job? It’s always impossible to tell for sure how somebody will do when taking on more responsibility. Even the greatest candidates on paper can fail.

But I think there’s more to it than this. Superficial things like media hype drive the narrative around coaching candidates more than we’d like to admit. A lot of the hot candidates become hot candidates in part because their agents aggressive push their candidacy through the press.

What many in the media look for and the qualities that make a good coach might be two separate things, however. That would explain why the coach of the reigning Super Bowl champions was once described as historically unqualified to hold his job. While I’m not sure how many others would have gone that far, Doug Pederson wasn’t exactly a name that excited fans of teams searching for a coach in 2016. Sometimes the right hire isn’t just the one with the most buzz.

Over the last few weeks, I have profiled a number of coaches in this space who are widely viewed as likely candidates for NFL head coaching jobs.

Today I’d like to look at some candidates who have generated little buzz but are coaches I would consider interviewing if I was the Charley Casserly of this year’s Jets coaching search

Mike Leach, Washington State Head Coach

If you want Lincoln Riley, why not just get the real pirate?

There are two things I believe about Mike Leach.

  1. He’s the best pure offensive X’s and O’s guy coaching at any level of football.
  2. I don’t think I can name a coach who has done more with less over the last two decades.

The Big XII is known as a conference in college football with outrageous offensive production. Mike Leach is more responsible for that than anybody. His offenses at Texas Tech were pass happy, innovative, and record-setting. The rest of football has taken notice. Most of the coaches running the prolific offenses in that conference today are branches on the Leach coaching tree, including Lincoln Riley.

The methods of his Air Raid system are prevalent throughout football. The coach himself recognized the extent to which his concepts were used in the Super Bowl last year.

Do you want a creative offensive mind? How about this play?

Leach has won over 60% of his games as a coach at a pair of major conference schools, Texas Tech and Washington State. What is particularly impressive is that he has only coached two first round Draft picks in his entire career, Michael Crabtree and Deone Bucannon. Leach has gone head to head against competition with more talent his entire career and more than held his own.

He has yet to land a big-time job, but the reasons for that have little to do with his coaching ability. Leach is definitely a guy who marches to the beat of his own drummer. He has made a number of outlandish statements to the press and on social media in his career. He also has some baggage stemming from a messy departure from Texas Tech where he was accused of mistreating an injured player. The facts from that incident are disputed.

These are things that can be sorted through the interview process, but if the Jets are searching for candidates with the best coaching ability, Leach would be a great place to begin the search.

Scott Frost, Nebraska Head Coach

A little while back our MacGregor Wells made a request for Scott Frost to be included in our Coaching Candidate of the Day series.

But I don’t think I could have done a better job laying out the rationale for a Frost candidacy than he did.

I know the resume is a little thin. He’s only 43 years old, but a lot to like here. Played for the Jets. Won a National Championship as a player with Nebraska, beating Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl. As a player was coached by Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin and Jon Gruden. As a coach he turned Northern Iowa’s defense into a powerhouse, then coached for 7 years at Oregon, 4 of which were under Chip Kelly, where he rose to OC and was responsible for those legendary Oregon offenses with Marcus Mariota. Left to take over a winless UCF team and in 2 years transformed them into an undefeated national powerhouse program. That’s some serious accomplishments for a guy so young. Only went 4-8 at Nebraska this year. Maybe a couple of years premature, ideally would like to see how he does at Nebraska, but IDK, I wouldn’t mind kicking the tires on him.

It doesn’t get much more impressive than taking over a winless team and taking them to an undefeated record in two years. And how many people have succeeded as both an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator?

I’d even put the job he did at Nebraska as a positive this year. They started 0-6 and seemed to be circling the drain before finishing strong, winning 4 of their last 6. In its own way, that’s an impressive coaching job.

If Frost turns Nebraska around, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a hot NFL commodity in a few years, but could his time be now?

John Fassel, Los Angeles Rams Special Teams Coordinator

When I profiled Dave Toub as a potential Jets head coach, I noted the weird bias within the NFL against promoting special teams coordinators. Offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators don’t have any trouble getting their way to the top job.

Teams don’t look to hire special teams coordinators even though these are the coaches who work with players on both sides of the ball and have to squeeze production out of bottom of the roster talent.

Fassel has long impressed me as one of the game’s most innovative special teams coordinators. When it comes to drawing up creative plays in the third phase of the game, the Rams have stood above everybody else in his tenure.

This isn’t just about a couple of highlight reel plays, though. Fassel’s units have regularly been at the top of the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings.

The Rams clearly have a lot of respect for Fassel. He was named the team’s interim head coach to close out the 2016 season after Jeff Fisher was fired and was a holdover after the hiring of Sean McVay.

One factor I consider for potential head coaches is a candidate’s network. Coaches hire coaches they know. The fact Fassel works for the Rams means he would have access to the Sean McVay tree when filling out his offensive coaching staff.

I’d mainly consider him because I think he’s an excellent coach, though.

Gary Patterson, TCU Head Coach

Before Gary Patterson took over as head coach of TCU in 2000, the program had won just under 50% of the games over the course its history. Patterson has won 72% of the games he has coached at TCU. That is an eye-popping spread.

Another coach who has done more with less, Patterson has built the Horned Frogs into a national power. He even won a Rose Bowl against a Wisconsin team that featured J.J. Watt. The program has been so impressive under Patterson’s watch that TCU has twice earned an invite into a better conference during his tenure.

Schematically, Patterson has come up with innovative approaches to stop modern spread offenses that use tempo. For more information, check out Chris Brown’s superb breakdown at Grantland from a few years ago.

While Patterson comes from a defensive background, he shouldn’t be confused with a dinosaur who thinks the offense’s job is to play conservatively and give the defense a chance to win the game. In the last few years he has embraced an aggressive, modern offensive scheme.

I think Patterson is one of the best coaches in college football, and I’d give him a look for any coaching opening my team has.